📰 Deep Laziness
Author: Sarah Perry
Full Title: Deep Laziness
A “structure-preserving transformation” does not impose arbitrary (conscious, legible) order on the system, but takes its cue from the existing structure, and elaborates and strengthens it.
As long as each transformation preserves the underlying structure, it will retain its wholeness and beauty.
What is this underlying structure? It is the “field of centers,” made up of “centers,” a Christopher Alexander term I have written about extensively, and about which my thinking changes each time I write about it (hopefully becoming more correct).
A center is an aesthetic concept that is somewhere between geometric, phenomenological, and mystical.
Centers are the basic building blocks of beauty, except that they’re rarely shaped like blocks. If you look at any beautiful thing, a building or a tree or a hand tool, it will possess strong Centers.
Centers are “things” – shapes, plants, doorways, furniture, faces, eyes, motifs, bounded spaces, boundaries, clouds. The Centers form the seeds for the next structure-preserving transformation.
A step-by-step recipe for beauty:
1. start with existing centers or create strong ones that harmonize with the environment
2. elaborate on this structure in a way that preserves and strengthens it
3. elaborate on this NEW structure, which now includes the most recent elaboration
4. repeat until done
5. repair as above, or allow to decay
This is the laziest way to do things, so that is how the universe does it.
I think some version of this generative, elaborating process is at the basis of what we do in general: our repertoire of behaviors, the stuff we spend our time doing.
I recently read a study that made the following claim: “As income rises, people’s time use does not appear to shift toward activities that are associated with improved affect.” I’m a bit suspicious of this claim, as the authors don’t seem to count exercise as affect-improving, but there’s clearly truth in it: people seem to be surprisingly bad at using their freedom to feel good, and especially at using it to feel deeply good.
Do we need instructions on how to feel good? I think it’s worse than that – we barely know what feeling is, or how to feel, and if we managed to know, it would be impossible to communicate anyway.
It’s possible to clean the bathroom lazily and with an open heart, but it’s harder to imagine going to the DMV, doing taxes, or navigating medical Bureaucracy in such a joyous and mellow mindset. Perhaps it is not that we’re too stupid to please ourselves, but rather that we are effectively forbidden from doing so by the demands placed on us.
The behaviors actually performed by a particular individual, especially the ones that take up most time, are a small subset of possible behaviors. What do people do when they are bored? It seems like people typically have about three to five things they do.
Somehow, from the ocean of possible behaviors, each human picks mostly a few things to do.
These few behaviors make up life; they determine feeling and meaning, moment to moment, day to day.
If you ever meet me in person and want to put me at ease, ask me about running or knitting. These are two of my behaviors, my behavioral centers, and one indication of that is how much I like talking about them specifically. I do feel that there is something special about them, and that they connect to my nature on a fundamental level.
One person’s Ritual is all but useless to another, especially a really good Ritual.
Here is the generative method of Christopher Alexander, applied to the way one spends one’s time, in pursuit of deep laziness:
In the context of behaviors, “Centers” might be activities, virtues, places, people, ambiances, longings, imaginings, memories, times of day, flavors. A well-developed center will be easy to see; it will produce positive emotion, a feeling of quiet ease, of non-separateness from the world. It will carry many layers of elaboration and generation. It may be completely worked into the fabric of life, touching and intertwining with other Centers.
A whiff of emotion, a whim, a half-joking suggestion, can be the basis for doing a new behavior or elaborating an old one.
You may find that you are in possession of an aesthetic, which guides change by provisionally excluding most behaviors and provisionally including others on intuitive grounds. An aesthetic can help you sort through possible centers.
Behavioral “Centers” are the things that feel most like reflections of your own self, that seem to connect effortlessly to the underlying wholeness in your life. The most important ones tend to have old roots.
No one has a routine that works perfectly, unchanged, forever, every season of the year. (If they did, I doubt they’d be reading this.) On the contrary, behaviors and Rituals must change and self-repair as the individual and circumstances change.
This process – the elaboration of personal behavioral centers – is the ongoing work of a lazy life. In the domain of architectural forms, Christopher Alexander distinguishes “generated” forms (those created by repeated elaboration, that is, by structure-preserving transformations) from “fabricated” forms (those created in a top-down manner from a pre-existing image, without any kind of interactive unfolding). In terms of the behavioral repertoire, equivalents might be “elaborated time” (lazy time, experienced as an unfolding and elaboration of behavioral centers) and “scheduled time” (behaviors legibilized and organized top-down to satisfy a pre-existing image of proper behavior, OR the related dread that one has failed at this brutal form of organization).
Elaborated time is reached in easy steps, a natural progression arising from each particular context. Its essence is doing the most natural, lazy thing that accords with the context of the whole person and all of the accompanying circumstances.