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Poiesis or: How I learned to Tolerate Change “and Love the Bomb”

(For those of you who understand the title and photo reference, I applaud your superior taste in film.) 😉

We recently had to move. We were given just over two weeks’ notice that our old office needed “unforeseen renovations”. Gulp, cringe, yikes. We made it through these last two weeks intact and grateful – but, not without some cursing and deep breathing. It reminded me of what I discuss with clients almost daily: being receptive to change (and learning to “love”, or at least tolerate, “the bomb”).


roughly translated from Ancient Greek, means art or “to make” and was originally a verb. It is also the basis of our modern day word “poetry”. I’m going to attempt to explain why poiesis is important in learning to tolerate change. The poiesis in which I’m referring is poiesis as described by Nietzsche and Heideggar, as opposed to Aristotle (who ranked poiesis last in terms of “knowing”) or Plato (who likened it to madness). It is a “bringing-forth”, the “blooming of the blossom” (Heidegger), or when something moves away from one thing to become another.

Nietzsche goes on to explain the relationship between Apollo and Dionysus, both sons of Zeus in Greek mythology. Apollo is the god of reason and the logical, while Dionysus is the god of chaos and the emotions. The content of all great poiesis/art is based on the interplay between these two forces. It is the relationship between them, not necessarily the rivalry, which elucidates that harmony can be found within chaotic experience, which also could be described as change, creation, or a coming forth.

If we compare life (an innumerable series of changes) to an art piece…

and us to the artists responsible for this artwork, the role of the artist (framed within Dionysian poiesis) is not to impose a pre-existing form upon matter (logical, rational Apollo), but to allow the material to find its own shape. And, unless I’m willing to let go of preconceived notions, I cannot be open to what will arrive. This though is generally downright scary, and we often respond to fear by trying to predict and control it. However, it is through the experience of surrender to a process, a kind of ego-death and chaotic fragmentation, that a new form is found. Furthermore, the artwork in the making cannot be predicted, and it is only afterwards that it makes logical sense. As Stephen Levine so poetically states, “If we are not willing to undergo the experience of coming apart, we will not be able to experience ourselves as fully alive.” The Apollo/Dionysus relationship is not either, or (logical/rational/control versus chaos/emotion/instinct). Rather, there can be “productive chaos”, in which new structures emerge – necessary for the continual formation of this art piece called life.

How does this relate to constructing and moving offices in less than 3 weeks?

Did I often try to impose ego and sheer will, determination and control on the process? Ah-ha. (I am a Taurus after all.) Did it help? Well…we were able to get a lot done in a small amount of time. Could I have predicted the outcome of where, how or what our new office home would be? Nope. Did I have to surrender to the process of becoming (poiesis), the chaos of being in-between? There was no other choice. Did something new and wonderful arrive, which goes far beyond my pure assertion of will? Absolutely. Could I have saved myself a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety by “letting go” of preconceived notions a bit more? Yep! One of my many lessons through this process is that of wu-wei, or non-action according to Taoist thought, an acting that is also a surrendering to what is taking place –the both, and of Apollo and Dionysus and a yielding to what arrives.


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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science.

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