Rethinking Chaos and Health

February 27th, 2011


The health benefits of meditation and mindfulness receive a lot of well-deserved attention in our culture. These practices can help people with everyday suffering, as well as specific health concerns. The image associated with these practices is frequently a calm and peaceful meditator. So the question is, do we have to be calm and peaceful in order to be healthy?

Larry Dossey, M.D., a leader in the field of mind/body medicine, recently published an article on the role of chaos and disorder in health, and I found his approach refreshing and informative.

Dossey uses the term “coherence” to describe the idealized, harmonious state that we associate with meditation and mindfulness. The current paradigm in our culture says that coherence is always necessary for healthy functioning. But Dossey writes, “Evidence suggests that coherence — harmony, order, regularity, periodicity — in human function can sometimes be pathological, that chaos can be necessary for health and longevity, and that the loss of chaos is involved in aging.”

Dossey’s article challenges the simplified notion that coherence is good and chaos is bad. In fact, both coherence and chaos coexist in our lives all the time. From a psychotherapeutic perspective, recognizing the truth of our experience — the good and the bad, the coherent and the chaotic, and everything in between — is one of the foundations of health.

You might also be interested in another blog post I wrote, Arthur Kleinman: Questions for Clients, which discusses the important questions that Kleinman, a medical anthropologist, suggests clinicians ask clients about their own health and illness.

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