in Philosophy of Tracking

Questions that Reveal Vitality

I hope now that some of you have tried asking that question, “which creates more of a sense of ‘at home’ in me: this, or that? Which can I more “come home” to?”.

For me, this question tends to have the most power to reveal the next step, the next decision or action, that  creates the most “wholeness” in me and everyone around me.

But I don’t see this question as an infallible one; it works for me, but quite possibly, another one will work better for you.

You could also ask, “What mirrors my true self more: this or that?”. Or, “what creates more wholeness in me?”. Try different questions; ask two of this about the same options, and see if you get different responses.

I encourage you to ask this question, in order to surprise yourself, by discovering that what you like, what fits your personal taste, does not necessarily indicate what creates more life in you and those around you. Compare those two questions, ask them in the same context, “what creates more of a ‘coming home’ in me” vs. “which do I like more?”. I think the answers will shock you.

You will find, that this sense of “wholeness” and “vitality” stays relatively consistent from person to person; that by far, most people (to their own surprise) will agree on what creates wholeness. They may need different questions to reveal this innate sense, but they will agree overall.

For example, though Christopher Alexander has had great success with it, I know for me the idea of “a mirror of my true self” does not call up the same sensitivity as “a feeling of coming home”. The “mirror of the self” sensation tends to get me thinking about personal likes and dislikes, whereas “coming home” sensitizes me to the raw, yet aesthetic animalness of myself…to the simpleness of what pleases a child, but yet the child-sense of an adult. What pleases my animal self. This may call up bearskin rugs, scratching posts, and abundant feasts, if you have a conventional sense of “animal” nature. But if you spend anytime observing, tracking, or relating to animals, truly relating, you know the extreme sensitivity and aesthetic sense that animals have – a delicacy of experiencing. We can train an animal to put up with terrible or domestic conditions, we can remove habitat and force them to adapt, but given the option they too choose that which creates the most wholeness in them and the life around them.

Once I realized which of two beautiful carpets in my home contained vastly more wholeness (surprisingly so!), I then began to notice that my cat would sit on that carpet almost exclusively, though it didn’t necessarily lie in a comfortable or convenient place. And seeing my cat on the carpet tended to make my cat more healthy seeming, more alive, more relaxed.

If you put all the puzzle pieces together, and remember that no indigenous people discriminate between art and function, no intact native people see ornament as “extra” or as not-innate to the function of what they make (bows, spoons, canoes, baskets, what-have-you), you’ll understand how this all pertains to the animalness of our true aesthetic selves, our ability to truly sense wholeness in the world.

So start asking questions. Start with one, right now. Ask it of the two  objects sitting next to you: “which one has more life? which one do I feel more “at home” with? which one do I like?”.

Don’t wait. Ask this now. Discoveries like this happen in no other moment than this one, right here.

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  1. Some people are drawn to the natural; whereas others are drawn to the unnatural; whereas others are drawn to the supernatural. I think the questions you posed will answer that question and many more basic, yet revealing self-discoveries, for most– although we all already know the answers.

    Peace, Light and Love, C

  2. Thanks for this series, Willem! I find that as a 20th Century Civilized American Human, my thinking AND feeling mind is fractured, split in a million different directions at once–so many stimuli, so many lures, so many incompatible aesthetics. With all my books, my comics, my CDs, DVDs, video games, the internet, it means, among other things, that I can never quite be at peace, never truly stilled and at rest–there’s always another stimulus beckoning! So that’s where your point that what is our TASTE is not always what HAS MORE LIFE, hits me HARD.

    I remember when we were first forming our friendship and you’d look at my comics…and half of ’em you’d push away in distaste. I couldn’t get why, ’cause surely you’re enlightened and sophisticated enough to appreciate a broad variety of styles, and overlook art that’s not your favorite in the service of a good story, and so forth. But now I think you were probably looking for what has life, and comics artists are just as vulnerable as the rest of us Civilized folks to veering away from that. And even if I didn’t understand it, it sure made me look with a different eye on the comics and other media I was consuming.

    I’ve always been fascinated by that comparison exercise whenever I’ve done it with you. So I tried it after reading this post, and here’s my new take-away from the experience: Perfect symmetry, especially the tall straight, cylindrical, machine-cut/casted kind, is downright accusatory in its inhuman prefection. It’s a pristine ideal that a blobby, sweaty, messy human can never attain, and it makes you feel downright inadequate as it imposes that implied standard. So thanks loads; I’ve never been intimidated by a fruit basket before!


  3. Joel-
    That really tickles me that the difference between TASTE and LIFE hit home for you. I worked really hard to communicate that in this post, and I couldn’t feel sure that I articulated it well enough. So thanks!

    I enjoyed hearing (this evening) you talk about your fruit basket comparison experience in person – as I mentioned then, I really think we could start some kind of photo blog for asking this question by comparing two similar “objects”. It would make it a fun way to practice and share our results.

  4. What really tickled ME about the experience was that it helped me understand something that was happening at one time in our relationship. Making sense of that was really valuable and helps put it out of a “Willem has good taste/Joel has lousy taste” kind of dichotomy.

    Maybe I’ll take pics of the baskets and link ’em here in a day or three.