“Truth is an empty cup.”
Frank Herbert

Chapter House Dune

Christopher Alexander on a Gift to God

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This felt like a demanding excerpt to put together.

“When the field of centers appears in something, its deep feeling appears and it is … spirit made actual, spirit made manifest … It is not an indication of God living behind all things, but it is actually God itself … As we understand this more, we recognize that a building, or a building detail, or a painting, is, to some degree or other, spirit …

Once I accept that what is happening is actual spirit, it helps me to make a whole thing … a necessary state of mind. The core of this necessary state of mind is that you make each building in a way which is a gift to God … It is not a pious extra. I believe it is a necessary state of mind without which it is not possible to reach the purity of structure needed to create a living thing …

The essence of this state of mind is that the building must not shout. Emotionally, it must be completely quiet. It is very hard to allow the wholeness to unfold. To do it, we must pay attention, all the time, only to the wholeness which exists in what we are doing. That is hard, very hard. If we allow ourselves the luxury of paying attention to our own ideas, we shall certainly fail. The things which can and do most easily get in the way, are my own idea, my thoughts about what to do, my desires about what the building ‘ought’ to be, or ”might’ be, my striving to make it great, my concern with my own thoughts about it, or my exaggerated attention to other people’s thoughts …

The reason why I must try and make the building as a gift to God, is that this state of mind is the only one which reliably keeps me concentrated on what is, and keeps my away from my own vainglorious and foolish thoughts … This problem potentially affects every single one of the 100,000 steps which I go through to make the building … the effect is tiny but the impact is enormous …

In order to get it right … I must be truly concerned to make it more whole, I must truly abandon my own desire to make a good impression or to make a vivid impression on the other people in the world.

It is certain that life is not something local … it is a relation between the thing where it occurs and the world beyond. It is a phenomenon which depends on the whole universe, and the extent to which the larger order of the universe penetrates and soothes, the order of the part whose order we are looking at. In such a world, the order springs fundamentally, and ultimately, from the connection of each part to its surroundings

This state of non-separateness … is a state in which the world is melted … The more any portion of space is unified, the more inseparable it becomes from all the rest. So in the end, the intricacy and richness o fa beautiful thing does not arise from the desire to make something rich or intricate, it only arises from the particular desire to make it perfectly ont in itself, and with the world.

It is perhaps surprising, but necessary to recognize, that I cannot make a thing which has this not-separateness, unless I honestly want it … For this, I must lose my preoccupation with myself and keep it only with the thing … there must be no desire at all for separateness …

Thus, to make a thing which is one, I struggle – myself, the maker – to become one with the world. … I have to catch each flash of ‘wouldn’t this little detail be great’ and kill it … I must genuinely seek, and want, and open my arms to begin not separate. Most of the time I fail. I fail because, to do it, I must honestly give up every last trace of wanting to be distinct, separate, identifiable

This is why, from a practical point of view, there is a connection between building and religion. The connection is not historical. It is empirical, because the religious disciplines are just those which have taught people how, practically speaking, to lose themselves. Not only how to become not-separate but – far harder – how to become willing to become non-separate

This idea cannot be realized in a building without a change, a quietness, in the maker. It requires absolute removal of the individual ego, because what is created can no longer stand out and be separated from everything else, and therefore loses its personal identity. And yet, paradoxically, in the moment where this absolute identity and non-separateness is attained in a thing, and it truly become one with the things which surround it, it stands out shining with an extraordinary power which could never be reached under any other circumstances.

This is, perhaps, the central mystery of the universe: that as things become more unified, less separate, so also they become most individual, and most precious.

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

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