By Suma Varughese
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on the relationship between entropy and the life force.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on the relationship between entropy and the life force. The two are the polarities that govern life on earth. In Freudian terms entropy can be likened to the death principle, for it is the force that relentlessly runs the universe to ground. Entropy finds mention in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, part of the body of laws that govern the universe. The second law refers to entropy as the unit that measures how run down the universe is. Life, on the other hand, is a contradiction to the second law for it is defined by ever greater complexity as it climbs up the evolutionary ladder.
In a strange paradoxical way, life seems to use entropy to become stronger, more powerful and better.
How do entropy and the
life force work in human life? Entropy is the force that stops us from growing. It is the villain that makes us turn over and go to sleep when we have decided to go out for a morning walk. It is the force that traps us in habits, conditioning and reactions. In Indian terminology, entropy is tamas, the deadness of things in general, while the life force is sattva, calm, detached and active. It is entropy that stops us from being more than we are, that whispers against staying on at work and finishing the project, and stops you from helping someone in need. Entropy prefers curling up on a sofa with a book or watching TV, to going out there and climbing a mountain.
In his book, The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck refers to all spiritual growth as effortful because it requires us to pit ourselves against the drag of entropy. It is difficult to rise above our feelings and reactions, because entropy has us in its grasp. It is difficult to push ourselves to that last inch to excellence because entropy is against it. It is difficult to be empathetic and sympathetic to other people’s sufferings because entropy traps us in our own. If we give in to entropy, we will slide further and further downhill until the life force within us is so dwindled that we will fall ill and die.
If we look around us at our acquaintances, it is not difficult to figure out those who are clogged in entropy and those in whom the life force brims over. The risk-averse, the unadventurous, the fearful, the hostile, the depressed, those caught up in narrow circles of occupation, are entropy-dense. The ones whose lives are open and spontaneous, generous with their time, energy, love and possessions, who face life like an adventure and rejoice in the new things each day brings, who are cheerful in adversity and patient in stagnance, who nurture gardens, and pets and children and families and creative projects, who renew their lives every moment, are resplendent with life force.
Indeed, classification on this basis gives us a new definition of success. The successful person from life’s point of view is not the merchant prince or the film star, the richest man or the slimmest woman. It is the one with the maximum life force, who canters into the finishing line, chockful of life’s juice, radiant with joy.
So how can we do what life does, which is to use entropy as an instrument in our growth? For us, the challenge is to use its negative force not to drag ourselves down further but to wrest ourselves free from its hold. In her book, Women who Run with the Wolves, psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about the destructive force in each of us, which she likens to the inner Bluebeard. This force lays to waste our gifts and talents, our creativity and joy and the deepest and best part of ourselves. The way to come out of its grasp, she says, is to become conscious that we are, in fact, standing in the way of our own light, and that we are sabotaging the person we really are. Once we acknowledge it, the next step is to be able to stand what we now see, all the death and destruction we have caused. In spiritual parlance, this would be called accepting oneself as one is. After this, she tells us to gather up our psychic energy and use it to overthrow the intruder, by taking steps—perhaps to leave a dead-end job or a destructive relationship, or to cultivate our potential. She calls it soul work for through this method of taking back our self-determination and doing the best for ourselves, our souls are nurtured and revived.
Therefore, each time entropy entices us to have another slice of cake or ignore a deadline, the correct response would be to briskly say: “All the more reason to meet the deadline or not eat the cake.’’ When entropy traps us in a reaction of anger or hate or fear, breathe deeply, accept and assimilate the feeling and stoutly declare: “All the more reason to rise above this feeling.” When entropy holds us back from taking risks on the job or with a relationship or even with a menu change, breathe the feeling right into the deepest part of yourself until it disappears and you are free to adventure forth. Entropy must be used, it cannot be resisted or ignored for it too is part of us. And when we learn to harness its forces, what wells up is gratitude for through it we learn to hone our will power, our endurance, our love, compassion and manifold capabilities.
Each time we use entropy as a pole to vault upon, our life force will go up a notch. We will feel freer, happier, more confident and energetic, more dynamic, more creative. If we continue this long enough, the doing will become effortless. Now we will actively look for opportunities to maximise our growth. When crises and disasters strike, we will focus purely on the silver lining and make good its promise. The loss of a job is opportunity to develop a new skill, and an illness a chance to get in touch with ourselves.
When liberation dawns we will know that there is no more entropy within us for we are fully aligned with the life force. Life runs through us joyously and unhindered, bringing forth gifts for mankind
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Each time we use entropy as a pole to vault upon, our life force will go up a notch. We will feel freer, happier, more confident and energetic, more dynamic, more creative