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Home > Uncategorized > Ground, source, Self, “I”, God: quotes from Alexander
As far as I’m concerned it’s hard to get enough of Christopher Alexander. One topic that we’ve been discussing recently, though, is the claim made in Scharmer’s Theory U about the need to connect to Source in order to make real and meaningful changes in the world. The problem with Scharmer is that he’s very vague about both what Source is and how to access it. In this vein I have gathered below just a few quotes from the last book – The Luminous Ground (2004) – in Christopher Alexander’s most recent series that discuss the nature of this Source, ground, etc. and how we can use it to create life.
[As with everything from Alexander, feel free to substitute 'community' or 'social structure' every time you read 'building' or 'architecture'. Italics are from the original text. Red highlights are my own.]
• “The structure of life I have described in buildings – the structure which I believe to be objective – is deeply and inextricably connected with the human person and with the innermost nature of human feeling. In this fourth book [The Luminous Ground] I shall approach this topic of the inner feeling in a building as if there is a kind of personal thickness – a source, or ground, something almost occult – in which we find that the ultimate questions of architecture and art sometimes touch some connection of incalculable depth between the made work (building, painting, ornament, street) and the inner “I” which each of us experiences.
What I call “the I” is that interior element in a work of art, on in a work of nature, which makes one feel related to it. It may occur in a leaf, or in a picture, in a house, in a wave, even in a grain of sand, or in an ornament. It is not ego. It is not me. It is not individual at all, having nothing to do with me, or you. It is humble, and enormous: that thing in common which each one of us has in us. It is the spirit which animates each living center.” (2)
• “My hypothesis is this: that all value depends on a structure in which each center, the life of each center, approaches this simple, forgotten, remembered, unremembered “I” … that in the living work each center, in some degree, is a connection to this “I”, or self … that the living steel and concrete bridge is one in which each part is connected to this self, awakens it in us … that the living song is one in which each phrase, each note, is connected to this self, awakens it in us, reminds us of ourselves…[...]
I believe that the ultimate effort of all serious art is to make things which connect with this I of every person. The “I,” not normally available, is dredged up, forced to the light, forced into the light of day, by the work of art.” (4)
• “Effectively, what this all amounts to is that in the process of making things through living process, gradually I approach more and more closely knowledge of what is truly in my own heart.” (5
• “What at first seemed like a return to childhood or a simple increase of the personal, gradually took on a different character. I begin to realize that what I come in touch with when I go closer and closer to myself is not just “me.” It is something vast, existing outside myself and inside myself, as if it were a contact with the eternal, something everlasting existing before me, in me, and around me. I recognize, too, that my most lucid moments occur when I am swept up in this void, and fully conscious of it, as if it were a blinding light.” (7)
• “I believe it is in the nature of matter, that it is soaked through with self or “I.” The essence of the argument which I am putting before you throughout Book 4 [The Luminous Ground] is that the thing which we call “the self,” which lies at the core of our experience, is a real thing, existing in all matter, beyond ourselves, and that in the end we must understand it, in order to make living structure in buildings.” (8)
• “The profound wholeness which I have described with care in Book I, the “mirror of the self” in these things which ties them somehow to a person’s deep experience of life, has historically been created millions of times. After spending my life looking for these profound examples, I have reached the conclusion that the specific living quality I have identified and shown in these four books, almost every time it has been done most profoundly, has been done in mystical-religious context.
This observation is not intended suddenly to pave the way to a religious interpretation of what I have said in Books 1 and 2. It is a simple statement of fact which needs some reflection. It suggests that there is some aspect of the process of creation which has not yet been covered; that there is some specific quality, introduced into the act of creation by work done in a traditional mystical religious context, which contributes to the formation of living structure.” (33)
• “[S]uccess in making living structure in a building comes from the ability of the maker, at each step in the unfolding process, to do the thing which is required – at each instant to do that things which is most consistent with wholeness. I have described at length, in Book 2, how the life of a building comes about to the degree that all the steps in its making are structure-preserving steps – at that, of course, depends on the extent to which the makers could see the structure of the wholeness that was there while they were making it. Yet while one works as an artist or a builder it is hard to see what is required, it is hard to see wholeness. To see wholeness as it is requires purity of mind, because the thoughts, mental constructs, theories, ideas, and images one has all interfere with perception of wholeness, and make it difficult to see.
Historically, for an artist, belief in God worked – I think – by focusing attention on wholeness. By asking the believer to concentrate on God – that means, in some operationally understandable fashion, on the ground of all things, in pure humility, not on some other thing – it helped the artist dissolve his images, constructs, and concepts – and focus on reality as it is – in other words on the structure of the wholeness as it is.” (35-6)
• “In every case, the essential point concerns the existence of some realm, or some entity, variously referred to as the Void, the great Self, maha-Atman, God, the Friend, and the fact that human life approaches its clear meaning, when and only when, a person makes contact with this Void. The belief, widely expressed, is that as this connection occurs, the person becomes connected to all things, and at one and the same time more personal, more human, more transparent, and more peaceful.
What I call the eternal self is yet another name for it. The use of the word “self” focuses concentration on the fact that this void does contain all that is in us: it gives primacy to the fact that this void is already is us: that it is a part of the human being which exists already, and is available to us. In this sense, no matter what its ultimate character may be in the universe, or as a substrate of the universe, it is something which appears in you and me, every day, and is there for the asking.
It is that which makes it powerful, which makes it useful. And this self – of “I” – is the core of every living center.” (39-40)
• “To make living structure – really to make living structure – it seems almost as though somehow, we are charged, for our time, with finding a new God, a new way of understanding the deepest origin of our experience, of the matter in the universe so that we, too, when lucky, with devotion, might find it possible to reveal this “something” and its blinding light.” (42)
• “I remain continuously and exclusively occupied with the problem of creating living structure. There is no additional agenda, no psychic, religious, or spiritual agenda. There is only the desire to create living structure and to create it well. But this means, as we shall find out, creating relatedness. And it is my desire that we may actually succeed in this, do it successfully – and, therefore, do everything that must be done to achieve it.
From the study of history, I have become convinced that we cannot successfully create living structure in full degree without paying attention to the ground of all things – whatever that may be. We cannot do it, therefore, without allowing the formation of centers to be guided by the principle that (as far as possible) all living centers do make a connection with this ground.” (47)
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