Creating Calmness with Chaos All Around

An Article By Jeanie Marshall

Calmness and chaos are partners in the creation of life. Life expands by shifting from one to the other to find your balance.

Chaos is "stuff." Stuff is needed to create with. Stuff is also something to create in. Surely there are times when it seems most advantageous and appropriate to move away from the stuff of chaos, but I want to focus on staying right where you are and being creative and empowered in and with the stuff of the chaos.

Creative Arts Need Stuff or Raw Materials

It's perhaps easiest to illustrate the benefits of all this with the creative arts. For example, the potter, the dress maker, and the oil painter all need "stuff": materials as well as tools. The potter needs the clay; the dress maker needs fabric; the oil painter needs paint. Each potter, dress maker or painter may start with the stuff of others, yet each final creation is unique.

It's possible to create a mess or a masterpiece, all with the same basic materials.

Attitude is Key

If you're in a consciousness of enthusiasm or curiosity or wonder or calmness, you positively empower the creation in the midst of the chaos. If the act of creation is no fun, there is also no fun in the final creation. Just to get something "done" can be a relief, but to get something done while feeling good makes the experience more satisfying.

I've had a lot of experience helping people to find their place of calmness or strength in the midst of chaos or adversity. The truth is that it's important to know how to create this space again and again and again. Just because you have made it through one experience of chaos doesn't mean that you never have to do it again. That's why it's important to understand how, that is, to understand the process. And even understanding the process, won't guarantee that the next time it will look exactly the same, so you need to go more deeply into the principle and/or technique. It's important to pay attention.

Pay Attention: Practice Calmness

Flower of Calmness

To practice the process of creating calmness, it's important to identify a subject in which you'll create something. If the "something" is tangible, that's even better. As you're deciding the subject, remember that it's always good to practice on easy or simple subjects. When practicing on a simple or easy subject, don't discount that you can easily do something when it's easy; instead, use your energy and your practice time to become more deeply aware of the elements that make the situation or easy.

Awareness of your process makes it easier for you to recreate success in another, more difficult situation. For example, notice how you think, interact, and feel in a familiar or easy situation. With your greater self-awareness, you'll find it more natural to apply the same principles to more complex or challenging subjects.

Your subject may be physical, like baking lasagna, or more mental with physical components, like designing a workshop, or more feeling-based, like a greater sense of confidence or enhanced personal development as you write an article or letter. Whatever the subject, think of the act of creating in and with the chaos.

If you're making a dress, you need the stuff of cloth, thread, buttons or other closures; the tools are needle, sewing machine, scissors.

If you're composing a song, you need the stuff of music and words; the process involves listening and feeling the rhythm.

If you're planning a conference, you need the stuff of speakers/presenters and an audience; some of the many tools and processes are the plan, workshop design, advertising, physical location, food planning.

Pasta, sauce, meat or meat substitute, a pan, and stove are elements which, when they stand alone, are not a dinner party. Depending on the kind of cook you are, your kitchen might be in a state of chaos while you cook. Notice how you relate to the stuff and to your process of creating. Are you having fun? Are you calm or stressed?

Of course, celebrating the end product is wonderful, also. However, I want to encourage you to heighten your awareness and appreciation of the process of the journey to calmness with the end product as a goal. When you do, you won't be devastated by the next chaos, which might come at an inconvenient or unexpected time when not all the stuff is within easy reach.

Examples of Finding or Clarifying Calmness

Stan: Managing Self with an Ineffective Boss.
It's with mixed emotions that I admit that the majority of my corporate clients first find me because they report to ineffective bosses. I don't fall into the trap of believing that an employee "manages the boss" because that's not nearly as empowering as helping the employee to embrace the skills of self-management in the presence of a boss. It's also not possible, by the way, nor appropriate to manage the boss.

Stan was close to being fired from his market consulting firm when one of his colleagues recommended me to him. He was one of five persons reporting to his boss, each of whom was having some problem with the boss, but Stan was having the most problem because he was resisting essentially everything the boss said. He fought directives and argued points of view. He was far away from calmness.

The situation became untenable for Stan, his boss, and his peers. Because I read energy, I immediately discerned the dynamics, which saved Stan the exercise of trying to prove to me how bad it was. I also knew that if Stan were fired, the problem would still be unsolved for Stan, his boss, and the rest of the team. Stan was not the problem, he was a participant in and a symptom of the problem.

My role was to be the Personal Consultant to Stan. He (not the boss, not the team, not the company) was the client. After I determined that he really wanted to make a change, I met him right where he was without any criticism. I gave him the best immediate advice I could: Stop resisting! (aka, stop arguing, stop the disempowerment.) Even though I could immediately see many proactive success strategies, Stan was not able to access an enlightened view of the situation from where he stood, which was far away from calmness. He had to take a first step in not creating more of the same mess. Each week, we worked with progressively more empowering strategies. During the six weeks of the initial contract, he turned around the relationship with his boss while we concurrently worked on several other topics of his choosing.

That was more than four years ago. Stan and I still work together one to three times each month. Through several organization changes, small upsets, and challenging situations, I witness Stan creating his own place in the midst of confusion, challenges, and chaos. Stan's boss is still ineffective, but Stan is empowered enough to look for ways to help his boss and himself be more successful.

My Unique Sound.
Years ago, I attended a Sound Workshop. One exercise was to make a sound and move among all the other participants making sounds. My learning was that in the cacophony of individual sounds (which I could hear clearly because I have extremely good hearing), I could still hear my own sound. In fact, my connection with my own sound became stronger, richer, deeper.

In addition, my sound became more unique. I could hear resonance and dissonance with others, but I embraced my own tone in a new way. I knew I could change my sound to meet others, but I decided to stay true to my own sound, a strategy that has served me well in many aspects of my life.

Empowering Use of Language

The key to finding appropriate language to empower yourself while applying these ideas is to consider your proximity to the chaos and/or your desired direction of movement. Below, I give you some examples of a sequence of ideas in different situations. Your own self-talk can either take you further into the confusion of chaos or move you from it in ways that feel either good or not-good. The idea, of course, is to find your own calmness, again and again. You will not always be calm.

If you're in the middle of harsh and confusing chaos . . .
you might find these words particularly empowering: "O. K., I'm in a mess. I can change that. I want to create something better (or more empowering, more peaceful, happier, calmer, etc.)." You have begin the process of creating something new that you'll like more.

If you're in the middle of a situation similar to situations you've experienced previously . . .
you might find these words particularly empowering: "This seems familiar. I've been here before. I've also moved myself out of such a mess before. I can do it. I think I'll start moving now." You can use this as a model to create more specific statements relevant to your creation or generally for achieving more calmness.

If you've recently moved from the grip of a chaotic situation . . .
you might find these words stabilizing and empowering, "Phew, that was quite a ride. I learned a lot. Most important, I know who I am." Such a perspective assists you both in acknowledging the most recent situation and when facing the next chaos.

Finding your own calmness or staying connected to the chaos is a matter of personal choice.  Choose once and then again and again.  You create your life through a series of choices.

Resources for Further Assistance

Meditation. Developing a regular meditation practice can help you to continue to find your center in the midst of chaos or confusion. Please check the navigation bar to the left for specific resources.

Books. Here are some of my favorite books related to chaos, especially as it applies to people in organizations.

Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley creates a powerful view of business management. This is an extraordinary book about leadership. I attended a workshop with Meg, when she said something that I found to be the most empowering of the entire 5-day conference: "The Universe needs a mess in order to be creative."


Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick clearly explains the theories behind chaos, which is considered a "new science." He explores chaos through the research, the processes of research, and the researchers. Photographs illustrate his descriptive prose. I have found this to be an important resource for consultants and managers. Outstanding! Chaos: Making a New Science


Managing as a Performing Art : New Ideas for a World of Chaotic Change Managing as a Performing Art: New Ideas for a World of Chaotic Change by Peter Vaill describes the turbulent conditions in which we all work. In this wonderful book, Vaill coins the phrase "permanent white water." The most successful leaders must learn to navigate in such waters. I once invited Peter to be a speaker at a conference and delighted in his presentation because he challenges static management strategies with rich accounts of real situations.

Copyright © 2008 Marshall House. All rights reserved. Jeanie Marshall, Personal Development Consultant and Coach, has developed Empowering Personal Development to encourage you on your path.

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