The flow of a river is constrained by its banks. Over time, however, the rushing water erodes the banks and redirects the course of the river. Riverbanks are necessary to give form, and yet the river retains the power to alter its future.
If you would be willing to play along, what appears a game just may prompt surprising questions about the riverbanks that constrain our lives.
Take out a piece of paper and located three points in the shape of a triangle. Label them 1, 2 & 3. Pick any point on the page—inside or outside the triangle, and locate additional points using two rules: pick 1, 2 or 3 at random and move 1/2 the distance from the most recent point to find the next.
In Figure 1, I began at “a” and picked “1” at random. Point “b” is then 1/2 of the distance from “a” to the number 1. Next I picked “3” and moved 1/2 of the distance from “b” to 3 to locate “c”. Then I picked another “1”and moved 1/2 of the distance from “c” to the number 1 to locate “d”. Finally, I picked “2” and moved from “d” to locate “e” 1/2 of the way to 2. Simple enough…go ahead and plot a hundred points or so. I’ll wait…
If you did that, you would end up with a diagram similar to Figure 2. It appears a fairly random set of dots. What happens if you plot, say, 30,000? This time I won’t wait. But before you look at the resulting diagram below, any guesses what it might look like? Okay, take a look at Figure 3 at the bottom of the post.
I find this result both stunning and terrifying.
I am stunned that such simple rules—rules that appear at first blush to yield chaos—countenance order and beauty over time. Order out of chaos. Stunning! Rules as simple as green means proceed, and red means wait, give order and meaning to millions of vehicles. “Do unto others…” gives order and meaning to our lives.
But there are ways in which I am terrified as well. As long as we remain allegiant to the rules, future dots are determined, and our path is immutable. We remain trapped in the pattern forever.
I wonder how I remain trapped by rules in my life, even those so very subtle they remain imperceptible. Might there be ways in which my future is constrained, rigid and immutable? I hated writing essays in school and remained, for many years, certain of my inability to assemble meaningful words on paper. “I am a loner,” “I am artistically destitute,” “I am not a good listener” and “I don’t like to read,” defined much of my life. While I have not overcome feelings about lacking artistic ability, I have set aside many of the others. As I do, I erode the banks and set the river of my life on a new course.
I leave you with one final exercise. Allow yourself a few moments to reflect on the “rules” in your life. No doubt there are many that provide order and meaning. But if you are honest and look deeply enough, you just may uncover a few that keep you trapped in work, relationships, communities or images of self that limit your freedom, and constrain your future? It just might be time to jettison them, erode the riverbanks of your life and allow stunning new patterns to emerge.