Those Few Patterns

If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again.

Being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast in the kitchen, sitting in my study writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating our common lunch at my office with my friends, going to the movies, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, having a drink at a friend’s house, driving on the freeway, going to bed again. There are a few more.

There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person’s way of life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see that there are so few patterns of events open to me.

Not that I want more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can life well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.

Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building, pp. 67-68.

When I was about nineteen, I spent a few days in the hospital for a complication from a birth defect in one of my kidneys. I was not very close to death at the time – I have been much closer to death before and since. But isolated in a hospital room without a computer and on a large amount of drugs, I had a vision of what death would be like. What it was, was more of the same – and then nothing. No great narrative, no drama, just more of the same patterns, very much as it has always been, and then nothing.

Those few patterns that make up our lives, are our lives. They seem trivial and mundane, but they have the greatest contribution to our well-being (or suffering). Those shockingly few patterns of events that constitute our lives have an importance that is belied by their familiarity. They make up our comfortable home on Earth, or our prison, or both.