Chapter Two: Part One – The Balance Between Order and Chaos

CHAPTER TWO:

THE BALANCE BETWEEN ORDER AND CHAOS

In order to determine whether we can know anything with any certainty, we first have to doubt everything we know.  – Rene Descartes

         I first heard about the idea of limiting beliefs in July 2017.

         I was attending Unleash the Power Within, Tony Robbins’ introductory program designed around helping participants take control of their lives.  The event was held in the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, and I was surrounded by 15,000 people who had traveled from around the world to take things to the next level.  During the third day of the four-day event, participants are asked to identify three limiting beliefs that have held them back up to this point in their lives.  I looked at my two divorces, my strained relationship with my daughter, and a military career I’d ended five years before I was eligible to retire, which had impacted my long-term financial plans.

         The beliefs that had been formed from those experiences amounted to, in the simplest terms, limiting beliefs that I was not enough, that I was a bad parent, and that I would never have financial abundance.  Going into the event, I don’t know that I had ever consciously spent much time questioning what I believed.

A belief is something we have absolute certainty or conviction that, this is the way it is and there is no other possibility.  The challenge is, if the belief is holding us back, it limits our ability to experience greater joy, and prevents us from feeling a sense of fulfillment about our lives.  In turn, we become bound by the operating principles of that belief.  Limiting beliefs are challenging to overcome because they serve as the basis for how we view the world and, unless we consciously question them, it can be nearly impossible to see outside their confines.

         Once the beliefs have been identified, Tony then leads participants through a thoughtful discussion.  Are these beliefs really true?  Participants share their limiting beliefs with one another, vocalizing them.  At first, I hesitated in sharing some of these things with someone else, especially someone I didn’t know.   I was embarrassed about the collection of missteps I’d made in my life.  Then I realized that 15,000 people were doing the same thing and, in the middle of a crowd that size, everyone is so focused on expressing themselves, there’s no room for judgment.  If I wanted to take charge of my life, I couldn’t worry about being judged for my life’s journey, or for what I believed.  The people pointing fingers at others, noting how they’ve stumbled or fallen, are spectators.   They aren’t in the arena.  I know, because I’ve spectated a lot.  We don’t need permission from others to believe what we believe.  Ultimately, whatever we believe about Jesus, we must reconcile that belief within ourselves.  The limiting belief that took a lot of effort to address was the one with my daughter.

         When I believed I wasn’t a good parent to my daughter, as much as I wanted a nurturing and healthy relationship with her, that relationship proved elusive, because I didn’t believe I was worthy of it.  There were no visible constraints inhibiting our relationship; it just never seemed to go in the direction I’d hoped it would.  My attempts at establishing a lasting, fulfilling father-daughter relationship were obstructed by the limitations I had imposed on myself because of what I ultimately believed was possible and true about my abilities as a father.

         It’s tough to look at the parts of our life that cause us pain, yet it is through the act of confronting these beliefs that we find the strength to overcome them, freeing ourselves from their shackles.  The first step in obliterating limiting beliefs is identifying them.

         The next is realizing these limiting beliefs are nothing more than a story we’ve told ourselves repeatedly until we become convinced of their validity.  We have imprisoned ourselves based on our beliefs.  If you’ve ever told yourself you’re not good at something, or you can’t do something because x, y, and z, you have created a limiting belief prison.

         In high school, I told myself I wasn’t good at math.  That became true.  I struggled with algebra and trigonometry, and did my best to write off any future plans for taking math classes in college.  By the time I got to Penn State, I ended up needing to take a calculus class as part of the military training program I was in.

         Every day after the class, I met with the teacher’s assistant in his office, where we would spend hours going over the day’s lesson.  I ended up getting a B+ in the class.  Limiting belief, conquered.

       Because a prison of belief is built with conviction, it can be daunting to overcome; in some cases, without analysis or exploration, we can be blind to their existence, and at their mercy when it comes to our interactions with others.  I recently heard a story about a member of the Ku Klux Klan befriending an African American man in his community, in the process smashing his limiting beliefs of racial prejudice and bigotry.

       If we are aware of their existence but feel incapable of doing anything about them, we have surrendered to the belief’s power over us.  This is one of the reasons people procrastinate; they know they want to change but, until they experience enough pain and change becomes a must, they will find excuses.  Ever put off going to the gym, or promise yourself that, starting tomorrow you’ll stop indulging your sweet tooth?  Me too.

         Tony then implores participants to decry these old stories and limiting beliefs as nothing more than well-worn B.S., meaning outdated belief systems.  He asks participants to come up with new empowering beliefs, before taking them through an incredible transformative experience to help them integrate these new beliefs into their physiology.  We’re going to discuss more of this towards the end of the book.

         The empowering beliefs I came up with about my relationship with my daughter have transformed our relationship.  She is a true “Swiftie” and saw Taylor Swift perform in Dallas at the beginning of her Eras tour in 2023.  I appreciate the depth of Taylor’s music and admire her willingness to share her life so openly with her fans.  In April of that year, my daughter and I met in Atlanta to see one of Taylor’s sold-out performances at the Mercedes-Benz stadium.  The stage was massive, with a towering video wall and a walkway that extended across the stadium floor.  Our seats were about forty feet from the edge of the walkway, and I experienced one of the most fulfilling moments of my life when my daughter hugged me, tears in her eyes, thanking me for the experience.  She enjoyed the experience so much, she decided we should repeat it in 2024.

       I replaced my limiting belief around money and appreciate that Christ’s abundance is with me always.  Most importantly, I took responsibility for my sense of worthiness, knowing that I cannot outsource it to someone else, or I create a dependency outside of my control.

The Regimentation of Military Life

 

       The need for order comes out of chaos; it is essential to our survival.  Our ancestors had to deal with the Mother Nature, each other, and with predators in the wild.  Fighting for our survival is inherent in our nature; the oldest part of our brain is reptilian in origin and is designed to help us survive.

       In the Marines, we had regulations for everything.  For example, our boot laces were expected to be tied left over right.  There was a specific length the hem of our service pants needed to be above the top lip of the sole of our shoes.  We kept our hair length within specifications.  There were even regulations for the trimming and maintaining of moustaches for those inclined to grow them.  Life was filled with regimentation.

       Every morning at 0800 aboard the military base where I worked, the American flag was hoisted to the top of a flagpole, to the sounds of the national anthem.  If you were outside, you came to attention.  If you were outside and in uniform, you faced the direction of the flag and saluted.  The same thing happened in the evening, when the flag was lowered at sunset.  There were specific instructions, regulations, and standard operating procedures for virtually every aspect of military life.  Everything was measured.

       In boot camp, recruits are taught how to march; it is quite the experience to witness newly formed recruits struggle to embrace the distinctions between walking, something they’ve done their entire lives, and marching, with its precision, focus, and demand for uniformity within the rank and file.  Confused recruits lurch forward like dazed Frankenstein’s monsters, swinging their left hand forward as they take a step with their left foot, while Marine drill instructors berate them for such obvious and awkward blunders.  When eating in the dining facility, affectionately known in military circles as the “chow hall,” recruits are instructed to eat at 90 degrees, meaning they scoop the food off their tray, lift the spoon or fork straight up to mouth level, and then direct the utensil into their mouth to deposit the food.  They eat at right angles.

       In short, there is a tremendous amount of structure and order provided in military training and daily life to counter the utter chaos of warfare.  In combat, you will see things that stun the psyche, things for which there are no rules or regulations; you’re still expected to complete the mission.  Watch any gritty, realistic war movie like Saving Private Ryan, and this will become obvious.  Despite the sheer scale of the atrocities and horrifying pandemonium going on around him, Tom Hank’s character Captain Miller finds a way to get his men off the beach.

       While in the Marines, my first real appreciation for the relationship between order and chaos occurred when I spent six months on a Navy ship with a detachment of Navy SEALs.  While the Marines were known for maintaining their spit-polished boots and crisp uniforms, Marines are nothing if not intense about presenting a sharp image, the SEALs walked around in their atrocious Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) shorts, wore green t-shirts, and sported long hair, usually with beards and moustaches.  Marines weren’t allowed to have beards.  The SEALs wore nonregulation sunglasses, boots, and hats, or what Marines refer to as “covers.”

       As a young, twenty-three-year-old second lieutenant, I initially dismissed their disheveled appearance as a lack of discipline.  I would soon learn – Navy SEALs operated in the chaos.  In their basic training, just to become a SEAL, recruits are drowned and then resuscitated in an activity affectionately known as “drown-proofing.”  It is an incredible act of courage to willingly submit to being drowned.  They undergo extreme stress, operating with limited amounts of food and sleep.  They are constantly training, pushing their bodies well past normal limits, to foster a limitless mindset.  In short, they develop an internal fortitude, an unwavering certainty, that they can overcome any challenge they may face in the outside world.  They then condition their bodies to operate at these intense levels.

 

       Christ calls on us to galvanize within ourselves that same type of fortitude and certainty – that is his call for us to pick up our cross and follow him.  The key is, that certainty comes from within us.  It must, if we are to comprehend the gift of everlasting life.  This requires both discipline and adaptability.

       While there are volumes of regulations and Laws of War under which most of the world’s militaries abide, no one is pulling out a rule book during combat.  Death is an ever-present possibility and, in the heat of the moment, absolute focus is oriented on the reality in front of your face, not on what the manual says.

       Obviously, the chaos of everyday life isn’t quite as extreme as when you’re on the frontlines in combat, but we see similar relationships played out on a much lesser scale whenever we watch a football game.  Two opposing sides come up with gameplans, then find themselves immediately adjusting their plans once the game starts.  Order gives way to chaos.  If something is working, one team will stick with it until the other team finds a way to blunt their opponent’s success.  One team manages to get the job done, creating order through the chaos, and comes away with the victory.

       The relationship between order and chaos has its underpinnings in daily life.

 

We will pick up next week with Chapter 2, as we explore the impact of societal conditioning.