Friday, April 12, 2013

Phenomenon of Life: the forces of Love, Fear, and Belief

A glimpse of a truer Truth

Occasionally I stumble across a pattern of juxtaposed thoughts that startle me with the force of revelation.  Like the Buddhist brief moment of awakening reveals a mystery of the universe to me which thrives briefly in my mind.  At best, I share this vision excitedly with a few close and supportive friends who murmur interest and inquiry.  Almost never do I capture these thoughts down into words that contribute to our noösphere.  Eventually the intensity of my insight fades in my mind with the humdrum of everyday happenings and I fold back into the illusion of the Hindu maya.

Perhaps I don't blog this stuff due to a lack of discipline or focus or self-confidence or too many competing interests/obligations.  Perhaps I am subconsiouslly anxious you'll think I'm bat-shit crazy, or overly-intellectual, or boring.  I committed myself this time, however, to myself and to my friend Patti Pfeiffer with whom I shared the Cliff Notes version over coffee the other day.  I also asked my au pair Erica to hold me accountable for writing a blog TONIGHT.  She says just write it from the heart and don't make it too long.  It's hard, though because many of these intellectual relationships that are meaningful to me are drawn from decades of personal discovery and insight, each of which I have also not written down.  I keep attempting to approach my online authorship like an academic paper...a thesis...a dissertation full of indisputable logic fully referenced through the history of philosophy and science.
Trouble is I just don't have the time to do that.  So I need to do what Erica says and just write it from the heart and don't make it too long.  So here I go...I'm just going to get it out of my head and hopefully it'll connect with someone somewhere out there.  Of course I'm taking a risk in dropping the raw thread of my thoughts out might find me boring, or overly-intellectual, or bat-shit crazy.  If this is how you feel, that's fine.  I know you'll just stop reading and move on.  I know, though, that someone will find this and a connection will be made and that connection will be important.

Christopher Alexander is a hero of mine.  In fact, I have not found anyone who has articulated a more fundamental and insightful shift of perspective from contemporary mechanistic thought than he.  I felt it in my bones when I discovered his book 'A Pattern Language' and knew it through and through when I read The Nature of Order.  He integrates human experience, the physical world, and spirituality into a new metaphysical cosmology.  He is an architect of the first order, an inspiration.
Christopher Alexander's masterwork forges a new framework for the nature of order by demonstrating the deep relationships between physical architecture and human consciousness.  Alexander's approach towards wholeness, levels of scale, strong centers, and the interdependent relationships between these centers resonates with me.  He is an architect of the built world, a creator and appreciator of living space.  Because of the persuasiveness of his view, I will make my pilgrimage to experience the wonder of the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain, and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (not Constantinople)

I am not a physical architect, I am an enterprise architect.  My profession shapes the structure of organizations, social connections, processes, information, and relationships to achieve goals.   When I read Alexander's work, I found very interesting parallels between his views of the built environment, and the social networks and collaboration between people.  In an enterprise (an organization of people and resources to achieve a goal) we also find wholeness, levels of scale, strong centers, and interdependent helping relationships between these centers.  Businesses are enterprises, but so too are homes, and families, and lovers.  Really we find Alexander's concepts of wholeness throughout all of our human experience, not just in the physical world.  He just does a particularly artful job of communicating these concepts through the relationships between physical objects and their impact on our emotions and consciousness.
Alexander presents a simplified view of his concepts of wholeness as a system of interacting centers on p.88-89 of The Nature of Order Book One the Phenomenon of Life.  I inexpertly render his drawings and description here.

Comparing drawing A and B, Alexander shows that the small shift in the design of B (a simple arch) creates a more complex and interdependent set of centers (the ovals) that support and help (the arrows) than were present in design A.
I know it is a huge stretch to capture this insight in a few short sentences in this blog.  It'll make a lot more sense if you read the's worth it.  The next stretch comes from the leap my mind made when seeing this.  As with his physical configurations, in our our social configurations, a small shift in a relationship between people (with each other or our relationship with ourselves) can create a richer and more dynamic set of relationships in the society and world around us.  Neat.  A whole bunch of insight emerges out of this view, like a model for the magic in Pay it Forward.  Small acts of kindness (which are represented symbolically by the improved configuration between B and A) make a big difference...they just do.
So I inferred without saying it that Drawing B is better than Drawing A.  Alexander says it more precisely and wisely by carefully developing semantics for words like 'life', 'wholeness', and their impact on feeling.  Again read the book for the real wisdom.  The short hand version, though is that B is absolutely better than A and this is not a matter of subjective opinion, it is a matter of fact.  Then, if Drawing's A and  B are symbolic representations of the configurations of a society, then B is a better society than A.  By better, I would mean more collaborative, with greater wholeness and integration, and life.  Healthier.  Really, the definition of cooperation.
Of course a change in configuration could go in another direction, say from B to A, where there is less wholeness, less life, less integration, less collaboration.  A disintegrating society.  A depleting ecology.
Let's call this the societal extension of Alexander's physical concept of the wholeness and order of the built environment.

Cloud Atlas:  Love, Fear, and Belief as Forces

So with this model echoing in my mind, I recently happened to catch a video trailer for the movie Cloud Atlas on a US Airways flight to Orlando.  It captured my attention, and when I landed I pulled it up on Youtube to watch again and again and again.  Here it is:

I haven't yet seen the movie (I'm now reading the book), but this trailer riveted my mind upon the messages contained therein, and in particular one spoken by Tom Hanks in the tralier.  "Fear, Belief, Love... phenomena that determine the course of our lives.  These forces begin long before we are born and continue after we perish."

So this perspective of fear, belief, and love as forces is profound to me.  I truly admire the giant intelligence of Antonio Damasio in creating an integrated view of mind, body, and emotion and puncturing the prior scientific paradigm that mechanistically separated these functions/structures... a paradigm with its origins in the Cartesian model of René Descartes.  Damasio like Alexander finds fault with such mechanistic separation of feeling from 'hard' science.  But what if Damasio doesn't go far enough.  What if our 'feelings' he links to the evolutionary representation of body state (well being) is limited even within it's genius.  What if our perceptions of fear, belief, and love are our soul's responses to the underlying spiritual physics of the universe.

If the forces of fear, belief, and love are distinct from our beings, then perhaps our being responds to these forces with feelings of fear and love and belief.  My sartori emerged from the intersection of this concept of these metaphysical forces and the extended model of wholeness and life described earlier and symbolized by Drawing A and Drawing B.

Love is the force that guides us towards those relationships which create greater 'wholeness' and 'life'.  LOVE is the force that can propel us from a configuration of relationships symbolized by Drawing A to those symbolized by Drawing B.  It is a creative and motive force that builds subtle connections between things which in turn shifts the centers all around it (not just the things being connected).  Small shifts cause profound changes across all levels of scale.

Fear is a force that impedes each of us (and society) from achieving greater 'wholeness' and 'life'.  FEAR keeps us from moving (symbolically) to the configuration of relationships in Drawing B.

Belief is the underlying foundational force of our perspective that enables the world represented in Drawing A or the world in Drawing B.  Beliefs can be limiting (I can't possibly live or imagine or desire a world other than 'Drawing A') or beliefs can be empowering (I believe Drawing B exists, I want it,  and I will make it happen).

This picture captures this concept of belief rather well (imagine 'Comfort Zone' is like 'Drawing A', 'Magic happens' is like 'Drawing B')

In the story of Cloud Atlas, our souls keep returning, learning from generation upon generation of mistakes, until one day we finally create the configuration of relationships intended by fate.  A greater wholeness.

I like this a lot.

Fear is a choice

A short time later, fortune flung another movie trailer across my path, shown here:

After Earth is a completely different movie (a sci-fi action movie starring Will Smith) than Cloud Atlas.  This tralier happened to also emphasize fear in a way that I enjoyed interweaving with the cosmological model I just described.  Will Smith's character says, "But if we are going to survive this, you must realize that fear is not real.  It is a product of thoughts you create.  Do not misunderstand me...danger is VERY real.  But fear is a choice."

In my abrupt shorthand of this blog (which is WAY WAY too long already), this message on fear is twofold.  In Damasio's mind/body/emotion integrative model, our body creates the feeling of fear (in our limbic system) which is important for survival.  However, it is important for us to use our cognitive processes to override this when overwhelming fear impedes our chances of survival.  It is in this physical sense that the movie After Earth most probably intends.

But I especially like this notion of 'fear is a choice' when I regard it's application to the self-limiting beliefs and behaviors that keep us from moving to 'where the magic happens' in Drawing B.  This is the sense I believe the Roosevelts' intended:

"The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself." - Franklin D. Roosevelt
"Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt.

So what does this all mean?

If we act with love in our lives, embrace empowering beliefs, and transcend fear, we move ourselves and each other towards greater wholeness and life.  Towards our destiny.  And these shifts aren't limited to ourselves and those we touch directly, each act fundamentally shifts everything around us for the better.

And this scales infinitely, as was so aptly taught by the priest at the 'Donuts for Dads' mass I attended this morning with my kids (they were so excited):  If we ALL share our talents and gifts as God intends, miracles happen.

As David Mitchell wrote in Cloud Atlas, "My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean.  Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?"

So at last I have shared this, I am at peace, and I can now go to sleep.

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