“here is no way to escape the doing of our world, so what a warrior does is to turn his world into his hunting ground. As a hunter, a warrior knows that the world is made to be used. So he uses every bit of it. A warrior is like a pirate that has no qualms in taking and using anything he wants, except that a warrior doesn’t mind or he doesn’t feel insulted when he is used and taken himself.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Shumacher College Alumni Gathering

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Disclaimer: this post is a note to myself, it may change as memories and reflections from the event continue to move in me.

That which touched me personally and deeply

  1. Jerome (from France) seeing an Israeli in me and for softly offering this insight to me with an open heart. I usually feel deeply alienated from Israel (hence living in Romania) and distance myself from being associated with it. Yet sometimes, somewhere deep inside me I can recognize a connection to and appreciation of qualities that have very little to do with what is currently manifesting on the face of the planet in the place that calls itself Israel. Jerome saw it, valued it, showed it to me and gave it a place on the earth.
  2. Manu seeing and acknowledging pain and grief in me. He saw through the superficial layers of a conversation, through my alienating words. He saw this and with a soft firmness shared what he saw with me.
  3. Feeling welcome, held and secure in Ivo & Lili’s home. On the second morning I asked Ivo’s permission to play the Shakuhachi in their home. The Shakuhachi felt open and full of resonance and brought me to tears. The resonance of the home, the shakuhachi, myself … opened the door to introducing the Shakuhachi to the group.
  4. Karsten’s (the spirit that chose Lars and Robyn as parents) soft, whole and sweet presence touched me deeply. He touched my confusion, struggle and pain around not having kids. He gave me hope. His presence complimented, illuminated and even challenged the qualities of elders that was presenced by Satish and June.
  5. Playing Shakuhachi with the group at the end of an intense mental session … arriving at a shared-silence. Thank you Ingrid for opening the door and to everyone for softly walking in together and Jerome for the spacious recording.
  6. A surprising sequence of a few eternal moments with Ingrid … when our eyes met and we connected and I felt as if we sank into each other.
  7. Dan and Tincuta’s dedication to nourishing my body and in doing so allowing me to be free to be present with others. I know Dan to be a profound person who has so much to contribute to a gathering. I am (again!) in awe of his recurring clear choice to come into service of others. I am also inspired by how he and his family have come and grown together, not just as a family (which seems to me to be a remarkable achievement in this day and age) but also in service of purpose together.
  8. Pepik’s fatherly embraces.
  9. Men – this probably deserves more than just another bullet … suffice to say that for most of my life I’ve had a less-than-positive opinion of men (with only a precious few men giving me a sense of a masculine I could embrace) … but the men I met in this weekend turned that around for me. I enjoyed being with and a part of them.

That which shimmered for me

  1. The astral paintings of Vlad, the taxi driver.
  2. A group that is willing  to step together into an unknown space. My life has made this an almost regular personal practice, but I’ve never witnessed such a move in a large group. I do not recall a single person who expressed (implicitly or explicitly) discomfort that the gathering did not have a clearly stated purpose or objective.
  3. Real feminine leadership – this gathering was made possible by a team of organizers who, as far as I could tell, were almost all women. This made it possible not only to pleasantly step into an unknown space but to continue to inhabit and respond to it.
  4. Feminine & masculine balance both within individuals and within the group. I looked around during the closing circle and got the impression that the group was close to evenly divided between men and women. It was then that I realized that also within most (possibly all!) the individuals in the group there was a pleasant combination of masculine and feminine qualities. My feelings about the men in the group were informed by feminine qualities present in them. And, the attentive and detailed organization and direction and redirection of the group spoke of masculine qualities among the women.
  5. A conversation with Collin about fermented cabbage (and its seasonal absence from our meals) that started off with friction but ended up building a bridge between cultures, and maybe even getting a better sense of culture itself.
  6. A soft, humble, wise, available and unimposing presence of Satish and June, the elders of the group present when called for, gently offering re-views.
  7. Richard’s soft spoken balanced present.
  8. Delia who, in private conversation, invited deeper (usually less spoken) aspects of Cutia Taranului to emerge.
  9. Seeing a working traditional loom … and how it echoed a simplicity I find to be typical of Romanian village culture.

That which disturbed me

  1. Happy Hall – our first meeting took place in a large hall that was build by one of Ivo’s members. It was a large wooden hall and we found it in a welcoming state. Satish in his positive outlook named it “Happy Hall”. I was impressed and somewhat envious of the wooden timbers that went into making the space. I immediately thought about the many trees that were cut down to make it possible. Then, when I learned that it was built by its owner because he could not find a better place for for the marriage of his daughter (and remained mostly unused since!) … that made me sad. It takes quite some aggression and arrogance to cut down so many trees for one personal event. The name “Happy Hall” felt like insult was being added to injury. It was also interesting to note that we spent the rest of the time (except the “village celebration”) in the more intimate space of Ivo and Lily’s home!
  2. Ivo and Lily’s fireplace … which kept me warm and peaceful gazing into it … yet knowing that it is such a wasteful device … that the slow burning wood is mostly converted into carbon that is released to the atmosphere instead of heat in the room … made me wonder what keeps us from collectively doing better? It made me recall flying once over Romania and seeing the vast fields plowed into straight lines and feeling a conflict: on the one hand there was an aesthetic there that appealed to me (man made order in the world), but on the other hand I also knew that was a vision of ecological destruction. It left me wondering about my likes/dislikes, my sense of aesthetics … and how all that informs choices that I make. Is the world burning in giant corporate furnaces or billions of home fires?
  3. The evening of mingling with the villagers … though I understood and appreciated the intentions and effort to make this happen … for me it brutally broke a bubble of presence that was born of the gathering. When the “celebration” ended … I felt a need for personal and communal energetic healing. This invites, for me, more reflection on the space between stories … there are things in the world that are only beign conceived (maybe one day born) and there are things that are dying because their time is up, because they are no longer relevant (though their essence will live on deep inside us).
  4. Romantic Village – a recurring theme in our conversations (supposedly inspired by the village setting in which the gathering took place) kept coming back to what felt to me like a romanticized image of a village, far removed from the reality of village life in Romania. I recognized that may have spoken to a deep wish many of us carry to experience a true “village-life”. But it felt like a lie when it pretended to be inspired by “village life in Romania”. It felt to me like a weak foundation for a reality we may aspire to really create in our lives.
  5. Guided Meditation – guided meditations, since I first encountered them and through to this weekend, alienate me. For a person like me, who feels alone in the world, the index finger touching the thumb or that we all breathe does not act as a reminder that we are all connected. Hearing these words tramples my personal experience and feels … well … like being trampled. It does not facilitate meditative qualities in me.My understanding of meditation itself makes the very notion of “guided meditation” an oximoron. Every word of “guidance” that I hear activates my mental mind and, if I was lucky enough to experience a meditative quality, snaps me out. My personal practice experience has been that no amount of word repetition (though it can always be argued that if only I repeat them a few  more times … ) leads to change.As I see it, mind, like a falling snowflake, forms in response to life experiences and it changes in a similar way – from the feedback that comes from actions acted out in the world. I do not meditate to change my life, I change my life so that I my experience of it may become more meditative. I did not feel comfortable speaking out about this.I joined the morning sittings to share quietness and presence with the group and this was despite the “guided meditation” (and because I am usually awake at this hour and had nowhere else to be).When asked about religion and spirituality, Satish offered a generous answer – he said that religion is a doorway into spirituality but that too many people are getting stuck at the door and not walking into the space. I feel similarly about guided meditations (and most practices that I’ve encountered that are labeled as “meditation”) – they provide a taste of what meditation can be, but they are, to my understanding, as far from meditation as religion is from spirituality.

    I feel that meditative qualities are vital to gracefully inhabiting life. For this, we need to be able to recognize that we are at the door and that we have yet to walk into the room of meditation. For that to be possible we need to better discern between the door and the room, between sitting/mindfulness practices that seem to be popular and meditation itself. I feel that if we keep using the word meditation too loosely, we may forget there is a room to step into. Maybe if we spoke more of sitting (and set aside the fashionable spiritual halo of “meditation”) we could remember and grow towards dhyana.

  6. Posture – Satish was asked about the importance of posture in “meditation” and the answer he gave saddened me. As a practitioner of Yoga I believe there is so much more to be said. There did seem to be an agreement that posture is important, and yet no actions were taken for care for body and posture (neither in preparation for sitting nor after it).Consider the amount of time, attention and work that made this short gathering possible … how much preparation (by everyone: organizers, hosts, participants) was required for us to come together for three days. that I believe, can give us a good indication about the relationship between preparation and action: a recurring pattern seems that preparation is much larger (the unseen iceberg that we tend to under-estimate) in relation to action itself (the visible tip of the iceberg) . Yet when it comes to posture and placing the body in a seated position … where is the preparation? Are our thoughts and our actions aligned?

Thank you

Thank you to Satish and his co-founders for birthing and nurturing Shumacher College (whatever and wherever it is) in such a way that I, knowing very little of it, was welcome and embraced.

Thank you to Ivo & Lily and Lars & Robyn for wanting this and creating the conditions for it to happen.

Thank you to the organizers & volunteers who chose to create the gathering here (from my perspective: coming to me so that I may partake) and for providing the precious (and easy to overlook) life foundations (food, shelter, warmth) for the gathering.

Thank you to the participants who travelled and came here to be together and for together holding that shared sense of being which can’t be named.

Will I see you again?
Will there be a second date?
Will we get to come into a relationship where we act together in the world?

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Spiraling Together?

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Context

This post is an echo from a short interaction between Nora Bateson and I on Twitter:

Nora: The distraction of fighting for the meager leftovers after the wealthy corporate robbery of life, future, human rights and ecology while trillions in off shore accounts could be used for building a new way of life: #Refugees #permaculture #ecology #education #health #cleanenergy

Nora: The tone matters.The tone provides the logic of the arc of our communication. It forms the brackets that hold what is possible to say. Helping, caring, being tender, alert, gentle, humble…these tones add possibility where comptetion, meanness, and gotcha limit our conversation.

Me: yes … and should that not also apply to the subject matter of your previous message? wouldn’t alert gentleness be better for engaging, understanding and disarming the “robbers”?

Nora: …robbery seems a fairly fair way to describe the level of exploitation and extraction that has brought us to this ecological degradation and cruelty. Calling out institutions is not the same as dehumanizing groups of people. But i do see your point 🙂

Spiraling with my Father

I was born into my father’s world. I grew into his values, his patterns, his beliefs. Theoretically (though I don’t recall it ever really feeling quite like this) we started off like this:

For part of my life as an adult I was able to participate successfully in the kind of life I was raised to believe in. As I gradually transitioned into acting on my own in the world I felt, subtly, at first, that some ideas are out of alignment, that some actions are not yielding the results I expected.

But something inside me was simmering and coming closer to the surface. I felt increasingly out of alignment (between what was an inside me and what was expected of me externally). As my life progressed I felt increasingly in opposition to my father, our relationship looked more and more like this:

It was only a few years ago, in my early 40’s that a change consolidated in my perspective. I was nearing the age that my father was when he was dealing with me, a rebelling, depressed and suicidal teenager (the first memory that popped into my mind as I was reflecting on this post was a moment when I was around 19 or 20 where I experienced “defeating” my father with my depression – that he came [I brought him!?] to a point where he didn’t know how to help me). That affected me and I began to feel a curiosity and ultimately respect for the challenges that my father faced and for his efforts to meet them. It was around this time that I glimpsed a different perspective on the seemingly deep opposition I experienced with my father for so long. I shifted from a 2 dimensional perspective to a 3 dimensional one and saw us both in a spiral:

Regardless of how I feel about it or him, the fact is that I stand on my father’s shoulders. I started off in the world with the toolbox (the only one he had) he gave me  and moved forward from there. The spiral told me a story of a continuum between my father and I. The “toolbox” has a surprise hidden in it – a powerful freedom: a freedom to turn itself upon itself – a freedom to examine the box itself, to question it, to reject it and if necessary to dismantle it and try something else. Not only are my father and I are on a continuum and we are facing in the same direction … and as we both move through life and get caught up in the illusion of a linear life (and forget about the spiral we are on) our feeling of alignment may fluctuate.

This sense of continuum evokes ease and softness in me. It makes it easier for me to relate to my father. It makes it possible for me to appreciate his views and the choices and actions they lead him to make. It makes it possible for me to accept there are some things in my life and consciousness that my father will not be able to understand (though he may get a sense that “there’s something there”, that there are some things I won’t be able to communicate to him and some things I shouldn’t even try. It makes it possible for me to relate to him softly. It reminds me that there is something deeper holding us together. It makes me appreciate the subtle dynamic of change in which we are embedded … and that all this extends not just to my father.

Spiraling from Robbery

First I’d like to get this out of the way: “Calling out institutions is not the same as dehumanizing groups of people” – that falls into the trap of humanizing institutions (which the robbers seem keen to do). Institutions do not have ears and are not listening … people (who participate in institutions or benefit from their existence) are listening. In my mind this is a conversation between people.

I agree, robbery is a fair way to describe where we are and how we got here. Most of the modern world as we know it is a result of a stack of crimes that we either committed or were committed on our behalf. But there is no changing that past, it is something we need to acknowledge, come to terms with and find ways to avoid in the future.

As I am on a continuum with my father, so is aware-We (who are having this conversation) on a continuum with robbing-We (our ancestral iterations that made the present world possible). The privilege of awakened & aware seeing, of being able to discover each other, of being able to converse and resonate together … all of it is possible because of past robberies.

My grandparents life was about surviving, my parents life was about achieving predictable stability and security … and me, I get to ask what I want to do, what do I believe in, what is in my heart! As I have come to understand, accept and appreciate my father’s place and his role in providing the foundations for my journey through this world, so, I believe, we need to come to to terms with the robbing that made this world possible. Looking at that past with judgement and disdain is like hating an older version of yourself. Disdain is a fundamental tool from the robber’s-toolbox: disdain towards another is a prerequisite for robbery.

Can we create a world of “Helping, caring, being tender, alert, gentle, humble” while resenting our past-collective-self?

 

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Elinor Ostrom and the Tragedy of the Commons

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I see the tragedy of the commons for manifesting around me, and though I do believe it doesn’t have to manifest, it seems that often it does.

This article pays respect to the work of Elinor Ostrom and cites her set of design principles for avoiding the tragedy of the commons:

 

  1. Clearly defined boundaries: members knew they were part of a group and what the group was about (e.g., fisherman with access to a bay or farmers managing an irrigation system)
  2. Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs: meant that members had to earn their benefits and couldn’t just appropriate them
  3. Collective choice arrangements: meant that group members had to agree upon decisions so nobody could be bossed around
  4. Monitoring (together with 5)
  5. Graduated sanctions: meant that disruptive self-serving behaviors could be detected and punished
  6. Fast and fair conflict resolution: meant that the group would not be torn apart by internal conflicts of interest
  7. Local autonomy: meant that the group had the elbow room to manage its own affairs
  8. Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance): meant that everything regulating the conduct of individuals within a given group also was needed to regulate conduct among groups in a multi group population

 

In the world as I know it that seems like a big ask and that these patterns the tragedy of the commons is bound to manifest. To me, this seems like a good map for an aspiring group or community.

  1. Boundaries to be drawn based on who is really vested and who is not.
  2. Currencies as signaling mechanisms that indicate an “earned status”.
  3. Sociocracy for collective decision framing and making.
  4. Transparency using information technology to create a unfungable audit trail and inherent, continuous “monitoring”.
  5. Sanctions manifest initially as negative currency signals and ultimately as shifting boundaries.
  6. Non violent communication with abundant of space and time for expression, digestion, experimentation and resolution.
  7. Sociocractic circles keep decision making and actions as close as possible to the ground affected by those decisions and actiong.
  8. Assuming  these tools serve one group well … how do they (intentionally?) propogate to others?

 

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Lime and Clay under a Microscope

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Since I’ve been immersed in working with natural binders on our earthbag-cellar journey I’ve been in awe of and thinking a lot about the natural binders lime and clay.

Yesterday this image of chalk under an electron microscope appeared in my twitter feed and took my breath away:

I then searched for and found this image of clay under an electron microscope:

The rich geomtery of these water-loving natural materials seems to explain their amazing binding qualities.

It seems that the lime particle (chalk) is approximately three times larger than the clay particle!

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Nick Cave – Distant Sky

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“They told us our gods would outlive us, but they lied … this is not for our eyes”

… feeling tired … the deep kind …

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Protected: Bee Wax Triturations in Mourning

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Julie Gautier: AMA

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Living Structure in Japanese Katana

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Kishore Mahbubani: Has the West Lost It? Can Asia Save It?

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I found this talk interesting and refreshing. It tallks about the shifting balance of power from the USA to China & India. If highlights the western bubble most western media is immersed in. It felt well informed and balanced and somewhat hopeful … though …

I believe that there was also something backwards-facing in the talk. From a geopolitical perspective it does seem like China & India are catching up and possible poised to shoot past the USA & Europe. However I believe that as western social infrastructure crumbles (systems of money, democracy, law, nation-states) the west is better poised to discover and create new social technologies that China & India are not even aware they may require. It may be that the space that china & India are growing into is a crumbling space. The measures and centers of powers, I believe, may be shifting. The growth and rise to power that Mahbubani presents may be apparent in the existing measures of power … but if those change …

 

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Spaces for the Soul (a Ruth Landy documentary about Christopher Alexander)

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Dear Ruth, thank you for this precious work, it is vital that this story be told, and  for it to be told it is vital that it be available. While I understand your motivation for having it taken down, please don’t. Please let it live and ripple.

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Christoper Alexander – What is Wholeness?

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“How can we tackle the task of making good sense of this intuition of unity and wholeness?

First, wholeness is a structure, and can be understood as such …

Second, the thing we call wholeness –  the feeling, or the intuition, of what the wholeness is – always extends beyond the thing in question …

Third … somehow, any wholeness we want to poin to, or think about, seems to elude comprehension … words and concepts almost always fail to encompass if perfectly …

Fourth, there is too, the presence of unity … It is, also, somehow, at peace … it is exactly what it is, and nothing else.

Fifth, each wholeness contains and is composed of myriad other wholes …

Sixth, and finally, the idea of wholeness encompasses the idea of healing. When something is whole we consider it healed … Healing is making whole.”

Christopher Alexander – The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth

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Christopher Alexander – Blue Dragonfly at Tofuku-ji

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I think (though I’m not sure) that this is the story that was mentioned in Charles Eisenstein’s “Sacred Economics”, where Christopher Alexander first came into my awareness.

” … I was visiting Japan in 1967 … a temple in Kyoto … Tofuku-ji – ‘The only place left, where the old way is still visible, and understood’ …

… Inside the atmosphere was astonishing: wild grasses, bushes, stones. It was like overgrown nature, almost completely wild, and yet I felt that it was cultivated, and in use … I found myself on a tiny path that seemed to lead away from the temple … [it] went on and on, a shallow staircase, up into the hill, between two hedges. It was getting narrower and narrower all the time …

Suddenly it ended. To my surprise I could go no further. The path just stopped. The hedges closed. There was a small place at the top of the stair. I turned around and sat down. There was nowhere to sit, except on the top step, and that is where I sat, looking down on the temple precinct, watching it, tired, happy to sit there, quiet, only the wind now instead of the sounds of temple business. As I sat there, a blue dragonfly  came and landed on the stop beside me. It stayed. And as it stayed I was filled with the most extraordinary sensation. I was suddenly certain that the people who had built that place had done all this deliberately. I felt certain – no matter how peculiar or unlikely it sounds today, as I am telling it again – that they have made that place, knowing that the blue dragonfly would come and sit by me … while I sat on that stair, there was no doubt in my mind at all that there was a level of skill in the people who had made this place that I had never experienced before. I remember shivering as I became aware of my own ignorance.

… filled … by my awe in the face of what these people had know, and by the beauty of the place. Most of all I was simply shocked by the certainty that the people who made this place had done it with a level of skill far beyond anything that I had ever experienced …

To this day, I have never again has such a shaft strike me … The sensation of nature waking up, and human beings helping to make it wake, was luminous, like a hum. I feel a heavy longing, remembering it …

… we need to understand space as a material which is capable of awakening  …

* I visited Tofuku-ji again in 1992. With enormous sorrow, I found out that by then, it had been modified for tourists … The atmosphere I have described … has largely disappeared …”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

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Christopher Alexander – Ornament and Function

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“… What, then, is the relationship between order and function? …

During the early and middle 20th century, the idea of function was for the most part understood in a mechanistic spirit … functions were to be described by a kind of shopping list of ‘goals.’ These goals were defined by the architect or engineer, then achieved …

However there were unsolved puzzles inherent in this idea of needs or goals. Those of us who made lists of functions were aware that these lists were inherently arbitrary (dependent on the architect, or client who made them, their forgetfulness, lack of insight, etc). Where was the real list of needs? Where was it to be found?…

There were further difficulties. The list of needs or goals, no matter how carefully stated, could only with difficulty be connected to the physical form of a building. And the beauty of form itself was even more elusive …

So one had a split view of architecture, in which two separated and warring categories of content existed, could not easily be fused: function and beauty, ornament and function …

But within the view of order which I have put forward in this book it is possible, in principle, to unify these two broken halves. It is possible to think of architecture in a single way where beauty and function – both contributing to life – can be understood as a single unbroken whole …

Function is simply the dynamic aspect of wholeness. A structure, viewed in a static sense, has to do with the system of centers that appear in it. As something lives, acts in the world, interacts with the world, different centers appear and disappear … The flux of these moving, transitory  centers … is the process we call life.

The process we call ‘function’ is the process by which the static system is – or is not – in harmony with this moving system of centers that we call life … When they are harmonious and co-adapted, we call the system functional.

… Altogether I believe the functional life of buildings is created by the same field effect among centers which creates the field of centers in an ornament. Each ‘functional’ problem’ is solved by the cooperation or integration of centers which arise within the building dynamically, while it is working.

… What we call ornament and what we call function are simply two version of one more general phenomenon … good functional structures achieve their quality from a conscious effort by the maker to make the geometric field of centers.

… That means the basic rule of function is simple this: we try to make every part of the world precious, as far as we can.

… I must stress that the idea that every part of space has life in some degree does not violate our actual experience … What is violated is only the picture of space which has been put in our minds by Descartes and by the assumptions of mechanistic science. Descartes specifically described space as a neutral and strictly abstract geometric medium … But it is an idea, not an observed fact. It is not empirical. The cartesian dogma and its assumptions are methodological teachings, useful models. As presently formulated, they are violated by the idea that every part of space has some life. But experience itself is not violated by it.

…The fundamental functional insight is to realize that the mechanistic functional analysis is all a myth anyway – since there is no stopping in the endless regression of reasons for why something works. What actually fits our common sense, and what we really do when we think about such things, is always, and only, to create this greater life out of greater life – and to make that answerable only to itself. There is no other reason behind it.

As the whole emerges, the universe becomes ornamented by it … In this undertanding a flower, or a river, or a person, or a building all have the same potential role. Each of them may be judged by the extent to which this pure blissful structure comes into being, and by the extent to which the light of the universe shines through as a result of this creation.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

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Jeff Bezos: They know it when they see it

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In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes teaching students to write and how much clarity and agreement there was between students about what constituted good writing (and how impossible is to define what “good writing” is) … and … wholeness anyone?

Jeff Bezos confirms:

“In a letter to shareholders, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos reveals that company employees ‘don’t do PowerPoint’ or any other slide-oriented presentations. Instead, ‘Amazonians’ create six-page narrative memos.

… the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what …

… While some are well thought-out and carefully crafted, others are poorly done and fall on the other end of the spectrum. Bezos notes that although it’s hard to pinpoint what differentiates a great memo from an average one, employees all have similar reactions when they read a great one.

… ‘They know it when they see it,’ he writes. ‘The standard is there, and it is real, even if it’s not easily describable.'”

source

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Allergic response reflected in Breath?

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I made a few subtle changes in my practice since I last reviewed it. One of them was a decision to increase softness. And one way to do that was to drop the counting of breath lengths in most asana. This was a bit challenging to do at first. It created a new potential field for me to inhabit. Now every part of every breath became a conscious choice … I exhale as long as is right, I hold my breath for as long as is right … right for what? for my whole integrated experience … right for my body, right for my emotions, right for my energy, right for my quality of presence and right for my breath.

This “relaxation” of counting demanded more attention from me. Before I relied on established patterns via counting. Now more attention was required of me. There were places where my inhale got a bit shorter (which meant I was pushing a bit too much before), there were places where my exhale or the hold after the exhale got longer (which means I was under-performing). Every breath became an opportunity to enhance or to over-do.

Over the years I have tempered my tendency to over-do (I suppose that comes from years of practice on and off the mat). However there are a few “traps” in the practice where over-doing is … shall we say … inviting? It is in these that I realized with more profoundness something that I’ve known for a long time. Any pushing of the breath immediately creates a stress that echoes in everything that follows the pushing. And it takes only a small push to create a large and rapidly diminishing ripple effect.

My current “favorite trap” is in utkatasana (squats). I do 4 movements alternating between 2 full squats and 2 half squats with a breath of ~ 10.0.10.2. The “trap” is currently between the exhale and the pause after the exhale. If I over-do the exhale, the pause after it is fleeting and hard to hold. If I release the pause (skipping to the next inhale), the tension is eased and will continue to build up more subtly throughout the sequence. If I try to force the pause a tension is amplified and continues to build throughout the sequence, I become forceful and my pulse shoots up.

But, there is also an opposite feedback loop: if I exhale correctly (whatever the moment requires) and the movement is contained in the breath, I land in a soft pause, my concentration increases (it is an interesting experience of softening into sharpness) and I continue to flow with a sense of steadily increasing intensity. At the end my pulse is moderately increased and I feel energized and my attention is stable.

I realized that when I “fall into the trap” and push my exhale too far (creating a tension)  and then also forcibly hold my breath (amplifying the tension) … that sequence is an “allergic response.” It is an excessive response to a small tension … and if unchecked, leads to a collapse of the breath. I wonder, if acknowledging this pattern and learning to approach the “trap” with care and attention will … resonate deeper inside me … in the field where my allergic response is triggered? Will soothing the small and local allergic response effect the larger global allergic response?

 

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Christopher Alexander – A Freedom Inducing World

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“Using Wertheimer’s definition of freedom, we may define the best environment for human life. It would be one which gives people the maximum chance to be free, one which actually allows them to be free … This is an environment which goes as far as possible in allowing people’s tendencies, their inner forces, to run loose, so that they can take care, by themselves, of their own development.

… This environment will be, by character and in structure, something far less ordered in the superficial sense than we architects may imagine. It will be more rambling, with a deeper kind of order than we have come to expect …

In a alcove of the Linz cafe

… This ease, this freedom, depends on configurations which are opposite from the conflict inducing configurations I have been describing earlier. Rather it depends in part on …  configurations … which remove energy-wasting conflict from the environment … release human effort for more challenging tasks, for the freedom to be human.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

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Christopher Alexander – The Stress Reservoir

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“Broadly speaking, the reaction to each unsolved problem, or annoyance, or conflict that is encountered creates in the individual some level of stress. Stress is initially functional and productive. Its purpose is to mobilize the body in such a way that problems get solved … But there is a limited capacity for stress in every human individual. Varying from person to person, it is nevertheless quite finite in all of us.

There is, in effect, a stress reservoir in the body … as the stress reaches the top of the reservoir, the organism’s ability to deal effectively with the stress decreases. This then gives rise to the ‘stress,’ as used in its popular meaning. The organism is overloaded … creative functioning is impaired. Sometimes it finally breaks down altogether …

… this stress is cumulative, because it is all in one currency. Stress from money worries … physical pain … unresolved argument … light shining in one’s eyes … it is all … one kind of stress.

… look at the case of a wall outside the University Art Museum in Berkeley. This wall has sloping sides … I suppose the architect thought this would be fun or exciting – or perhaps just ‘different.’ But what it actually does is to create very tiny amounts of stress. A person walking along cannot quite tell where the sloping part starts, so there is a chance of tripping. One has to walk away from the wall, minding one’s feet, and has to give up what one is thinking in order to concentrate on not bumping into the wall. And if you were inclined to sit on the wall, you could not … So, this wall … is actually a little expensive in needless stress and discomfort.

… Let us now consider a rather more troublesome example from architecture. This concerns the life of families with small children on the fifth or sixth floor, or higher, in apartment buildings .. the mother with small children, the apartment usually small. Naturally the children … want to go out to play with their friends, on the ground, six stories below. The mother wants them to be able to play there. But she cannot easily keep an eye on them, and she can’t get to them quickly if something happens. But she can’t keep them in the apartment … So the children go down. She worries constantly … But there is no alternative. If she finds it too stressful, she keeps them in the apartment, but after an hour … she gives up and goes back to the inevitable. She lives with this stress day in, day out.

… Each example adds to the total reservoir of stress people must contend with. It makes everything else more difficult, and a meaningful life just that little bit harder to attain.

… the apparently small trace-like conflicts in the environment all cause stress. But they go much further. They cause a separation of people from reality … We easily recreate, in our hearts, the sense of hopelessness and despair, the confining reality of a sterile world, that are summarized by these illustrations. And we know, from our own walks through the empty office building, through the still, despairing upstairs mall of shops, or through the empty motel room, devoid of all but bed and bathroom and small window and plywood door, how real this despair can be, and how little this atmosphere does to sustain us – how, rather, it can bring us nearly to the brink of hopelessness.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

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Christopher Alexander – Freedom of the Spirit

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A discussion of svatantra

“Can it really be true that something as elusive as freedom – and perhaps the even deeper capacity to be human – depends in some way on the environment? Is it possible that the rude form of walls, windows, and roads could affect something so subtle and precious as the freedom, or the wholeness, of a person?

The effect I suggest is large, but subtle, and resembles the effect of trace elements in the human body … certain vitamins … and … even certain rare metals – have a disproportionate impact on the health of a human body … they are necessary in tiny quantities, since they make possible the construction of crucial enzymes, which themselves catalyze crucial and highly repetitive components of protein synthesis …

… They are used again and again and again in reactions which happen millions of times per day. Without this catalysis, the major and more gross processes of the body simply break down. The impact of the geometry of our environment … has a similar, nearly trace like effect on our emotional, social, spiritual, and physical well-being.

A healthy human being is able, essentially, to solve problems, to develop, to move towards objects of desire, to contribute to the well-being of others in society, to create value in the world, and to love, to be exhilarated, to enjoy. The capacity to do these many positive things, to do them well, and to do the freely, is natural. It arises by itself. It cannot be created artificially in a person, but it needs to be released, given room. It does need to be supported. It depends, simply, on the degree to which a person is able to concentrate on these things, not on others. And this steady-mindedness, even in joy, is damaged by the extent to which other unresolved or unresolvable conflicts take up mental and physical space in the person’s daily life.

Such damaging interference from extraneous factors can take many forms … hunger … disease … physical danger … dysfunctional family … More subtle issues can also create preoccupation, hence damage, to the individual … conflict in the workplace … personal tragedy … family problems … money problems … And still more subtle … a chance remark can throw off a person’s functioning for a day or two; a badly fitting shoe, a headache … irritating noise …

Of course, it is often said that challenge makes us more alive … The nature of interference caused by hardship and conflict must therefore be very well understood … before we can say that we have a clear picture of its effects – either negative or positive.

… It will be accepted, I think, that the best environment would be one in which each person can become as alive as possible – that is as vibrant intellectually, physically and morally …

The psychologist Max Wetheimer once wrote a short article called ‘A Story of Three Days,’ in which he proposed a simple, and extraordinary definition of freedom … true freedom lies in the ability a person has to react appropriately to any given circumstance … anything which causes a blockage of this ability … causes a loss of freedom.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

 

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Christopher Alexander – More of a Person

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For the last months, I have been reflecting about this phenomenon from a slightly different perspective – using erosion/nourishment as a metaphor (I thought I had written something about this on the blog, but I couldn’t find it, so it could be that I spoke it out but didn’t put it in writing). I feel that some life experiences nourish me and that some erode me. Some experiences may generate both nourishment and erosion … but there is a sum experience … overall did it nourish me more or erode me more.

I tend to stay at home at Bhudeva because the overall experience here is nourishing for me. When I leave, even though I may go to something pleasurable and nourishing, the overall experience is usually one of erosion – I end up lesser (and requires a period of healing). I believe that this process is accumulative – that there is a sum experience of nourishment or erosion (which can express itself in many ways). I feel that unless I am attentive and caring with my life, erosion will dominate. Reading Alexander’s words (below) validates my experience.

Another interesting observation for me about this excerpt is that the integrated experience Alexander talks about of expansion/contraction is, as I was taught about Yoga, inverted. The feeling of expansion comes from a collected/contracted energy field while the feeling of contraction comes from a diffused (expanded) energy field.

” … the extent to which the observer experiences his or her own humanity rising or falling, expanding or contracting … If I pay careful attention to own state, from instant to instant during the day, I can notice that at different times I am more humane, or less: at one instant lethargic, at another filled with loving kindness and appreciation of the world; at another I am a son-of-a-bitch; at another loving  … I can watch, in myself, the continuing expanding and contracting of my own humanity.

For example … I was … on my way to a record store. I Stopped on the street to speak to a homeless man who often sits there. I sat down on the sidewalk with him … Something hard had happened to him just before – I could feel it in him; we sat and talked about it. Then, all of a sudden he put his hand on mine, pressed three fingers into the back of my hand. He left them there for a few seconds, without speaking. Then, slowly, he took his hand away. During those moments, I felt in my a great expanding of my humanity,,, For a few moments of silent communication, I was more than I usually am: more of a person.

Of course, it didn’t last. When I left him, as I walked away, my humanity started dropping down again. I went into the store. A few minutes later, I bought a record and went to the front desk to pay for it. I had a few words with the clerk. He took my credit card. Chit chat. Nice guy. Nothing out of the ordinary. But it was a mechanical transaction. The credit card. It was OK. But, very slightly, my own humanity was diminishing, just a little bit, while I went through the motions of paying with that card.

These things are happening in each of us all the time. At each instant, as I go through the world, because of what happens to me, and because of what I do, my humanity is expanding and diminishing all the time; sometimes for a an instant it is a little greater, sometimes for an instant it is a little smaller.

… So, the life in things that I have been writing about has a direct effect o me.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

 

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Christopher Alexander – Experience Beyond Descartes

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“The factual character of modern science – what we call its objective nature – arises chiefly from the fact that its results can be shared …

What is vital, then, about any objective phenomenon is that the observation of its essential points lead to shared results …

To see the phenomenon of life as it really is, the methods used cannot be tied to the crutch of mechanism as the basis for the sharing of observations and results …

For example, when I was working out, and observing, issues of wholeness and life in a thing … I did not try to observe things as if I myself did not exist. Instead, again and again I tried to discern which of two objects was more like a mirror of my own self, which one had more feeling, which one seemed to have more life, which one made one experience greater wholeness in myself … then tried to find out what was correlated with the thing that I observed …

Thus it is not a question of opening the door to subjective fantasy. The matters in this book … extend and supplement the arena of permissible scientific observation in such a way tha the self of the observer is allowed to come into the picture in an objective way …

Yet the facts of experience that I have shown and used to build up my new picture of space/matter are available to anyone. I refer especially to the fact that different parts of space are seen to have different degrees of life. But precisely because the observational method of Descartes forbids us from seeing these facts  – or indeed these kinds of facts – these observations and these observed facts have dropped out of awareness in the modern era. That is essentially how our defective and anti-life view came into being in the modern era.

… I used a method of observation that allowed me to check the relative life of any given work as an objective matter … this method of observation, like the method of Descartes, still refers always to experience. It is empirical in nature. It dismisses fantasy and seeks constantly to avoid speculation … But where Descartes only allowed observation to focus on the outer reality of mechanisms in the world, my method requires that we focus on the inner reality of feeling as well.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

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