Mysticism Most Ordinary


“We have a habit of thinking that the deepest insights, the most mystical, and spiritual insights, are somehow less ordinary than most things — that they are extraordinary.  This is only the shallow refuge of the person who does not yet know what he is doing.  In fact, the opposite is true: the most mystical, most religious, most wonderful — these are not less ordinary than most things — they are more ordinary than most things.  It is because they are so ordinary, indeed, that they strike to the core.” — Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building, p. 219.

I am really enjoying this book.  It is not only making think more about my physical environment, what I like about certain streets of Halifax and dislike about others; why wooden shingles are so much better than vinyl; why I like stone foundations but not stone façades; why the square, not particularly excitingly shaped houses of Halifax are so delightful, because of their many colours, their gradual shaping by their generations of inhabitants into places that are alive and foster the quality without a name.  It’s also helping me articulate many half-formed ideas and intuitions.

This relation between the patterns of relationships inherent in this book’s discussion of architecture is, as one of my friends mentioned when I told him about the book, a way of understanding the relation between the Many and the One. (I hesitate over the capitals: depends on how Platonic or otherwise idealist one is being, I suppose. In this case, I do mean the general concepts of plurality and unity that permit a form of integrity.)

These are the patterns I am trying to build: here, in the virtual landscape of this Inn, whose situation in a city I have described;  also in my life, the edges of which I describe here.  I’m waiting for a rainy day to talk about the indoor rooms, but perhaps I should start with the courtyard. You can go in the door by the lemon tree, which is painted green (a nice green, a mid-spring kind of green, clear, like sunlit grass in its early growth); you can also go through the wide and welcoming archway to the right, which leads into the courtyard.

But I digress (“step away”) from the point of the quotation; a habit I try to dissuade in my students.  The point is the courtyard is the realm of the ordinary, the place of benches and barrels, cobblestones, flowers in pots, perhaps a clothesline — even an Inn needs somewhere to hang the laundry.  Balconies overlook it; there are other doors, and comforting walls, and perhaps a peach espaliered along one, a grape forming an arbour to provide a bit of shade.  A few tables with chairs.

It’s the place for kneading bread and shelling peas, shucking corn, chatting over a glass of wine, dancing in the evening.  A place for miracles and mysticism, for the most true things, for the conversations that range far afield and set the world turning.

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