A Sense of the Vertical

While walking through the architectural treasure chest that is Barcelona I found myself wondering if we have lost a sense of the vertical. Head gazing up, mouth open, in a continual state of awe, I was surprised that others were walking by these amazing buildings as if they were unaware of the beauty around them.

Every story of every building yielded new insights, forms, and relationships. So much was lost if we looked only at the first floor of the buildings. Gazing at the front of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, I was stunned by the fecundity of his genius and imagination. My eyes were pulled up to see more and more.

Born on the plains of Iowa, our family could seemingly see forever with the distant land forming the horizon with the sky. Surrounded by the dome of the sky, our eyes were ever heavenward. Some to assess the weather. Others to wonder what was in the stars. Some to ponder the infinity that is looking upward.

As I saw people walking by the Casa Battlo and other architectural gems, blind to the masterpiece to their right or left, I wondered: have we lost a sense of the vertical?

In his book, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto proposes that our idea of the holy derives from our capacity for awe. In the experience of awe, we sense something much larger than us that surpasses our understanding. When singing a motet with friends, all of us are stunned every time by Bach’s genius when experiencing the complexity of his four part fugues, the word painting, the image of the crucifix imprinted in his ascending and descending lines. When gazing at Gaudi’s work, I was overwhelmed by the implicit relations, symmetries and asymmetries, pulling my eyes everywhere, luring me into wanting to hug and stroke the building (though I controlled myself in a public place).

But whether it’s Bach or Gaudi, isn’t it fascinating to have the chance to witness genius at work, people who see, hear, and create a kind of beauty, revealing something inherent in life and the world we otherwise would not perceive? And through this revelation of beauty, inviting us into a deeper relationship to something larger than we could have perceived before.

Bachelard proposed that architecture is the manifestation of the soul through the poetic image. And buildings, as poetry, direct us both inwards and outwards at the same time.

Music theorists propose the idea of musical space, the idea that in the experience of music we experience the space of the world differently. We are surrounded by sound. Sound enters us. Sound goes through us. Sound fills us. Musical space doesn’t know the usual boundaries we inhabit. Music leads us to experience a different kind of beauty and space in the world that leads us to look up, down, around, and inside. And architecture? Gaudi makes us look forward, inside, outside, but also up, up, up. Physically, he leads us to look outside ourselves.

My dearest friends do the same. And as therapists, can we see beyond the pathology (which is obvious on the first floor) and look up to the patient’s potential, so she can see it as well. We are great at seeing the depth of pathology. Can we become equally skilled at seeing the heights of the patient’s potential? Can we reclaim our sense of the vertical?








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