We like to define things. Our dreams and desires, who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We’re social animals, so communicating these things is important. We rarely, if ever, achieve whatever our definition of success is, without effectively communicating with our peers.
The problem is, the most important things can’t be described. Language is throwing a net over reality. The words are the intersections of twine. We can count their positions, give them labels, and use them to describe what’s underneath, but we can never actually get the essence of what’s underneath. We can’t discard the net; it’s how we get by. But we can, and should be aware of it’s limitations. Most of the times, the words we use are suitable, and get the point across accurately enough, but there are a few ‘things’ that simply defy definition.
Christopher Alexander calls it the nameless quality.
It’s the wild smile of they gypsies dancing in the road.
Watts might describe it with a smile. Van Persie might describe it with a goal. We know it best as a feeling…
In The Timeless Way of Building, Alexander describes the quality negatively, showing how alive, whole, comfortable, free, exact, egoless, and eternal fail to capture the nameless quality. They circle it. Give you an indication of where to look.
Today, I learned a new word that also belongs in that list.
Waldeinsamkeit: Forest solitude; the feeling of being alone in the woods.
Here in Maine, we’re midway into Fall. The trees have lost most of their leaves. Branches rattle. It’s an environment most of us don’t spend much time in, but it’s one we’re naturally comfortable in. Alone, you feel like you belong. You feel mortal. It’s bittersweet. ‘It’, has that nameless quality. It has that feeling. There’s no point to ‘the nameless quality’, but I think we would all do well to try and embrace those times when we feel it.