Integrating What Already Lives
Journal — April 2, 2017 — organization, trust
I’m helping in the huge, overgrown garden of my friend, and thereby learning how life works. The other day I had an insight.
Humans love to build structures. So do plants. Sometimes our ideas don’t match so well. (source) In The Timeless Way of Building, there’s a chapter about the process of repair. It says:
When things are first built, the gaps between the parts are often left unwhole.
In the kind of world we have today, almost half the places in a building or a town are places “in between” the places where you are meant to be.
The dark narrow space between two houses, the corner of the kitchen which no one can reach, the area between the train tracks and the next door industry – these are obvious examples of places which are literally forgotten and left over.
A room where you wait for life to happen. The implicit message is clear: you are not alive. (source)
And there are more remarkable examples, where spaces are actually intended to be left over.
Think about streets with cars parked on them, parking lots, long corridors, waiting rooms, the path between the front door and the street, the garage, the closet underneath the stairs, the bathroom, the windowless front hall of the house. All these places are made with the mistaken notion that you are only there in limbo, in between the moments of living – as if they were way-stations between the few places where you are actually meant to be alive.
But these gaps must be healed and made as whole as the parts on either side of them.
What Christopher Alexander refers to as “repair”,He explicitly says that what he means “goes vastly beyond the normal conception of repair”. It’s a very good book, and you should read it. I might call “regeneration”. This is what my insight was about.
I was struggling to figure out how I would implement my glorious vision in a garden where so much work had already been done.
In the article about “cultivation”, there’s a caption in the margin, which says: “we work around healthy trees, but chop down dead or dying ones.”
If I would walk through the jungle for seven days, would I find a gap? (source) I had an image of a place that was mostly dead, but, in fact, the place where I’m helping is mostly alive.
Not completely alive, though. There are gaps, where vicious weeds grow on compacted earth. The tricky thing is that these gaps aren’t always the right size or shape to fit the structures I have in my mind.
It is very easy to criticize the ones responsible for building even more fossil fuel infrastructure, in this day and age, and I won’t do that here. First rule of global cultural change: the pots shall not call the kettles black. (source) In my childhood, I would have put my structures in anyway, and to Hell with whatever is in the way. The reason I don’t do this now is that I see that behavior being acted out by people in positions of power, in charge of nation-states and corporations, and I don’t like the results.
The most recent example I can name is the Dakota access pipeline. Someone had this immense structure in mind, long before the process of actually building it began.
How do you place such a thing in the world, without squashing anyone as you set it down?
In theory I know the answer to this problem, already. It’s about acceptance. It’s about honoring the past. It’s about integrating what already lives, even as more life is brought in.
In practice, if I preach these virtues, you’ll hear the hollowness behind the words. My great triumph at the moment is to slow down, and let go of what I had planned, so that the five-year-old tree can live.
I haven’t yet found out how to continue from there. This is an area where I need to become a better person, myself, before I can say anything about how it’s done.
Once upon a time, I thought the task was to create a whole new world.
Only later, I thought to ask: where will we put it?