Creating Life, One Question at a Time

A while back I wrote about my strong feeling that modern people have lost the ability to recognize life, and therefore cannot reliably act in ways or make decisions that foster life, vitality, and wholeness.

We constantly deprioritize the creation and experience of “wholeness” in favor of productivity. Productivity and efficiency, in the conventional sense, fundamentally act at cross purposes to “wholeness”. Of course, efficiency in the form of “elegance” doesn’t fall into this category. Grace, skill, insight, can express a kind of efficiency. So understand the kind I mean, a type of efficiency in abject service to the Gods of Production.

How do you then reprioritize acting in accord with wholeness, making choices that foster life and vitality?

In all honesty, this counts as the single, absorbing, challenging heart of a satisfying life, a pursuit and a struggle that continues in all the single moments we will ever have, up to our deathbed. I do not in any sense claim this comes easy, or that people don’t do it because of simple foolishness or ignorance.

Even if they know (even if I know) of this constant decision, from moment to moment, still to understand it, to increase one’s sensitivity to the point where one can answer it, still presents a challenge.

It all comes down to asking a simple question: “What causes me to feel more at home, fully, in the sense of my whole self, all my virtues and flaws, griefs and joys?”.

In a fluency sense,  I say choose only one moment a day, one action, to begin with, and ask this question. Perhaps ask it around what to have for breakfast, or where to sit and watch the sun come up. Even simpler, choose only two options, and ask it between them.

For example, I currently have begun learning to play the violin (aka fiddle). Every time I pick it up to play with it (I claim neither to “play it”, nor to “practice” on it), I ask myself: “Should I learn a tune yet? Or do I continue to explore the beautiful sounds this instrument can make?”.

Up till now, every time, I choose to keep exploring. Every time, it generates enormous feelings of satisfaction and wholeness in me, almost shock at the emotions that simply playing with sound and listening can produce. I feel almost certain that at some point, I will choose a melody to imitate (and then, at that point, I will have begun to “practice” perhaps, though I believe I will have earned a different, more satisfying and rich relationship than I had with former musical instruments I tried to learn), but I couldn’t possibly tell you when; in one month, one year, ten years? I don’t know.

One small decision, around that question: “What causes me more of a feeling of ‘coming home’ to this experience”.

Christopher Alexander remains the principal inspiration around this way of seeing the generation of wholeness and life in one’s actions and decisions, in what one makes, does, and says. His books the Nature of Order and his carpet book taught me a lot about the subtleties and permutations to this fundamental, but almost inarticulable question, concerning that wordless sense of vitality that stems from within when one has reached successfully in the direction of wholeness.

Before I write further, I ask you to choose one thing tomorrow to ask this about. Once you’ve decided the topic, give yourself two choices, and then ask “Which generates more of a feeling of ‘coming-home’ in me?”

You can try variations on this question too; once you’ve tried the first question, I’ll share some of the other possibilities.

I’d love to hear about what you asked too, if you’d share in the comments below.

Written by Willem