“Everything we do, everything we are, rests on our personal power. If we have enough of it, one word uttered to us might be sufficient to change the course of our lives. But if we don’t have enough personal power, the most magnificent piece of wisdom can be revealed to us and that revelation won’t make a damn bit of difference.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander – Blue Dragonfly at Tofuku-ji


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


“… 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


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.'”


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Allergic response reflected in Breath?


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 ~ 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


“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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