“Ordinarily, if an average man comes face to face with the nagual the shock would be so great that he would die. The goal of a warrior’s training is not to teach him to hex or to charm, but to prepare his tonal not to crap out ... You call it explaining. I call it a sterile and boring insistence of the tonal to have everything under it’s control. Whenever it doesn’t succeed, there is a moment of bafflement and then the tonal opens itself to death. What a prick! It would rather kill itself than relinquish control. And yet there is very little we can do to change that condition.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

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
Posted in Asana, Pranayama Journal, Yoga, Yoga & I | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

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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Christopher Alexander on Ultra Mechanistic

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For more on this dear-to-me subject see Robert Pirsig’s Lila and the work of Rupert Sheldrake … and this is just the opening of the book

“Scientists often like to say that the materialist view of present-day science is potentially consistent with early any view of ethics or religion because it says nothing about these subjects.
Strictly speaking, the logic of this view can be upheld. But what governs people’s view of the world is not only logic, but also what is implied by this logic … Strictly speaking the facts of physics and astrophysics do not imply that the universe is meaningless. But the way these facts are presently drawn, the larger conception of the world which we have formed at the same time we have been forming our physics, does suggest – even strongly imply – that the world is meaningless …

Indeed, tacit assumptions have entered our picture of the world so pervasively that it is from them that we have got the picture of the universe that is distressing us. Though they were originally inspired by mechanistic philosophy, they themselves go far beyond the strict discoveries of science. It is these beyond-mechanistic or ultra-mechanistic assumptions which control much of what we say and think …

These ultra-mechanistic assumptions about matter – not strictly justified by mechanistic science itself, but inspired by it and encouraged by it – have shaped our attitude to art and architecture and society and environment.

TACIT ASSUMPTION 1: What is true, is only those facts which can be represented as lifeless mechanisms.

[As scientists … we focus on models … to … help us understand what is going on. But the careful use of models does not require us, also, to inject gratuitous assumptions about the inertness of the models into our thoughts, or into the aura of thought with which we surround the models. Most scientists will tell you that you are entitled to hold whatever extra beliefs you wish. But the ‘extras’ will be characterized as beliefs, thus excluding them once again from the world-picture, while the material in the scientific journals will be characterized as hypothesis about fact.

As a result, though the use of Cartesian models in science is beautiful, and useful, and powerful, it does not yet provide us with a wholly accurate picture of the way things are.  Its use means that vital aspects of reality, especially those which we can only see accurately through feelings – such as the degree of life in buildings – can be represented only in a crude and distorted fashion.

Our society is corrupted by this approach. The tacit assumption that what is true is only that which can be represented as a mechanical model, almost prohibits us from seeing life around us. Love, feeling, faith, art … have become second class citizens in the world of ideas.]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 2: Matters of value [in architecture] are subjective.

[Before the age of enlightenment there was, in most cultures, some group of values to which one could appeal … In some it was thought to be ‘God’, in others ‘ancestors’, in others ‘tradition’ or ‘law.’ Whatever the source, there was no doubt, at that time, that there was indeed a (partially) uniform source of value widely understood throughout the culture, and of such a kind that early any act might be judged against it, inspired by it.

Today the situation is different indeed … It is socially acceptable to state values publicly – but only so long as they are clearly presented as matters of opinion, hence as matters of private value? Few people today will dare to assert that some value they perceive is in any sense actually true.]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 3: Modern conceptions of human liberty require that all values be viewed as subjective. The subjective nature of value gives the private striving of each individual person … the same weight. Attempts to put value on an objective footing are to be viewed with suspicion.

[During the 18th and 19th centuries, European and American imperialism created a view of the world in which many people on earth were considered ignorant, and in which it was taken for granted that the views of white Victorian gentlemen were correct. At the end of the 19th century the new discipline of anthropology was gradually able to attack this Victorian point of view by establishing the idea that each culture is coherent in its own terms …

In the last decades of the 20th century this movement was extended to protect the rights of many groups … handicapped people, people with various sexual preferences, subcultures of ethnic or religious particularity, groups of particular age … So, by the end of the 20th century, the liberality and freedom of the centuries early years had helped to create an atmosphere of pluralism in which nearly ‘anything goes,’ and in which it had become almost impossible to assert the rightness of any value …

Thus the idiosyncratic and private view of value … has led to the assumption that value, valuation, and judgement and taste, are so deeply embedded in the realms of individual rights that they almost cannot be seen as based on an objective reality.]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 4: The basic matter of the world is neutral with regard to value. Matter is inert. The universe is made of inert material which blindly follows laws of combination and transformation.

[… In the 19th century physicists thought that the world was made of little atoms, like billiard balls … Today we have a conception of ultimate matter which is vastly more interesting, where particles are more like whirlpools of energy …

However, the physicist’s idea that this matter or energy is essentially lifeless and moves blindly according to the laws of its process, has not changed.

Sir James Jeans’s words ‘The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine,’ written in 1930, have, so far, remained a beautiful and inspiring, but still empty, promise … our cosmology itself … remains unaltered …]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 5:  Matter and mind, the objective outer world and the subjective inner world are taken to be two entirely different realms, different in kind and utterly disconnected.

[… The idea that the outer world can be thought of as a structure which is distinct from ourselves, the divisions of the world into mind and matter, goes back at least to the scholastics of the 14th century … combined with the assumption that we can only reach truth by distinguishing objective (agreed upon) outer reality from individual (and not agreed-upon) inner reality, is the very foundation of modern science.  It is the idea that observations and experiments must be made independent of the observer.

The first 20th century cracks in the iceberg of this assumption arrived within physics itself. They came with Bohr‘s and Heisenberg‘s demonstrations that completely observer-free observations cannot exist at the level of photons and electrons … But today, seventy years after Heisenberg, mind and self still to not have a status in the world-picture that is comparable to the status of the underlying entities of 20th century physics. Even among the scientists who accept the existence of cognitive structures, it is still generally accepted that a cognitive structure is an artefact of neurological activity.

… the self cannot itself be included into the larger view of the universe … Yet self is what we experience of ourselves. How then, could the universe seem comfortable to us?]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 6: Art is an intense and powerful social phenomenon, but one that has no deep importance in the physical scheme of things, and therefore no basic role in the structure of the universe.

[… many would insist that art is important, vital … A mechanistic cosmology makes it difficult to formulate the idea that a building, or a painting, or a piece of music could have ay inherent value. At best … they might be based on social realism (ascribing functional importance to works which help society), or psychological realism (describing the value of works of art in terms which appeal to human emotion).

These ideas are deeply conflicted …]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 7: Ornament and function [in a building] are separate and unrelated categories.

[Why is this a cosmological matter? It had its origin in the 19th century, when ornament became something to be applied, not something arising organically from its context. Adolf Loos, trying to overcome a spurious ad disconnected attitude to ornament, began the early 20th century revolt against irrelevant and decadent ornament … he argued … ‘ornament is a crime‘ … By mid-2oth cetury, later versions of this assumption then said, essentially, that all ornament should be removed from buildings =, and that their geometry should be derived from function. … what is practical is only mechanical … any ornament or form which is not mechanical, is removable, unnecessary …

Mid-century purity lasted until about 1970, when architects started again, like builders of old, bringing in ornament and shape out of sheer enjoyment. But even then … the conceptual split caused by our mechanistic world-picture still exist. There is a functioning part (the practical part), and an image part (the art part). In some of the latest buildings,built during the last three decades of the 20th century, this image part, because of the conceptual context, became truly arbitrary and absurd.]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 8: At a profound level, architecture is irrelevant. The task of building has no special importance, except in so far as it contributed to practical function through engineering, or to material wealth through image.

[Few people would willingly admit that they make this assumption …

Few contemporary architects would reject the use of a building program [that defines different numbers of square feet to different functions]; few lay people would question it either. It is the norm. Yet their acceptance of this norm (and this is only one tiny example) means that real beauty, real life, are pushed into a subsidiary position while the building program, more concerned with efficiency of administration than with life, stays in a higher position.

It is reasonable to conclude that architecture is viewed as irrelevant. A society in which people routinely do something different from that which creates life or beauty, cannot be said to care about life and beauty.]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 9: The intuition that something profound is happening in a great work of art is, in scientific terms, meaningless.

[… By default our cosmology relegates art to the status of a interesting psychological phenomenon. Certainly it does not allow art equal status with the awe-inspiring realities of the atoms, or of the galactic universe.

This it not to say that scientists, like others, do not have instincts which make them feel the deep importance that a work of art can have. But, scientifically speaking, that is only a vague instinct at best. So far, it has no place in the body of thoughts and concepts which make up our fundamental picture of the world.]

TACIT ASSUMPTION 10: The instinct that there is some kind of deeper meaning in the world is scientifically useless. It has to be ignored as a subject of serious scientific discussion.

[That is what our scientific civilization has been telling us for three to four hundred years. Yet it is hard to deny that many of us have instincts about deeper meaning in the world. The experience may come, perhaps, as a result of love, as a result of gazing at the ocean, at a small flower.

The official position of 20-th century scientific philosophy said, explicitly, that science is neutral: it neither confirms nor denies the instinct that this experience is important … However, the actual state of mind encouraged by our current scientific cosmology is not neutral but negative … The assumption therefore exists – nearly always tacit, rarely explicit – that experiences, ideas, which might lead to a feeling of profound meaning in the world are scientifically empty, and best kept at arm’s length, away from the body of precise thought about the world.]

I believe these ten assumptions do exist tacitly throughout our everyday lives today. Although thousands of modern books and poems and paintings have helped people assert and affirm their sense of meaning in the world, the world-picture itself, the scientific world-picture, continues to assert the blind meaninglessness of the physical matter in the world, and of the physical matter we ourselves are made of.

[… Suppose a person tells you that he believes the earth is round, not flat. However, you notice that this person has a surprising reluctance to go far to the east, or far to the west. No matter what he says, you may wonder if after all, this person does not believe the earth is flat.

… No matter what people say, they often continue to behave as if these assumptions are true. There is no practical certainty attached to the other more spiritual views, which lead directly to different behavior; so once again the residue of behavior suggests that the ten assumptions are what is, in fact, controlling our mental picture of ourselves and of the universe.]

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

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Christopher Alexander on Inert Matter

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” … our view of matter is flawed … The substance which the 20th century world was made of remained the inert, mechanical space-time of Descartes, Newton and Einstein, of quantum mechanics and the string theorists. This mechanical substance is our cake. So far, our spiritual views and ethical views are only frosting on this cake, which do not penetrate or affect the way the cake works.

… It is this ongoing rift between the mechanical picture of the world (which we accept as true) and our intuitions about self and spirit (which are intuitively clear but scientifically vague) that has destroyed our architecture. It is destroying us, too. It has destroyed our sense of self-worth. It has destroyed our belief in ourselves. It has destroyed us and our architecture, ultimately,by forcing a collapse of meaning.

… I have finally come to believe that it is just the prevailing views we hold about the mechanical nature of the universe which have led directly to a situation in which great buildings – even buildings of true humility – almost cannot be made [… the infection which comes from our mechanistic cosmology, is mainly one of arbitrariness – and the arbitrariness breeds pretension. In the presence of pretentiousness, true humility is almost impossible.]”

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

 

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Christopher Alexander on Tat Tvam Asi

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I have been looking forward to book 4 … and then this in its preface:

Early in my life as an architect, as first I was confused or deceived by the teaching I received from architectural instructors. I thought that those things which are important – and perhaps the things which I aspired to make – were ‘other’, outside myself, governed by a canon of expertise which lay outside me, but to which I gave due.

Gradually the older I got, I recognized that little of that had value, and that the thing which did have true value was only that thing which lay in my own heart. Then I learned to value only that which truly activates what is in my heart … I sought, more and more, only those experiences which have the capacity, the depth, to activate the feeling that is my real feeling, in my true childish heart. And I learned, slowly, to make things which are of that nature.

This was a strange process, like coming home. As a young man I started with all my fancy ideas … Then from my teachers I learned things even more fantastic … sophisticated taste, cleverness, profundity, seriousness. I tried to make, with my own hands, things of that level of accomplishment. That took me to middle age.

Then, gradually I began to recognize that in the midst of that cleverness, which I never truly understood anyway, the one thing I could trust was a small voice, a tiny soft-and-hard vulnerable feeling, recognizable, which was something I actually knew. Slowly that knowledge grew in me.

Usually the things which embodied this knowledge were very small  … in ordinary discourse they might have seemed insignificant, like the fact that I felt comfortable when my back sank into a pillow arranged in a certain way …

Then in my later years I gradually began to recognize that this realistic voice, breaking through … was my own voice, the voice that had always been in me, since childhood …

But this knowing of myself, and what was in my own true heart, was not only childish … I also began to recognize it in very great things, in works made by artists centuries away from us in time … Somehow I began to realize that the greatest masters of their craft were those who somehow managed to release, in me, that childish heart

I begin to realize that what I come in touch with when I go closer and closer to myself is not just ‘me’. It is something vast, existing outside myself and inside myself, as it if were a contact with the eternal, something everlasting existing before me, in me, and around me.

… Yet even though I am next to nothing in the presence of all this force, I am free there. In such a place, at such a moment, I am crushed to understand my own smallness, and then understand the immensity of what exists …

Actions and objects increase or decrease my connection to this vastness, which is in me, and which is also real. A concrete corridor without windows and with an endless line of doors is less likely to awaken it in me than a small apple tree in bloom …

It is at once enormous in extent and infinitely intimate and personal.

… The essence of the argument which I am putting before you … is that the thing we call ‘the self,’ which lies at the core of our experience, is a real thing, existing in all matter, beyond ourselves, and that in the end we must understand it, in order to make living structure in buildings. But it is also my argument that this is the nature of matter. It is not only necessary to understand it when we wish to make living structure in buildings. It is also necessary if we wish to grasp our place in the universe, our relationship to nature.”

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

 

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Christopher Alexander on Our Birthright

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deep sigh … there’s a book ending to contemplate … architecture!!!

“I should like to make one last comment on the buildings I have shown, the processes, the forms. Throughout, in all this material, we touch on a birthright. Yet this birthright that I speak of, it is in the mind, in people’s minds. And it is almost gone.

… The birthright being lost is not only the beautiful Earth, the lovely buildings people made in ancient times, the possibility of beauty and living structure all around. The birthright I speak of if something far more terrible; it is the fact that people have become inured to ugliness, that they accept the ravages of developers without even knowing that anything is wrong. In short, it is their own minds that have lost, that core of them, from which judgment can be made , the inner knowledge of what it is to be a person, the knowledge of right and wrong, of beautiful and ugliness, of life and deadness.

And since this inner voice is lost, stilled, muffled, there is no possibility – or hardly any possibility – that they can cry out, ‘oh stop this ugliness, stop this deadness which floods like a tide over the land.’ … the source of such a cry has almost been stilled in them.

That process, it seems to me, is nearly irreversible since, at least to an extent, this knowledge is culture-borne.

What has been lost is the inner language which connects you to your own soul, which makes you know, with certainty, which way is likely to be right, and which way is likely to be wrong. To be more clear about it. To feel it , as a real thing. To know, listen to, the voice that is in your own heart.

But that is becoming harder and harder. Even as people are becoming more and more sophisticated, and education is increasing, this inner voice is falling further and further into the background.

That is what I mean by the loss of birthright.

Is there some chance – now that these matters have been brought into the open and that living process has been partly defeined – that this birthrgith may be saved, and that we can come back to what is ours again?”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

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Christopher Alexander on Archetype

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When everything is going right, when the fundamental process is used well, what comes out is not only natural, not only simple, not only living structure. It has too an archetypal quality – something savage [wild, untamed, original, direct, ‘as it comes forth’ … unweakened by sophisticated thought or culture]

…. It is always the same substance. Technology changes continuously as society changes … the eternal forms are continually refreshed and given new character, new implementation. That is the temporally changing part we know as style. But the core, the unchanging core, is the expression of ancient and eternal truths of unity.

… Every time the fundamental process is used, not matter at what scale, we get a structure in which local symmetries are so densely packed that the highest possible density of local symmetries occurs, but without having an overall symmetry.

In the best cases, when the symmetries come forth unconsciously from adherence to the feeling of the whole, and from the process of symmetry-production in the small, then something almost awe-filled occasionally comes into being. This is a thing which strikes fear into the heart, yet creates a peacefulness and solidity that we can rest upon. It gives us nourishment because it is so strange and so indefinite and well-found in its uniqueness  – which we did not create.

It is possible to use the word archetype in two different ways. On the one hand there is the weak archetype  … really just the whole class of buildings that have living structure. But there is a narrower class … more awe-filled forms which go to the root, forms which affect us so powerfully, which reach, somehow, the core of what it is to be a person.

… This takes more. This does not come about merely from the fundamental process. I believe this second, strong archetypal core comes when the search for living structure is combined with a conscious desire, and a half-conscious search, for the origin of all things. That topic is taken up in Book 4, The Luminous Ground.

… In the best cases, in the cases which have the most life, the building form will most often be interwoven in some fashion with nature itself. In the best cases it will seem, almost indistinguishably, to be a part of nature, this forming a seamless whole.

… It will … seem extremely ordinary … It will, not at all, then, seem like the work of an architect’s hands.

… Thus the morphogenesis of what is truly living, will have a character that, in our present way of thinking, will hardly look like architecture at all … it is achieved through painstaking attention to the ordinary.

… The naturalness, the ordinariness will then place before us, a target, an aim, which is very different from the things that architects have worshipped today and yesterday.

Something truly relaxed, truly made for human comfort, truly arising from an egoless and unencumbered wish to make things right, and nothing more.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

 

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Christopher Alexander on Color

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This is merely an opening for a subject that is covered in more depth in book 4

“I believe that color, like music, holds the key to life as it appears in art; it is, perhaps, the most fundamental way in which things in geometry – that means real physical things in the world – make contact with God. It is the blue of the bell, the deep green of the sea, the yellow of the crocus, the white of the snowdrop, the awesome darkness of the mountains at night, which reveals their wholeness, and lets us reach God.

As a maker of things, I found that it is through color, above all, that one has the chance – however slight – of reaching this domain.

… In the search for color, when you really pay attention and try to find out what produces inner light, step by step, the result is often very surprising.

… Color is a fundamental human experience. It is natural to put color on things, and to make things out of colored material. It is, for many people, the most natural thing …”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

 

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Christopher Alexander on Ornament … in the Eyes of God

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“If the field od centers comes to life when it is endlessly differentiated and extended, then that same field of centers – which is after all a pure structure of geometry in space – will find its most living state when all creation, everything in the word, really is ornament.

… I know that I am using the word ornament in an unusual way as I say this. But sometimes, thinking in this way, seeing the field of centers (living structure) as a pure geometric structure, I think of animals, and plants, and human beings, too, as ornaments in this sense: ornaments which have unfolded out of nature, and which might for this reason then truly be seen, as if in the eyes of god, as ornaments”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

 

 

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Christopher Alexander on Unfolding Ornament

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Ornament arises naturally, when a person is making something and seeks to embellish this ‘something’. The embellishing is spontaneous. It comes from the continuing unfolding of the whole … it arises as a result of the latent centers in the uncompleted thing requiring still more centers, requiring still more structure in order to be complete. That requirement, when followed faithfully, creates ornament.

This is a natural process, whenever the thing is being made. But if a building is ‘produced’  – not made – in a technically divided situation where making is severed from design, the process of ornamentation cannot occur naturally. There, when an architect tries to draw the ornament … within the technical process, what happens becomes awkward, stilted, too stiff, not fundamental – and also not profound – because it does not arise from the joy of the making process itself. It can not be profound because the maker is not reacting to the whole in its state as an unfinished thing, which may then be complete by the ornament.

… At a certain stage in the making of the building we have produced a field of centers there. But the field still contains rough spots. It is not perfectly resolved. Some parts are not intense enough; the centers are not distributed to produce the most perfect field. At this state, some additional ‘smaller’ structure is necessary.

The so called ‘ornament’ is simply this smaller stuff … Thus it is not something extra or extraneous; it is a continuation of the same process we have followed in creating the field up to this point. It is necessary in order to complete the field.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

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