Flirting With Dionysus

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Painting by Mathew Dibble

“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 formless-ness 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 Dionysus, 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 con-sciousness 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. — Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee

You’re always skirting chaos when you’re creating something. For a piece to be interesting two very different energies have to merge and dance, structure and surprise. As you’re creating you feel the need of a solid design to structure and contain your expressive excitement. You hope that the finished work combines both of those energies in an arresting way. There’s nothing worse than being predictable or badly designed. The onlooker will lose interest very quickly if that’s the case.

But Vaughan-Lee is not talking about art, he’s talking about life and the role chaos plays in it. In our lives, we prefer order and calm. We don’t design our lives like we would design a work of art, but chaos, according to him, is an essential ingredient in our spiritual evolution. I see his point, as I glance back over my career of shedding my skin every so often.

It’s still painful. I’d still prefer to avoid it, but it’s built-in. It’s an essential part of existence.

I’ve noticed that in every instance when everything fell apart, it came back together in a better way. The conclusion I draw from that is that the universe is trying to help, even if you don’t think you need it. First, however, it has to clear the field so it can build the new thing.

Resisting the process is common. It’s painful to relinquish old attachments and pleasures. You hardly know who you are without them, but resisting probably increases the pain in the process. If we could shed old ways of being as easily and naturally as insects and crabs their carapaces, we might suffer less.

We are not meant to stand still. We are meant to mutate and grow. Chaos is needed to sweep away the old and prepare the ground for what’s coming.

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