Friday, June 26, 2009

Soul Fires at the Core of Dwelling

Primal acts of place-making renew the world. The vital task of caring for the hearth narrates the whole story of creation. In Ireland, the tradition of Smooring the Fire embodies the birth of diversity from the oneness of existence. At the end of the day, the cooking and warming fire is put to rest, but not extinguished in the following ritual. "The embers are spread evenly on the hearth--which is generally in the middle of the hearth--and formed into a circle. This circle is then divided into three equal sections, a small boss being left in the middle. A line of peat is laid between each section, each peat touching the boss, which forms a common center. The first peat is laid down in the name of the God of Life, the second in the name of the God of Peace, the third in the name of the God of Grace. The circle is then covered with ashes sufficient to subdue but not to extinguish the fire, in the name of the Three of Light. The heap, slightly raised in the center, is called 'Tula nan,' the Hearth of the Three. When the smooring operation is complete, the woman closes her eyes, stretches her hand, and softly intones one of the many formulae current for these occasions."

This ritual links the structure of home to the structure of conscious through which we perceive the world. Within the oneness of Being a spark of consciousness awakens to itself. The One appears to become the Three, The Perceiver, The Perceived and The Process of Perception. Every experience in life and architecture is seen through this lens. I (Perceiver) look out (Process of Perception) at the garden of the world (Perceived). How I interpret what I see determine how I shape the world into structures for dwelling. With each perception, I am smooring the fire of of living, tend the hearth of new creation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Touching Architecture's Soul

A gleaming cube of glass and steel shimmering against the sky can dazzle my eye and glow in my mind. Curling up on a cozy sofa can soothe my heart and ease my bones. Yet, there are folds in my being that seek out the currents of the soul, places where I feel truly alive. Throughout my life I've been drawn to places were I touch those primal currents. I'm not sure what pulls me there. It's not to fantasize about idealized days of yore. It's not to find some solid ground in the shifting terrain of the contemporary world or to solve an esoteric puzzle. It's not to escape the confusing questions about how to live a sane life in an insane world. In fact, it's the opposite.

When I descend a rough wooden ladder into an ancient kiva or climb a mountain of steps to a hand carved temple, I encounter forces that are hidden by the distractions of modern life. I remember that much of what we do is an attempt to escape these elemental powers animating the world. Pressing schedules, flashy entertainments and constant focus on problems keeps us feeling in control or that we had better get in control. When I sit on a granite ledge in a dimly lit cave shrine, feel the cool air on my shoulders, and listen to utter silence, I re-enter the womb of raw life force. I experience an outer, physical structure that reflects and resonates with the silent, still core of Being within me and the world.

Why I do this, what it means, what is the effect, I don't know and don't care. These concerns come from the part of my brain that believes life is better when everything fits into a neat, little box. Luckily, as sure as the ocean tides ebb and flow, the indescribable currents within me seek out and flow toward places where I can touch the silent/humming of the soul.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Digital Monuments to Freedom

Monuments mostly capture ideas, lives and events in frozen gestures and forms. The Statue of Liberty steadily holds the torch of freedom aloft; Lincoln sits stonily in his temple; bronze Marines stand in mind-hoist, about to plant a rigid bronze flag, replicating the flag raised at Iwo Jima. In these digital times, however, vivid monuments to the human drama are elusive and fleeting. The powerful images beaming from Iran are today's monuments, vital this morning and gone by night.

The beauty of these digital monuments is that they are made of flowing energy and shifting imagination. For thousands of years memorials and shrines, made of stone and rigid belief, were intended to capture life in mental amber. They preserved the false image of the perfect instant, the unblemished gesture. Now, digital monuments honor the dynamism of actual life. The heros and gods don't dwell on the granite peak of Mount Olympus, they live in the shifting pictures and sounds reflecting messy real time heroics in the streets halfway round the globe.
Certainly democracy can be made real in honestly counted votes. In the streets of Tehran, it is being born and finding new life through the monumental the gestures of the people.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Design is Life Awakening to Its Possibilities

Design expresses the process of life becoming consciousness of itself. Usually, we don't think of it this way. Instead, we imagine designed objects, like buildings, computers and shoes, being the work of an individual designer shaping raw materials into a form that serves our needs. "Does this _______ make me happy?" is the central question regarding everything from coffee cups to cities. While this has its practical value, it mainly has the effect of reducing the life force within us to a judge who divides the world into things that are satisfying and things that are not. The mind constantly works to stay satisfied, but suffers from almost continual dissatisfaction.  Cue up Mick singing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction."

Maybe design isn't mainly about satisfying our personal preferences. Perhaps creating buildings, roads, bicycles and eyeglasses is a process of life working through us to discover its possibilities. I'm not talking about life as some Wizard of Oz character standing behind a curtain pulling levers and pushing buttons to make things happen. I'm talking about it as a spaciousness within which flows of energy move into matter, shaping and reshaping it for nor reason but to explore possibilities. It does this endlessly through countless beings, substances, patterns, randomness and who knows what else.

From this perspective, we are released from the tyranny of "getting it right" and are free to choose kitchen sinks, doorknobs, and roof shingles as acts of play. The size and arrangements of rooms can become a reflection of how the life force within you actually wants to inhabit the world, not how your mind believes it should dwell here.

Instead of judging various the buildings in your neighborhood according to whether or not they conform to rules of right and wrong design, take a few minutes to experience them as waves in the ocean existence. Imagine them as a momentary picture of life energy rising and falling, shifting into forms that will eventually move into other forms. Watch how the sunlight explores the possibilities of color and shadow as it travels across the exterior walls. See how the plants change the scene at different times of the year. See the life force within you experiencing the life force around you as waves of energy discovering its possibilities through matter.