“It is the introspective worry itself which we might interpret as vrtta and which splits up experience into an anthill of particles.”
James Hillman

Kundalini – The Evolutionary Energy in Man

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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Christopher Alexander – The Mirror of the Self Test

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This section includes many visual examples (not shown in this excerpt) of applications of the methodology described in this excerpt

“To decide objectively which centers have more life and which ones have less life, we need an experimental method that allows people toe escape from the trap of subjective preference, and to concentrate instead on the real liking they feel

The methods I propose make use of the fact that each one of us, as an observer, is directly tuned to the phenomenon of wholeness … It accomplishes this awareness of wholeness, by asking people for a judgement which comes directly from their own feeling. I do not mean by this that we ask someone ‘Which one do you feel is best?’ I mean that we ask, specifically, which of the two things generates, in the observer, the most wholesome feeling? … to what degree each of the two things we are trying to judge is, or is not, a picture of the self …

As far as I have been able to discover, we can apply this question to virtually any two things whose degree of wholeness we are trying to compare …

… The question forces a kind of internal development and growth in the observer, so that he or she gradually comes face to face with what wholeness really is, and is able, step by step, slowly to give up his or her own idiosyncratic ideas about what is beautiful, and replace them with a lasting accuracy of judgement.

… A thing about which we choose to say … ‘That looks just the way I feel’ is always one-sided, has our peculiarity in it. It will be in no sense universal and this is because, in our immaturity, we try to forget the so-called bad things about our selves … But when we look for a thing which reflects everything, both our weakness and our happiness, our vulnerability and our strength, then we enter an entirely different domain. The question takes on a different meaning, and we find that different people do usually choose the same things.

… I assert, as a matter of fact, that the things which people truly and deeply like are precisely these things which have the mirror-of-the-self property to a very high degree …

… it is not so easy to find out what we really like. It is a skill and an art to become sensitive enough to living structure so that we see it accurately …

… It can take years and years to learn to perform this test correctly. Also in the process of learning it, one is forced to learn more and more about one’s own self. Thus even one’s understanding of one’s own self is changed by the task of learning to perform this test.

… the experiment is real and legitimate, but it is taking place within an immensely complex process in which you are both finding out about the relative degree of life in different things in the world and, at the same time, also finding out about your own wholeness and your own self …

… It is deep and difficult. The confusion, the gradual separation of preference from living structure, the difficulty of comparing notes and sorting out cultural bias and opinions foisted on us by others – getting through this maze does pay off in the end. There is a real quality which gradually emerges as the true thing which can be identified and relied upon.

… This is an arduous task.”

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

 

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Christopher Alexander – Liking from the Heart

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“… contemporary ideas about what is likable are extremely confused. It is a current dogma that you may like what you wish, and that it is an essential part of democratic freedom to like whatever you decide to like. This occurs at a time when the mass media have taken over our ideas of what is likable to an extent unknown in human history. Thus if one were pessimistic, one might even say that there is very little authentic liking in our time. What people like can often not be trusted, because it does not come from the heart.

On the other hand, real liking, which does come from the heart, is profoundly linked to the idea of life in things. Liking something from the heart means that it makes us more whole in ourselves. It has a healing effect on us. It makes us more human. It even increases the life in us. Further, I believe that this liking from the heart is connected to perception of real structures in the world, that it goes to the very root of the way things are, and that is the only wat in which we can structures as they really are.

  1. The things we like … make us feel wholesome
  2. We also feel wholesome when we are making them
  3. The more accurate we are about what we really like … the more we find out that we agree with other people about which these things are.
  4. … As we get to know the ‘it’ which we like … we begin to see that this is the deepest thing there is. It applies to all judgements …
  5. … it is not easy to find what we really like, and it is by no means automatic to be in touch with it …
  6. The reasons for the existence of this deep liking are mysterious … [and] empirical … It is not a private matter.
  7. … the experience of real liking has to do with self.
  8. When we find out the things we really like, we are also more in touch with all that is.

… The main breakthrough in understanding will come when we are able to distinguish the everyday kind of liking (where we obviously do not agree about what we like) from the deeper kind of liking, where we agree, that forms the basis for good judgement …”

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

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Christopher Alexander – A Universal Personal

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The picture in this excerpt is one of mine.

“In our present world-view, the word ‘personal’ is often taken to mean ‘idiosyncratic.’ Something is personal if it reflects the peculiarities of a given individual …

To my mind, this is a very shallow interpretation of what ‘personal’ really means. A thing is truly personal when it touches us in our humanity.

… from the point of view of the world picture in this book, ‘personal’ is a profound objective quality which inheres in something, It is not idiosyncratic but universal. It refers to something true and fundamental in a thing itself.

… When we deal with the field of centers, we are dealing with a realm of personal feeling in which feeling is a fact – as much a fact as the radiation from the sun, or the swinging of a pendulum.

When the field of centers is authentic, it is always personal. It if appears to have the right structure but is not personal, it is empty structure, only masquerading as life – and, in every case lke this, it will turn out that we have misjudged it structurally.

… Few things in the world are quite as moving as a meadow full of wildflowers  … why? … A flower is one of the most perfect fields of centers that occur in nature. And flowers in groups create highly complex living fields of centers, perhaps among the most beautiful in nature …

… The field of centers exists in a thing to that degree to which the thing has personal feeling …

Perhaps we are beginning to see that life – because of its structure, the field of centers – is inextricably connected with human feeling … This deep feeling is indeed a mark of life in things ..

Although within the canon of normal contemporary science we cannot imagine a kind of objective truth which is also personal in nature, thsi combination if sone of the most extraordinary and important aspects of the new structure which I call the wholeness. As the centers deepen, the personal feeling of the structure increases. It its personal feeling does not increase, its structure is not really getting deeper.

… we become happy in the presence of deep wholeness …

This theme … can in no way be regarded as proven … I merely take a first few steps toward the possibility that it may be so, and that it may oen day be recognized …

I believe the personal feeling I have touched on in this cahpter, which si directly connected to order and life, is a mobilization in which my vulnerable inner self becomes connected to the world. In increases my feeling of connection and participation in all things. It is feeling, not emotion. It does not – directly – have to do with happiness, or sadness, or anger.

… The external phenomenon we call wholeness or life in the world and the internal experience of personal feeling and wholeness within ourselves are connected. They are, at some level, one and the same.

… The ultimate criterion for whether something works in nature, just as in buildings, therefore also depends on the extent to which it resmebles the healthy human self.

… Wholeness and feeling are two sides of a single reality. Within the modern era, we have become used to the idea that feeling is something we experience subjectively – while life, it it exists, is something that exists objectively out there in the world of mechanics. In such a mental framework, the idea that feeling and wholeness are two sides of a single thing can hardly even be understood.

But as we study the phenomenon of wholeness, as I am trying to do, it teaches us to change our understanding, and to reach a reorganization of our ideas about the world in which this equivalence of living structure and deep personal feeling is not only makes sense but is also the most fundamental fact of our experience. “

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

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Christopher Alexander – Value as a Matter of Fact

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“The concept of wholeness as structure depends on the idea that different centers have different degrees of life, and therefore the idea that the existence of these varying degrees of life throughout space is a fact about the world …

If we consider … the interplanetary space between Jupiter and Saturn … we cannot help being impressed by the relatively featureless character of this space … compared with the structure of a rock, or a birch tree, or a meadow. The articulation and complexity of the field of centers is less developed in the interplanetary space.

The traditional scientific view has been that, in spite of this obvious difference … as scientists we should be committed to a view where each of these structures are equal in value.

A world view based on the existence of wholeness comes out rather different … there is a crucial objective sense in which there is less value in the empty space, somewhat more value in the rock, and still more value in the birch tree.

In this objective sense, the relative degree of value, or relative degree of life, in different parts of matter, must then be a fundamental and objective feature of reality. Not all nature is equally beautiful. Not all of it equally deep in its wholeness …

… one of the most fundamental tenets of contemporary science – that value is not part of science and that all matter is, from a scientific point of view, equally value free – can no longer be sustained.

… In the new viewpoint, the harmony of nature is not something automatic, but something to be marvelled at – something to be treasured, sustained, harvested, cultivated, and sought actively …

Most human actions are governed by concepts and visions. These may be – but may easily not be – congruent with the wholeness which exists … Often our actions … are at odds with our own wholeness, and at odds with the wholeness of the world. The gradual emergence of value is then drastically threatened.

… The activity of building – what we call architecture, and with it also the disciplines we call planning, ecology, agriculture, forestry, road building, engineering – may reach deeper levels of value by increasing wholeness, or they may break down value by destroying wholeness … If what I have argued is true, this is a matter of fact …”

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

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Christopher Alexander – The Character of Living Structure

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” … the repeated appearance of the fifteen properties in natural systems is a profound result … it suggests a new view of all nature as living structure … In some sense the same morphological character occurs in mountains, rivers, ocean waves, blown sand, galaxies, thunderstorms, lightning …

… Within the terms of my definitions, then, nature as a whole – all of it – is made of living structure … all of it – inorganic as well as organic … the living character of these structures is different from the character of other conceivable structures that could arise, and it is this character which we may call the living character of nature.

… Among natural phenomena, the fifteen properties seem to appear, pervasively, in almost everything. Yet among human artifacts, the fifteen properties appear only in the good ones … What is it about nature that always makes its structures ‘good’?

… in nature all of the configurations that do occur belong to a relatively small subset of all the configuration that could possibly occur …

First, is the domain C … contains all the possible three dimensional arrangements that might exist. It is almost unimaginably large, but nevertheless (in principle) it is a finite set of possible configurations. Second is the domain L, of all configurations which have living structure as I have defined it. L, too, is very large, but smaller than C …

It may well be that all naturally occurring configurations lie in L while, on the other hand, not all man-made configurations lie in L.

For this to be true, we merely need to show that for some reason nature, when left to its own devices, generates configurations in L, but that human being are able, for some reason, to jump outside L, into the larger part of C. That is, human beings … are able to be un-natural.

In nature the principle of unfolding wholeness … creates living structure nearly all the time. Human designers, who are not constrained by this unfolding, can violate the wholeness if they wish to, and can therefore create non-living structure as often as they choose. “

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

 

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Christopher Alexander – The Fifteen Properties in Nature

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I chose to do a brief summary of this section, giving preference to the wholeness of the theme of the properties in nature (over giving more attention to each property). It was a journey, first reading through it, not knowing how/what to extract. By the time I read through, certain excerpts popped out of the latter properties and gave shape to this whole summary. All the images are inspired by the text though collected from the vastness of the internet (so inspired by and similar, but not the same as those in the book).

“If we are to use the theory of centers – and the concept of life – as the basis of all architecture, it would be reassuring to know that wholeness, together with the properties which bring centers to life, is a necessary feature of material reality, not merely a psychological aspect of things which arises during perception of works of art.

… According to a ‘cognitive’ interpretation, the centers could merely exist in the mind’s eye … and the fifteen properties … could also exist merely as artifacts of cognition …

… I shall argue that nature too is understandable in terms of wholeness … I shall try to show that the structure of centers I call wholeness goes deeper than mere cognition, is linked to the functional and practical behavior of the natural world … and is as much at the foundation of physics and biology as it is of architecture.

1: Levels of Scale

… in any system where there is good functional order it is necessary that there be functional coherence at different levels, hence necessary that there are recognizable hierarchies in the organization of these functional systems.

electrical discharge

 

mud cracks

2: Strong Centers

Many natural processes have centers of action. The action, or development, of force-field radiates outwards from some system of centers … In physics we hae the fact that electric, magnetic, gravitational, and nuclear forces are created by spatially symmetrical fields, thus often creating centrally and bilaterally symmetrical structures.

 

common spotted orchid

 

coral

3: Boundaries

In nature, we see many systems with powerful, thick boundaries. The thick boundaries evolve as a result of the need for functional separations and transitions between different systems. They occur essentially because wherever two very different phenomena interact, there is also a ‘zone of interaction’ which is a thin in itself, as important as the things which it separates.

the sun’s corona

 

Rio Negro joins the Amazon

4: Alternating Repetition

In nature most of the repetitions which occur are alternating … Repetition itself of course occurs simply because there are only a limited number of archetypal forms available, and the same ones repeat over and over again, whenever the same conditions occur … In most of these cases of natural repetition, the repeating units do alternate with a second structure, which also repeats … The defining feature for alternating repetition lies in the fact that the secondary centers are coherent in their own right, are not left over.

fern leaf

 

muscle fiber

5: Positive Space

In the majority of naturally developed wholes, the wholes and the spaces between wholes form an unbroken continuum. This arises because wholes from ‘from the inside’ according to their specific functional organization … the positiveness of the space – what we might also call the convexity and compactness of the centers which form – is the outward manifestation of internal coherence in the physical system.

crazing in porcelain glaze

 

soap bubbles

6: Good Shape

Good shape is a geometrical figure – often curved – which has in it some major center that is intensified by various minor centers.

Tulip leaf

 

Chladni figures

7: Local Symmetries

In general these symmetries occur in nature because there is no reason for asymmetry; an asymmetry only occurs when it is forced … In addition, the existence of local symmetries in nature corresponds to the existence of minimum energy and least-action principles. In the majority of these cases, it is also the presence of layer upon layer of subsymmetry at smaller scales which is important.

crystal growth

 

Dwarf Dogwood

8: Deep Interlock and Ambiguity

Deep interlock comes about in many natural systems because neighboring systems interact most easily along extended or enlarged surfaces, where the surface area is large compared with the volume … Ambiguity, a similar phenomenon, comes about when a subsystem belongs to two different overlapping larger systems. One of the most important and dramatic example … exists in the case of the molecule … the molecule is given its structure by the overlap of the electrons in the outer electron shells of the component atoms … the stability of the molecule … is determined by the depth of overlap or interpenetration of the electron shells.

cross section of a cerebellum

 

magnetic domain

 

a giraffe’s coat

9: Contrast

Many – perhaps all – natural systems obtain their organization and energy from the interaction of opposites … It would be extremely hard to show, from first principles, why contrast must arise, necessarily, as a property of any naturally occurring system, and one wonders whether the matter is not merely cognitive. We read contrast; our cognition depends on it; therefore we think its important. And yet, the fundamental contrast of dark and light, positive and negative, can hardly be an artifact of our cognition.

Purple Emperor butterfly

10: Gradients

… Any time that a quantity varies systematically, through space, a gradient is established … The idea of regular gradient-like variation is fundamental to the whole integral and differential calculus, and it is the fact that these mathematical tools are closely mirrored in many phenomena of nature that is essentially responsible to the success mathematical physics has had.

Spider Web

 

Nautilus Shell

11: Roughness

An irregular world struggling to be regular always achieves a certain level of regularity which is interrupted by unusual configurations created by the very forces that produce the regularity as they act against a framework of three-dimensional constraints inherent in space … Roughness, far from being caused by inaccuracy … occurs where there is a partial misfit between a very well defined order and the space or configuration where it occurs. This forces an apparent irregularity, not for its own sake but to create a greater regularity.

A raft of bubbles, representing crystal dislocations, shows that roughness is inevitable in crystal growth under natural conditions

 

zebra stripes

12: Echoes

In all natural systems, deep-lying fundamental processes ultimately give geometric forms to the static structure of the system. These processes repeat certain typical angles and proportions over and over again, and it is the statistical character of these angles and proportions which determines the morphological character of the system and its parts – even within parts which seem superficially different.

x-ray of a lily

 

Everest – North Ridge

13: The Void

The void corresponds to the fact that differentiation of minor systems almost always occur in relation to the ‘quiet’ of some larger and more stable system. Thus smaller structures tend to appear around the edge of larger and more homogeneous structures.

eye of storm

 

Void in river valley

14: Simplicity and Inner Calm

Simplicity and inner calm is the Occam’s razor of any natural system: each configuration occurring in nature is the simplest one consistent with its conditions.

ginko leaf x-ray

15: Not-Separateness

Not-separateness corresponds to the fact that there is no perfect isolation of any system , and that each part of every system is always part of the larger system in the world around it and is connected to them deeply in its behavior.

edge of a lake

Summary

From the examples in this chapter, we see that the fifteen properties appear again and again throughout nature. They occur and recur at every scale … Virtually always, the specific structure of centers in a given case can be explained as a result of forces and processes which are mechanical in the conventional sense … However, such mechanical explanations do not explain why the properties themselves keep showing up.

… The reason that a human blood cell has a thick boundary is that it ‘needs’ a processing zone, where inputs to the cell are filtered and distributed before reaching the nucleus … The reason that the Rio Tapajos has an immense boundary when it enters the water of the Amazon is that the silt deposits which come down the river are hurled out into the water of the larger river, creating a chain of islands along both sides of the stream, for nearly one hundred miles … the reason that the sun has a thick boundary – the corona … is a temperature gradient from the hot interior of the sun to the cold of outer space … It does not seem possible to dismiss the appearance of thick boundaries as meaningless or as a coincidence. One guesses that there must be some higher order explanation …

… One wonders, then, if there might be a more general language for talking about function than the one we are used to …”

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

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Christopher Alexander – The Family of Living Systems

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“Together, the fifteen properties identify the character of living systems…

The things and systems in the world which are most dead – the most image-laden buildings and artifacts, the most sterile housing projects, the most damaged ecological systems, the most poisoned streams – will have these properties to the least degree.

Thus, although these properties define a vast family of possible placed and objects amd systems, all the member of this family have life in some degree … the fifteen properties define the enormous family of systems, among all possible systems, which have life in them.

The fact that it is possible to characterize this family at all is surprising. The family which is so defined is very complex morphologically…

… It is not too much to say that any building which has life in it, must be a recognizable member of this family. Any doorknow whichhas life, any window, any garden path, which has life in it, must be a recognizable member of this family.”

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

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 15: Not-Separateness

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… this one touched me personally. As I collected  it I sensed a poignant self-critical voice rising up “this so describes, separate from the world” … but I didn’t like or resonate with the “egocentric” implication. As the initial impact passed, I came to realize that “no, this does not describe me” … that my feeling separate is not just about me but about the surroundings in which I reside. There are settings that make me feel separate, but there are settings that make me feel integrated. Granted, there seems to be in my life more of the former than the latter … but that very difference is a testament to non-separateness … there is no “me” without a context.

… I wonder how Christopher Alexander felt when he was trying to work true to his approach in a professional environment that resisted living structures … and what it was like for him to fight for the right to teach this to students … did he experience being separate in these hostile environments?

“… What not-separateness means, quite simply, is that we experience a living whole as being at one with the world, and not separate from it …

In a center which is deeply coherent there is a lack of separation … between that center and the other centers which surround it, so that the various centers melt into one another and become inseparable …

… when a thing lacks life, is not whole, we experience it as being separate from the world and from itself. It stands out … This house is utterly isolated. It is intended to stand out. And it does stand out as an awkward triumph of egocentricity. It fails, thoroughly, to be not-separate.

The “X” house, New York. Not-separateness entirely missing: separate and ego-filled

This is, finally, perhaps the most important property of all. In my experiments with shapes and buildings, I have discovered that the other fourteen ways in which centers come to life will make a center which is compact, beautiful, determined, subtle – but which, without this fifteenth property, can still often somehow be strangely separate, cut off from what lies around it, lonely, awkward in its loneliness, too brittle, too sharp, perhaps too well delineated – above all too egocentric, because it shouts ‘look at me, look at me, look at how beautiful I am.’

Those unusual things which have the power to heal, the depth and inner light of real wholeness, are never like this. They are never separate, always connected. With them, usually, you cannot really tell where one thins breaks off and the next begins, because the thing is smokily drawn into the world around it, and softly draws this world into itself. It connects. It asserts the continuity of space, the continuity of all of us …

Not-separateness in an ancient English wheat barn

… The correct connection to the world will only be made if you are conscious, willing, that the thing you make be indistinguishable from its surroundings, that, truly, you cannot tell where one ends and the next begins, and you do not even want to be able to do so.

The sophisticated version of this rule, which comes about when we apply the rule recursively to its own products … which ties the whole together inside itself, which never allows one part to be too proud, to stand out too sharp against the next, but assures that each part melts into its neighbors, just as the whole melts into its neighbors, too.

A path which is connected to the earth

… This quality, geometrically, depends especially on the state of the boundary. In things which have not-separateness, there is often a fragmented boundary, an incomplete edge, which destroys the hard line … Often, too, there is a gradient at the boundary, a soft edge caused by a gradient in which scale decreases … this is why things get smaller at the edge – it destroys the hard edge. Finally, the actual boundary is sometimes rather careless, deliberately placed to avoid any simple complete sharp cutting off of the thing from its surroundings … “

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

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Yoga Practice Reflection – Sping 2018

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a practice review. I am not much inclined to doing so. I am in a period of relative silence, not inclined to talking too much (especially if not asked to). So this is mostly note-taking for myself.

This is what my current practice looks like this (this is a short-hand anotation that presumes familiarity with this style of practice):

It’s built around the same skeleten is has been for ~3 years. A couple of new ideas were introduced last year when I met with Paul face-to-face. It has been through continuous unfolding.

Last year was a hectic year and felt very disruptful to my practice: my trip to Hawaii, my yearly allergy, Iulia injuring herself, my attempt to be involved in Ceptr/Holochain … and other “life happenings”. Whenin fall, I felt settled into practice I felt like I had a long journey of recovery ahead of me. I chose to skip my yearly visit to Israel to meet my teachers, preferring to enter a prolonged period of undisturbed practice. Sometime in early January I felt that I “caught up with myself” – that I reconnected with an experience of stable containment and vitality.

Gradually I felt I was able to inhabit a full practice (as described above) and it too has been continuously unfolding. In the initial phase (first half of winter) I felt a return to presence-in-body. Then I felt a return to a beath-development cycle. When I felt vitality returning I re-introduced back-bends. I then gradually extended seated forward bends to include stays in maha-mudra (initially staying for 2 breaths, then 4) until maha-mudra became its own place.

The last piece added to the puzzle was the seated-twist. Though I already had a relationship with it last year, I felt that I did not have the vitality to hold it, that it drained me. When I finally felt welcome to bring it in, the meeting was soft and welcoming.

During this time I also did a 1-on-1 training with Paul around chanting. I’ve been familiar with chanting from my years of training with Paul, but I never studied it officially. Now I have, and I feel drawn in. I feel softness and spaciousness at the notion of softening my grip on my physical body and acquainting myself with my vibrational body. In chanting Paul has invited me to focus less on the meaning of the words and more on an experience of sustained vibration generated through subtle aspects of sounded-sanskrit.

The practice is now about two hours long. It occupies the first part of my day (unless life diverts my attention elsewhere).

Pranayama

When I met Paul 14 months ago I received 4 practice variations:

  1. 10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    15.0.15.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  2. 10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.4.12.4 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  3. 8.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.4.12.4 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  4. 12.0.12.0 x16br pratiloma ujjayi
    6.0.6.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

I explored almost the entire set last winter/early spring. After settling back into practice I started over. I started with variant 3 and then moved to variant 2. By mid-January I felt that I was ready to move onto variant 1, but then experienced blockage coming and going mostly in my right nostril. I was able to hold variant 2, but not to move on. I feel I’ve learned something about my blocked nasal passages (its subtle and I may try to go into more detail in a separate post). I am now transitioning to variant 1. It is my default practice, though on days where I feel blocked, I may still revert to variant 2.

I feel that I have an increased breathing capacity (that I could softly transition also to variant 4), but that the nasal blockage is holding me back.

 

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 14: Simplicity and Inner Calm

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“Wholeness, life, has a way of being always simple …

It has to do with a certain slowness, majesty, quietness, which I think of as inner calm. It is present in this Shaker cabinet … but is almost totally missing from the peculir stylized Italian chairs from the 1920’s.

The quality comes about when everything unnecessary is removed. All centers that are not actively supporting other centers are stripped out, cut out, excised. What is left, when boiled away, is the structuer in a state of inner calm. It is essential that the great beauty and intricacy of ornament go only just far enough to bring this calm into being, and not so far that it destroys it …

Simplicity and inner calm is not only to be produced by simplicity … the wild Norwegian dragon … has inner calm even though it is so complex … So it is not true that outward simplicity creates inner calm; it is only inner simplicity, true simplicity of heart, which creates it.”

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

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