Living Poetically

What happened the first time tongue touched honey?

“Do you think music has the power to change people? Like you listen to a piece and go through some major change inside?”

Oshima nodded. “Sure, that can happen. We have an experience—like a chemical reaction—that transforms something inside us. When we examine ourselves later on, we discover that all the standards we’ve lived by have shot up another notch and the world’s opened up in unexpected ways. Yes, I’ve had that experience. Not often, but it has happened. It’s like falling in love.”

–Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


Perhaps there was a moment turning a corner in the neighborhood when the sun warmed the path just right, the air was fresh and alive, and there was a half-hidden area nearby to rest and take in the light. Maybe there was a moment in the kitchen making dinner when an unexpected old favorite song started playing, and the herbs mixed with the olive oil, and everything felt whole. Maybe there was a moment in the museum, when a grand statue overtook your entire perception and you couldn’t look away, or a small portrait caught your attention in a quiet corner and you found yourself walking toward it and taking a picture of it without knowing why.

Majestic or mundane, large or small, the Quality Without a Name can be found anywhere, in infinite forms, and often when it’s least expected in the in-between moments between the highlights. Often it’s there but we miss it because we’re lost in thought or our senses are tired and overwhelmed, which is why the easiest way to find it is to be surprised by it—a quality found in a place we never expected that’s impossible to ignore.

There will come a day when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.

–Paul Cézanne

What happens when we have an experience like that? Whether it’s by accident or on purpose, perceiving wholeness is transformative. Wholeness in our environments encourages and deepens wholeness within us. A coherent set of patterns allows people to live poetically and freely in the rhythm of their days. The structure of the patterned place that has been carefully tended and adjusted enables the people who live and move within it to fully express the forces at play within themselves and their relationships, to participate in the activities and rituals that allow those forces to resolve and move freely. When these forces can move freely, we feel calm, alive, and spontaneous. When they don’t, we feel fragmented, stuck, and frustrated.

Experiences of Quality also remind us of possibilities we either forgot or couldn’t imagine. Tasting a fine wine, looking at a sensitively recorded painting, happening to catch a quiet light through filtering leaves—these can suggest and encourage a change in the “standards we live by” or a new realization of what life might be. Not toward perfection, but toward a sense of flow, freedom, and continually emerging and unfinished wholeness. The strong centers in the painting, the song, the statue, or the home reveal and strengthen the strong centers within ourselves. When Rainer Maria Rilke saw a statue of Apollo, he wrote a poem: “You must change your life.

I seek the doors of museums compulsively, to be close to the marble and the canvas, the way I seek quiet solitude at the end of a long day.

This is why in the workshop we must do what we can, where we are, with the time and resources we have to maintain wholeness. When we make our best attempt to imbue our works with the Quality Without a Name, it’s a way of caring for those who live with the things we make every day. Wholeness in each moment contributes to the wholeness of all.

What happened the first time tongue touched honey? There’s no going back once you taste what can be. What happened the first time word met song? Did the people shout and fall into raptured wonder? What happened the first time pigment touched surface of stone and face? Did the people say, “We are gods, be transformed and learn to see?”