Tag: flow

Adopting the living organism as a metaphor for a balanced lifestyle leads us to seek a natural harmony or equilibrium, so that a balanced environment becomes a space in which we can safely and comfortably dwell.

Dwelling in Balance

The various metaphors we might choose to represent balance and imbalance offer different perspectives on how we might achieve that illusive balance in life. The balance of the tightrope walker captures the experience of navigating our way forward through through time on a tight schedule. However the equilibrium of the living organism offers a richer perspective in relation to balancing objects within a space, or our lives within a living environment. This allows us to look beyond the physical stability of a single object and consider the balance of all of the interrelated components within a living system in the same way that you might think of a living cell, or the human body.

This broader view of balance offers a more complex scenario where the organism attempts to maintain equilibrium or homeostasis in the face of constantly changing conditions. Balance in this context is an attempt to maintain the overall stability of a wide range of factors in the face of constant change for the purpose of supporting life. Balance takes place across the whole system of interrelated parts, and while different aspects can be viewed independently, they dont exist in isolation. Unlike a single pointed balance, the balance of a complex system has an inbuilt ability to adapt and adjust, which means a wider range of conditions can be accommodated.

Quote form Dwelling in Balance Blog PostThis model of balance drawn from the natural world includes the concept of boundaries or membranes. The organism has a defined boundary or wall, like the cell wall or the outline of the human body, but it is permeable, allowing flows inwards and outwards. It also has internal structures and flows within the main boundary, like the organs and blood vessels within the body. These living systems depend on a healthy flow in, around and out, to survive. Some inflowing substances are life giving, others are toxic. Depending on what you take in, a little bit might cure you, but a lot might kill you. In the meantime the system strives to maintain balance across numerous variables.

There is enormous diversity in the natural world, and a wide variety of ways in which the challenges of life – such as finding food, shelter, successful reproduction and child rearing – are satisfied. What each organism has in common is the need to satisfy these challenges in a way that retains the basic integrity of their particular way of functioning.

We can extend this metaphor to how we organise our lives within our own homes. We can think of the walls of the home as the membrane or boundary that protects us from the outside. Within the home different functions are performed, just as the different structures of the body have different roles. The house provides shelter and within that framework there are objects that support our needs for eating, sleeping, clothing ourselves, reproducing, raising children and so on. The health of this system depends on objects entering, leaving, and being internally organised in a way that one element does not overwhelm other aspects and compromise the smooth operation of the whole. An excess of objects that is traditionally described as “clutter” can be viewed as a signal of imbalance where the volume entering the space is out of proportion to the volume leaving. Or there may be a lack of definition of roles and boundaries within the different spaces of the home.

In our homes too, there is a wide diversity of solutions to the challenges of living. The issue is not how much you own, but whether the whole system is working in such a way that it supports your needs. This allows us to think of creating harmony by constructing a congruent environment that works as a whole, rather than limiting us to any particular lifestyle or ideology about what to own an how to organise it.

If the balance we are seeking has the qualities of a natural harmony or equilibrium, a balanced environment becomes a space in which we can safely and comfortably dwell. Rather than adopting the do-or-die model of balance of the elite athlete or performer, there is the possibility of creating a harmonious way of living which is spacious and accommodating. This model of balance has within it the capacity to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. There is a sense of peace, calm and generosity in having room to move and the capacity to gently shift direction or graciously accommodate change. Perhaps this image brings us closer to the essence of the balanced lifestyle that so many of us are seeking.

Seven Elements of Organising

Our view of organising tends to be quite concrete, focussing on discarding objects and sorting the remainder into containers. Its true that organising does involve these activities. However there is a bigger picture. We may be able to recognise a mess when we see one, but its not always obvious why things build up as they do, or what to do about it. Before we start searching for solutions, it would be helpful to understand what is really going on. What would it look like if we stripped organising down to its essential elements?

Drawing on ideas from science and spirituality, organising can be stripped down to some essential aspects, that I am going to call Objects, Structure, Flow, Space, Time, Energy and Consciousness.

Objects

Objects are things in themselves, created for a specific purpose. They may be part of the physical world and have physical characteristics such as size, shape, colour, texture, materials, and so on. When we talk about clutter, we are usually referring to objects that have become detached from their place or their purpose. Seen more broadly, objects could be any form, such as a thought form, that has its own unique qualities and identity.

Structures

The function of structures is holding, containing, limiting, setting boundaries. Some structures have a high degree of Containment, meaning they hold other things without allowing overflow or movement. Other structures are designed to Direct Movement, rather than limit it altogether. Structures  may be literal physical structures, such as scaffolding on a building. They may also take the form of mental constructs used to guide thinking, such as categories, lists, rules and guidelines.

Flow

In this context flow refers to the movement of objects, through a space or a structure. Fluids are so called because they flow easily; flow is in their nature. Solid objects also move, and this can also be regarded as a type of flow. The flow of thinking is influenced by our mental structures such as ideas and beliefs.

Space

Space is the emptiness within which activity takes place. Objects and Structures occupy Space, and Flow through it. Without space, movement isn’t possible. In this sense it represents freedom and potential.

Energy

Energy is the impulse to move, the strength to move. Inanimate objects can’t move – people are the main supply of energy which causes objects to move within a space. Movement results from, and creates energy. Movement of thoughts can translate into physical movement of the body, and of objects.

Time

Organising is not something that happens once, but a continual process, it occurs over time. Our bodies never stop operating while we are living, even in sleep. In a similar way, we are always in the process of orienting ourselves in relation to our environment. Time brings factors such as birth, change, decay and death into play.

Consciousness

Consciousness refers to the self aware intelligence that allows active decisions to be made about how all the other Elements fit together. Unlike simple organisms, humans are aware that they are organising their living environments and their internal life, and can make active decisions, and this is a significant difference. We can decide what objects to own, how to organise them, where to locate them. We can also influence our own thoughts and feelings. We need to apply our time and energy for this to happen. Its our capacity to act consciously that draws all the elements together.

Distilling organising back to these essential elements may seem very abstract when faced with a specific task that needs to be done. However it does provide a way of viewing a situation that is stripped of labels, judgements and assumptions.  It allows us to view an organising task according to first principles and to see a situation with fresh eyes. From here we can begin to think about the interactions between the elements, and how they work together to create a harmonious and life supporting envirnoment.

For the visually inclined, I have added images exploring some of these themes to the To Live Light Pinterest Board.

Niagara River Downstream

The Balance of Structure and Flow

When we think about organising in terms of natural systems, there are two factors that contribute to how things unfold. One is structure, and the other is flow. Structure is about the level of containment, and flow is about the level of movement. Managing our living environment effectively requires a healthy balance of each of these factors.

Structure

Structure is like the banks of a river. It defines the space and provides containment and separation. The walls of our homes create a boundary from the outside world and rooms further separate areas by function. Inside our living spaces is a sense of safety and containment which can lead to the possibility of intimacy. In managing our belongings, furniture and storage options help us contain our things within a defined space so we know where to look for them. This could be in the form of of a bookshelf, a wardrobe, or a jewellery box. These containers can also act as limits to the volume to be kept of a particular category of item.

Flow

Flow is like a water moving in a river. It is about movement and energy. The river has its own momentum and finds its way from source to its destination.  Although it is fluid, a stream has a lot of power and can travel a long way quickly. In organising we can think about how objects flow into, around and out of our homes. Objects cannot move themselves, but contain stored energy from their manufacture, and once in the system their presence and movement needs to be managed.

Imbalance

Structure and flow are not good or bad in themselves, but work together. In order to flow, the river requires the containment of the river bank. If there is too much water, the river bursts its banks and floods. This illustrates how difficulties arise when the levels of structure and flow are out of proportion. Too much structure, and the situation feels rigid, restrictive and inflexible. Too much flow becomes chaotic and out of control.

What we call “clutter” or “mess” may reflect an imbalance of structure and flow in relation to our belongings. Perhaps the flow of objects into the space is greater than the flow out, so things are piling up. Or there maybe there is a lack of structure, so things are not contained and become difficult to find.

Balance

The art in organising is to find the level of structure and flow that suits your specific needs. Thats not necessarily in the middle. Some situations benefit from a high degree of structure, and at other times a more fluid arrangement is helpful. A healthy balance offers enough containment to provide clarity, and enough flow to allow for flexibility and comfort.