Chaos: This guest blog by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is an excerpt from his new downloadable e-book, A Handbook for Survivalists: Caring for the Earth, a Series of Meditations.  The handbook is about the values we need to survive this time of radical uncertainty as we help to seed a future in which the soul of humanity returns to its rightful place in harmony with the earth, the sun, the stars, the wind and the rain.   These words are from chapter 6: Chaos. 


How are we going to live with the chaos of the coming years, as the structures that support our present global consumer society begin to fall apart? We witnessed in the present pandemic how easily its supply lines could be broken, how quickly many millions lost their jobs and livelihoods, how a health crisis and economic recession escalated into food lines and homelessness. Meanwhile fires and floods show our vulnerability to the coming climate crisis. And always it is the poor and destitute who suffer first, whether subsistence farmers in Somalia, or service workers in America. 

And what of the insecurity rippling through our collective psyche, which was present even before the pandemic, that this dream of prosperity is over? How will we now begin to react when there is no short-term “fix,” no quick vaccine to return everything to normal? Here we are so grateful for the firefighters who protected our homes, but there was also the tangible sense of how quickly our town could burn. Who will hold the line against the primal changes, whether from a pandemic or climate crisis? 

We can build sea walls against the rising ocean, set controlled burns against forest fires. We can try to keep out the refugees in order to protect our way of life. But finally we will no longer be able to deny that we have transitioned into a time of radical uncertainty, and accept that we do not know what will happen. We will need learn how to live in a time of instability that can easily lead to chaos. 

Chaos itself is a life force, a time of creative regeneration. It is a descent into the darkness of unknowing and also the prima materia for alchemical change. Only from this primal formlessness is real change possible, a change that is not conditioned by past structures or ideologies. Chaos images the beauty of what is unpredictable. That is why it is so important not to try to define the future at this time. We have to allow chaos to transform our world, to bring its own quality of wonder into our lives. As in Nietzsche’s famous saying, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” 

For those who can bear to look, chaos has its own light, its own dance. It is like the in-breath that takes life from form to formlessness, that frees us from patterns that bind. Chaos can strip us bare and so allow a space for new life, new patterns to form. It is both dynamic and ecstatic, even if it can be painful. Mythologically this energy belongs to Dionysius, a nature god of wine and divine madness, whom the Romans also called Liber, free. He is also the one who communicates between the living and the dead. As such he stands at the threshold between the worlds. 

If we are to become free of the limitations of our rational consciousness and its drive to control nature, we need to allow chaos, we need this power of unbinding. Those who have passed over the threshold between their own rational and irrational selves know the magical power of this space, which does not follow the rules of convention but a deeper passion. Here belongs the figure of Orpheus, musician, and poet, whose trip to the underworld represents the power of love to overcome death.

Between the worlds a special energy is present, a catalyst for real change. This is central to any initiation or transformation, which always allows for grace and the unexpected. Traditionally music and dance, or fasting and prayer, took the individual into this sacred space. It is here that visions come into being. Sadly, 19 like so much of our mythic heritage, we have lost these rites of transition, along with the non-rational wisdom that comes from the borderlands. But our soul still knows this undefined land, which mystics have walked since the beginning. It is the dark side of love, the intoxicating freedom that comes from losing oneself in the Divine. It is the light that belongs in the darkness, in the uncontained passion and power that come from deep within. 

And in the coming years we will watch as chaos comes onto the outer stage of our lives, as our world dies and waits to be reborn. Those of us who have entered the borderland in our own journey can welcome what is formless and unknown, can work with the light that unbinds. We have also learned to respect this power, felt it in our own body and psyche. We can recognize it in the winds and rains of a hurricane, in the free-fall of an economic collapse, or in the creative energy of the artist. Rather than focusing on resisting, fighting this primal life force, we are aware of how it can help our world awaken from the nightmare that is destroying all that is sacred and natural. 

Here in this space of real transformation life can return to its roots in the sacred and be reborn. Later, the forms of the future will come into being, but this is not the present stage of our global journey. Human consciousness can still be a mediator between the worlds. We can listen to our deeper wisdom that knows these cycles of life and death, and stay true to the love that is like a thread that we can follow. Chaos will test us, whether we cling to our surface possessions or learn to travel light, with a small bundle of love and care and compassion. Generosity may be more valuable than stockpiling food, kindness to others more potent than force. These values will determine what world we create, what is born from the ruins.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D. is a Sufi teacher and the author of many books including Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth and Including the Earth in Our Prayers: A Global Dimension to Spiritual Practice. The focus of his writing and teaching is on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition.

Download and read A Handbook for Survivalists as a free e-book

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We have 10 copies of Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee’s earlier book Spiritual Ecology:  10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life to give away.  The copies will go to the first ten people to write a very short book review of The Handbook for Survivalists and post it on social media.  You need to be UK based and under the age of 40.  The book review needs to be 150 words minimum and you need to post it on social media with a link to the handbook.  (Please tag St Ethelburga’s if you can).   Then either take a screen shot and email it, or take a photo of the post with your mobile phone and send it to justine@stethelburgas.org with your UK home postal address.   If you are one of the first ten, we will post you your book!








St Ethelburga's Guest