“A warrior doesn’t ever leave the island of the tonal. He uses it.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on “The I”


“Some experiences of I, within the things of the world, and especially within the things of nature, is shared, I think, by every human being, in some degree … I look at the waterfall and say I find it pleasing

In a second, also mild, version of this experience, I enjoy the waterfall, and I feel a stirring of some relationship to it…

A further stage of this experience occurs, if I find the relationship strong …. I experience this relationship as somehow interior to me … I experience a strong emotional linkage between myself and the … waterfall.

In a fourth version, I may even feel that the waterfall … touches the core of me

In a stronger version yet, I begin to feel some actual identification with the waterfall. I experience that it is profoundly related to my being … I identify with the waterfall in some fashion … that my own self and the waterfall are somehow related … I am aware that in some refreshing way, the waterfall – more than a hamburger bun, say, or today’s morning newspaper – nourishes me, releases me, refreshes me …

There is a stronger version yet … Reports from (so-called) primitive societies describe the way that people not only identified with trees or with the forest, but endowed the entities of the forest, the rocks of the ocean, with spirit. I believe this was an expression of a situation where people felt, or experienced a presence, as being in the tree or waterfall.

A still stronger form of such identification also existed in primitive culture … when people of the culture reified the identification by giving it explicit substance … for instance when a California Yurok Indian made an explicit identity between himself and a seal or an eagle at the time of adulthood, and from then on wore that animal’s skin, took the name of the animal …

There is an even stronger version .. when we recognize explicitly, and feel that our own self exists in the beach, or in a wave, or in a bush. And a stronger still … when we experience the relationship with the waterfall so that it is not merely that I identify with the waterfall, but that in some fashion I am the waterfall: not merely identification but actual identity … My I is really in the waterfall. My self and the waterfall are not merely similar, but it feels as if they are the same, as if both are parts of one thing.

Here we begin to enter metaphysics. This experience is no longer merely a statement about psychology. It is now asserting that the I which I experience as my own self, is in some fashion the same thing as the I which I feel and see in the waterfall … I experience nature as if everything in me and without me is made of the same stuff.

For every artist, every builder, this must be true: as I work I must try to create a structure which appears like I to me … It is this mobilizing of my self in the great work which chills me, devastates me, wakes me to the bone.

… In human terms it is down to earth. It is the core of the earth and child in me …

What it touches is beyond reason, and before reason. It may be a connection to some realm where I no longer am, and where I shall always be.

That is our task, as makers of things: to mobilize – to open – this eye to the storm.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground


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