“As a matter of observation, it is simply true to say that many of the most beautiful works of art in the world’s history, and many of the most profoundly living structures, large and small, that human beings have created, have been created within … a … mystical religious context.
… What, then, about the modern works … which are not inspired … by a belief in God? … I do argue that these works touch a modern wellspring that arose in history to inspire the works which came from mystical traditions.
… If these great works from all periods of history, including even our own, shared a certain cosmological or spiritual background, then that background may have information for us, may give us some hint about the conditions which are necessary for the creation of living structure.
… All these works, I think, stand out because we experience in them a special quality of relatedness … It is the relatedness to Self. It is that relatedness between our individual self, and the matter of the universe, which is touched and illuminated.
… a craftsman from the early Christian period … might have told us that he was making the church, the stone, the window, or the column ‘for the glory of God’.
… a 15th century Sufi woman weaving a carpet or painting tiles … would have replied … that she and her colleagues were seeking to become ‘drunk’ in God … to lose themselves …
Mother Ann, the spiritual leader of the Shakers, gave carpenters and cabinet makers this advice: ‘Make it as though you were going to live a thousand years, and as though you were going to die tomorrow.’
If we had asked a master carpenter of a zen temple … might have simply answered that the work itself was what mattered: ‘When I eat, I eat; when I drink, I drink; when I plane the board, I only plane the board.’ But there too after careful inquiry, and if we managed to break through his desire to avoid talking about nonsense, we would have found that his main purpose was to lose himself and become one with the ‘principle of things.’
… all these teachings had certain essentials in common. They all emphasized the need to abandon concern with one’s own ego … the importance of hard work and repeated simple, even menial tasks. Above all, they all emphasized the desire to reach God, or the ground of all things … the task of making was to be understood as a spiritual exercise …
While one works as an artist or a builder it is hard to see wholeness. To see wholeness requires purity of mind, because the thoughts, mental constructs, theories, ideas, and images one has all interfere with perception of wholeness, and make it difficult to see.
Historically, belief in God worked – I think – by focusing attention on wholeness. By asking the believer to concentrate on God … it helped the artist dissolve his images … and focus on reality as it is – in other words on the structure of the wholeness as it is.
… There was too, the matter of pace. The essence of these works, made in a devotional atmosphere, was that the maker had time, the mind was concentrated. The step by step nature … was made possible …
In some form I cannot articulate perfectly, I believe that the connection between the creation of living structure and ancient and mystical religion goes further. I doubt if we shall plumb the full extent to which a living structure is created until we have thoroughly explored and understood just what these ancient builders did, in what frame of mind that did it and with what attitude.”
Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground