Esalen's First Yoga Teacher — Teaching yoga since 1968

Chaos in everyday life

by Pam Walatka
Did something unpredictable happen to you today? That is life. Chaos is an essential ingredient of the life process. Without chaos in your life, you would not be alive. Chaos is the unformed, the unpredictable, the unexpected. Body heat is part of chaos.

The word "chaos" comes from the Greek word for formless matter. It does not have a shape that lasts through time. It is not predictable. Chaos is all the random, patternless, haphazard stuff in our universe.

Heat is a form of chaos. Heat is random movement of atoms; the higher the temperature, the greater the randomness of the movement of the atoms.

Heat is an essential part of all living things. Life cannot exist without the heat that is the random movement of atoms. You know that if you put a thermometer in your mouth, you are not going to get a reading of zero. If you had no heat in your body, you would be dead. If heat is chaos, and life cannot exist without heat, then life cannot exist without chaos.

This randomness of life heat occurs on all possible levels; I agree with James Gleick, the author of Chaos [1], that chaos tends to behave in a similar fashion whether you are looking at atoms, humans or the universe. You know that randomness occurs in your life at more than just the atomic level.

These are the three things I said about chaos:

  • Chaos is random and unpredictable.
  • Heat is a form of chaos, because heat means random movement.
  • The chaos of heat is an essential part of life.

A Zen teacher gave this advice to parents, "Teach your child to experience the multitude of surprises in life with grace and appreciation." Every day includes surprises, events that were not expected, predicted or controlled. Often, these surprises are good, or at least not bad, especially if viewed without anger at one's loss of control. In other words, if you do not insist on being in control all of the time, you can enjoy more of life's surprises. When something unpredicted happens, take it as a natural part of life on earth.

You might learn to appreciate the chaos in your life. Chaos is keeping you alive.


[1] James Gleick, Chaos (New York: Penguin Books, 1987)
Footnote: I think the Chaos book is mostly about complexity theory, which finds order within chaos. Gleick does not say much about real chaos.

See also: E=MC2