“I mean really, whatever you woke up worrying about this morning, get over it. How important in the greater scheme of things can it possibly be? Make your peace and move on.”
Ken Robinson

The Element

Christopher Alexander on Making as Healing


“When the I-stuff is created, it nourishes the maker – not only the viewer, but the maker too. For some reason, the process of making things which are alive enlarges us, deepens our experience. I feel more alive for having done it. It is like food … What is the reason for this ‘food-like’ character of the making process?

It is amazing to fully grasp the impact of making something beautiful. Have you experienced the fact that when you make a beautiful thing, you feel happy for days, sometimes for one or two whole days, the feeling that something wonderful and important has happened in you, live on in you? And the reverse is true, also. When you make something ugly, you may be depressed for days. A feeling of gloom and dissatisfaction hangs over you. You can’t get over it.

This little discussed effect is, from an empirical standpoint, extraordinary … Why should such a deep effect exist? Why is beauty so much connected with our well-being, our happiness?

… When I manage, at some level, to make life (in a big thing or a small thing), I feel more alive. I feel more whole, myself. On the other hand, so long as I am making stuff that does not have life in it, I feel dull, listless oppressed. And even then, when I am feeling dull and listless like that … the tiniest success … all at once I wake up, I feel joyful and happy … It seems that the smallest success in making life extends and fills my experience for hours or days. The absence of it starves me.

The positive feeling I have described does not come merely from the activity of making. It comes about only when the field of living centers is actually achieved. Indeed, cases of making where living structure is not achieved have a tense, unresolved feeling associated with them, that is more like frustration than satisfaction, even when a thing is actually made and finished.

… There is a direct connection between the living structure of the world and the achieved person-ness we experience in ourselves.

This connection is similar to the typical relation between centers in any system of wholeness. The intensity of one center (its degree of life), is directly dependent upon the intensity of other centers within that wholeness.

Now, of course, a person is also a living structure, also a field of centers, also a wholeness. This field, like any other, is therefore also linked to the intensity and wholeness of the other centers and other fields immediately round about. Thus, the relation between a person’s own wholeness, and the wholeness of things in that person’s immediate environment, is a direct consequence of a thing which he is trying to make.

… The patterns in A Pattern Language and the fifteen properties in The Phenomenon of Life [The Nature of Order – Book 1], help to create a mental state in which you are allowed to experience and develop your most vulnerable personal nature. The properties open the door to feelings which you have, but which are suppressed. Thus, although the mechanical application of the fifteen properties is not very desirable, even that mechanical process has some positive role. The more you use the properties, the more you find out that they create structures which correspond to your feeling. And this gives you permission, more and more, to liberate your feeling, to rely on it.

… Thus, paradoxically, it is only when you finally are personal, when you really put your humanness into the things you make, that you genuinely reach the wholeness we call order … But first you need access to the structure of wholeness in order to be human, in order to be personal, and to be able to place your personal feeling out into the world.

… Just as the centers on one part of the world nourish the other living centers near them, so the person who is also a center, is nourished by this appearance of wholeness. It is as if each contribution to the I enlarges each other window to the I … Each of us participates in the I. Each enlargement of the I enlarges each of us.

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

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