In life, we may not always be able to keep our word.
Breaking promises is something that happens.
But we can, always can, without exception, honour our word.
That may sound like the same thing. But it is not. Quite not.
And grasping this distinction is both empowering and incredibly freeing. It is the pathway to a much clearer, authentic, and powerful way of being and interacting with each other.
And so we get reaaaaal squirelly when it comes time to give our word to something, to make a promise, to say what we will do, or be.
Our promise, such as it is, all to easily becomes a wishy-washy thing, full of caveats and asterisks, even if they’re not spoken out loud.
And when a word is broken, we tend not to be too rigorous in acknowledging it or dealing with it. Apologies offered aren’t often exactly apologies, mostly explanations and excuses, devoid of authenticity and integrity. Plus there’s this kind of secret handshake and agreement thing going on: if I don’t call you out on this, you won’t hold me responsible either… ok?
Promises are big things. They are quite scary in many ways. They are bold statements spoken forth in the face of the vast uncertainty that is the future.
And promises will be broken. You will break promises.*
And that is OK.
For here is that distinction: The promise, your word, wasn’t kept, and It was broken. But by acknowledging that the promise was not – or will not be the moment you know it won’t be – kept, by acknowledging the impact of the broken promise has/had, by taking responsibility for it not being kept, and by accepting the consequences and outfall of it, you can still honour your word. You give your words weight.
To honour one’s word is to honour one’s self.
Because, really, what are we beyond that of our word?
If we treat our word as dismissible, small, and not worth the metaphorical paper it is written on, then we are weakening who we fundamentally are. We are treating ourselves the same way, as dismissible, small, without value, and we are inviting others to do the same.
Through authentic promises, backed up with intentful action, and when broken coupled with authentic apologies, we close the loop and know ourselves (and each other) as mighty and whole and true.
We shed the background guilt towards ourselves that’s coupled with background (righteous) resentment towards others. We gain a greater sense of ourselves, connect with each other, and together we can create big and bold promises towards what we actually want in life.
* If you’re not, consider that you are making promises that are too small…
In many ways, my trip to Japan could have been billed as the “Ando Connection.” The whole planning process began when I plotted the locations of many of Tadao Ando’s buildings all throughout Japan, and the end route was chosen to hit as many of them as I could. This included what I thought would be the pièce de résistance, the Church of the Light. Which was entirely amazing, and I may blog about it further in an upcoming post. But it was his works on Naoshima Island that struck me the most, including a few absolutely mind-blowing experiences that broadened my awareness of how space could feel and what space could be.
The first of these moments happened not more than a couple of hours after we arrived, touring the outdoor artworks of the Benesse House compound. And it began with a simple wall that grew from the ground.
And that was exactly what it is. A seemingly simple wall, bisecting a portion of lawn and extending into a cobbled patio on one side, while descending a staircase on the other to a lower platform. But that simplicity belies some stunningly skilled mastery of proportion, volumes, and notions of enclosure and expansiveness.
While the aerial view gives an immediate way to grasp the layout, the visceral experience of being there was way more intense than the sum of its simple parts of wall, cobbles, and stairs. The play of nature vs the pristine concrete smoothness of the walls, the narrowness of one stair exploding out towards the sea, the interplay of different planes and levels as they connect and divide among the varying wide stairs at the other end, and the proportions and relationships between each element, all contribute to an incredible feel to the space.
This is a piece that is meant to be experienced in motion.* The shifting forms, planes, and lines as you move constantly reveal and hide something, and each new step brings a different framing of the forested hills, the beach, and the water beyond. This is installation art and spatial art at its finest.
Under the broad upper plaza is a small room containing a work by artist Walter De Maria, primarily consisting of two, highly polished stone balls. While hilariously calling to mind early 3D computer rendering** the reflective curves nicely played off the purely orthographic nature of Ando’s walls and by reflecting their room (the only actual enclosure in this piece) that you couldn’t enter gave a nice little extra spatial twist.
I think I walked around the entire thing for the first five minutes with my mouth agape. It was that powerful. And but a taste of what was to come over the next day and a bit on the island…
* To which none of my videos turned out very well, unfortunately!
* Highly reflective chrome spheres were supremely popular to show off rendering power and precision, they were almost an obligatory feature of early computer renderings and ray tracing.
Sometimes, making art is easy.
Sometimes, making art is really difficult.
Sometimes, our best work will come into being with ease.
Sometimes, our even bester work takes more than blood, sweat, and tears.
They are both art.
They both end up beautiful.
Neither one is the ‘right’ way.
Neither one is the ‘wrong’ way.
It is just art.
It’s how art goes.
And here’s the thing,
It’s an art.
I’ve recently returned from a vacation to Japan that was very heavily aimed towards architectural visiting. And indeed, I saw some absolutely incredible architecture, including some that expanded my understanding of what space can be and how it can feel. Spaces that (actually) literally stopped me in my tracks and had me go “whaawwwaaahhaoaaa, what’s going on here?” Good stuff, for sure, and I’ll share much of it in the weeks ahead!
Tonight I want to start with something a little more on the sedate end, but nonetheless is still delicious examples of finely crafted experiences: a pair of buildings that form a community centre at the heart of the town of Honmura.
The larger building is the one that first catches your eye, with its tall and sensuous weathered cypress roof. The building is also nestled within moss-covered earth berms, and right away you notice that the rise and angle of these colourful berms smoothly merges into that of the building’s roof. The roof itself sports a prow that juts out on two sides and forming a hollow that extends right through, creating a passage that allows light and air to flow into the giant hall that’s within.
The centre was closed when I wandered by, so I could only peak inside. Yet, that little peak was enough to see how the white underside of the roof allows the light from the prow and the light from the windows along the base of the roof (at the end of the berms) to blend and suffuse the space in an even glow of daylight.
Through the magic of internet photos, it’s also nifty to see that what looked like a simple stage from my vantage point is actually beefier and forms a divider of sorts, creating a tatami-filled back area of the hall that overlooks the lovely garden I saw being tended.
I’m really taken by the second building though, because while at first glance it seems to be a simple building with a very tall roof, it’s actually an assemblage of buildings, each with their own roofs underneath this larger, common, roof.
This is quickly revealed as you walk under the canopy and look up to see the oculus hovering above. There’s this nice multi-layered effect going on here. Along the perimeter, the thin and richly coloured support for the canopy stands with regularity before the much lighter coloured and faces of the individual buildings within, which are irregularly arranged along the edge and punctuated by the walkways that travel under the canopy. Inside, each building’s roof is played off the canopy, with vertically oriented weathered grey smooth and tightly placed boards contrasting with the horizontally oriented slats of the fresh cut canopy above.
The sub-buildings all feature sliding glass screen walls, allowing the entire area to open and become one, even while each finely crafted unit remains separate in their framing. Even in the wet and cooler months, this little covered village can remain cozy and open for visitors to meander about within.
Stupendously done, on both counts. And a joy that, while they may share the idea of a prominent roof, they’re both executed quite differently to allow them to fulfill their aims in the most expressive manner. A bit of inventiveness that really comes together in clean and precise lines, making them a joy to be in. Nice work
Naoshima Community Centre by Hiroshi Sambuichi