Just reading a book about chaos. Ori Brafman's believes disorder is vital for ideas, inventions and new orders. I do wonder if he has teenagers! Yet, what is adolescence but hormonal turmoil out of which may come a whizz kid or even an accountant.
Think of forest fires which clear the brush and provide what he calls “white space” in which seedlings get their chance to create new woodland.
The Black Death, he explains, may have killed 50% of Europe's population, but it loosened religion's grip on discovery and directly made way for the Renaissance. How did it work? The clergy sat with the dying victims and so caught the plague in higher numbers than the general population. This naturally made people cagey about God.,
The rich, who also died, stopped leaving money to the monasteries, which were now mostly empty. Instead they looked for logic and reason, heavily suppressed by the Church – and founded universities.
This is the potted version, but the term “white space” grabbed me. Isn't that what happens when we have a major illness, or catastrophic life shock? Don't you know cancer survivors who afterwards say cancer was the best thing that happened to them, because it forced them to take stock and junk what doesn't matter?
Roald Dahl, spurred by his son's hydrocephalus, invented a shunt to drain the fluid from his brain. Christopher Reeve lobbied for stem cell research; Michael J Fox created a Parkinson's foundation. Just this week, Jim Flaherty, Canada's finance minister died; his visitation was held at the Abilities Centre he had championed after his son was disabled by encephalitis.
Gurdjieff said that we can't change without being triggered by a shock. Major illness or chronic pain certainly shocks one's system to the core. But I can see now that, like a forrest fire, they create white space.
My catalyst was chronic pain. It brought me to my knees. Doors slammed shut around me, a stop sigh wherever I turned. As my back deteriorated, my digestion went too, my vision blurred. Books were too heavy to hold, I couldn't write. It wasn't so much a dark night of the soul as a furnace. I understood the term “tempered by fire,” not intellectually, but in my bones.
But from the wrack came sparks that ignited something I didn't know I had. As my life as I knew and valued it, was stripped away, what remained was washed clean, bleached and deeply peaceful. I can't DO most of the things my friends can, but what I do is carefully chosen and weighed. I know who my good friends are.
A quadriplegic boy once wrote, “The good thing about being me is that I only see the kind side of people.” I always remembered his words – and now I know it is true, I gained white space and from it came joy.
The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack.