The Search For Meaning in Today’s Chaos

blog pic1-1Most of us would find it hard to argue with the fact that this world seems a bit upside down lately. Celebrity suicides. Racial riots. Ebola. A savage murder of an American journalist. War in Syria, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and in so many other corners of the world.

It is hard to understand or grasp all of the chaos with a rational mind. Yet I can’t help but wonder–what does it all mean?

For instance. . .

What does it mean when Robin Williams, a celebrity who appears to be bathed in good fortune, a man who seemingly has it  all–wealth, fame, popularity, talent, love–opts out of life? Does his death challenge our assumption that privilege offers a gold card guarantee of a good life with no suffering? Or does it help make clear that we’re all in this together and that we are all fragile, vulnerable beings at our core no matter our name, our status, or our bank account?

What does it mean when an African-American man, Michael Brown, is shot dead in the streets and riots ensue and lines are drawn and chaos rules in Ferguson, a sleepy suburb in the Heartland of America?  Many will argue it speaks to an abuse of power in law enforcement and an inbalance in civil rights.  Arguably, it speaks to the underbelly of race relations and to the fear that lives in the hearts of many of us. And it is this fear: we are not as enlightend as we think when it comes to race; many of us still carry vestiges of prejudice in our hearts.

What does it mean when Nigeria and other African nations are facing a deadly health crisis —Ebola– for which there is no cure? Entire cities are under quarantine now with military police keeping citizens under lock and key to “contain it.”  While these infected areas appear to be in distant lands far far away from many of us, our disassociation from this real and present danger is only temporarily masking our feelings of vulnerability.

The world is shrinking and there is no longer an “over there,” a place where the plagues of the world are to be contained.  So it is in our best interests to support countries that need clean water, education, health improvements, medical assistance, and share our resources. Cooperation is key to our survival, not separation or “containment.”  Thankfully, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has recognized the urgency of collaboration and has awarded a five-year, $28 million grant to establish a collaboration between researchers from 15 institutions to find a vaccine to fight Ebola.

What does it mean when terrorists behead an American citizen and journalist? The brutal slaying of James Foley by Islamic militants in Syria was intended to create fear and division in our hearts and in our world. Not only did they kill an American citizen in the most savage way, they killed a journalist, a truth teller, a portal  of light and freedom. His death is meaningful on so many levels, but what he stands for–truth, enlightenment–was also attacked. Foley is a martyr on so many levels and if his death means anything–and it does–let it serve as a reminder that truth and freedom are the cornerstones of a civilized society and are always worth protecting!

And then there is war. Bloody war. It’s everywhere. What does it mean?  The reasons are complicated; most of these wars speak to confusion over power, religion, race, and point out all of the ways in which we are different. Instead of the same. They point to  our inability to find commonality and cooperation in a world that can only really be sustained though cooperation.

Truth. There is enough war in this world. And within ourselves.

All of these battles–the inner ones where we fight our own demons–and the outer ones where we fight from fear and prejudice, where we battle for resources, for health, for truth and freedom, represent man’s ongoing and age old fight for enlightenment.

So what does it all mean? I have my own theory.

When I see the chaos and the confusion of the world, I tend to view it as a mirror of what is hidden within the deepest shadows of our hearts. And if we want to end it all–the fear, the isolation, the prejudice, the indifference, the injustice, the brutality, the war–then we must find all of the places within where we are at war with our selves.

Let’s own the ugliness, the parts of our own beings where we dissasociate from our spirits, where we are cruel or judgmental of ourselves, and shine a light on our shadows. After all, these are the ones that we project outward. And then let us work vigilantly to create peace within ourselves –and watch how that one step begins to recalibrate our world and radically change everything around us.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at or on twitter @taoflashes.


11 thoughts on “The Search For Meaning in Today’s Chaos

  1. I have found the recent weeks and months to be soul-crushing as far as world news goes. I haven’t figured out yet how to take it in and not let it completely ruin me, day to day. Yes the world is getting smaller, but people are also getting more angry, desperate and violent. It’s not easy to understand.

  2. I can barely turn on the TV lately – and if so – once every few days because it repeats and repeats and yes, is so weighty. I absolutely believe we start with ourselves and send that ripple of peace outward. We begin where we are. We pray for peace. We stand up. We speak. I think, and this is my platform, so to speak, we need to slow the pace. We need to breathe.

  3. In the gym this morning I said, “I have to stop looking at the TV.” As someone who works to help people communicate what they need and manage conflict effectively, the news is so overwhelming. I want a way to say, “Stop! It doesn’t have to be this ugly to have a difference of opinion.” Then I remember a lot of them think their opinion is fact.

  4. I am trying to distance myself from the news every other day, but it is difficult. In the violence that surrounds us, and the anti-semitism that scares the you-know-what out of me, I want to bury my head. But I can’t. We have a responsibility to each other, particularly to the next generation. I don’t know the answer, but to start we should do exactly what you said. Like John Lennon would say today, “Give peace a chance.” Amen.

    • Cathy, I have to take the “news” in small doses. But you are right, we have a responsibility to each other, and staying informed is important too. I say work on ourselves first, and then shine the light of hope outward. And pray, pray hard. You are such a bright soul and you are shinning that big heart all over the place and doing lots of good. Take comfort in that!

  5. Lisa, this is such an eloquent piece of writing on such devastating issues. I wish there was a more immediate answer…but mostly I wish for a time when our leaders, as well as the rest of us, will take the time to be more intentional in their actions and thoughts. To seek out peace.

  6. Walker, thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. I don’t often write about heavy topics but I think it is important to search for meaning in chaos. And then do what we can to affect change. It starts with us. And yes, I agree, becoming more global in our thinking is necessary today. As I said, the world is shrinking…everything affects everything.

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