I have always advised those who seek to build a home to camp on the land at least once, and through the course of a year if possible, before embarking on design. “let the land speak to you,” I advise. And the same is true of those who have bought a home and want to remodel it right away. It is best to spend some time in that space and let it speak to you.
I have noticed that I no longer think of that advice as metaphor. I have expanded my concept of language to include more than what is taught as language. Space really does speak to us and allows us to develop a relationship with it. And so does everything else that we decide to listen to.
This understanding began with reading Martin Heidegger who pointed out that older western languages did not isolate the speaker so thoroughly from the world they were in. Perhaps language is not so much the construct that allows us to define the world as it is the construct of the world itself.
Heidegger tied this change in language to the development of materialism. He somewhat unfairly pinned this on Parmenides, whose sixth fragment encouraged exploration to be restricted to only that which could be seen and measured.
When most think of materialism, they think of a jaunty song and the quest for new shinny things. While that is certainly an aspect of materialism, it is far from its meaning. Materialism is this turning away from those things that cannot be seen or measured. Materialism is most manifest not in the mall but it the lab. It is the scientific method delivered with engineering.
Science and engineering are not evil; to the contrary, they are quite beautiful. Evil arises in the faith that all of existence is contained in them. The degree to which most resist this thought is a measure of its accuracy.
Interestingly, it is those things least measurable that most clearly signal the limitations of a materialist perspective. And it is these things that are most human: Love, beauty, gratitude, foresight. Science seeks to count the synapsis, measure the enzymes, measure the electrical activity, but these things are not contained in the measurable realm. That which, since Parmenides, we have restricted ourselves to.
Our language and the perspective created by it do not make room for those things most human. Is it any wonder that loneliness and isolation are the angst of modernity?
Can it be doubted that this linguistic isolation from the very nature of who we are and the world we are connected in is the source of our destructive nature? If that is the case, as I think that it is, then language must be an important part of the move to a more sustainable and hopefully regenerative existence.
Let us learn to be in conversation with our homes.
If you want an example of the power of this perspective. Think back to the first time you walked into your home and how you thought about it then. In all likelihood it is almost as if it were a different place than the home you walk into now. That is because it is. You have since built a relationship with that space. That only happens through dialog. You speak to it with your needs, desires and character and it speaks the same to you. That the needs, desires and character of a space are different in nature than yours is of no more consequence than that those things are different in nature in each of us humans.
By being in dialog with a place we give enough of ourselves to that place to develop a relationship with it. To the degree that we avoid distinguishing ourselves as different from it, we make that relationship more intimate.
In the language of Native Americans, the world is animated and they speak to it as brother or sister. In this way they are more intimate with their surroundings, which allows them to be more respectful and in harmony with it. If you speak to a tree, you are far less likely to see it as a resource to be taken cavalierly.
Westerners cannot simply put on native language and spirituality to save the world. But we can recognize their wisdom and seek to allow our needs, desires and character to be influenced by it. Simply recognizing that language is a vital part of the process seems significant to me.