Biologically, we are phototropic.
If given the chance, we will lean in to the light.
When I first read about this, I was sitting on my back porch in Indiana, barefoot and angled to the sun. Kai had introduced me to Christopher Alexander, the architect, and in reading his books I felt I’d met a long lost relative.
He talks about the internal conflict we naturally experience if there is a window on one side of the room, but the meeting space is angled away from the window. That an internal conflict will immediately be present for us, as we are pulled to be in two places at once, creating an unsolvable stress in the body, kind of like a low dissonant hum.
At the time, I was teaching, and I thought about all the grousing the department did about space. And rightfully so, as we’d inherited spaces other departments had outgrown. Kind of like getting a hand-me-down from your older, smelly brother. They went into a new building as we went into the old one. In my experience, it’s common for certain departments to be housed in leftover or outdated spaces, forever submitting white papers to the administration that are filled with dreams of the perfect space as they wait their turn in a line that spans decades.
Space matters. We all know this. Especially now, when we're all spending so much time in our homes. There are rooms that feel quieter than others... spaces we gravitate towards in order to do particular activities. Which are near windows? Have you ever noticed how your breathing changes when you move from one room to another? Does your rhythm shift in relation to natural light?
Alexander talks about how the physical layout of a space creates the patterns for the people that live and work there. It shapes the actions that ultimately create the culture of a place.
It suddenly made perfect sense why faculty meetings were so difficult in the room we’d been using… why certain classrooms (which we conveniently renamed studios) seemed more conducive to learning than others, and why offices with windows were so deeply coveted.
If I think of any house or apartment I've lived in, I remember in which areas I was most productive... and which areas I hardly ever spent time in... How the architecture, the natural light, determined my paths, the flow…
how walking on roads with sidewalks are a different experience than walking on those without... how my breathing changes when I move from the shade into the sunlight...
What would it would be like if we arranged our community spaces, our cities, our homes so that our light-seeking selves might be nourished… how it might change our energy levels, the way we meet our work, our relationships, the words we use with one another...
Kai and I have talked about this. How our relationship changed when we went from a loft that was basically a big box, to a house that was a cylinder of three floors with cut up rooms… It was the difference between more collaboration and less. The open space lent itself naturally to off the cuff conversations, whereas the house with the broken up rooms required travel (or yelling) in order to have a conversation. More collaboration vs. unilateral decision making.
Even Yoshi is different in our living spaces. A natural herder, he always positions himself so he has the largest vantage point to monitor us both, situated in a ray of natural light when possible… (I don’t know if dogs are phototropic…) In the cylinder house, he was forever going up and down stairs trying to get us all together in the same space. In the house we're in now, he is less stressed. We spend the bulk of our time on one floor, moving in an "L" shaped pattern. He sits at the corner of the "L", and can see both of us - who happen to gravitate, not so oddly, to the spaces with the largest windows of the house... it's where we do all our work.
Learning about this science of the body changed the way I understand space. And place. It influences my organization and helps me breathe through my responses to places, as I logic through why I may be reacting in a particular way in a particular space. If having a difficult conversation, I may position myself differently in the room - or choose a specific place for that conversation.
All this makes me wonder if this is, perhaps, some of our real work in this world… to honor the natural wisdom of our bodies. To make spaces with windows. So that every person has the opportunity to live and work and be... in light.
always in motion,