I recently picked up Pema Chödrön‘s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It’s been a challenging transition, this first year in San Francisco, and I found myself needing some tools and advice on how to get through it all. But beyond the salve for my personal demons, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps there were seeds in this text for the world. You see, we are in difficult times. As Tim Morton so succinctly put it in a lecture earlier this year at CCA, the environmental crisis has already happened, and it’s time to accept this truth and figure out how we are going to move forward. This sentiment was echoed recently in a New York Times Op Ed piece by Roger Bradbury, who states that it’s just too late to save the global coral reef ecosystem, due to the over-consumptive nature of western living that breeds polution, ocean acidification and over-fishing.
These are heavy words, especially to a designer who dreams of creating The Next Big Thing. But that Next Big Thing will inevitably have impact in our beautiful world. And so I wonder, if Chödrön’s texts can help me personally, can they also help me as a designer? The entire text sings with suggestions, but I am drawn first to the chapter, Not Causing Harm, also know as ahimsa in the yoga yamas and niyamas. Not causing harm, non-violence, is said to be the one yama that rules them all, and if we get that one concept and live it fully, then everything else falls into place. Chödrön says that not causing harm comes through the well-being of our body, speech and mind:
A thoroughly good relationship with ourselves results in being still, which doesn’t mean we don’t run and jump and dance about. It means there’s no compulsiveness. We don’t overwork, overeat, oversmoke, overseduce. In short, we begin to stop causing harm.
As a designer, this means choosing to work on projects that help create self-awareness, either for the individual or an organization, and hopefully projects that don’t become another form of entertainment or distraction. There are many applications that measure personal and web metrics (think Quantified Self or Google Analytics). We assign value to actions, we measure and we look for patterns in behavior to track progress towards a goal. But it feels dry and clinical, doesn’t it? And in all this tracking, measuring, projecting and analyzing, where is the stillness that Chödrön speaks about? Are these applications adding to the noise of our lives, or cutting through that noise to show us a clear picture? And I would argue that so many of these tools are founded on a skewed value system, one that evaluates only consumption.
I am left with questions with how I, as a designer, can:
- create self-awareness through interactions that promote well-being?
- evolve a new value system that is not based on consumption of material goods?
- focus my work on helping others be free of pain?
This post will be continued, as I keep searching.