Ninety days outside the Schengen area – sacred geometry in Morocco

It was in the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts in Fès that the thought struck me. The chaos of the crumbling medina, the vibrancy of the souks, the noise, the pollution, the exploding energy of the colors, and the sheer quantity of stuff –

Souk, medina, Marrakech

– is beautifully balanced by prevalence of the purposeful geometry, sacred geometry, everywhere.

That’s why Morocco is so enchanting.

Souk, medina, Fès, Morocco

Doorway, Marrakech Musèe

Wall, Palais el Mokri

Islam takes the prohibition of worshipping graven images seriously, and discourages figurative art. Like all of life, art should be dedicated to God, and God is only describable as essence. Geometry is essence.

Fountain, Palais Glaoui, Fès

Who can resist being centered by such design?

All my years of studying sacred geometry, beginning even before my Ganesh Baba days, and then Dan Winter and most deeply with Alice O. Howell, peaked at that moment in the museum. I stood at the center of a ideally proportioned room surrounded by mandalas, exquisite symmetry, perfect curves, rhythmic repetition, and profoundly satisfying rectangles and squares.

I wanted to take dozens of pictures, but photography was not allowed, so I was forced to confront the serene beauty of that room face on. It was transformative.

Since then I’ve consciously attuned myself to noticing and letting the geometry take me in.

Palais el Mokri

Medina, Marrakech

Palais el Mokri, Fes

Pastry, souk, medina, Fès

Even contemporary Moroccan design uses the elements of sacred geometry to create beautiful calm spaces, as exemplified by our current Airbnb in the new part of Marrakech.

Magical!

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Dining room table and chairs

Dishes

Bedspread

Gate to new apartment building

Light fixture in our Airbnb apartment in Tnine, Ourika

Neighborhood magic: community

The city of San Luis Obispo from Monterey Heights

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.  Aldo Leopold

The greatest lack in contemporary society is community,” someone at the SLO Soiree last Sunday said, and it struck me as true.

FileItem-57643-SteynbergGallery_fullThe setting in which the statement was made completely belied it: the guests at that gathering form a deliciously civilized community. At its heart is a group of friends who’ve been coming to soirees facilitated by Dr. David Hafemeister, physics professor and expert in nuclear policy and foreign relations, for many, many years. Now held at the Steynberg Gallery on Sundays from 7 – 9, participants enjoy wine and cheese before sitting down to a presentation of some sort and a lively Q&A session. Last Sunday a couple of retired lawyers debated whether America is in decline. They were wise and erudite and the discussion was both profound and very much fun.

0421test_ban_treaty_hafemeisterThe sense of community one finds in a group like the SLO Soiree is rare; it takes a rare human being like Dave Hafemeister to draw it together.

To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.   Bertrand Russell

Not so long ago, every neighborhood was a community. Small businesses served the neighborhood and kids went to the neighborhood school. A neighborhood was an ecology, a complex set of relationships, that took up the greatest part of our time, energy and attention.

Neighborhoods, small towns, villages, tribes, and families are all ecologies, for better or for worse, and more or less sufficient unto themselves. Cities are made of neighborhoods – fortunately, or they’d be cold places indeed – but all neighborhoods are not communities.

David Spangler says,

Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.

Today, though there are impressive exceptions like the cohousing movement, communities built on proximity are increasingly short supply all over the world. The oil industry, all those cars and roads to drive them on, is largely responsible.

RQNIn Monterey Heights, my neighborhood, community is on the increase. Neighbors are coming together the way they do when facing a disaster – or the potential of a disaster, as many of us view the new freshmen dorms being built on our doorstep. A clear indicator of community is how long it takes to walk the dog – everyone I meet wants to talk.

Together, we imagine seven four-to-five story buildings looming over our mostly one-story neighborhood. We agree on how hard it is to cross Grand Avenue already. “Can you believe the Environmental Impact Report didn’t take the intersection of Slack and Grand into consideration?!” We visualize roving gangs of 18-year-olds looking for parties on our already student-rental-ridden blocks. A series of meetings is being held, and neighbors, armed with a common cause, are getting to know one another.

Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity. – Swami Satchidananda

As climate change, continuing economic instability, shifting values and lack of a common belief system bring more chaos into our lives, finding commonality with others around us is more and more essential.

As Ganesh Baba says,

We must shed our fear of one another, not for some medieval ideal, but as the only practical course to continue as a species.

Let’s make survival of the human race our common goal and take responsibility – individually and together – for our part in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the planetary community by preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our own small part of it, the neighborhood.

Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness. Daisaku Ikeda

Thanks go to IdeaArchitects and Moon Magazine for many of the quotes.

 

Slowing down in SLO

Not long ago I changed the name of my Airbnb listings to Slow Down in SLO. It took a while for me to decide if SLO, San Luis Obispo, really is slow, but I concluded that it’s actually true. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, SLO is a too far away to commute. Imagine: 44,000 people, virtually no traffic, everything you need a few minutes away, year-round access to an extraordinary outdoor environment, and a culture of kindness rooted in a Franciscan heritage and enhanced by a mild climate. I feel immensely grateful to find myself here – it is grace – but slowing down doesn’t happen from the outside. It’s internal.

Nature does not hurry.

Yet everything is accomplished.

– Lao Tzu

It was Lao Tzu’s poem that brought the deeper truth home to me a few years ago. Since then I’ve been reflecting on the virtues of slowing down, so it seemed like an obvious topic to write about  – except that the entire week I gave myself to put this together disappeared into a whirl of activity.

photo 8

Necessary activity. Did I consider slowing down in the midst of the hurly burly? I did – but only for the time it took to laugh at myself and at the lila, divine play, of life – and to refocus on slowing down.

Internal slowing down doesn’t mean doing less. It means doing whatever you’re doing more mindfully, more passionately, more fully, giving it the full focus of your attention. In the long run it’s more efficient – I’m sure your mother already told you this. Indeed, the benefits of being present to a task, whether it’s cleaning the wet leaves off the deck—which I’ve been doing in between paragraphs because a photographer is coming to take pictures of the exterior of our house, a sad mess because of the drought until this week when the rains came and now a much happier mess—or brushing your teeth or talking to your mother, are countless.

Hafiz says,

Time is a factory where everyone slaves away earning enough love to break their own chains.

The key that will let you out of slavery is to love what you are doing, whatever it is: catching your mind when it wanders into the future or the past, or to some place other than where you are, and bringing it home to the moment: celebrating the stillness of the center.

Tom and Lily Bear at the dog beach

Ganesh Baba talks about the four phases of our existence: the physical, the biological, the psychological and the spiritual. Slowing down involves all four: consciously releasing stress and tension in the body, slowing the breath and consequently the heartbeat, lowering the emotional pitch (“Don’t screw up the pitch!” he would scold), and using spiritual practices to find the still center within.

It’s the mind that’s moving too fast, rarely using the power of attention at its true worth, skimming the surface of experience instead to allowing it to be absorbed and processed at all four of the levels of our being. Unless we slow down we sacrifice the richness and beauty of life, of any life.

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. – Plutarch

For those of us who believe in physics, this separation between past, present and future is just an illusion. – Einstein

All life is fleeting. Cling to that understanding, and seek, then, within yourself that which alone endures. – Yogananda