I’m reading The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Annie Murphy Paul.  I recommend it.  I’ve always understood my need for nature, and I also resonate to the chapter “Thinking with Built Spaces”.  

I was reminded of my time in Assisi a few years ago when I read that in the spring of 1954, Jonas Salk was stuck in his work trying to develop a vaccine for polio.  He was exhausted from working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week in a small basement laboratory.  He traveled to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, a 13th century monastery.

He spent weeks there, reading, thinking, and walking. He experienced an intellectual breakthrough which he attributed to the buildings themselves.

“The spirituality of the architecture there was so inspiring that I was able to do intuitive thinking far beyond any I had done in the past.   Under the influence of that historic place I intuitively designed the research that I felt would result in a vaccine for polio. I returned to my laboratory in Pittsburgh to validate my concepts and found that they were correct.”

Less than ten years later, Salk with the architect Louis Kahn set out to design a space for scientists to work.  The inspiration for the design was the basilica at Assisi.   The result is the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA completed in 1965.

There’s natural light and unobstructed space.  When the scientists are in their studies, they view  the Pacific Ocean.

There’s a new field called “neuroarchitecture”.  I’m reminded of feng shui, the study of elements, movement, and energy.  I can feel the balance that nourishes me.    Where do I rest, trust, expand?  

The book goes on to discuss the importance of walls as opposed to the open concept work and study space.  I think of Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own, and how when I’m in a library I often head for a cubbyhole, a place to go within to reflect, cohere, and learn.

The chapter concludes that we need both social interaction and undisturbed solitude. Studies show we perform best in a space we’ve made our own.  We’re more productive and healthier when our space reflects and nourishes our self-image.  

I look around my room.  This isn’t clutter.  It’s who I am.  There are plants and I face a view of the ridge.  I feel safe here surrounded with my chosen books and gifts.  

I give thanks for a room of my own except when my grandson comes and I joyfully share my space with him and his crib.  After all, the point of creativity is adaptability, and our ability to respond.

And going back through memories, I remember when my son Chris and I took a mother-son trip to Yellowstone. On the return, we camped by a lake in Idaho.

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