“All of those for whom authentic transformation has deeply unseated their souls must, I believe, wrestle with the profound moral obligation to shout from the heart-perhaps quietly and gently, with tears of reluctance; perhaps with fierce fire and angry wisdom; perhaps with slow and careful analysis; perhaps by unshakable public example-but authenticity always and absolutely carries a demand and duty: you must speak out, to the best of your ability, and shake the spiritual tree, and shine your headlights into the eyes of the complacent. You must let that radical realization rumble through your veins and rattle those around you.”
Ken Wilber

Christopher Alexander on Gauguin’s Cow


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

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


Paul Guaguin – Kneeling Cow

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


Paul Gauguin: Parahi te Marae (The Sacred Mountain)

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

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

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

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Christopher Alexander on Nolde’s Sunset


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


Emil Nolde: Sonnenuntergang (Sunset)

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

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Breath and Allergy – Spring 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Christopher Alexander on Pleasing Yourself


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christopher Alexander on Making as Healing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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