The Case for Chaos

by Anne Mendenhall

     I’m thinking about chaos, and clay, and changing oil in my scooter, and making a concrete bird bath. All this is just spinning in my head as I take a moment of rest. I’m thinking about chaos because I want to write about it; I’m thinking about clay because as a would-be potter I have lots of ideas for different forms, different designs, in different kinds of clay; I’m thinking about oil change because the manual says that after breaking in the engine at 300 miles I need to do that; I’m thinking about a concrete birdbath because in the garden I have beautiful, huge, luscious rhubarb leaves that would be the perfect shape for it and I’m wondering how to transfer the leaf shape to concrete. And in thinking about what my mind is occupied with, I realize that my mind is chaos personified.

    I look around at the kaleidoscopic world we live in and I see that governments all up and down the spectrum seem often incapable of making sensible decisions. When the FBI infiltrates peace groups and puts Quakers on their watch list, I know my country, the USA, has lost its way. I see our culture, what some would call our values, our social structures, in many places in shreds. I hear that most often the goal of young black men for the next week, the next month, the next year is simply to stay alive. I know that our food supply is so disembodied of life giving value as a result of pesticides, genetic engineering, ultra pasteurization, homogenization, artificial dyes, preservatives, synthetic vitamins, and chemical manipulation in processing that it is a miracle anyone of us is healthy. Somehow, behind the scenes, it seems that the goal must be to make us ill so we become consumers of all the drugs that abound, that give us side effects and lead to more drugs, more side effects, more drugs.

    I see that truth is a bad word; no one in power wants to speak it, and if anyone who is powerless should try to resurrect truth, they are often trounced. I used to think that in the U.S.A. we placed a high value on human life. We routinely give aid to other countries; how can we ignore our own catastrophes, such as victims of hurricane Katrina and the recent mortgage crisis? I see that in this new information age we have more information than we can process. I see millions of people protesting war, greed, corruption, and being at best ignored, at worst put to death. I see nature – not to be outdone - providing an equal measure of chaotic scenarios.

    Why are we experiencing so much chaos? Let’s look at it another way – we all know how long it sometimes takes us to realize that some stupid action of our own is causing us serious trouble. We have all had eureka moments when we suddenly wake up and ‘see the light’. We all know, at least I know, that I learn much more from my mistakes than from any of my so-called successes. The memory of mistakes lingers long and vividly. Chaos is telling us we need to pay attention. Chaos provides the situation from which we learn to correct old habits and mistakes and let new impulses and approaches come to birth.

    I want for a moment to think of chaos as it is used for beneficial effect in the physical world and then to look at how this same phenomenon applies to our lives.

    By way of background, quite some years ago a scientist published an article in a leading journal stating that water can take on the quality of a substance placed within it. In other words, he was saying that there can be transference of quality and characteristics and ‘energy’ from a material to the water medium. He wasn’t talking about establishing an equilibrium, or dissolving the substance. He was talking about new qualities that could be added to the water. The scientific community immediately pounced on this subject and rejected it vigorously – a sure sign there was some truth in it. The magazine editors apologized profoundly to the readers for publishing something so absurd. But was it? There are ways to add new impulses to water, and in my experience this always involves moments of chaos. When I speak of an impulse, or of energy being transferred, I’m not intending to suggest energy as thermal units, but energy more like what is experienced when someone with ‘presence’ enters a room.

    Peasant farmers still living close to nature, and some farmers who today practice biological farming methods, would know that the ‘pounced’ upon scientist was speaking truth. When I read the article I was overjoyed that someone was finally recognizing a phenomenon with which I had personal experience. Some farmers have a way of working with water which creates this very result. A tiny amount of a substance, for example a fistful of something like compost, can be added to a barrel of 50 gallons of water. For about a minute, the farmer stirs vigorously in one direction, making a deep vortex, sometimes with many little vortices spinning off it, then suddenly and strongly the farmer reverses the direction. This creates a moment of chaos as water crashes into itself. In this jolting moment, something important happens. Water takes into itself an imprint of the material it is carrying. Repeat this process many times over the course of an hour and water becomes a different substance with a new energy, a new quality, a new influence, even when the original material is filtered out. This ‘new’ water can then be sprayed on perhaps 20 acres of land with results that may be hard to believe unless you have experienced it. 1

    Homeopaths know the process as well. In a method called succussing, a small amount of material is placed in a closed container with a liquid. The contents are gently rocked back and forth. Each time they slosh into the wall of the container, a mini chaos occurs. With, for example, many successive dilutions and succussings, the imprint of a small amount of original substance is transferred to a very large volume of liquid. Chaos is used to multiply the desired value.

    As our world becomes more chaotic, we as people hit the ‘wall’, wake up, realizing something is wrong and, perhaps, seeing what needs to be done to make improvements.  Out of this many good impulses come to birth. World chaos is now our school and we will be attending it until an imprint is made on enough hearts and minds to change the way the world works.

    We in the U.S.A, as elsewhere, have a lot of learning to do. We must stop thinking of ourselves as redeemers of the world when in fact we are in dire need of redemption ourselves. We have been led down the primrose path of believing that we can do no wrong, when in fact we have done much wrong and continue to do so. Legitimate governments have been deposed because they were not friendly to us (being communist was often given as the excuse, lately replaced by WMD and terrorism, a blatent use of fear to justify aggression). Translation: the regime that needed deposing was not amenable to having our corporations take over their resources, or having our military build a base. Think Central and South America. Think Pacific islands. Okinawa where we have long since out-worn our welcome; The Philippines which with help from a volcano finally got rid of us; and especially think of Hawaii manipulated against the will of the people to come under our total control. We have massive military bases in South Korea and Japan, but tolerance may be wearing thin. At this stage in our life as empire builders, we could take a lesson from Great Britain which managed, seemingly quite gracefully, to divest its empire – although no doubt Britain, as other countries, has similar soul-searching to do about the state of the world today.

    As a farmer with many years experience, I recognize that we have to clean up agriculture and support organic and biological farming. Twenty years ago it was injudiciously thought that organic farmers could not feed us. That is far from true. I had better yields as a Biodynamic farmer than in any of my 14 years of land-based chemical dependency, and both the soil and I were better for it. Not so many years ago an engineer determined that the most efficient land work was done by a man with a hoe. A man and a horse could cover more ground, but the cost of the horse, its care and maintenance, its feed, its harness, its equipment all reduced efficiency. A farmer with 2 horses could cover even more ground, but not twice as much, so efficiency was again compromised. Yet consider the cost in resources of the huge tractors and equipment that farmers use today. They cover much ground, but at great uncalculated cost. While none of us may want to stake our future on a hoe, a middle ground, represented by reasonably efficient organic and biological farmers, would serve us better. I use ‘reasonably’ efficient, because we don’t want to be overly focused on agricultural efficiency as it can lead us down that primrose path that ignores other values which are equally important.

    We have to get a grip on our profligate use of energy. Petro companies are laughing all the way to the bank. If we cut gasoline use, they cut refinery production, indicating they will take whatever action is needed to maintain maximum profits. War is our most reckless waste of energy – including human energy. Stopping ‘preventive war’ (the oxymoron of all time) would be the best first step in making better use of fading resources.

    We must learn to understand the new language of power. Words are used in direct opposition to their traditional meaning to blind us to reality. Clean means dirty, green often means business as usual, democracy means fascism, liberty means they’re taking it from us, security means you are on your own, education means they will train us to think their way, news means they have decided what they want us to know, health means sickness, justice has no meaning. It takes a little time to learn to re-interpret old words but it is basic to the job. The biblical story of the tower of Babel well illustrates the chaos that occurs when we lose the ability to communicate. And truly we do sometimes hear what we want to hear, not what is being said.

    Medicine is another area that needs examination. Certainly some remarkable things are being done, but to distinguish the good from the exploitative is difficult. Doctors seem extremely reluctant to tell us truth, even if they know it. Perhaps too many fear lawsuits. The profession needs a lot of help to be on our side again.

    Chaos is telling us that we need, right now, to find new ways of relating to each other, to the earth, and to the power structure wherever and whatever it may be. The drum-beat of chaos is urgent. Birthing new human capacities is called for. This may be painful, but if we can move before we are pushed to the brink, the pain and the disaster will be far less debilitating.

    Christopher Fry, in his play A Sleep of Prisoners, said it most eloquently over half a century ago and it still rings true today – the ice floes of history are breaking apart, the thunder is relentless. We, mankind, must take the greatest stride of soul we have ever taken. Are we ready? Are we looking for the next steps? Mikhail Gorbachev took a great stride of soul in making his government more transparent. Al Gore took a great stride in helping to get environmental issues on the table and talked about. Women who flee abusive relationships take a great stride of soul. Most of us in this country are in an abusive relationship with our own government. Fleeing is not an option, but other action is. My little step at this time – not yet a stride – is to help sound the alarm. Those who hear will find their own strides. May each of us find our needed action, and quickly.


Anne Mendenhall lives in retirement in Lansing NY, U.S.A. and writes occasional essays and commentary. She can be contacted at:




1.   As a beginning Biodynamic farmer I made a little experiment, applying this ‘new’ water, actually an organic preparation called the 500 field spray, to just a portion of a wheat field. The next summer, when harvesting the grain, I was surprised to find the grain bin filling faster in a certain portion of the field. Then ‘the light dawned’ and I remembered my little experiment.




Dark and cold we may be, but this

Is no winter now. The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul we ever took.


Affairs are now soul size.

The enterprise

Is exploration into God.

Where are you making for? It takes

So many thousand years to wake,

But will you wake for pity’s sake!


Christopher Fry


This article was first published in New View, Summer 2008.