Complexity and Simplicity

I like to think I can understand and manipulate my world. I like to think I have a handle on cause and effect. I like to think my world is the same world as everyone else’s world – so I can use that common ground as a basis for judging OUR performance in it.

As maybe you’ve discovered for yourself, just because I WANT the world to be a certain way doesn’t mean it IS that way. Life is complex – maybe more complex than I can comprehend.  Defending my way as the way has caused me considerable frustration that feels like a slap the size of the planet across my egocentric wants.

I am and am part of a complex adaptive system. My thoughts and actions affect me and the overall system/environment in which I live. To think I can predict outcomes based on my intentions with any confidence is, quite realistically, unrealistic. About the best I can do is to predict what I think are probable outcomes.

For example, when I take a step, I can predict with a high degree of probability the outcome of that step – I’ll land one step farther in the direction of the step. When I add certainty to that formula – certain I’ll land as I expect to land – I ignorantly open myself to frustration. There is always a slight chance that step won’t result in me landing where or how I intended to land OR maybe that step will cause unforeseen problems for me in the future (like that time when I took just one step, tripped, and landed in the hospital).

I fear the unknown. I like predictability because it gives me a sense of control (rightness) over vulnerability, and gives me a sense of safety. I like predictable outcomes so much that I work hard to force predictability on that which is not entirely predictable – like living systems (me and my environment). To the degree I MUST HAVE predictability, I experience frustration. To the degree I let go of predictability and trust life as a process, the less frustration I’ll probably experience.

Unforeseen consequences happen fairly often in my world. That’s due to the complex interrelated nature of the universe. Journalist Michael Hobbes put it pretty succinctly while explaining the complex nature of international aide:

“…every ecosystem, each forest floor or coral reef, is the result of millions of interactions between its constituent parts, a balance of all the aggregated adaptations of plants and animals to their climate and each other. Adding a non-native species, or removing one that has always been there, changes these relationships in ways that are too intertwined and complicated to predict.

It’s not that development is broken, it’s that our expectations of it are.” [1]

And there is the rub – my expectations! When I believe I can know outcome from intent, my belief affects my complex adaptive system – life as I know it – in unpredictable ways.

In a previous post, we discussed the nature of nature – how my shoulds get in the way of my acceptance of nature. When I let go of the need to control the immense complexity of the nature of nature (of which I’m a part), I can relax from my unrealistic, maybe impossible efforts to force the universe to abide by my egocentric wishes. I’m more likely then to take accountability for my part in that complex adaptive system I call life.

To get started taking accountability, I can begin now to express gratitude for the way things are now, and now, and now… in other words, continuous gratitude – constant awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for what is – now.

To help me with my “shoulds” – like little children who “play house” and such, I can play with notions rather than freezing my thoughts into beliefs. When I notice a “should” coming out, I can ask myself, “MUST this be so?” or “MUST I/we/you/they behave some other way?” etc. – whatever it is I feel SHOULD be some other way.

When I question my shoulds, I learn things about my beliefs and my need to defend them  – and ultimately about my nature. Practicing accepting what is, in spite of my shoulds and musts, opens my mind to gratitude – and illumination.

Life is complex. Gratitude is simple.


  1. Extracted from New Republic Online, Stop Trying to Save the World – Big ideas are destroying international development, By Michael Hobbes, Nov 17, 2014

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