Last week I gave a Pecha Kucha at one of the SustainRCA evenings, revealing my secret sustainability agenda for my main RCA project, the Metacognition Revolution…
This is the first time I’m going to try and explain how my project, which is about facilitating meditation and mental health, is secretly about sustainability.
I grew up in Cornwall, surrounded by nature, and I think, simply put, that’s why I’ve always known that, of course, we must design with the whole of the planet, and other creatures, in mind. At worst we should make products that are less damaging then the ones before, and at best we should create work that activity nurtures and protects Spaceship Earth.
However I quickly became very frustrated, I think that designers and scientists are constantly coming up with great solutions to the problems that face our ecological environment. Many of the biggest problems we have, like plastic bags, have clear, incredibly simple solutions, like a rucksack, but people don’t choose to use them.
I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the idea that, rather then designing more stuff, I need to design a way to produce better consumers. To find a way to proactively produce a more inherently sustainable mindset, so that people will WANT to make the better choice.
For many people sustainability is something that happens elsewhere, a code of conduct to help whales or sea turtles. Many people of bored of hearing the word, which is why you won’t see me mention it very much in my main project.
In the West we have a traditional concept of man/technology vs. nature. But of course that is a fiction, we are from nature, and whatever we make, be it a spoon or a smartphone, is of course also natural. This mindset results in a disconnection from reality, that we are very much a part of, and affected by, the ‘natural’ world.
I also think we are working at a very exciting time, people are beginning to see that the objects they have aren’t doing what the marketing promised, they aren’t making them magically happy, better people. There are some of the most influential technological advances from the last 50 years.
Yet despite all their wonders, subjective well being levels in the west have NOT significantly increased since the 1950s. Despite all these inventions to make our lives more comfortable, convenient and ‘connected’ people aren’t feeling any better.
In fact there is a growing body of evidence to suggest quite the opposite. High levels of stress and anxiety have been found in 8-18 years olds who use social media, in China and Korea Digital Addiction is now considered the no.1 Health Threat.
But there’s good news, this same technology has helped us to gain a much better understanding of how our brains work.
There is now an overwhelming quantity of studies showing the numerous benefits of Meditation, is a real and proven tool for proactively shaping a mind that will result in our, and others, happiness.
Over the last four years I have been researching into Meditation, completing my MBSR, attending classes at the London Buddhist Centre, Meditation classes here at Uni, and 2 years living in Tokyo where I tried out different types, including Gongyo, Zen and Tea Ceremony. I have come to see that the Meditators mind in an inherently sustainable one, fostering a world view that is much more conducive to making better choices. Here’s why:
Perhaps the most basic tenet of Meditation is training oneself to focus fully, with-out being distracted, whether it be on your breath of a Buddhist sutra. You are training yourself to non-judgementally perceive reality, as it is in that moment, with out trying or wanting to change it. This kind of scientific, unbiased mindset is crucial for following and understanding a rational argument, like the one for climate change.
Meditation results in awareness, and so appreciation, for the smallest, subtlest of sensations. Someone who is able to find the pleasure in simple things, like an orange, is less likely to be constantly consuming and searching for the next fix from an endless stream of unnecessary toys, gadgets and general STUFF.
Meditators who engage in Loving Kindness practise show increased empathy, and, crucially, a willingness to act on it. Consumers with heightened empathy are more willing to choose a product because it does OTHERS less damage.
The combination of empathy and increased awareness for objective reality helps people to stop seeing their actions as isolated and unconnected. Perhaps they are not so alone, perhaps in some way they are connected to their surroundings and other people, and through those surroundings and other people to the other, further, surroundings and other, further people.
I am working with brain scanning technology to create products and experiences to help facilitate and educate about the potential of Meditation. I am working with scientists from MIT and UMMS, to try and create products that will really make people FEEL better, and BE better to each themselves, other people and the planet.
We are seeing the two traditionally opposed concepts, of science and spiritually, find some common ground. I, and others, see Meditation as a path, which can take us from seeing ourselves as lonely and isolated individuals pitted against each other and our environment…
..into a perspective where we have more a sense of ourselves as unique and complex instances of energy which are part of a vast, and potentially incomprehensible to the individual, net of interconnectivity. And as members of this net, sustainability is not a buzz word, or a marketing ploy, but rather an urgent, and entirely selfish, protection of ourselves.