The Dance of the Universe

Here’s testament to being able to find inspiration in unlikely places. I was listening to the Bob Edwards Show on a podcast (via Audible) and heard him talking with the author of a book called “Last Dance in Havana”

The author read an excerpt of the book that struck me as a description of how the universe might work. Perhaps we’re all a part of some greater action, some large-scale existence that we cannot possibly grasp or even know about, but still we’re an integral part of it. And more, each of our actions and non-actions are connected to everyone else and are a necessary part of the whole. Nothing is unimportant, everything matters and affects everything else. As Dan Millman says, “there are no ordinary moments.”

It’s not unlike how our own bodies work. Each cell has its own existence, it’s own job. But none of the individual cells has any idea of the larger concept: that it is part of a working whole we call the body. It takes all of the cells, working together, to create our body and our existence. Like that, maybe, our individual existences, along with the existence of everything else is creating something…

This notion was even mentioned, albeit tongue-in-cheek in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where the earth, and all of its inhabitants, is essentially a big computer. And it’s very much contained in Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of Interbeing.

But if we cannot conceive of that which we contribute to, how does this have any effect on us? For me, it has these implications, which I try to put into practice:

  • Everything I do is important. Every moment is significant. There are no ordinary moments. Therefore, be mindful of every moment.
  • The roles we play are important to the larger whole. Therefore I should fill that role to the best of my ability.
  • Nothing I do is so significant that everything depends on it, nor is anything I do so insignificant that I should discount it. Therefore, I try not to be devastated when things seem to go wrong, nor do I become bored when I seem to be doing the “same old thing”, neither do I think myself so important when I have achieved something — just enjoy being a part of the interplay, whatever happens.
  • Everything is connected to everything else in some subtle, and not so subtle ways. Therefore, look deeply to see those connections, however slight: How is something that I’m doing now going to affect my family, my neighbor, someone half the world away, someone 100 years from now, etc.
  • We only exist for, and because of, our connection to other things (people, animals, plants, minerals … everything!). Therefore, seek to understand those connections and strengthen them.

Of course the book had nothing to do with any of this, but almost as proof of this concept it was in there. Here’s the excerpt:

Across the extent of this huge space, filling it to capacity and beyond, couples were dancing. But dancing does not begin to tell what they were doing. They were whipping, They were twirling. They were circling, diving beneath locked arms, embracing. They were bumping, grinding, releasing, spinning, caressing, all but making love. They were doing all those things in a dense crowd, somehow coordinating their moves so that whenever a man swung his partner toward a given point on the floor, the man or woman in the neighboring couple who was occupying that space somehow moved out of the way just in time, gracefully shifting into another space that a millisecond earlier had likewise been magically vacated.

At first it looked to me as if some higher intelligence were guiding the movements of each of these hundreds of people. But then, as I continued to watch, another metaphor took over. This was an exercise in massively parallel computation. Many minds, each solving its own bit of an otherwise unsolvable problem. No one genius could have attended to so many vital details so perfectly. This group movement was decentralized but coordinated, almost like flocking or schooling but not at all instinctive, not in the least bit unconscious. It was brilliantly human, and clever, both spontaneous and purposeful, and it was one of the most stirring and beautiful sights I have ever seen.


“Last Dance in Havana” (Eugene Robinson)

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