I'm acquainted with a fellow who re-married his (again) ex-wife four times. A former patient of mine was a severe asthmatic, and a two-pack-a-day smoker. I knew a waitress in college who paid for her very first brand new car - a BMW - in full, with her very first brand new American Express Card. Sometimes we just can't help but to stir our own pot.

I often use the phrase "a fish doesn't know that he's wet" to describe how it's sometimes difficult for us to recognize the patterns in our lives. Nowhere is that shortfall more apparent than when it comes to either consciously or unconsciously inviting chaos; although often it's not so much that we invite chaos, but more that we create it by virtue of our actions, inaction and reactions.

There are basically two types of chaos - internal and external. Internal chaos runs the gamut from personal idiosyncrasy, to the voices in our head, to our ambient anxiety, to the various versions of dysfunction or disorder that we may drag around with us from day to day. These things are part of the fabric of our personality, and we usually do our level best to manage them, medicate them, or just ignore them.

External chaos comes from the outside, and, typically, has very little to do with us directly - the driver who makes a right hand turn from the left hand lane, the spouse with the on-going habit of moving the finish line, the electric bill that triples during the winter months because the landlord neglected to mention the somewhat less than efficient heating system. Things like this are pretty much out of our control and are, more than anything else, simply visited upon us.

There is, however, a middle ground to consider. That middle ground is the chaos that looks like it's external, but is really an expression of our internal workings. Not necessarily a direct expression of the idiosyncrasy, anxiety or dysfunction per se, but, more, the way that these aspects of personality can come out sideways.

That parking ticket didn't triple all by itself; it tripled because you made a decision, consciously or unconsciously, not to pay it. You didn't get (yet another) shut off notice from the electric company - despite your six-figure income - because you can't pay the bill, but because you're hoarding money. You don't spend time looking at porn on-line because you have a problem, but because you feel uncomfortable directly expressing your needs, wants and desires to your partner.

But that parking ticket will become a suspended license, the electricity will get shut off and, sooner or later, you're going to in some way get confronted with your digital dalliances. That's creating chaos - heedlessly, needlessly and with no apparent regard for consequence. The fascinating thing is that, at some point, for whatever reason, we all do it.

Recognizing our own internal chaos, what it means, and what it means for us is an important aspect of self-discovery and personal evolution. Recognizing external chaos isn't hard, but learning to separate it from our internal chaos is important in developing a sense of self-responsibility and social accountability. Learning to recognizing when our external chaos isn't just the random workings of the universe, but something self-generated, is truly a grace because it can be the stage from which we launch ourselves into an authentic experience of ourselves and the world that we create for ourselves.

If we are prone to create chaos for ourselves, the first thing to do around it is to look for patterns in our life around money, or relationships, or work, or school, or self-care or anything that goes off the rails - in a big or a little way - on a regular basis. Basically, this becomes an exercise in willingness to unabashedly confront the places where we fall down. It doesn't have to be anything major, just a consistent and repetitive disruption in the flow of life that needlessly requires our attention.

A friend of mine needs a new car because she constantly neglects to get her oil changed, and has managed to ruin her engine. Another friend of mine is invariably in a state of turmoil over his relationships because he insists on dating women 25 years his junior. I know a woman who, without fail, starts talking about marriage on the second date. A former colleague of mine is a drug and alcohol counselor in a major metropolitan hospital and an active - six bag a day - heroin addict.

Big or little, it doesn't matter. There's no need to sit in judgment of another person, or try to sort out what's going wrong in their lives. The truth is, we are surrounded by mirrors, and, if we can see what's going on in someone else's life, we should - with a little effort and a little humility - be able to recognize it in ourselves.

© 2011 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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