Change is the one constant in this universe. One of the first things the Buddha noted when he began to teach was that everything changes. For that reason, understanding change, how it happens, what makes it difficult and what makes it easy, is of crucial importance to anyone on a spiritual or personal growth path.

 

But how does change work? Why does it happen? And, how can we allow it, without resisting and suffering?

 

The answer is found in the Nobel Prize-winning work of Russian-born Belgian theoretical chemist, Ilya Prigogine. Prigogine, working in the field of thermodynamics, became intensely curious about what seemed to be a contradiction between one of the basic laws of science and some equally basic observable facts, including the existence and evolution of life itself. This contradiction, though seemingly unrelated to our everyday lives, contains the seed of profound practical wisdom for anyone committed to mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.

 

The second law of thermodynamics (stay with me-this really isn't complicated, and it's very interesting) states that whenever work is done, some energy is irretrievably lost. When expanding steam causes a piston to move, for instance, some energy is lost from the system in the form of heat radiation due to friction. In addition, the machine itself, unless energy is added to the system in the form of an overhaul, new parts, etc., will wear out and eventually break down.

 

This fact of nature is called the law of increasing entropy. Entropy, simply put, is a measure of the amount of randomness or chaos in a system, and the law of increasing entropy is an expression of the fact the universe is irreversibly moving toward a state of increased disorder and randomness. Left to itself, with no energy input from the outside, any system will break down and become increasingly disordered. A car will turn to rust and fall apart, a mountain will be worn down, and so on. Even the expansion of the universe is a movement in the direction of increasing disorder, increasing entropy.

 

Yet we can see that many things in the universe tend toward increased order-the opposite of what-the second law of thermodynamics predicts. Life has evolved as atoms became molecules, then amino acids, proteins, cells, multi-cellular life, social systems, and so on-definitely a process of increasing order, and against the flow of increasing entropy. This seeming paradox puzzled scientists for over a hundred years until Prigogine discovered the key: that order arises not in spite of entropy, but because of it!

 

Dissipative structures

 

For centuries, the scientific community had been more interested in idealized closed systems, systems that have no interaction with the environment-the molecules of hydrogen in a closed container, for instance, or an ideal machine. Prigogine, on the other hand, was interested in open systems, those that constantly interact with their environment, changing, growing, and evolving. Living things are prime examples of open systems. Far from equilibrium, they constantly take in energy in the form of light, heat, nutrients, air, water, etc., and then dissipate to their environment carbon dioxide, heat, waste products, various activities, and so on. In this way they, they constantly adjust to their environment, changing, growing, healing, learning.

 

Prigogine set out to study open systems in an effort to solve the riddle of how systems of increasing order (systems that can change, grow, and evolve) can exist in a universe inevitably tending toward disorder and chaos. Studying certain far-from-equilibrium chemical processes, he obtained results which again seemed to contradict the second law of thermodynamics. That is, until he ascertained that while the system itself did indeed become increasingly ordered, it did so by dispersing entropy to its environment!

 

These experiments proved his hypothesis that order emerges not in spite of chaos but because of it-that evolution and growth are inherent in far-from-equilibrium (open) systems. The key to such systems is their ability not only to take in energy and matter from the environment, but also to dissipate the resulting entropy to the environment, creating an overall energy dynamic that does follow the second law of thermodynamics.

 

Progigine called these open systems that evolve and grow by taking in energy and matter from their environment and dissipating the resulting entropy "dissipative structures." Prigogine's discoveries apply to every open system in the universe, whether a chemical system (as in Prigogine's original experiments), a seed, a highway system, a corporation-or a human being.

 

Such structures, to maintain their existence, must interact with their environment, continually maintaining the flow of energy into and out of the system. And, rather than being the structure through which energy and matter flow, dissipative structures are, in fact, the flow itself. In other words, this is not a universe of independent things, but rather one of process, a changing, flowing, evolving, and intimately interconnected system of interactions.

 

Evolutionary growth: "escape into a higher order"

 

Dissipative structures (such as human beings) flourish in unstable, fluctuating environments. The more ordered and complex a system becomes, the more entropy it must dissipate to maintain its existence. Conversely, each system has an upper limit, due to its level of complexity, of how much entropy it can dissipate. This is a key point. If the fluctuations from the environment increase beyond that limit, the system, unable to disperse enough entropy into its environment, begins to become internally more entropic, more chaotic.

 

If the excessive input continues, the chaos eventually becomes so great that the system begins to break down. Finally, a point is reached where the slightest nudge can bring the whole system grinding to a halt. Either the system breaks down and ceases to exist as an organized system, or it spontaneously reorders itself in a new way. The change is a true quantum leap, a death and re-birth, and the main characteristic of the new system is that it can handle the fluctuations, the input from the environment, that overwhelmed the old system. In Prigogine's words, the system "escapes into a higher order."

 

Out of chaos comes a new order, a more evolved system. This new system has a new stability and is able to more easily exist in the previously overwhelming environment. But if input increases again, to a level beyond the system's new and higher capacity for dispersion of entropy, the process will repeat, resulting in new internal chaos and another reorganization at an even more evolved level.

 

The human brain as a dissipative structure

 

How does this affect you? The human brain is the ultimate dissipative structure, constantly taking in energy and matter from the environment, constantly dispersing entropy. We are able to handle amazing amounts of input from the environment, encountering all kinds of new ideas, stimuli, and events, handling them without threat to the system.

 

But if input (all that stuff that happens in your life) reaches a certain critical level, different for each individual, we begin to feel overwhelmed and become less and less able to deal with increased input.

 

We go into chaos. Eventually, the system (our mental construct of "what is") is forced to break down or reorganize at a higher, more evolved, level. The process goes something like this: at first things make sense; then, as chaos increases, they no longer make sense any more; finally, after reorganization, they make sense again, but in a whole new way, never before imagined.

 

Certain types of people, those who constantly open themselves to ideas and experiences, will be more likely to reach this "moment of truth"-what Abraham Maslow called "peak experience"-giving themselves the chance of "escaping into a higher order," giving them a chance to evolve and grow. On the other hand, people who resist new ideas, who won't try new experiences, who reject what doesn't fit their beliefs, and who never doubt their way of seeing things-in other words, people who resist the influx of new energy, stumuli, ideas, and matter into their brains-almost never have peak experiences and evolve very slowly, if at all.

 

If the input affecting the brain is strong enough, however, even a brain resistant to change can be impacted. This is what happens when we meditate. Meditation (particularly the technologically based Holosync meditation we use at Centerpointe Research Institute) creates fluctuations in the brain that eventually affect even our deepest, most unconscious resistance, creating change at a very deep level. Eventually, the brain evolves to a point where it is able to perceive, experience, and be one with the interconnections of the entire universe, allowing the healing of addictive and dysfunctional patterns and the growth of a profound sense of peace.

 

High-fluctuation brain wave states and evolution

 

Why does meditation affect the brain in this way? High frequency brain wave states, such as the beta state (that of normal, non-meditative consciousness), have very low amplitude. The wave form has little difference from its highest to its lowest point-a small amount of fluctuation. Lower frequency alpha and theta brain waves-those of traditional meditation (and the even deeper delta brain waves created by Holosync)-have very high amplitude-a large amount of fluctuation.

 

Since the amount of environmental fluctuation determines a system's possibilities for evolutionary change, a beta state does not push the brain to evolve. In the alpha, theta, and delta states, however, the brain experiences larger fluctuations, which, as we have seen, stimulate evolutionary change in dissipative structures. When an open system like the human brain is exposed to such low-frequency, high- amplitude fluctuations, it can (and will) make the quantum leap to the next higher level.

 

What, then, is the practical application of this model of change? And why does change often result in dysfunctional feelings and behaviors and other kinds of resistance?

 

Remember that chaos precedes change. Whenever there is chaos in your life, it means that your current map of reality is not able to handle the environment. In other words, you are over your personal threshold for what you can handle. If handled consciously, however, this chaos leads to positive change. At such times, remember that 1) a new and higher threshold, and a new and more highly evolved map of reality will solve many of the problems that the old map of reality can't handle, 2) chaos is a sign you're getting ready to create a new map by reorganizing at a higher and more functional level, and if you get out of the way, this will happen more easily and quickly.

 

In other words, chaos is good!

 

Most people don't recognize when they're in chaos, for several reasons. Some people self-medicate whenever they begin to feel stressed. They reach for a drink, a joint, a cigarette, food, a sexual partner, or an adrenaline rush-anything to mask their feelings. They don't realize that chaos is a growth opportunity and that by not taking advantage of it they keep their map of reality from evolving-which means that every time it is stimulated in the same way, they will become overwhelmed again. A new and more highly evolved map, however, could handle what the current map can't, ending their overwhelm.

 

Also, most people don't take responsibility for the chaos or stress they feel. They project it onto something outside of themselves. They find something to blame. "I'm stressed because of him." "I'm stressed because I lost my job." "I'm stressed because of the terrorist attacks." "I'm stressed because of my kids/parents/partner/finances/health/whatever."

 

But the only reason you are stressed or in chaos is that your threshold for what you can handle is too low. And, the one and only real solution is to raise that threshold higher.

 

So first, notice when there is chaos. "Here I am, in chaos." Then, acknowledge why it's happening. "My threshold is too low." Then, remind yourself that chaos is the first step in reorganizing your map of reality at a higher level-one that will work much better-an that this is actually an opportunity. "Hallelujah! I'm about to evolve, and once I make the leap to the next level, I'll be able to handle more, and lots of things that cause me to suffer will fall away!" Let it be okay that you're temporarily in chaos, and just watch what happens (more about that later). Resisting will, at best, make the process painful, and, at worst, will keep the reorganization from happening at all.

 

Few really understand how change works. Instead, they fight it. If they win this battle, they lose the war. By fighting change, you get to be pushed past the same old low threshold over and over, experiencing the same pain over and over.

 

Understanding change will save you untold suffering, if use your knowledge. Change is natural. You don't need to know "how" to do it. The entire universe has evolved, for billions of years, by this very mechanism. All you have to do is get out of the way.

 

Here, again, are the steps:

  1. Notice and acknowledge that you are in chaos.
  2. Realize it's happening because your threshold for what you can handle is too low to handle your current environment.
  3. Remember that this is a good thing, and means you are about to evolve to the next level, where many current problems will disappear.
  4. Let it be okay that this is happening.
  5. Watch with curiosity and don't resist.

Or, you can avoid being in situations where you get pushed past your threshold (good luck). You can stay home, isolate yourself, don't participate in life, don't take in new information, etc. Or, blow off steam when the pressure builds. Get angry, worry, compulsively talk, or exercise, or eat, or have sex (or whatever you like to do). Of course, you'll keep the same threshold in that case, with the same limitations. You already know what that's like.

 





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