Finding Freedom and Clarity in A World of Chaos

On the summit of Mt. Whitney. The highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

We live in a chaotic world. America had 251 mass shootings (in which four or more people were shot) in the first 216 days of 2019. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words, every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of five hours of television daily, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 100 hours of video every minute. It’s becoming impossible to keep up with Trump’s increasingly frenetic tweets—over 800 times just last month.

Living a free and clear life in this utter confusion and disorder is a challenge. Perhaps that’s why organization expert Marie Kondo has taken our closets by storm. We need to remove something—anything—to cut through the chaos. Here are four things I’m working to eliminate from the interior closet of my being to find freedom and clarity in this chaotic world.
No Secrets—The person who keeps secrets may be nobody’s fool, but those who seek freedom and clarity keep none. James Joyce writes, “Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of…our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.” Those tyrants create interior chaos. When we divulge our deepest secrets we must be prepared for the consequences—we must know that freedom and clarity will be worth the cost no matter how great. It is important to find someone completely trustworthy before you bare your darkest secrets. If you don’t have someone, consider hiring a therapist who is bound by a confidentiality agreement.
No Shame—Shame is a weapon wielded by people who are not free. They want us to obey their rules. They tell us to be responsible. They tell us we are bad. Why do they reproach us? Maybe it’s because they are afraid of our wildness and openness, and the freedom we have makes them ashamed and sad for what they’ve allowed to wither in themselves. They project their shame upon us. I’ve watched every episode of Game of Thrones twice and by far the most powerful scene is Cersei’s walk of shame. You can watch it here:
No Regrets—We must understand the difference between regret and remorse. Regret is distress of mind for what has been done or failed to be done. Remorse implies a sense of guilt and repentance for sins committed, wrongs done, or duty not performed. It’s appropriate to feel guilty after you’ve done something wrong. None of us can afford the casual comfort of innocence.
Feeling the emotion of guilt for an action deserving of remorse is normal; to not feel guilty may be a sign of psychopathy. The interior chaos occurs when you distress over this guilt. An action in the past cannot be changed, no matter how much you wish it would.
Accept the fact that it happened, apologize to the person or persons you harmed, and then figure out how to avoid committing the same act in the future. Freedom and clarity come with the appropriate acknowledgment of guilt, which is to say the acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of one’s choices.
It is helpful for me to practice the concept of self-absolution. The Latin term absolutus means “set free”. In the Catholic faith, a priest absolves believers of their sins. But in reality, a priest has no more power to forgive mistakes than we do. We can and should accept responsibility, apologize when necessary, acknowledge the guilt, absolve ourselves, and move on in freedom and clarity.
No Fear—I grew up in an environment of fear. The Appalachian people are clannish and superstitious. I was taught to fear anything and anyone that is unfamiliar. I have spent my life going to great lengths to confront those anxieties.
To conquer the fear of water, I forced myself to swim the disorienting depths and underwater cliffs of the Great Barrier Reef. To confront the fear of the wild, I had a bush pilot drop me off into the wilderness of Kodiak Island, Alaska for a week in grizzly country with only a tent and a raft—do NOT try this!—there are far more sane ways to confront this fear. To confront my fear of heights, I did solo summits of four of the highest mountains in North America. To confront the fear of people different than me, a few weeks after 9/11—I climbed aboard a plane filled with Muslims and made a harrowing journey to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.
Soon after, with tensions still high in America, I accepted a dinner invitation to the home of an Afghani family whose daughter had become a close friend of my daughter at college. I was the first white adult to enter their home. They were the first Muslims to enter ours. It was a beautiful experience and I gained new respect and appreciation for people from a culture that has been vilified in America.
The tyranny of secrets, the acceptance of shame, the distress of regret, and the effects of fear create interior chaos. Divesting secrets, refusing shame, absolving regret, and conquering fear promote a life of freedom and clarity in a chaotic world. I have determined to live a free and clear life. It has been a happy and peace-filled decision. How about you?