“The intelligence of the mind can’t think of any reason to live, but it goes on anyway because the intelligence of the cells can’t think of any reason to die.”
Robert Pirsig

Lila

Christopher Alexander on Gauguin’s Cow

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After reading this, I invite you to repeat an experiment I did: do an online search for both pictures and see what you get!

“The cow is more basic still. This one is less knowing that Gauguin’s other works. When I saw it at Christie’s, the junior auctioneer told me it was a ‘very nice minor Gauguin,’ it will go below the estimate. Such a patronizing tone.

paul_guaguin_kneeling-cow

Paul Guaguin – Kneeling Cow

If we compare this picture with a great picture by Gauguin – Parahi te Marae, for example (The Sacred Mountain) … we find that the cow is more direct. The Sacred Mountain took work, it was a considered construction, carefully done, reaching a profound effect … But, to some tiny degree, Gauguin, without a doubt I think, was aware when he made Parahi te Marae, aware what he was trying to do, aware of the gallery in Paris where he was sending the painting …

Paul_Gauguin_parahi_te_marae

Paul Gauguin: Parahi te Marae (The Sacred Mountain)

But the cow is more innocent, perhaps more truly something that Gauguin liked … in this picture he was, I think, only trying to please himself. He drew and painted this cow for his own pleasure. It was what he saw, what he wanted, not so knowing – constructed, yes, but far more innocent.

It is even possible, I think, that Gauguin himself was slightly ashamed of this picture, just as my students were sometimes ashamed  of their greatest works, because they were too naive, too direct, too innocent … In my mind, this cow is a greater work, because it penetrates deeper, it has more grace, it is more that ultimate thing which Gauguin did to please himself.”

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

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Christopher Alexander on Nolde’s Sunset

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“If we look at a sunset, we have all seen one; what more basic, more primitive response is there, than to dip the brush in yellow, scrawl yellow, yellow, yellow, all over the central sun? But who would dare to do it? It would have taken enormous daring to be so absurdly basic. And then to do that hard work after being so basic, to fill in the painting, make the crimson, the blues, the grays, and the white light on the boat in just the right place, by obeying, following that most primitive instinct without inhibition, doing the most obvious thing, most directly.”

emil_nolde_sonnenuntergang

Emil Nolde: Sonnenuntergang (Sunset)

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

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Breath and Allergy – Spring 2016

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A few days ago allergy symptoms started to appear and have been gradually increasing. A itchiness in my throat, eyes … and sometimes sneezing sequences. This morning, for the first time this season, I had to get out of bed at 5:45 to move myself into a vertical position (lying down aggravates the symptoms) and start my day-long, relieving tea-drinking. This is already different from last year where the allergy symptoms erupted all of a sudden.

Another difference is that the symptoms (so far) are not continuous. They come and go in waves. Tea, relaxation, attention … all seem to help to some degree in reducing the symptoms. I am staying outside more (now that the deck is available), but I am also avoiding some things which may cause aggregation. Fortunately most of the hay has been cut and stored so I am not going to be exposed to much of that in the coming weeks. Also, thanks to Iulia’s presence, I will be staying away from things like harvesting elder-flowers.

Another difference is, maybe due to a gradual appearance of symptoms, that I am able to get on the mat and practice. It may take two cups of tea instead of one. It may take a few hours of relaxation when I wake up with increased symptoms like this morning. But, so far, I have been able to make my way onto the mat and THAT has been an informative exploration. I have felt that  asana practice has absorbed allergic disturbances and that, as a result, pranayama practice (that has recently changed) has been steady and undisturbed.

Being on the mat right now is an interesting convergence. I am arriving at the allergy well established in practice. I am enjoying an overall softening and expansion of the body and breath due to the warmer and brighter days … and at the same time incorporating the effects of the allergic response.

There has been a a prominent expression in breath during practice, specifically on exhale. I have felt exhales get a bit shorter but I also felt a more subtle change. It is as if there is a certain tension in the exhale. I experience more difficulty in surrendering to it, more tension. This morning, during practice the word “distress” came to me … and I felt it touches on the core of allergic response.

Reflecting on this made me appreciate the revealing qualities of breath. As my breath has lengthened it has had a kind of slow-motion effect on observation. Simply put, there is more time for me to observe, taken in, experience. As a result, I have experienced this subtle distress in my breath as a physical presence … almost as clear as I would feel a strained muscle.

Lengthening of breath also brings with it a qualitative change that I have experienced in two ways. A longer breath acts as an attention funnel, it keeps me more focused and more steady in my focus. An exhale of 12, 15 or 20 seconds holds my attention more firmly … or I could just as well say that if my attention is not stable my exhale cannot extend this way.

Another qualitative change is softness. This has become especially tangible for me due to the recent change in my pranayama practice. Moving to a 10 second inhale and the relative increase in exhale has coaxed out of me more softness. When I initially approached the new practice I could not arrive comfortably af 15 seconds (even though I knew that I had the capacity). It took me a few days (this is all very recent) of staying with a 10.0.10.0 ratio (instead of 10.0.15.0) and settling in it before I was suddenly and smoothly able to soften my breath and arrive at 15 seconds. It is hard to put in words this quality of softness.

This softness is also projecting into my attention … off-the-mat. In the last few years I have already shifted my relationship and approach to my allergy with soft acceptance and curiosity. I feel very little residue of control or change … I do not feel inclined to neither diagnose nor cure my allergy. This subtle softness feels like an affirmation of that relationship … a soft support 🙂

 

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Christopher Alexander on Pleasing Yourself

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“In order to create living structure, we must please ourselves … And you need only please yourself. But you must please yourself truly. And to do that you must first discover your own true self, come close enough to t, and to listen to it, so that it can be pleased.

Does this sound absurd? And does it sound too easy? It is not absurd. And it is that kind of ‘easy’ which is so hard that on most days it is almost undoable, because to do it we have to break down every resistant force that remains in us …

If true, and it if can be made practical, this would be amazing. Having grown up in an era of moralistic prescriptions, of laws, rules, theories, regulations, prescriptions – all well-meaning, but all ultimately incapable of creating living structure – it would be astonishing, truly amazing, to find out that if we can only learn how to please ourselves, tha prescription by itself will always create living structure.

… we are so mired in the subjectivity of value that we have lost all connection with the fact – or the idea – that what truly pleases us is always living structure, and that living structure might even be defined as ‘that which pleases us,’ that which truly pleases us. And there, in that one word, ‘truly,’ lies the whole space of these four books.

… We cannot perform the unfolding process without knowing how to please ourselves – truly .. The social processes of unfolding comes about as society learns how all its men and women may, in the going about of daily life and in the creation of their world, know how to please themselves.

… What I have said about ‘I,’ what used to be called the religious basis of existence, the contact with that world, and the respect for the ultimate, spiritual nature of matter – all this, too, may be encapsulated through the idea of our pleasing ourselves.

To some traditionalists, this might seem almost like blasphemy or heresy. Yet I believe – indeed, I am nearly certain – that when we learn and practice this pleasing oneself at the very deepest level, that is the same thing, then, and leads to the same thing, that was once related by the most mystical religious art, seeking union with God, creating the greatest and most holy things on Earth … and in doing it, we might be led to the forms of art, the forms of buildings, which are most like nature, most nearly in touch with the nature of the universe.

… We will never be able to contribute to the world’s horrible buildings – too prevalent in recent years – if we make things that we like.

… I was invited by a fellow professor of architecture …. to be a critic in the final review of his masters’ class. His students were in their last year, and they had spent the year working on a project for an office building … the students’ drawings were all around the walls. Other jury members began making comments, but, for a long time, I kept quiet. I hate juries … After half an hour or so, I felt that I couldn’t go on keeping quiet … I felt, I said, that the students did not really like their buildings … ‘I realize that you have done your best, done work that on some level you like; but it is not really liking, you do not really like what you have done, in the same ordinary sense that you like a hamburger, or a rose. That is what I mean. I am convinced.’ …

The students were angry with me … my discussion with the students lasted about half an hour. Gradually, by the end, I had led them to admit that, in the sense that I meant it, in the ordinary sense, they really did not like that they had done, or what they had been doing – that indeed, the conditions of their work had never emphasized this point at all … That was just not part of the professional discipline being taught to them … And yet, I said to them, ‘How terrible! This means you can expect to live your life making buildings that you do not really like.’ And, even worse, that the others in society, who live with the buildings, made in this loveless spirit, will spend hours, days, years, living with these products of an unliked and unlikable architecture, done only because it was the thing to do, the way to get jobs, the way to impress one’s fellow architects.”

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

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Christopher Alexander on Making as Healing

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“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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Christopher Alexander on Tears, Sadness and Unity

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This resonates deeply with me. A pursuit of happiness has never appealed or worked out for me. If what Alexander is true, then the oh-so-popular notion of “pursuit of happiness” is bound to hit a wall. My experiences of happiness seem to expire quickly, while my experiences of sadness seem resonate deeper and longer … as if they carry more information, guidance, direction … a deeper sensibility.

“Unity ties everything together – including joy, happiness and laughter, but also including loss, death and betrayal. A thing which truly has unity partakes of everything. And through that everything, there must be sadness. The making of this sadness, then, must come through a process where land, details, rooms, form an indivisible whole. Always trying to tie it together, to unify it, to make it disappear.

To set the stage further for understanding unity in a building, I go back to the emotional underpinning of the living structure, its personal character, its rootedness in feeling … The I, the blazing one, is something which I reach only to the extent that I experience, and make manifest, my feeling. What feeling, exactly? What exactly am I aiming for in a building, in a column, in a room? How do I define it for myself, so that I feel it early, so that it stands as a beacon to steer me in what I do every day?

What I aim for is, most concretely, sadness. I try to make the volume of the building so that it carries in it all feeling. To reach this feeling, I try to make the building so that it carries my eternal sadness. It comes, as nearly as I can in a building, to the point of tears.

… I cannot do it in a trivial way. I cannot literally make the building laugh and cry. And it is not gloomy either. This sadness of tears, when I reach it is also joy … What makes it sad is that it comes closest, in the physical concrete beams and columns and walls, as close as possible, to the fact of my existence on this earth. It reminds me of it, it makes me take part in it. So when it happens, it is also a kind of joy, a happiness.

But to recognize it, I concentrate most on my sadness, and my tears.

Although social pressure – the desire to please others – sometimes makes it hard to reach the I, the difficulty is not mainly a social difficulty. It is mainly an artistic difficulty.The difficulty arises simply because it is so hard to find that shape, that substance, which actually makes tears well up in me. … To many people a roof is just a roof. A column is just a column. It takes great effort ot perception, conscious work, and concentration, to see that the subtle changes of the column makes a difference to its sadness, or to its capacity to hold,and reflect sadness.

I look at the shafts of the columns … I move them, change them, cut cardboard, modify the shape. At first they seem merely nice … I stand back in the room, a few times, to check it, also looking at the base. Simpler seems better. Gradually, as I achieve a more harmonious shape, … I begin to see something which nearly works … I begin to be aware that this column which I am making can be more austere – and that, as I strip away every bit which is too sweet, that I slowly eave the bare bone of something which can affect me, can make me – almost choke tears in my throat. Of course, it is just a sensation, not actual tears. It is so slight, I have to watch the growing thing in the room very intensely to notice it all.

But if I pay very careful attention to the feeling which is welling up in me, I do notice tiny differences, small sensations, and I do notice that threat of tears, that harshness in the back of my throat which moves me towards the shape of the column which will ultimately have a more serious meaning which will enlarge life in that room, which will then, through its austerity, make more likely the experience of joy.

… A thing does not get its unity from being ‘beautiful’. The unity comes from the fact that the various centers are harmoniously connected, and that every center helps every other center … But above all, it comes from the fact that in the thing, throughout the thing, we see the I in every part, at eery scale. We see only one I, the same I, shining out from every part.

In some cases this results in something which we may call beautiful in the ordinary sense of the word. In another case, the result of the helping between centers is beautiful only in the sense that it fills us up with life, reminds us of ordinary everyday things, reminds us of the messiness and goodness of everyday life – but is not beautiful in the sense that it would make a great picture in an architectural magazine.

… it is a unity of the most fundamental kind, which goes to the raw reality and which has, when it occurs, a highly unexpected, sometimes rambling, sometimes ferocious, sometimes friendly, even sometimes absurdly crude or comfortable character.”

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

 

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Christopher Alexander on Schrödinger’s Yellow

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“Schrödinger, the physicist who discovered the matter-wave equation of quantum mechanics, has a great deal to teach us about color and its real existence. He outlines [in his short book Mind and Matter] the following argument.

‘You and I, both see yellow. But according to the prevailing view of science, there is no way of knowing whether the interior experience you have when you see yellow is the same as the interior experience I have when I see yellow. Of course, we know that we shall both say the word yellow when we look at a buttercup, or at light of 5,00 angstroms. But this says nothing about the inner experience we have.’

Schrödinger goes on to say, that although this point of view is logically consistent, it seems intuitively absurd. Intuitively it seems to him that the inner experience of yellow, its yellowness, is something real. He guesses that we all experience it in the same way – in short, that ‘your’ yellowness and ‘my’ yellowness are one and the same thing, not two different things … If it is indeed true – as many people probably believe intuitively … then this would imply that there is some domain where this yellowness actually exists. Where is it?

After thinking carefully about this problem, Schrödinger says that he has been able to find no other possible way of explaining this except to say that there is, in the world, only one single mind where the yellow occurs, and that our individual minds are all part of this one mind, and somehow all have access to it. This would explain why we all have the conviction that the yellowness we see is not private, but objectively real and shared.

… Schrödinger talks about color sensation in general without reference to good or bad, shallow or profound. He says, in essence, that when we see color, we experience some domain beyond the immediately material one.

.. I extrapolate from Schrödinger’s argument, go beyond it, and reach my own conclusion. I suggest that inner light, which is revealed, seen, when very great color occurs … allows us to experience the great self, in greater degree or in lesser degree, and that our experience of inner light is the experience of the great self directly and openly seen, openly experienced.”

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

 

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Christopher Alexander on Color Properties of Inner Light

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This post is an except from an extensive chapter about color. As I was reading through the chapter and excerpting from it the subject of relationships was on my mind and in my heart. When I speak of relationships between people, especially between myself and people close to me, things tend to get personal(!). However when I speak about colors things are inherently less personal … it doesn’t even cross my mind that red likes or dislikes yellow or that green is angry at purple while pink loves it. This is a spirit with which this chapter met me. It has subtle insights into relationships (between colors) and how these relationships conjur up an experience of inner illumination. I kept projecting these realizations about colors into reflections about people, about how I relate and how others relate to me.

Again, where possible I have included images that are included in the original text. One image has been selected in the spirit of the text because I couldn’t find an image from the text to include. Sections where a sample is missing are due to the subtly of colors which are carefully replicated in the printed book, but not clearly visible in online images. In these cases, poor digital replicas would do injustice to the ideas being discussed.

“subdued brilliance and inner light only occur when certain definite things are happening in the color field. These ‘things’ … are very similar to the fifteen geometric properties described in Book 1 … whatever we do intuitively to make light happen, we find these eleven color properties coming, of necessity, into our work where we are trying to induce the inner light.

1. HIERARCHY OF COLORS (levels of scale)

… to make inner light occur, we are led to use unequal amounts of different colors … inner light is caused first and most strongly by a rule of proportion among colors which creates a clear hierarchy of relative size among the areas of different colors in a picture.

… a succesful composition in which there are equal areas of several different colors is extremely rare.

 

Henri Matisse: Arab Coffeehouse

Henri Matisse: Arab Coffeehouse

2. COLORS CREATE LIGHT TOGETHER (positive space / alternating repetition)

… Suppose we have a swatch of color. I look at it and ask myself what second color will produce light if I bring it towards the first … This is the fundamental experiment of all color work, and of all painting …

There are four main variables involved: What is the hue of the second color? How much of it is there?How light or dark is it? How grayed is it?

… In many cases the light comes from colors which are roughly complementary … But … there are also much more sophisticated cases where one color is made to shine by something quite near it …

All we know is that sometimes colors together create a glow of life … one color is made more intense as a center by the other color. The field of centers becomes intense; the feeling and unity increase. there is no reliable mechanical rule which can predict just what color is needed … The possible colors that are needed are objectively and experimentally defined.

Henri Matise: Madame Matisse

Henri Matise: Madame Matisse

3. CONTRAST OF DARK AND LIGHT (contrast)

… One of the basic things we have to do while we are making something colored is to squint at it, half close our eyes so that we see only grays, and see if the inner light is still there … if it isn’t visible in the dark-and-light pattern of what is in front of me alone – then it will never be there when I open my eyes fully again and the colors come back in. We have to work out the overall pattern of light and dark as if the colors weren’t even there in order to get them right.

… If we take a black and white picture of that colored pattern, the pattern of the dark and light alone (without the color) will still be beautiful.

In the world of black and white, where things are monochrome, the vital importance of contrast is obvious … But because color is so fascinating, it is easy to become mesmerized by hue and to forget about dark and light

In making a painting (or in placing colors in a building, which is ultimately my main concern). I find it useful to make a thumbnail sketch in black and white – just to see if the basic composition of light and dark  has life in it … The black and white come to life when they dom something similar to the way the yin-yang symbol works. The two establish a polarity in which each is something solid and established in its own right, and where the two together create a sort of electric tension.

In shape, the two things, black and white, must each form a positive space … the quantities and ratios of dark and light must be enough to electrify each other.

Fra Angelico - Shipment of Grain

Fra Angelico – Shipment of Grain

4. MUTUAL EMBEDDING (deep interlock and ambiguity)

Imagine, if you like, that you have a color composition half worked out. You struggle towards making more light in the picture. You seek harmonies which tie things together. At this stage, you will often find, that the thing you have to do to make more light in the picture is, in effect, a process in which you put one color inside another … Immediately a connection is formed, and the field becomes more unified …

We may say that each major entity in a living structure must contain references (shapes, structures, colors, motifs, reflections) of the other major elements, so that each element is somehow also within the other elements.

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room on the Garden

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room on the Garden

5. SEQUENCE OF LINKED COLOR PAIRS (gradients, the void)

.. colors essentially work in pairs … When inner light is present, the colors in the hierarchy have a definite spatial sequence, so that the eye moves through the thing from color to color, up and down the hierarchy. In each case, the spatial sequence is built out of linked pairs … The pairs themselves are linked, and the network of linked pairs or arrows forms the sequence … the actual path of the sequence … is also important. When the path has a beautiful feeling, it jumps in an interesting way – in a cascade, or in a circling motion moving inward …

6. BOUNDARIES AND HAIRLINES (boundaries)

… You will often find that you can intensify colors by making boundaries between them … As one tries to reach inner light, one is in effect trying to create a deep kind of unity … Where two colors meet, there is an imperfect unity just because the two colors, by being different create a divide. To bridge this divide, it is helpful in the vast majority of cases to have a third color, much smaller in extent and carefully chosen in color, which forms a link across the boundary. That is why hairlines and boundaries originate.

… In general the boundary color must be to do the same as any good geometrical boundary does: that is, to both unite and separate the two colors on either side of it.

henri_matisse_odalisque_in_red_trousers

Henri Matisse : Odalisque in Red Trousers

7. FAMILIES OF COLOR (echoes)

… to achieve inner light … develop a family quality among the different colors we are using. This unifies the space.

The simplest way in which colors become members of one family is similar to the process of mutual embedding. If we want to place a read near a green so as to produce inner light, it is necessary that very small amounts of the read are mixed into the green, and that very small amounts of the green are mixed into the red. This softens the contrast and allows the piece to glow …

Sometimes this family exists simply as a feeling, which is complex and not easy to explain at all. I work on the palette, and I can tell when I am making colors of the same family: but they are not necessarily related in obvious ways at all.

 

flight-into-egypt

Giotto: Flight into Egypt

 

Meister_des_Book_of_Durrow_002

Page from the Book of Durrow

8. COLOR VARIATION (roughness)

Inner light also requires a certain roughness of individual color, a lively variation within the field of a single color … In colors which have light, there are rarely areas of perfectly flat color, the inside of these areas vary immensely from point to point so that the overall color is created from blending or interaction of many slightly different hues.

Both in paintings and in buildings, I have found that this color variation comes about most easily from a process in which you mix the colors on the thing itself, not on the palette.

… Sometimes I do the same thing more geometrically. If we have a particular color, say light red, and we mix black with it, we get brownish dark red … These colors may easily become muddy. But suppose that instead of mixing … we put a fine black tracery of points, dots, lines and curves over the lighter red. This has the same overall effect on the red … but it leaves it far more brilliant, with sparkle …

This is really how, and why, the variation of roughness works: by creating a mixture out of purer colors, so that we keep the purity of the component colors and their interaction.

9. INTENSITY AND CLARITY OF INDIVIDUAL COLORS (strong centers / good shape)

Here is an almost paradoxical ambiguity. Clarity of color is something inherent in the individual color. Yet, its effect is also created by the color interactions and by the impact of other colors on the individual color. Both are true.

… When you are in the middle of painting, you can often concentrate only on the color you are mixing, and with great care and concentration, make that color by itself carry meaning, and be as beautiful as possible … Is the color you find … itself really a quality of the individual color by itself? Or is it a quality of this color in the interaction with its surroundings?

… it turns out the two ideas are interwoven. As I begin to master the idea of trying to make colors fuse together and glow with inner light, I find out one thing which is rather surprising: to do it, I am really trying to make each color shine out as strongly as possible, itself.

… In centers, a strong center is one which stands strong by itself, and yet makes other nearby centers strong … Just so, a color which shines strongly is a color which makes other colors nearby shine strongly, too.

10. SUBDUED BRILLIANCE ( simplicity and inner calm / non-separateness )

… Let us imagine that at a certain stage in the development of a colored thing … we have gained a wonderful bright feeling where the colors work together, they are brilliant. But they are perhaps too bright, too vulgar, not profound … We have to subdue the influence of the whole thing. We quieten it, gently. We quieten it a little more. Then. when we are just to the edge of feeling that we have taken away its brilliance, we put something back – and all of a sudden the color really shines, and the deep meaning shows itself.

This is subdued brilliance.

It can take two different forms. The first form is quiet. Sometimes, to do it, I reduce the intensity of colors by making them more white or gray. Then the actual pigments are subdued, but I keep the overall brilliance of the field of color – only now somehow it is more profound. That is the first form.

meeting-between-the-queen-of-sheba-and-king-solomon

Pierro della Francesca: King Solomon receiving the Queen of Sheba

The second form is almost opposite. I have pigments which are intense, very bright. But in their interaction they become muted, because they are so carefully chosen, that they melt together and seem quiet even though, individually, as colors they are bright …

marthe_in_a_red_blouse

Pierre Bonnard: Marthe in a Red Blouse

Subdued brilliance, when it goes to the extreme, is both gloomy and brilliant, like a smoldering fire,embers glowing, other parts dark or dead, fire waiting to burst forth.

11. COLOR DEPENDS ON GEOMETRY (local symmetries)”

… behind all these color phenomena, it is the field of centers itself which is working to produce the life. The geometric structure of the field is necessary to produce the light within the framework of geometry.

… We can never achieve inner light when the field of centers is not present geometrically. And the reverse is true: We cannot achieve the unity of the field of centers geometrically, unless it is supported by wholeness of color and inner light.

… Thus the geometric wholeness is not merely beautiful in itself as an accompaniment to the beautiful color. It is essential, necessary, for the release of light. Color, far from being an incidental attribute of things, is fundamental to the living structure of wholeness. Inner light is not merely a phenomenon, but the character of wholeness when it ‘melts.’

… It is not so surprising that space has teh power to affect color. But that color affects space – that the two are somehow deeply interlocked – that is truly surprising, and poses many unanswered questions … It is as though the space and the color together create a world of structure, a type of structure, that we cannot define at all – as though the very oneness of space which we seek to define lies in the very inaccessible realm. It is this fact which makes me suspect that the color phenomenon itself is actually happening in the I.”

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

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Yoga Practice Review with Paul – Spring 2016

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Following my periodic reflection I had another review with my teacher. Though my original intention was to focus on the pranayama sequence, the development of breath in asana and its relationship to pranayama called for some attention.

The following changes were introduced to the asana sequence:

  1. Adding parsva uttanasana in the standing sequence.
  2. Continuing structured breath development of lying twists while changing the cycle from s:1/2/3 to s:2/4
  3. Continuing breath development in maha mudra:
    Step1:

    8.0.12.0 x4br
    8.0.12.4 x4br

    Step2:

    8.0.12.0 x4br
    12.0.12.0 x4br
  4. Scheduling a followup review for September to consider a vinyasa of introducing back-bends to the practice.

Pranayama is  built around moving from a base inhale of 8 seconds to 10 seconds (a capacity that has been built up in asana). First with anuloma ujjayi – the same ratios I was using in my previous anuloma practice, then moving back to pratiloma focusing on increasing the length of step-up from 5 seconds to 10 seconds.

  1. 10.0.15.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    10.5.15.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    10.5.15.5 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    5.0.10.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    5.0.5.0 x4br ujjayi
  2. 10.0.10.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.5.10.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.5.10.5 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    5.0.5.0 x4br ujjayi
  3. 10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.5.10.5 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    5.0.5.0 x4br ujjayi
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Christopher Alexander on Inner Light

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This section of the book is filled with examples, including works of art, that demonstrate the qualities Alexander discusses. I looked up a few of these examples online and wanted to include them here, but the color rendering of low resolution images in heavily manipulated color pallettes on the screen is not true to the story being told here. So much so that I have preferred NOT to include them. Attempting to do this further demonstrated to me the powerful truth and subtlety Alexander is writing about.

“Reality, as we experience it is full of color, saturated by color … color is one of the few aspects of wholeness where we experience wholeness directly, because the sensations of color are not analyzable into parts. We are simply aware of the overall color quality of something as a whole.

Inner light is the color quality which arises as something comes to life, and as it approaches and reveals the I.

Possibly, the greatest examples of inner light occur in nature … In things which we have made, this quality of inner light us much more rare. But in certain cultures, at certain periods, it has also been understood and created intentionally and systematically by artists, who were intentionally seeking to do it …

In every case where it occurs, color which has inner light has a special kind of subdued brilliance. It is quiet, very quiet, yet bright at the same time. It is an overall single sensation, not a composition of colors, but a single overall color field – almost like a musical chord – which strikes simultaneously from all parts of the picture at once. It comes from the picture as a whole …

Wherever there is inner light we always see two phenomena simultaneously. One the one hand, the overall feeling of he color field is muted. It is not gaudy, or garish. It is calm, soft-toned, subdued. At the same time, the colors are usually quite intense and brilliant, they are not themselves subdued, or muted, tones fo gray with tints of color.

The combination of these two methods is very surprising: 1) the use of brilliant colors to produce a muted whole or an overall unity so profound that nothing stands out, everything melts together, and yet the actual colors that are used are brilliant; or 2) the actual colors are used are subdued, but everything together seems extremely brilliant …

Very often, when we look at nature, we experience a feeling of intense and lovely color. Even on a dull day, the colors we see are soft, varied and full of life. On a bright spring day the world seems filled with color. Yet objectively … the colors are extremely pale and muted if we compare them with the paint colors we consider bright – primary red, primary yellow, primary blue …

Like every other kind of life, inner light is created – always I think – by the unfolding process. The artist works at the whole which exists and then asks himself, at each step, what has to be done next, to intensify the light. The extraordinary thing is that while working, if we half close our eyes and look at the half completed work in a passive and receptive state, we can answer that question. That is, the color which will produce light comes to my eye by itself, presents itself to me autonomously, arrive in me without my effort. The only effort I need to make is to make myself passive enough to receive the color which will then come into my eye … We have the ability to see this color, partially formed, in our mind’s eye. Then we have to try and make the color. And then, with actual paint, I have to try and see if an amount of that color, in the place where I imagined it, really will create a more brilliant light in the thing.

This is an empirical matter … I am not looking for some superficial brightness. I am truly looking to see if the process I have just done, increases the inner light … does it increase the extent to which this thing I have made now seems to go deeper into the realm of I, make me more vulnerable, reaches further into the light behind all things.”

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

 

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Christoppher Alexander on Windows to the Ground

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This (kind of?) makes up for my not excerpting sooner about centers … but without the previous, softer, experiental introduction, this may be harder to swallow ..anyways … here it is:

“I am going to start with the idea that the I exists physically, that there is some plenum, not part of the physical space and matter, as have modeled them in Cartesian science, but nevertheless there in fact, at every point of what we thing of as space and matter … This plenum is the ‘something’ which shall simply be called ‘I.’

however, I now add the idea that it really exists everywhere, it is single, underlying all things. It may exist in another dimension curled up in space, or it may exist in some other linkage we cannot yet imagine … It is not a metaphor. It lies behind, and inside matter and space, It is enveloped by them, and communicated with them, stands behind tem and beneath them. It is everywhere. Wherever matter is, this I is also there.

Now I am going to say that some kind of tunneling can occur, to connect physical structures in our familiar physical domain with the single I-stuff of the plenum

The most common example of this tunneling would be the one which occurs in the experience of I and self which each person has. In a human body, which is at least in part a structure of matter alone, the experience of I or ‘self’ arises. In spite of various sociological attempts at explanation, this everyday experience of our own selves is not yet understood in a satisfactory way by physics. But it would be relatively easy to understand if we postulate the plenum of I, universal and general, linked to matter, and it if were a fact that the matter in a body, once organized, is able to make direct connection with this I. we would then experience the bridge or tunnel to the I as our own self, not realizing that it is in fact merely one bridge, of a million similar bridges, between the matter n different beings and the I.  That is to say, in such a conception the I which one of us experiences as his own self is not a private and individual thing, as most of us imagine it to be …

Now I am going to say, much more generally, that every living center in the matter of the universe … starts this kind of tunneling towards the I-stuff. And the stronger the center is, the bigger the tunnel, the stronger the connection of the matter to the I

What is the structure of this domain? Could it, for example, ever be given a coherent mathematical description? The answer is that it could not, in principle, for a very simple and fundamental reason. Of necessity, those things which we describe as mathematical structures … are not truly one. They are … necessarily made of of various elements with relationship between them … But what is achieved in an actual thing when wholeness occurs? It is not some multiple phenomenon of interacting structures but actual unity … This actual unity cannot be described as structure. Yet it s this actual unity which is the source of life in the things we admire

I assert that this domain exists as a real thing; that it is parallel to the material world, but that it is inherently incapable of having structure because it is pure ‘one’. But it is occasionally visible … this pure ‘one,’which may be like a blazing furnace or intense light, is partially available to our inspection …

What [then] is a center? If you go with me… Each center, then, would be a window on the eternal blinding light of this domain … Any center which appears in space, to some extent, opens a window to the I. If the center is a weak center, the window is tiny. If the center becomes more powerful, the curtain is pulled back a little more. If the center is very powerful, and has life, the window is bigger, and the center allows is to experience the I or self, permanently.

… each center which is formed is in essence a window to the ground … When we are in contact with a living center, in some degree the center itself enables us to see through to the domain of I, to blazing unity itself …

Now, I would go on to say further that the life of a center is a phenomenon in which the center, like a window, makes contact with the plenum of absolute unity. At the same time, because this plenum of absolute unity has a personal and self-like character, the center itself – when it is living – seems personal and full o feeling according to the degree of life it has ..

I suggest that, so long as space/matter remains undifferentiated, the I which stands behind it remains incommunicado, not reachable, not connected with the matter. It becomes connected with matter – and visible to us – only as centers form … In this hypothesis, a center is, in the last analysis, any zone of matter which to some extent opens a window towards this I, and so allows us – however partially – to see the I directly …

The proposal I am making here … partially reunites us, part of the way, not all the way, towards a world of spirit …

The plenum model of the Ground – the idea that the I is actually real in the universe, not only in the mind – is harder to accept. But in the rare moments when I dare to consider it, it helps me, because it enlarges my understanding. It also nourishes my mind and stimulated my inspiration. In this view we see the same ground – but we now think of it as a great thing in the universe, far beyond ourselves, haunting, otherworldly, ultimate in its beauty and light. It is reached only when a great walk breaks through to it …

When I do my work in this conscious spirit, then all that living structure which is so hard to reach does become slightly more attainable, slightly easier. It then seems to be within reach, as as a practical matter, it can then sometimes be reached.”

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

 

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Christopher Alexander on Searching for Being

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“Many years ago I lived in India. In the village where I lived, at night especially, some sounds travel a long way … I remember walking around in the fields at night, and once hearing in the very far distance, very, very far off, a flute playing in the night. You could barely pick out the strains of that flute music. Twilight time; and there I was just listening, and trying to, trying to get that haunting melody; I could just hear it, and then I could just partially hear it. It was way, way off in the distance.

Searching for the being in a thing is rather like that, whether you’re searching for it in a building, or in a window, even in a windowsill. I get a glimpse fo something that is starting to happen. I hear something like this haunting strange distant flute. My feeling is like the quality of hearing such a sound. Then I look at the thing that I am doing – the building , or the window – and I ask myself: Is it in fact carrying that haunting sound, or not?

… It is hard work to see the wholeness. But if I do work hard, don’t take the thing for granted, don’t assume that I am doing the right thing, but if I do search for the wholeness, and keep assuming that there may be more to see, if I can only strain my ears a little harder, then I can move towards it, and gradually produce it more and more.

… I do my best to bring this half-heard whisper of a being out in the material.”

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

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Alexander Ebert on Chocolate, Sushi and Being Compelled

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two songs and some words in between … all sincere, beautiful and touching:

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Christopher Alexander on Persuasion through Experience

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“Strangely, I believe the beauty of the world is almost more touching, more profound, if the harsh, ugly world of ours, is married, mixed, with the more perfect world in which the beings are fully living … But it is necessary for us to cross that bridge …

It does not come easy. But when it happens a living thing is made. And this comes, above all, from the impulse we call ornament: to fill a living space. Above all, then, a building is an ornament … the word ‘ornament’ is a profound comment on the contribution which something makes to the world, through its order and relation to the world.

… The environment is good, or bad, according to the degree that its thousands and thousands of centers are pictures of the self, what we might call ‘beings‘.

cost, family structure,wall construction, structural efficiency, ecology, solar energy. wind, water … Function must be at the core of everything. But what governs the life of the buildings is not to be found in these matters, alone, but in a single question, always built on the foundations of these matter, but elevating them to a different level of understanding: To what extent is every building, and the whole building, and every garden, and the whole street, all made of beings?

… I well know that it may take time for you to appreciate the fact behind the thought. You need to test it experimentally, as I have done, for years. You need to examine each piece of the environment you come across from this point of view. And you need time to weight its unlikely character against the fact that, nevertheless, it seems to be true.

To do this, you need to become clear in your own mind about the distinction between centers which are more like beings – more genuinely related to yourself – and those which are less so. That in itself takes practice, and discussion, and honesty about your inner feeling. If you try to develop that ability, slowly, by observation and experiment, you will then be in a position to conduct the larger experiment of trying to judge the difference between places which have more life and places which have less life. You will then gradually become persuaded, I believe … that this one criterion, absurdly simple though it seems to be, does correlate accurately with the presence of live in the environment.”

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

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Loomio: Redeemable Preference Shares

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I am not yet a fan of the product but a long standing fan of the company, how they came into existence, operate and now how they have approached funding:

“Redeemable preference shares … a way of providing a fair return to investors while also protecting our social mission …

Redeemable preference shares are a fairly conventional financing instrument, but aren’t widely used in the startup world. “Redeemable” means that the shares are not traded externally. Instead, the shares are eventually purchased (“redeemed”) by the company with an agreed-on return, after an agreed-on period of time, provided the company is producing sufficient surplus. In our case, setting up the investment mechanism meant creating a new class of impact-investor shares. These shares sit alongside the worker-member shares in the cooperative, which are non-financial governance shares. The interests of the company and the interests of investors line up.

In terms of accountability, we work closely with our investors as trusted advisors. We take their input seriously, and if they ever feel we’re getting off track, with our business or our social impact focus, then we’ll engage in deliberation to come to a shared understanding. But the bottom-line decision-making sits with the cooperative. And our investors are comfortable entering into a collaborative relationship on those terms.

This trust comes from a strong sense of alignment with a shared social mission, and from the shared risk in the development of Loomio. There has been a huge amount of unpaid time on the part of the founders and workers, so they’re carrying risk just like our investors do. Clearly, the founders aren’t aiming to get rich quick and walk away, so it feels much healthier than the strained founder-investor relationships you sometimes see in the conventional startup world.”

source

 

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Yoga on the Mat Practice – Spring 2016: Continuity

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I’ve had a fairly continuous period of practice … the main interruption ironically due to my visit to Israel to study Yoga. There have been a few of minor illness / slight injury related interruptions.

I’ve continued with the same practice plan. I have still not felt inclined towards exploring the alternative shoulder-stand path of practice. One reason for this is that I have enjoyed the continuous practice and evolution on the maha-mudra path – developing my breath, physical posture and quality of presence and engagement with the asana. Another reason is the illness interruptions during and after which I did not feel vital enough to approach the alternative path and I preferred to stay with a variation of the core practice as a practice of healing and rejuvenation.

Early in this practice period I decided to soften my attention and relationship with breath. I stopped counting the length of my breath in asana practice. Sometimes when counting I feel that I deny myself access to my full and present ability by adhering to an expected breath length … sometimes not breathing to my full capacity and sometimes slightly pushing beyond what is right for me in the present moment. I feel fairly well tuned to my breath and body, so this is not a gross but a subtle aspect of practice. It is sometimes a fractional difference that resonates deeply. It could be a difference between feeling vibrant or drained, feeling soft or agressive, feeling attentive or absent.

After some time (I estimate something like 2 months) I decided to consciously sample my breathing once again and to see how it developed, and I was surprised by the changes I discovered. Since then I have continued counting and continuously developing my breath throughout my practice. Every asana has had its own gradual path of development, some have been slow to develop, some have been continuously developing, some felt like they suddenly changed.

I have overlayed onto my existing practice plan my current breathing ratios including some slight modifications I’ve made to the practice. Most of the changes are of a langhana nature (which is particularly helpful to me in this period where numerous intellectually demanding projects are moving around in my mind), some have a slightly tonic, more brmhana quality (mainly: parvrti trikonasana, the krama variation of utkatasana and the upper raised leg sequence where I gradually move from 90 to 180 degrees).

Ronen_Practice_2016_05_02

I’ve also felt a kind of crystallization of experience during these last few monts of practice in regard to continuity. It is a process that I’ve been aware of for ~2 years but that feels more concrete to me now. I have found that after a disturbance in practice (be it an emotional disturbance, city day away from home or an illness or a strain in my back):

  •  I am quickly able and motivated to get back on the mat. In the past it could have taken days or weeks until I felt I was able to and I had a stable desire to get back.
  • When recovering from such disturbances I am able to softly, patiently adjust my practice to my state-of-being. I don’t assume and don’t push myself to where I was before the disturbance. I am attentive to my current well-being and able adapt the practice to it with ease.
  • There is also a curiosity, and this is a new and key feature. I not only “accept” my limitation (be it physical, enegetical, emotional, mindful) I “embrace” it and allow it to inform me. A prominent example has been dealing with two back strains (first on the left lower back, then the right lower back) in the lying twists. In sensitively dealing with these strains I have deepened my physical engagement with the spine, getting a sensation of a fuller and active twists from my lower back all the way to my neck, my directional breathing in the posture has improved … I feel I have gotten stronger, softer and wiser through it. And this is just one example … there have been others … mostly subtle shifts.

The result of this shift is a change in my overall attitude toward practice. In periods with disturbances (which I have been a regular aspect of my life for the last few years) I used to feel that I was making progress and then regressing. I felt that my disturbances were slowing the overall evolution of my practice. That is changing. I now feel that the disturbances are informing ang guiding me … sometimes even boosting the evolution of my practice beyond its “normal” rate of change. The feeling is of more continuity and less fragmentation.

I am expecting a review of my Pranayama practice with my teacher in the coming weeks. I have completed the previous sequence that I was given:

8.0.12.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
8.4.12.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
8.4.12.4 x6br anuloma ujjayi
4.0.8.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

… and I have taken one additional variation on my own … essentially increasing the number of breaths in the core sequences from 6 to 8 for the sake of being able to resume a pratiloma practice .. making my current practice:

8.0.12.0 x4br anuloma ujjayi
8.4.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
8.4.12.4 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
4.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
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Christopher Alexander on Centers as Beings

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“… every living structure is composed of thousands of pictures of the eternal self.

A being is a small thing. It is a name for a center which is connected to the I … But, unlike the phrase ‘living center’ or ‘living structure.,’ the word ‘being’ draws attention to the nearly animate quality that appears when something is connected to the I.

… Each living center is, to some extent, an I-like picture of the self. The more life a given living center has, the more I-like it is: the more it si a picture of the self. As centers are built, strengthened, and toughened, the larger structures which contain them then, too, become more I-like. In short, the recursion, which allows us to build living structure in the world, not only makes living centers more and more strong. It also causes the appearance, somehow, of pictures of the self, throughout every nook and cranny of a region of space.”

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

 

 

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Christopher Alexander on “The I”

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“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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Christopher Alexander on a Real Relatedness

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I was this person who’s relatedness was damaged by dead structures (physical and metaphysical) of the world. It makes me wonder if being at Bhudeva is a phase of cleansing and re-nourishing? Will I one day look back at it as my “great retreat”? I acknowledge, I want to see, I am willing to experience … and I am just starting to feel. Just yesterday I was talking to Judit about my expected “spring allergy month” … and how I view it as a panic response coming from somewhere deep inside? Could my allergic response be an expression of a shocking awakening and realization of the vitality and immensity of … life?

” … the relationship between people and the world which makes it appear that some parts of the world have more relationship to our own selves and others less should be understood as something real …

I wish to say that the relatedness through which I feel that my own self and the tree in the field are directly connected is the most fundamental relation that there is. I wish to say that it is in this relatedness … that I learn, feel, understand, that I am of the world … Far from being a minor cognitive resemblance between me and the tree, this relatedness that exists between us and the living things in the world occurs, I think, because of a fundamental connection between our own self and something which is in those things.

… Thus it is only in connection with these living things that I am fully real … In a place surrounded by alien living structures where I do not feel such a feeling of relatedness, my actual relatedness to the world is interrupted or destroyed. Then I myself am not as real. My reality if damaged and inhibited.

… Further, I want to draw attention to the role of buildings in maintaining the existence of this relatedness. … it is my view that our ability to experience the relatedness with nature or with buildings is damaged when we live in a world of objects and structures that are non-living structures. Thus, the modern person who ‘loves’ nature and goes to visit  nature is not able to enter this relatedness with nature as easily, because the daily proximity with so many non-living structures – freeways, motels, traffic lights, office buildings – dominates our awareness, cauterizes the person and the person’s capacity to enter in this relatedness, to see it and feel it.

… If I am right, it is the presence of living structure in our built world that decides the extent of our relatedness with earth. Buildings which lack living structure not only destroy our ability to feel relatedness through them. They also inhibit, somehow and reduce the ability we have to feel relatedness at all, even in nature – places where we would otherwise feel it naturally.

… When the Hopi chief says that he looks out and sees the desert and the stars, and that he and his people are related to them, we take this, we listen to it, we love it; but it is no longer entirely real for us. We listen to it as poetry … But, of course we consider it as fiction, the thinking of primitives. It has not occurred to us, that what the Indian chief says might actually be true. Literally true. That the relation he and his people spoke about, and feel, between themselves and all things, was a relationship that is actually there, but one that we no longer see, or acknowledge, or are willing to experience, because in our cosmology it is not understandable that such a thing could be true.

… I wish to claim that there is such a thing as an ‘I,’ lying behind matter, and that all living structure (though certainly not all structure) is connected, necessarily with this ‘I.’ I shall claim too, that on examination, this relatedness will turn out to be a part of physics.

In order to sustain this claim, we must begin by grasping it as something rooted in experience … we may then go on to ask what kind of physical explanation might make sense of it. But with must start with verifiable experience.”

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

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Christopher Alexander on Devotional Atmosphere

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“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

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