Here is another example of the way feeling must be the clue to wholeness, when we seek to make something alive. I once had an interesting discussion with Sim Can der Ryn. He was arguing that feeling is not enough. In his view it was too vague, too emotional. For instance, he said: “In making a sustainable fishpond which works, you just have to concentrate on the facts about fish life, water, plants, and so on, ecological facts about a healthy pond.“
I told him: “It is true that these ecological facts are a necessary part of our knowledge, our understanding of how to make a pond. And it is true that many of us know too little about what it requires to make the world sustainable, harmonious in its biological and chemical detail, and so on. But suppose, indeed, that we are trying to build a fishpond. The facts about the ecology of the pond – no matter how detailed by themselves – will not tell us how to make that pond good. Even if we have theories and facts about sustainability, edge plants, fish, breeding, water temperature, types of weed, types of insect, and so on – even with all of this we will not succeed in making the pond have life unless we also have a clear inner feeling – a subliminal perception, and awareness, and anticipation – of what life in that pond will be like.” That means we must have a dim awareness within us, of what a pond with life is like, as a whole and in its feeling.
If we do have that feeling of life clear (for the fishpond), we can then use it to guide us. It will help us move towards a pond which does have life. But if we do not have such a feeling clear in us, no amount of knowledge about ecology and sustainability will get us to a pond that has life in the sense I am discussing.
We shall just be left scrambling mentally, churning about, marshaling our facts, making experiments perhaps – but still not clarified by an inner vision which tells us what to do. Building the pond, stocking it, putting weeds in it, placing bushes around it, we need to be guided by an inner vision of good life in this pond. We must have a feeling, in us, which will reliably tell us when we are going in the right direction, and when we are going in the wrong direction.
It is ultimately this inner feeling, this inner vision of feeling, which is our reliable (and necessary) guide. In short, we must be able to imagine the pond – not as a copy of another pond, or with detailed factual vision about dimension, depth, plants. We must be able to summon up, inside us, an inner sensation of the feeling of a healthy pond, which makes us remember or create the kind of feeling which a good fishpond has: the slow movement of the fish, the edge, the light on the water, the kind of things that may be present at the edge – all this, not in biological or architectural detail – but as a morphological feeling which allows me, in my inner eye, with my eyes closed, to remember, breathe, the kind of soft and subtle feeling of life which such a fishpond requires. It is that vision of feeling which, above all, must guide me. – The Process of Creating Life, by Christopher Alexander, page 375-376
The construction of the St. Vitus Cathedral lasted for almost 650 years, a process guided by feeling. What we see here is feeling, true and genuine feeling, materialized in stone.