Water is the key to life, it covers most of the Earth’s surface, it is one of the main ingredients for the recipe of our body, and we need to drink plenty of it in order to survive. It is used in spiritual rituals, cools us comfortably during hot summers, and also dampens the spirits of forlorn creatures in autumn, when it pours down relentlessly for days on end.
It can also be a destructive force, for instance when a massive tsunami wave crashes down onto a hapless coastal settlement, ruining the forsaken coast dwellers.
Water can be a perfect ice cube, all it’s power and virility seemingly contained.
When evaporated, it becomes like a ghost, unseen yet present, transforming into raindrops or even snowflakes if conditions allow it.
Such is the versatility of the phenomenon called water, and what does that tell us, at least as an analogy? Much, but let’s focus on the different states.
The ice cube. Frozen water. On first impression flawless and motionless. In reality more complex than that, but for the sake of my argument, let’s assume it is in a perfect state of order. Fascinating as it might be, it is also rather lifeless. Imagine being turned into a statue, like in a fairy tale, frozen in a certain state, never able to get out of it. Or, if you still want to allow for some mobility, being stuck in a day, a day that keeps repeating itself in exactly the same order and manner in an endless cycle. Both the static and cyclic state seem rather miserable, right? Let that be the extreme of perfect order.
Now let’s zoom in on the tsunami again. A huge wave creating havoc. Death, destruction, despair. Only miracles of a spiritual nature, or marvels of a scientific origin, could heal what was hurt, and restore what was lost. Some will be traumatized for life, others will be financially ruined. Such is the cost of chaos, the other extreme.
Neither extreme seems desirable. Neither the state of order nor the state of chaos can sustain life. And yet both are necessary. The magic happens at a very small area in the middle, a kind of “golden zone”, where chaos provides the degrees of freedom, and order helps maintain some kind of continuity, an equilibrium. Not a static equilibrium, but one that is fed by chaos, adapts, grows, and even learns. This is where complexity occurs, where all that makes existence beautiful and lively emerges, and where intelligence comes into existence.
Chaos is like total freedom, randomness, meaninglessness, unpredictability, and instability. It is movement without purpose, without direction.
Order is the opposite: it is control, rigidity, predictability, and stability. It is either static or cyclic (though the latter seems more apparent in this universe, which seems to be always in motion).
Complexity is the moving equilibrium between those two extremes, a delicate balance where order maintains form, but chaos allows it to grow more complex and better adapt to the conditions of its context of existence. Going to either of these extremes will lead to either stagnation and maladaptation (too much order) or decay and annihilation (chaos).
These ideas of order, chaos, and complexity, if you ask me, can be used, to describe things that happen in the universe, from the smaller scales of particles (like in thermodynamics) to the larger scales of galaxy formation. They can be used to describe the dynamics of the human mind, and those of human society. Something I am trying to do in my book, which is still in progress.
If the conditions of the early universe would have been too random, or rather too rigid, galaxies, and life as we know it, would probably never have evolved.
These concepts of order, chaos and complexity seem to be very useful in describing what I see and experience, what I rationalize about, whatever their scientific worth may be.
However, what does all of this tell us about the more spiritual side of existence, on which I have been writing stubbornly for the last few years?
Let’s consider the ocean: vast, seemingly endless, borderless, shapeless, humbling, inspiring, majestic, and remorseless. If you behold her like a poet would, not a scientist, she takes no definite shape, but incessantly flows and brings forth waves. She consists of countless individual drops, yet those drops are part of the whole and have sacrificed their stricter individuality, they are “one”. Everything that could be formed out of the ocean’s water, either as a whole or as a part of her, is in a way already there, like ice cubes, snow flakes, or even ice sculptures. However, none of those forms are manifested, they remain latent yet are always potentially there.
When water evaporates from the ocean, cooling down and eventually transforming into hailstones, these hailstones are like “manifested order”. Like Erwin Schrödinger’s proverbial “cat”, from the Quantum Mechanics thought experiment, which seems to be in two conflicting states: alive and dead, suddenly coming alive as a manifested creature, as in the collapse of a quantum wave describing the possible states of existence.
The ocean, the unmanifested, called Brahman in Hindu philosophy – the Absolute, the pure and formless ground of being from which creation and manifestation arise – is NOT chaos, or change. It is absolute flow, but as it is formless, it is not change. Change and chaos (the extreme version of change) only occur when there is order, when something has already been manifested, when something has arisen out of nothingness. So when the tsunami wave crashes down onto the coastal settlement, it causes chaos because the coast and the settlement were already there in the first place.
In the unmanifested ocean which I will now call the “higher reality”, and to which I have referred many times in earlier writings, all those things that can be described using the concepts of chaos, order, and complexity also exist, but not as a manifested form, as they are always in motion, and always “whole”, divided yet one. As it seems impossible to fully comprehend, let alone clearly describe, what this vast ocean of the unmanifested actually is, we mortal manifestations of that higher reality might refer to it in various abstract or comforting terms, and from a religious perspective that could be what is meant by “God”.
Like the drops in the ocean, at the deepest level, we are part of this higher reality, and yet we experience existence as something that is manifested in a certain mold we refer to as the physical universe. We experience a distinct self, related to a distinct body, in a world full of other distinct forms and other distinct, conscious beings, behaving as if separated, following sets of physical rules which may be uncovered through the various sciences, within a framework of space and time which, at least at the macroscopic level, to the conscious mind, seems to unfold as a one way deterministic trip from past to future; and even science, probing this manifested universe only, has a thing or two to teach about this seemingly unidirectional movement of time and space – especially at the smallest scales, where past and future states, or rather even time itself, seem nonexistent.
Again, order must be manifested in order for chaos to emerge, and growth (complexity) arises due to the interplay of those two extremes, at a very specific, optimal intersection. Complexity, therefore, must seem nonexistent too in the formless ocean that is unmanifested higher reality, right? It is like everything you will ever be, and everything you ever can be, already exists. What is the point of growth? In manifested reality, you might want to find and embrace the ocean, which you had forgotten when you embraced (or were determined to embrace) mortal life. Then the whole journey toward spiritual enlightenment would just be an uncovering of what was lost, and finally overcoming that amnesia fully, forever forsaking the distinct self that had forgotten its true origins.
It is my belief, therefore, that through life in the manifested world, something is gained, a way of perceiving the unmanifested that would otherwise have been impossible. And I am confident that we are each on our own personal quest to find our own purpose in this bewildering enrichment of consciousness, to find our own true voice in the all-encompassing, time and space-independent heavenly choir of meaningful experience, a unique unity which may only be achieved by overcoming all our shortcomings, and our egocentric self, as those lead to the state of duality which traps us in the illusion of conflicting manifestations, in its most extreme form a kind of hell of separateness and isolation.
So embark on this journey, defy the odds, embrace the ocean fully, and, once discovering your true sound, add your own fabulous voice to the orchestra of spiritual existence.
Image: Albert Bierstadt – The Shore of the Turquoise Sea
© 2019 Marcel van Delft