Sometimes you find yourself in a time of transition—perhaps related to career change, loss of a loved one, end of a relationship, etc.—when you just don’t know where to turn or how to proceed. Or, though you may not be going through some dramatic life change, you may find yourself feeling that life should be something more. You’re looking for greater meaning, searching for τέλος. In either case, I can offer you both tools and guidance to help YOU take the best next step along your path.
Personal Biography: We begin where you are, then work backwards in time to your earliest memories. Next we work our way forward to the present moment. We may repeat this process a few times, each time noting recurring themes, influential people, and key moments. At some point, having progressed from past to present, we keep moving forward into the future (unfolding τέλος). Again, we may do this several times, exploring different possible paths each time. But we don’t try to reach definitive conclusions. Rather, we take a closer look at each of the following aspects of yourself, as a complex system.
Phases of Development (Strange Attractors & Bifurcation Points): You’ll begin to see distinct phases in your life (possibly not what you would have guessed, before doing the biographical work). Each phase has its own “strange attractor,” which is a recurring pattern, but with slight variations each time around its “orbit.” Next we focus on “liminal moments”—the transitions between two strange attractors. These may be fairly brief. Often they’re chaotic—the center does not hold. We look closely at these bifurcation points (as they’re termed in complexity theory), at the events leading up to them, and at the (often mysterious) processes that have brought you to each new phase of development.
Emergent Properties: At each stage of your life, you acquire new capacities. These emergent properties vary from stage to stage. It may seem that some get lost—or perhaps they’ve just gone dormant? Perhaps, also, the losses of certain capacities are somehow compensated for in unexpected ways. We identify your chief capacities at each stage of life, to see if we can detect a “golden thread” that links them together. Looking back on these phases—each with its characteristic capacities—we extend that thread again into the future. As before, we do so tentatively, then turn our focus to the cycle of development within each phase of life.
Balancing Stasis & Chaos: A complex system in a “Vishnu” phase exhibits a balance of negative and positive feedback. The system stays within a zone of optimal functioning, because strong negative feedback loops keep it from going to unhealthy extremes (“switching off,” from an epigenetic perspective). At the same time, positive feedback loops enable the system to respond appropriately to changes (“switching on,” as when the immune system kicks in to fight off an invading microbe).
Systems get out of whack when one extreme predominates. Lack of positive feedback leads to stasis. The system can’t adapt to environmental changes, leading to death by extinction. Lack of negative feedback leads to too much change—too fast, too random. The system can’t hold together, leading to death by chaos. Shiva has two faces.
Where’s your system now, along this spectrum? Looking back, can you see periods where it tended to one extreme or the other? If you’re presently in a period of great instability, more change leads to turbulence and chaos. If you’re in a stage of excessive rigidity, you need some creative chaos so you can find ways adapt and evolve. Within a Brahma phase, rapid change is natural, although such change is still guided by order and purpose (τέλος). Within a Shiva phase, the changes inherent in the process of deterioration may be irresistible (as in hospice care, where the emphasis is on providing comfort rather than preventing inevitable death). Therefore, your time and effort may be better spent looking towards the next phase than in trying to hang on to the status quo. Where you want to go depends a great deal on where you are now.
Embracing Uncertainty: You may realize that you need to change—to take a step into the unknown—but you’re afraid to do so. It’s natural to want to stay with the “devil you know.” But it’s illusory to think that you can put an end to change by sticking with what’s worked before. Change is inevitable. And complex systems are inherently unpredictable. So uncertainty is a fact of life.
But embracing uncertainty is far easier said than done. Fear shuts us down, prevents us from being open to the τέλος that wants to emerge. Embracing uncertainty means staring our worst fears in the face. It may help us to know that—in terms of the cycles of change within complex systems—the phoenix does indeed arise (and arise transformed) from its own ashes.
Unfolding Your τέλος: Recall that complex systems are probabilistically predictable, at least in the short term. By strengthening your perception of τέλος, you can see it as an active force in unfolding your life path. Now you can move forward—not with certainty, but with confidence in your ability to unwind the golden thread—knowing that old and new capacities will support you along your way.
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