One of the sources of inspiration for Beautiful Economy is the Alhambra in Granada. Last October we visited this 1000-years old marvel of Islamic architecture, and almost every day I remember being inside its walls, surrounded by art, science and spirituality. Feeling at ease, at peace, and with a strong sense that this place has something to teach us.
The Alhambra was designed to reflect the beauty of Paradise. And indeed, the gardens, palaces and waterways all breathe heavenly quality. In spite of receiving thousands of visitors each day, the place has maintained a serenity. It allows you to slow down while drifting along the endless patterns of arabesque, woodwork and tile tessellations. To be taken away by the detail and by the entirety.
Titus Burckhardt explains that ‘the islamic designs do not imprison the gaze and direct it to some imaginary world, but rather free it from all the impediments of thought and imagination. They produce in us no fixed idea, but an existential condition, a feeling of tranquility combined with an inner sense of vitality.’
It made me wonder: ‘If a physical structure can evoke the experience of peace and vitality, what about a social structure, the economy?
The art and architecture of the Alhambra are filled with the patterns of Life. Inside the walls, the rooms relate to each other in mathematical perfection. The Golden Rule determines the relative sizes of pools and courtyards, divine proportion positions windows and doorways. Facing the outside, the palaces are in open relation with their environment and the elements; making natural use of the sun, shade, winds and water to create comfort and mirror the garden of Eden in all seasons of the year.
For me the most mesmerising features of the Alhambra are the zellij; the Moorish mosaics in natural colours and intricate geometric patterns. It is through the zellij that I enter the greatness and oneness of art, science and spirituality in the Moorish culture. The art and craftsmanship of designing and hand-producing the mosaics, each pattern inspired by advancements in the field of mathematics, or the discovery of new crystal structures in nature. The timeless devotion of re-creating the living and dynamic patterns of Nature in two-dimensional static tiles. The transcendental experience while watching them.
Professor Borrás writes about the mosaics: ‘The designs and motifs follow each other in reiterative rhythms towards infinity, as a metaphor of eternity. The multiplication, division, rotation and symmetrical distribution of deceptively simple themes produce an effect which is dynamic and at the same time immutable. In which each concept of the overall design preserves its own identity without holding sway over and of the others. The result is complete harmony and tranquility; an art at rest where all tension is dissipated.’
An economy is a social sculpture, a dynamic process of art in which we all participate as a piece of the mosaic. Every one of us with a different shape, colour, curve. Unique and nature-made. In the mosaic of economy, each one of us mirrors the presence and qualities of the other, and through each other of the whole. We shape and are shaped by the patterns in our system.
A Beautiful Economy is one of right relationship, with each other and our greater environment. In which proportions are healthy and the rhythm is a natural pace. No one shape or size dominates, and the patterns resonate harmony and vitality. The dynamic mosaic may be impossible to describe in words or formulas, but our human nature recognizes the state of Paradise through the senses. Then, let us use our sense of health, beauty and right proportion to guide our transactions and relations. Have your senses forgotten what Paradise feels like? Remind them by immersing yourself in the art of Alhambra.
I have been working on a piece for the Quilligan inspired ‘Commons Rising’ initiative that wants to retrieve the fullness of experience, human and the greater living context, that enables being fully human for a new economy. But my thoughts were pragmatic – these thoughts of yours are poetic – they add the missing dimension. Interestingly Maslow’s oft-quoted but nevertheless still useful ‘hierarchy of needs’ of ‘survival’, ‘security’, ‘kinship’ and ‘self-esteem’ – on the way to ‘self-actualization’ – also subsequently included ‘cognitive and aesthetic’ needs. So to the extent that your thoughts embrace the aesthetic I’m wondering whether you are you intuiting an economy of self-actualization?
Absolutely. My life philosophy is Being the New Economy; living the qualities that I believe are healthy and beautiful in the entire system. Realising that my Self is as large as everything it interconnects with: the economy, the planet or the universe, self-actualisation is manifesting the qualities that I value in every day action and interaction. Making values matter, by Acts of Beauty.
Looking forward to meeting again in Devon! S.
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I look forward to this conversation – so much is happening…