Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory


I have been drawn to a quote from Shaun McNiff’s book “Art Heals” consistently. First as a graduate student studying art therapy, and then as a practitioner, it has always described my experience of the process of art therapy, and has been a good teaching tool for my students and my clients alike.

…Order must be lost so that it can be regained, and nothing is constant within this formative flux. Chaos theory has revealed that fragmentation leads to new and higher levels of organization, which is practically a definition of the creative process.                 (p. 213- 214)

This explains to us how in times of profound pain, and need to heal ourselves, our souls, we have to let go of many of the things that we thought we needed in order for us to feel safe. We may have to deconstruct the very ideas that we believed were integral to our ways of being.

And then take those filaments of our essential selves, and reconstruct them, reweave them into a stronger and ‘higher level of organization’. That is, in letting the old unravel, we have new opportunities to rewrite our stories, to repaint the picture, reweave the threads of our lives.

I remember sitting in a group of students when I was a grad student. I have no recollection of what the conversation was about, but remember clearly, that somebody made the comment that the Hebrew word ‘ruach’ translates to ‘the spirit of god’. Hebrew is MY second language. Without any filter, I looked up and said: not it doesn’t, it means wind.

For a very long time, I played with that image. It was the beginning of healing the schism within me that kept all acknowledgment of my Jewish heritage at odds with my cognitive functioning. That conversation opened up the opportunity to think about all the metaphor that gave biblical language its layers of meaning. I began to think differently about my roots, and realized that they were not there at all. I realized that Judaism is the very earth I was planted in.

And so it came to be for me that I could revision my understanding, and look at all I had learned from a new perspective.

The passage embedded in this piece, is one that kept coming into my consciousness. It is from Genesis:


  1. In the beginning god created the heaven and the earth.
  2. Now the earth was unformed and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of god hovered over the face of the waters.


As the images formed and then fell away, and reformed… it dawned on me that this passage was the very essence of chaos theory. It occurred to me that the interpretation of the Hebrew word ‘ruach’ to ‘the spirit of god’ was a metaphorical understanding, and for some a religious belief, of chaos theory. I realized the depth at which the Hebrew language is part of me, and I was able to accept my childhood learning into my current world view. These deep currents of self- compassion and re- learning were liberating. I now had a different way to decrease the dissonance between my sense of self and the base on which I had learned to stand. I was able to look at many of the texts of the Hebrew bible through this new lens, and develop an integrated response to the stories within it. My understanding transcended the superficial into the realm of metaphor, mythical and even mystical.

I began working on this painting quite some time ago. It was always meant to be an external experience of my internal integration of the concept of chaos theory and how it applies to the work I do. I found it in a pile of unfinished work, and it grabbed my attention. The verse from the Hebrew bible was already in place, and quite a lot of dark, textured background. I worked with it in layers, adding the colours and movement that spoke to me of the currents and transformative power of chaos theory- of the creative process.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published