Would that be calmotic or chaolm?
September 9, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

What are some things that are both chaotic and calm simultaneously?

The classic example is, of course, the calm at the eye of a storm. I'm looking for something a bit less clichéd. Or, if it is a cliché, it should at least be an unexpected comparison. Non-English language clichés might work.

I'm trying to describe a process in metaphorical terms, and I need some phrase that will capture the feeling of being totally, obsessively, out of control while simultaneously experiencing a meditative sense of peacefulness and calm despite -- or even because of -- the chaos.

Oh, but no drug references please.
posted by lesli212 to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
White Noise or visual static.
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Margalo Epps at 7:43 PM on September 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think being the passenger in a moving vehicle is like this for me, especially on a multi-lane highway; all of the cars whizzing at 120kph, wheels turning, engines... um... engining.... thousands of different moving parts, all operating at once, seperate and independant yet harmonious, and me sitting perfectly still and silent in the midst of it.
posted by windykites at 7:44 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

White noise and (analog) TV static. Both are random chaos, but people use white noise generators to block out non-chaotic sounds for peaseful sleep, and staring at TV static can be hypnotic.
posted by fings at 7:45 PM on September 9, 2012

Fast-flowing rivers.
posted by Perplexity at 7:47 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Flight Deck
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:48 PM on September 9, 2012

That beautiful calm surface of a river - hiding all the turbulence from the rocks underneath - with a waterfall downstream. Upper ebor falls

posted by insomniax at 7:50 PM on September 9, 2012

Flocks of birds
posted by ian1977 at 7:50 PM on September 9, 2012

For my son, who has a lot of anxiety, the frenetic energy/cacophony of seriously hardcore metal music takes him to his zen place.
posted by headnsouth at 7:51 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

A Jackson Pollock.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 7:53 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Lightning Field.
posted by likeso at 7:55 PM on September 9, 2012

Salmon fighting their way up a stream. Mr. Blues and I were out fishing today, and I was struck by the quiet and the calm-- and the chaos just beneath the surface.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:58 PM on September 9, 2012

What about waves? You can be in the right spot, floating on your back and it's a gentle rocking action, but move even just slightly closer to the shore and you can be thrashed around by a dumping wave.
posted by trialex at 8:02 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Swimming waterfowl: gliding on the surface of the water, while paddling away underneath it.
posted by jgirl at 8:09 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chi Sao, the form of wrestling performed in Wing Chun kung fu, feels like that. It's all concentration and most of your body is at rest -- meanwhile your hands and arms are instinctively swiveling and chopping, searching for any tiny hole in your opponent's defense. Here's a video.
posted by hermitosis at 8:10 PM on September 9, 2012

Wu wei
posted by jquinby at 8:11 PM on September 9, 2012

A waterfall. (I am very calmed by watching waterfalls.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:16 PM on September 9, 2012

A candle flame.

Smoke rising from a stick of incense.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:16 PM on September 9, 2012

.......but no drug references please.

Sex (ymmv)
posted by Prof Iterole at 8:20 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fire is like this for me.
posted by fshgrl at 8:26 PM on September 9, 2012

Ooh.... drum solos! Have you seen the zen look in a drummer's eye when they're really rockin'? Similarly, a conductor of a symphony, and a person sitting still playing an action video game.
posted by windykites at 8:26 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Calmotic and chaolm! Love both those words.

How about the movement of the Earth through space? We seem to be standing immobile, but we're actually hurtling through space at inconceivable speeds in an immensely complex movement.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:45 PM on September 9, 2012

Maybe it's because the game just wrapped up, but (American) football? To the untrained observer, it looks like 22 overpaid men running and flailing around randomly, but if you know what's going on, it's 22 men operating precisely planned plays and running routes they've practiced and practiced until they know them by memory, then adjusting on the fly to catch new situations, all in a few seconds at incredible speeds. Despite the chaos seemingly swirling around them (and 300 pound men trying to hurt them), all of them know where to go and what to do and it's the rare breakdown that's extremely noticeable.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:52 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is running, for me. There's a huge amount of activity in systems throughout my body, but when I'm dialed in to proper form and rhythm, it feels as if I'm gliding effortlessly through space.
posted by Gorgik at 8:57 PM on September 9, 2012

Working in an emergency room
Being the risk manager of a hospital
Waves off the Oregon Coast
Tokyo during peek hour - or the commuter transfer from the train into any main city station from the burbs at 7am - I remember Union Station Toronto - 7:18 off the GO station, through Union, to the TTC - chaotic but calm and carefully orchestrated by thousands every minute of peek hour
Shinjuku Station any time of the day
Walking down the aisle when you are about to get married - or maybe that was just me and the chaos was in my head :-)
posted by YukonQuirm at 9:05 PM on September 9, 2012

posted by kettleoffish at 9:09 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Slow-motion cuts in combat/action scenes can feel that way. Inception and The Avengers come to mind as having nice examples.
posted by teremala at 9:30 PM on September 9, 2012

Freeform jazz
posted by fuse theorem at 9:32 PM on September 9, 2012

When I was a floor trader on the Chicago Board of Trade in the 80's and 90's, the yelling and screaming and seemingly random pointing and gesturing made it look like chaos, but if you knew what it all meant, it was oddly relaxing. My friends used to marvel at the pressure, but I always thought it was fun.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:41 PM on September 9, 2012

First person shooter games have that for me. What looks like a flurry of random violence on screen feels like a waltz of perfect concentration. Left 4 Dead is sort of the perfect example, since you have this overwhelming horde of zombies running at you, seemingly at random, but if you're in tune with your teammates you can get these calm zen moments where everyone is working together simultaneously to keep the tide at bay in flawless unison. You can only see what is in front of you, but you're calm anyway because you know that what you can't see is being taken care of in another direction. You are exactly as safe as your teammates are skilled, and you just have to trust them. Often it devolves into real chaos, but there are still those moments that click and everything falls into place.

Watching an experienced player go through old Doom maps is even more like a dance. There are projectiles flying everywhere and sometimes staggeringly huge amounts of enemies on the screen, but they can weave in and out of it all to the point that they seem almost untouchable amidst the chaos.
posted by CheshireCat at 10:06 PM on September 9, 2012

posted by lrrosa at 10:07 PM on September 9, 2012

An anthill. There's frantic activity, but at the same time it's highly ordered.

The Internet. There's frantic activity from countless bits and pieces and packets of information whizzing about, and still on a macro level it just does the job of delivering this page to your screen.
posted by rjs at 10:33 PM on September 9, 2012

Ocean waves.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:33 PM on September 9, 2012

Air traffic controllers, or emergency services dispatcher. Similar to the already mentioned hospital ER or time critical surgery.

The issue/situation being tackled and dealt with is large, chaotic, even fractal, but the best approach is to methodically address each step in calm, measured tones -- eg. "Flight 3529, descend and maintain five thousand", "Dispatch, notify area hospitals we've got people coming in", "Scalpel please, nurse" -- each step is calm and controlled in order to not make the situation worse.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:18 PM on September 9, 2012

Have you seen the zen look in a drummer's eye when they're really rockin'?

Oh, yes. This.
posted by flabdablet at 11:27 PM on September 9, 2012

In the same vein as headnsouth, I would suggest early period Metallica.

More specifically, I'd say being in a mosh pit - allowing yourself to flail, completely surrendered and out of control, as one of many individual flailing agents in a collective superorganism that writhes and heaves to music in way that looks chaotic but is actually tightly knitted and follows a generally accepted code of etiquette.
posted by Eumachia L F at 3:40 AM on September 10, 2012

As an observer, both waterfalls and fires work for me.
As a participant, juggling and working as a line cook on a busy night.
posted by qldaddy at 3:53 AM on September 10, 2012

My grandparents used to have a lava lamp which I could stare at for ages when I visited, because of just this combination of chaos and calm.
posted by muhonnin at 4:46 AM on September 10, 2012

A Bach fugue.
posted by Zonker at 5:22 AM on September 10, 2012

A stagnant pool. Seemingly still but full of life, both visible and invisible.
posted by tommasz at 6:39 AM on September 10, 2012





falling leaves
posted by jammy at 7:04 AM on September 10, 2012

A slightly less cliched image than the eye of the storm is the duck swimming on a lake. Calm and placid above the water, but paddling like mad under the surface.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:12 AM on September 10, 2012

Fish in a fish tank move chaotically, although slowly, in a calming manner.
Also, this scarf.
posted by rocket88 at 9:14 AM on September 10, 2012

To get totally nerdy, at the single-cell level a lot of things are chaotic and noisy, even in cells that are quiescent (i.e., not dividing). For one, cells are crowded with proteins which are constantly bumping into each other and modifying each other* in addition to doing other types of chemistry. Plus, genes are being transcribed all of the time in order to eventually make the proteins the cell needs, but even though this process is tightly controlled, there's also a strong stochastic ("random") element. And yet a quiescent cell often appears perfectly stable and stationary under the microscope.

* from this comment on a recent paper: The structure of the kinase and phosphatase interaction network revealed by Breitkreutz et al. does not have the command and control organization suggestive of textbook-depicted linear cascades. Indeed, the authors observed about ∼30% more interactions among kinases than would be expected by chance, suggesting extensive cross-talk between signaling pathways.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:57 AM on September 10, 2012

Wow, y'all are amazing! Keep them coming.
posted by lesli212 at 10:05 AM on September 10, 2012

continuing en forme de poire's thought [12:57]: just being alive, while "doing nothing." Sometimes I sit still and close my eyes and think about all the crazy, coordinated actions that are going on in my body and brain, inherent in the activities of being and staying alive -- all the electrical and chemical processes, communications and adjustments, most of which I know nothing about. Then I have to get up and do something distracting to calm down, just to take my mind off all the gob-smacking excitement of Doing Nothing.
posted by Corvid at 1:09 PM on September 10, 2012

We live with 2 dogs. they're about 65 and 85 lbs, and they fight for hours every day- playfighting, but super intense. They'll be growling, snarling, biting each other, running and jumping, and I can whisper 'boys' and they'll both stop immediately and placidly stare into the distance (that's how I know it's calm for them, too). I've joked about it being like watching a washer at the laundromat- gold and black fur in a constantly rotating whirl- but it really is that relaxing for me, watching them.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:12 PM on September 10, 2012

roller coasters


techno/electronic music
posted by galvanized unicorn at 4:22 PM on September 11, 2012

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