Chaos and Ennui
Why do I feel more alive in the midst of a crisis?
When my life is full of chaos-disordered and disjointed-most of my energy is devoted to putting life in order. Such chaos engenders the new and the extraordinary-new experiences, extraordinary efforts. It requires resourcefulness and ingenuity, innovativeness. It stimulates the mind to creative pursuits and diligent work. Chaos represents challenges to be mastered, obstacles to be surmounted, barriers to be overcome.
This is hardly anything but boring.
But once the chaos is ended, predictability and stability return. Once equilibrium and balance are restored, chaos diminishes. Stress and tension are released, like showers after the clap of thunder. Even though there is a pleasurable feeling of accomplishment, it leaves me feeling empty, even bored. And that old insistent ennui returns.
In essence, boredom is the desire within the depth of being to restore newness through disorder. It is the unconscious cry to turn order into chaos. It’s sort of like a deep, unconscious urge for destruction and disintegration.
In ancient Greece, chaos meant “the primal emptiness.” Chaos was the womb out of which all beings sprang, the “primeval state of existence from which the first gods appeared.”
So, out of Chaos, Cosmos. Chaos, then, is the primordial creative space out of which all being emerges.
Therefore, boredom is the desire to return to that state of “formlessness and void.” The psyche desires such a return because it is precisely out of that formless void that all creative energy, inspiration, and life springs. And that is the emotional experience of “feeling alive.”
The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, explained boredom this way:
“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. “
What are the “abysses” of our existence? The abyss, in Greek usage, was a “bottomless depth.” The abyss is a also a modern term used in psychoanalysis to refer metaphorically to the unconscious, or even the collective unconscious. The connection is clear: the unconscious is like a “bottomless depth,” an abyss, a “formless void,” a reservoir of chaos. Out of this chaotic abyss springs forth all the latent power of creation and individuation.
So, boredom exists in the unconscious-in the “chaotic abyss”-like a “muffling fog.” It is as if boredom bubbles up from the surface of the unconscious, crying out to make the conscious world like the unconscious.
Isn’t this ennui a strange, eerie thing? The unconscious self wants chaos in order that it may feel alive in the midst of trying to bring order out of chaos?