“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”
Pema Chödrön

Christopher Alexander – Degrees of Life

n

“In the 20th-century scientific conception, what we meant by life was defined chiefly by the life or an individual organism. We consider as an organism any carbon-oxygen-hydrogen-nitrogen system which is capable of reproducing itself, healing itself, and remaining stable for some particular lifetime … There are plenty of uncomfortable boundary problems: For example, is a fertilized egg alive during its first few minutes? Is a virus alive? Is a forest alive (as a whole …) …

… We have have, it is true, begun some extrapolations of this idea of life … For example, we have somehow managed to extend the mechanistical concept of life to cover ecological systems (even though strictly speaking an ecological system is no alive, because it does not meet the definition of a self-replicating organism). We consider an ecological system … though not alive itself,certainly associated with biological life.

… But this extrapolation will not do to help us understand truly complex systems as living things. The mixture of natural and man-made … raises complicated questions of definition, which we have hardly begun to answer.

… Throughout this book, I shall be looking for a broad conception of life, in which each thing – regardless of what it is – has some degree of life. Each stone, rafter, and piece of concrete has some degree of life. The particular degree of life which occurs in organisms will then be seen as merely a special case of a broader conception of life.

… In the present scientific world-view, a scientist would not be willing to consider a wave breaking on the short as a living system. If I say to her that this breaking wave does have some life, the biologist will admonish me and say, ‘I suppose you mean that the wave contains many micro-organisms, and perhaps a couple of crabs, and that therefore it is a living system.’ But that is not what I mean at all. What I mean is that the wave itself – the system which in present-day science we have considered as a purely mechanical hydrodynamical system of moving water – has some degree of life. And what I mean, in general, is that every single part of the matter-space continuum has life in some degree, with some parts having very much less, and others having very much more.

… If the conception of life is completely general, we shall then be able to extend it from the purely natural (such as conservation of a beautiful stand of trees), to the cooperation between natural and man-made (roads, streets, gardens, fields) and then also to the building themselves (roofs, walls, windows, rooms) … we can then simply proceed with the general idea that all of our work has to do with the creation of life and that the task, in any particular project, is to make the building come to life as much as possible.

… I shall … try to persuade you, by example, that we do feel that there are different degrees of life in things – and that this feeling is rather strongly shared by almost everyone.

… it is undeniable – at least as far as our feeling is concerned, that a … breaking wave feels as it if has more life as system of water than an industrial pool stinking with chemicals. So does the ripple of a tranquil pond.

… A fire, which is not organically alive, feels alive. And a blazing bonfire may feel more alive than a smoldering ember …

Gold feels alive. The peculiar yellow color of naturally occurring gold, so different from pyrites, or from the gold in the jeweller’s shop, has an eerie magical essence that feels alive. This is not because of its monetary value. It got its monetary value originally because it had this profound feeling attached to it. Naturally occurring platinum, comparable in value … [does] not have the same feeling of life at all.

… We often see a piece of wood and marvel at its life; another piece of wood feels more dead ….

… We shall see later that this feeling that there is more life in one case than the other is correlated with a structural difference in the things themselves – a difference which can be made precise, and measured.

… One person may be glowing with life, which transmits to everyone around. Another person is drooping … different organisms, all alive in the strictly mechanical sense, impress us as having more life or less life.

… it is this feeling of life and love of nature which stimulated the young discipline of ecology … we recognize degrees of life, or degrees of health, in different ecological systems … one meadow is more alive than another, one stream more alive … one forest more tranquil, more vigorous, more alive, than another dying forest … we experience degree of life as an essential concept which goes to the heart of our feelings about the natural world, and which nourishes us fundamentally, as a fact about the world.

… The ‘Life’ which I am talking about also includes the living essence of ordinary events in our everyday worlds … a back-street Japanese restaurant … an Italian town square  … an amusement park  … a bunch of cushions thrown into a corner window-seat … This quality includes an overall sense of functional liberation and free inner spirit. It makes us feel comfortable. Above all it makes us feel alive when we experience it.

… It has nothing to do with images. It occurs most deeply when things are simply going well, when we are having a good time, or when we are experiencing joy or sorrow – when we experience the real.

Under these circumstances, we are free of our concepts, able to react directly to the circumstance we encounter, and least constrained by affectations, concepts, and ideas. This is the central teaching of Zen and all mystical religions. It is also the condition in which we are able to see the wholeness which exists around us, feel it directly, and respond to it.

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

 

 

Posted in AltEco, Design, Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature Of Order Book 1, outside | Tagged , | You are welcome to read 2 comments and to add yours

Christopher Alexander – What Kind of Thing is Order?

n

” … to make buildings which have life and profound order – it is necessary to be rescued from the mechanistic trap by concentrating on life and order of a building as something in itself. I believe such a formulation can only come from a new view of the world which intentionally sees things in their wholeness, not as parts or fragments – and which recognizes ‘life,’ even in an apparently inanimate thing like a building as something real.

… Such a new view of order will create a new relationship between ideas of ornament and function. In present views of architectural order, function is something we can understand intellectually … Ornament, on the other hand, is something we may like but cannot understand intellectually. One is serious, the other frivolous … There is no conception of order which lets us see buildings as both functional and ornamented at the same time.

The view of order which I describe in this book is very different. It is even handed with regard to ornament and function … they are really only different aspects of a single kind of order.

… the structure I identify as the foundation of all order is also personal. As we learn to understand it, we shall see that our own feeling, the feeling of what it is to be a person, rooted, happy, alive in oneself, straightforward, and ordinary is itself inextricably connected with order.

… The theory which I shall lay out is in no sense against science; it is simply an extension of science …

… it is not only the detail of what ‘order is which needs to be questioned, but also the very nature of order. So long as we have a confused or inaccurate conception of what kind of thing order is, we shall inevitably make buildings which are ugly, houses which do not support ordinary human well-being, gardens and streets which are at odds with nature, and a world which destroys our souls.”

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

reference: Could bad buildings damage your mental health?

Posted in AltEco, Design, Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature Of Order Book 1, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Inside Grand Seiko

n

“This is the minimum requirement in making a beautiful watch: First, each individual part must be beautiful.”

 

Posted in AltEco, Intake, outside | Tagged , | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander – Mechanistic: A Mental Toy

n

“The mechanistic idea of order can be traced to Descartes, around 1640. He ideas was: if you want to know how something works, you can find out by pretending that it is a machine. You completely isolate the thing you are interested in … from everything else, and you invent a mechanistic model, a mental toy, which obeys certain rules, and which will then replicate the behavior of the thing …

However, the crucial thing which Descartes understood very well, but which we most often forget, is that this process is only a method … [it] is not how reality actually is. It is a convenient mental exercise, something we do to reality, in order to understand it …

Descartes … was a religious person who would have been horrified to find out that people in the 20th century began to think that reality itself is actually like this … treating reality as if this mechanical picture really were the nature of things, as if everything really were a machine.

… [this] had two tremendous consequences, both devastating for artists. The first was that ‘I’ went out of our world … Of course, it is still there in our experience. But it isn’t part of the picture we have of how things are. So what happens? How can you make something which has no ‘I’ in it, when the whole process of making anything comes from the ‘I’? The process of trying to be an artist in a world which has no sensible notion of ‘I’ … leaves the art of building in a vacuum. You just cannot make sense of it.

The second devastating thing that happened … was that clear understanding about value went out of the world. The picture of the world we have from physics, because it is built only out of mental machines, no longer has any definite feeling of value in it: value has become sidelined as a matter of opinion, not intrinsic to the nature of the world at all.

And with these two developments, the idea of order fell apart. The mechanistic idea tells us very little about the deep order we feel intuitively to be in the world. Yet it is just this deeper order which is our main concern.

… In the world-view initiated by Descartes … it is believed that the only statements which can be true or false are statements about mechanisms. These are the so-called ‘facts’ familiar to everyone in the 20th century.

In the world-view I am presenting, a second kind of statement is also considered capable of being trye or false. These are statements about relative degree of life, degree of harmony, or degree of wholeness – in short, statements about value. In the view I hold, these statements about relative wholeness are also factual … They play a more fundamental role than statements about mechanisms.

… Suppose I am trying to place a door in a certain wall. While I try to decide where to put it, I can make various mechanical statements of fact … it is wide enough to allow a refrigerator through it … it will resist a standard fire for one hour … it weighs 25 kilograms … people can see through [it] … All these statements are, potentially, statements of fact in the 20th-century mode.

… But if I am trying to put the door in the wall, there is also a second kind of statement … when the door is in a certain range of positions, the result is more harmonious than other positions … a pale yellow on this door has more life than a dark gray … They are thought of as statements of opinion. As a matter of principle within the 20th-century mechanistic view, statements of this kind may to be considered potentially true or false.

… As architects, builders, and artists, we are called upon constantly … to make judgements about relative harmony. If the only statements considered potentially true or false mechanistic statements of fact … then, in principle, rational discussion about building should be impossible.

… The devastating impact of this state of affairs on the progress of architecture has not, I think, been sufficiently discussed in recent decades … If we accept the 20th century idea that statements of value are … merely statements of opinion, it is in principle impossible to reach any sensible shared conclusion in the process of making the environment – only arbitrary and private conclusions. The chaos with which are familiar in the built world, must then follow as an inevitable conclusion – as indeed it has.

… Consciously or unconsciously, the architect assumes that only ‘factual’ statements (in the mechanistic sense) can be true, and therefore has it as a further (unconscious) assumption that the idea of what is good is something that you add to the factual statements – something that is … only a matter of opinion.

… Architects make different idiosyncratic choices because within the mechanistic world view it is not possible to function mentally without making some private choices of this kind.

… It … makes cooperative work, collaboration, and social agreement very difficult in principle. It has a superficial permissiveness which seems to encourage different opinions. But what is encouraged, really, is only the essential arbitrariness of ideas rooted in a mechanical view of how the world is made.

What we need is a sharable point of view, in which the many factors influencing the environment can coexist coherently, so that we can work together – not by confrontation and argument – but because we share a single holistic view of the unitary goal of life.”

 

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

Posted in AltEco, Design, Intellect Run Amok, Nature of Order, Nature Of Order Book 1, outside | Tagged , , , | You are welcome to read 6 comments and to add yours

Graduality and Edges in Practice

n

Breathing Formula

A prerequisite for following the example in this post is an understanding of an expression such as:

4x 8-0-12-0

It is a formula for breathing, where the breath is made up of four parts: an inhale, a pause, an exhale and a pause. This particular formula indicates 4 breaths each of 8 second inhale, no pause, 12 second exhale, no pause.

Approaching An Edge

In my practice I am exploring going from one breath ratio to another in a particular asana. It is a journey and its map may look something like this:

If I try (I did) to simply jump to my destination I encounter an edge. A tension appears in my breath, If I want to overcome the tension I need to use force which generates more tension and my breath breaks. I am unable to go directly to my destination. The map now looks something like this:

My breath gives me access to part of the range, but not to all of it. So I look for a step that I can do. I start by increasing the number of breaths from 2 to 4:

When I am settled in this new capacity I can then break up those 4 breaths into 2 sets of 2 and add a short 2 second pause after the exhale in the 2nd set of breaths.

I can then introduce an additional pause after the inhale.

I can then bring all 4 breaths into my new capacity, which now includes pauses both after the inhale and exhale:

I can then again split the 4 breaths up into 2 pairs and extend the breath by extending the pauses … again starting from the pause after the exhale:

… and then extending also the pause after the inhale

… and the next step … is my destination … gradual steps brought me to what was previously an edge beyond my capacity.

I am never on the edge. I am always approaching an edge that is always moving away from me. In a way, in good practice I am always surrounded by capacities that once seemed beyond me.

… On the Way

There are also unknown gems I encounter on the way:

Skipping forward in the journey also means skipping over these gems of experience. Gradual steps bring me to them. I may not even be aware of these until I encounter them. They hold both realizations ans unasked questions. They hold wisdom that may never crystallize as understanding in my mind, they may resonate somewhere in my body or my heart. They may change for my perspective and inform my path. Like seeds, they may reside in me until the conditions are ripe for them to sprout and grow.

Taking Steps

Some steps take a short time (a few days), some take weeks, months, years … and maybe even lifetimes. It depends very much on the balance and integration of life and practice. If life throws me too often “into the red”, progress in practice may take longer. For example, I was already well established in 12-4-12-4 last year, but then life happened … and I am only now catching up with where I already was.

The key conscious indicator I have to making a step is breath itself. When I am well established in a practice there is a feeling of strength and spaciousness in the breath. There is a feeling of cofidence that I the breath is able to carry me another step forward in my exploration. I can push my body, I can push my mind, but if I try to push the breath the breath pushes back and teaches me to stop pushing.

One Posture

Things are actually much more colorful in reality where my real exploration was more like this:

In the journey I described above I chose, for the sake of simplicity, to focus on the last two breathes in the sequence. This means that in reality there is room for even more variation and gradually … there is more range of exploration … there can be different paths to explore on the way to my destination.

And there are other dimensions. Consider that in this example I’ve focused just on breath. There are dimensions of physical form (the posture itself), in attention (where focus is placed) and in recent months I’ve been learning about introducing sound. Each of these dimensions have their own gradual path of development and they are in constant interplay with each other.

What more, if I zoom out even more, this so called “destination” is just another step on a much longer exploration.

My destination is really 12 breaths of 12 second inhale, 12 second hold, 12 second exhale and a 12 second hold. That comes to a 48 second breath, repeated 12 times, that comes to an almost 10 minute stay … which is on one side of the posture which is asymmetrical which is therefore repeated on both sides … which comes to an almost 20 minute stay in one posture. That can be quite a space for exploration!

When years ago, I was first introduced to this “destination” the map I saw looked like the map above … it seemed impossible, out of my reach. Today, after years of gradual development I see a different map:

Perception itself changes during this exploration. What once seemed impossible now seems approachable.

A Practice Sequence

But even that is not the whole picture. This entire demonstration has addressed breath in one posture. But I never do a posture. My practice is a caringly assembled sequence of postures. Each posture has numerous dimensions of exploration. The sequence itself is intended as a gradual process of refinement, one posture preparing for the next … each opening doors to different potentials … gradually moving from gross to subtle.

A practice sequence can look something like this:

In a practice there are many opportunities to meet edges. Each edge can be met gradually or as a confrontation that generates tension. A practice can become a generator of tensions. Or it can be refined:

… and further refined:

The potentially wild energies of edges can be harnessed into a directed and limitless exploration.

If there is a downside to this approach it is a lack of superficial satisfactions. It can seem unexciting, even boring. There are no heroic achievements, no exhilarating drama. It requires long term, patient engagement.

Life

… and life is a sequence of practices … and endless stream of edges, often out of our control. Practice is a good space to explore edges. It gives me an opportunity to become familiar with edges, to establish habits that can serve me when life’s edges crash into me.

This post began to resonate in me a couple of months go when Eric posed a question (I’m paraphrasing): how can we design something we cannot even comprehend yet? This post is a first piece of my reflection on this question. It hints at a direction I am exploring: a living process (of unfolding wholeness) that does not require comprehension.

 

Posted in AltEco, Ceptr, Design, outside, Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment