Order and Chaos – a Buddhist ‘take’ : honouring the late Bo Lozoff

I found out tonight from the Big Island Chronicle (Hawaii) which published a link from my blog yesterday, that the great Buddhist teacher Bo Lozoff  died in a car crash on 29th November 2012. This post featuring Bo’s wisdom, is republished in his honour.

Along with many people, I owe a large debt to Buddhist wisdom. Of the many books of Buddhist psychology I read during my 2001-8 time in the Underworld, three stand out which I would recommend to anyone going through crisis. They provide both practical coping techniques and spiritual support:

Pema Chodron’s When things fall apart”, Jack Kornfield’s After the ecstasy, the laundry”, (see  Book Reviews  page for review of this great book) and  Bo Lozoff’s“It’s a great life – it just takes practice”.

Lozoff describes a prolonged solo retreat in which day in, day out, he meditates upon the following :

“Anything that can happen to anyone at any time can happen to me, and I accept this”. He keeps this meditative thread running through days of allowing fantasies of the worst things that could devastate him, and those he loves, to rise and dissolve. At the end of the retreat he goes home, more at peace with the realisation that chaos can and does arise at any time to sweep away the order of our personal and collective lives.

Bo Lozoff is now in his sixties. His spiritual journey began at the age of eighteen. A typical self-absorbed materialistic American teenager (his own description) driving home late one night, a momentary lapse of concentration caused him to crash into a lorry and smash himself to bits.

Many months of painful surgery and rehabilitation put him together again – a person much deepened and strengthened in spirit, no longer interested in pursuing the shallow materialistic agenda of his culture, intent on a life of service and of finding deeper answers to the big WHYs : eg  Why are we here ?” and “Why do we suffer ?”

In essence, the Buddhist view is that suffering is caused by wishing for things to be other than they are.

I found reference to this simple, penetrating piece of wisdom – prominently displayed in our kitchen –  bracingly therapeutic during my long period of recovering my energy, especially at times when self-pity threatened to take me over.

Life requires both chaos and order. With chaos alone, nothing could take form. Order by itself shuts down creativity and ultimately life itself. Chaos and order interpenetrate at every level from the most trivial to the most profound.

Most of us who are at all computer-literate have at least once had the experience, early on, of pressing the wrong key or clicking the wrong box – sending our beautifully ordered and pleasing words which we haven’t backed up, into the void. And I know of hillwalkers who, slipping in the wrong place, fell to their deaths throwing loved ones’ lives into chaos in seconds.

How do we cope with this ?

The Buddha's Footprint
The Buddha’s Footprint

Buddhism advises us to hold very lightly to order, knowing it can turn at a blink to chaos; and to walk into chaos, regarding it as ‘very good news’ in the challenging words of renowned teacher Chogyam Trungpa.

Clinging to outdated structures whilst the storms of life are tearing down everything familiar, usually doesn’t work. ‘Leaning into the sharp points’, trying to face and learn from upheaval, is a more fruitful strategy. But its rewards may take time to become evident, and it can be very hard to find the trust that new order will eventually emerge.

At an ordinary day-to day level, the key to coping well with the ever-changing energy pattern of life is cultivating the ability to live in the present moment. “Carpe diem” as the Roman poet Horace famously said in his Odes : “seize the day”. Now is all we’re sure of. Let’s live it fully!


600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

4 thoughts on “Order and Chaos – a Buddhist ‘take’ : honouring the late Bo Lozoff

  1. I experienced a very small and quite amusing example of this last night. Working on a draft post, I discovered that images no longer posted to my draft as they should. Instead of inserting themselves at the point where my cursor was, everything moved to the top of the post. I’d copy the image put it where it belonged and Booiiing! Up to the top it went.

    I went over to the forums to see if it was just me, and of course it wasn’t. WordPress had done one of their famous upgrades, and everyone was in the midst of chaos. It was extraordinarily interesting to see how many people were coming unglued, becoming obnoxious, demanding, threatening and generally functioning on the level of a five-year old. Others, with more experience or perhaps less energy for a tantrum, did what I did: posted a description of the problem, information about their operating system and steps they had taken to try and resolve the problem. Then, they waited. All the threads had been marked for staff attention, and it was staff who would have to deal with the bug.

    After about three hours, I went back in and found things fixed.
    Images posted properly again, and order was restored.

    The only difference between group A and group B was the degree of emotional turmoil they experienced while waiting for order to be brought out of chaos! My takeaway – life’s little traumas are good training for the big ones.

    1. ” – life’s little traumas are good training for the big ones….” Indeed – and the corollary of this is that surviving deep and prolonged trauma can have the effect of reframing one’s response to the little ones. Some years ago, after supporting each other through a particularly protracted and unpleasant bout of family of origin trauma, my brother and I came up with the Revised Disaster Scale. It goes like this: you go out of your house one morning and discover that someone has taken a six-inch nail and heavily scored the entire side of your car. Disaster Scale Rating: 7. Five years later, after surviving and recovering from aforementioned protracted and unpleasant bout of family of origin trauma, the same thing happens to your car. Revised Disaster Scale rating: 1.5. You get the idea.

  2. From F.M. by email, 4.12.12…
    ‘I just wanted to thank you again for another very timely posting….I’m telling you this because as soon as I started to read your post this morning I knew it had an answer for all of this despair and fear that I’ve been feeling these last few days….
    With all the work I’ve done in trying to come to terms with fear I really can’t understand how I’ve not come to this understanding before.
    If I want to live an authentic life and become all that I can be, experience all that I’m here for, well then I may as well set a place at the table for fear because the fact is, he is going to come and go as he pleases. I may just as well accept that…..’

  3. Dear F.M., the first email I found on checking today, was yours…..every time I go through a phase of feeling fed up with my blog, I receive a piece of wonderfully encouraging feedback…I have included an extract from yours above, in the hope that it will encourage other readers who are also struggling with fear, that facing it – if that is at all possible – is the way forward in the end.

    Thank you so much for your affirmation of the value of my work.
    Although I have quite big readership, I don’t get all that many
    comments, so I do wonder about who reads my writings and what they make of it. And then from time to time I receive feedback such as yours. I really appreciate it. Keep leaning into those sharp points!

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