July 6, 2013

Cosmic Dancer & Creative Destruction: The Importance of Chaos & Change.

Flickr: New York Public Library

Like many of us, I have been glued to news for the last few days. The recent political protests in Egypt and other countries around the world have filled me with anxiety, awe and inspiration.

Millions have gathered, great throngs of people coalescing in public spaces—often at great personal risk (many women risk sexual assault)—to protest corruption, discrimination and inadequate public services. Many of the protestors want political and economic institutions that will promote greater freedom and independence in the long run.

It has been the largest public gathering humankind has ever known. I am hoping and praying for a peaceful transition.

For Americans, it is an apropos time to contemplate the idea that freedom isn’t free. It’s a mixture of luck, blood, sweat and tears. It is a time to reflect on our own journey as a nation—how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. It is time to contemplate how what we view as personal independence is a function of interdependence. As human beings, we are all tied together in a vast cosmic web. Call it globalization, call it quantum mechanics.

Recently, I finished the book Why Nations Fail, by economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. The book explores why some nations prosper and others fail.

I was struck by the term creative destruction, used frequently throughout the book.

Creative destruction, a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter in the 1950s, refers to the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”


In a nutshell, a society must adopt changes to advance. Examples: Steam power brought great gains to Industrial Revolution England. PC and Mac computers revolutionized the way we store information and communicate. The same goes for revolutions.

It goes without saying that change can be a tricky business. Those with the most to gain from the status quo are very likely to resist change because they do not know what it will bring.

This is true on a personal level as well. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place of ‘stuckness’ or ‘stagnation.’

I know I have.

Change can be scary. We cannot immediately verify if that new path will necessarily bring about something better.

On a personal level, it may mean finding the strength to let go of toxic friendships, bad relationships or stifling work situations that undermine our conception of ‘freedom’ or ‘independence.’ The bravest thing to do may be surrender to chaos. But how?

Shiva, the third god of the Hindu triumvirate, is frequently depicted as the god of destruction and recreation. (Brahma is the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver.)

Shiva is often represented as Lord of the Dance.

In this depiction, Shiva stands on one leg, surrounded by a circle of flame, standing atop a vanquished demon. It represents the cosmic dance of death, called the Tandav, performed at the end of an age, so the world may be created anew.

Everything is part of a cycle. A human life span. A change of seasons. Even musical compositions are written in a certain cyclical way.

Shiva can be both good and evil. Change, though, is inevitable for progress.

(There is evidence that the economic conception of ‘creative destruction’ was influenced by Nietzsche, who was versed in Eastern philosophy.)

The same analogy applies to yoga class.

You know when you’re holding pigeon pose for oh-too long and you find yourself resisting with every fiber of your being?

Initially, your hips feel like frozen ice. Gradually, the joints and tissues open up. Eventually, your mental and psychic bodies ease up, too. You stop disliking the pose so intently. In fact, you may even begin to look forward to it.

By holding the pose, you are participating in an act of creative destruction. You’re destroying the resistance and stiffness and stuckness, giving birth to something new.

Sometimes, we hold onto things because our culture convinces us that longevity is supposed to mean quality.

Maybe your job is sucking your soul away, yet you’re afraid to look for something new.

Maybe that friend you’ve had for over fifteen years has, come to think of it, not really been acting too much like a friend recently. You’re afraid to step into the destroyer role, to confront him or her about those all-too-frequent backhanded comments.

Maybe you’re convinced that the person you’re dating will begin to treat you a little better if you were just a little nicer. You bend over backwards as the years go by. The change you are waiting for? It never materializes.

As the famous idiom goes, “You have to know when to shit and when to get off the pot.”

Examine what you are actively resisting in your own life and embrace creative destruction.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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