Most mornings are the same. The thought of a hot cup of tea and marmite on toast tears me away from the security of my sheets. I eat in bed whilst I watch something, and then I get dressed. Fed, relaxed,and clothed, there’s one other thing to take care of: my mental health.
I meditate for around thirty minutes, five days a week. I don’t meditate every day, though I admire those who do, and stressing about meditation and how much you do it it seems like a particularly pointless process.
Like playing the piano or learning to code, meditation is a skill that requires training and development. Some take to it quicker than others, and if I’ve learnt anything over the years, it is that finding what works for you crucial. Personally, pan pipes and lapping waves aren’t for me.
I’ve gone down the path of mindfulness meditation, which revolves around observing one’s mind, body,or breath. Crucially, it is not, as you may have been led to believe, a process which sees you clearing the mind: you are, in fact, trying to fill it, to develop the ability to choose what the center of your experienceis at any time.
There are so many ways design can intervene to help people with their mental health. It can be as simple as providing physical space, literally carving out the territory for people to priorities their minds wellbeing, for example through pods like my HUSH chair. It is possible to meditate anywhere, but for most novice meditators, including myself, a quiet, hushed area facilitates focus better than a noisy, distracting one. As well as the practical benefits of quiet and privacy, there is also the strong phycological benefis of having a visual reminder in the space. To see, in the middle of a busy, collaborative open plan workspace, a Pod; reminds us that it is ok to take time to pause, breath, be
alone and prepare our thoughts for sharing with others.
Like all of us, I can find life hectic, can be overwhelmed by emotions, distracted by negative thoughts. Meditation allows me to play a proactive role in fighting against the struggle. Rerouting your brain can be an empowering thing. And it isn’t as if I float around radiating joy all the time, but if I can be just that little happier, that little calmer, then, well, that’s a fair exchange for 30 minutes of my morning.
So, once I had begun to feel the benefit of meditation, and explored the wealth of evidence showing it’s benefit to others, I decided that I wanted to design objects and interactions that would help others make the same journey as I.
Whilst living in Japan I built an automated purification ceremony called KAMI, designed to help first time meditators step out of their usual ‘doing’ mode and into a new space where the internal is the focus. When inside KAMI a guided voice instructs you on what to do, simply sitting with your eyes closed trying to be calm is not meditation, and we all need help to understand the steps to be taken.
A more recent project of mine called MindMirror was created in collaboration with neuroscientist Judson Brewer. It is a system of EEG Sensors and bio-feedback to help people understand what is happening in their own brains as they meditate. This has been shown to be a powerful tool for training to identify when they are in flow state (a positive mental state that can be achieved through meditation). It took me about three years and extensive reading to pinpoint it myself, and as soon as I did my practice improved dramatically. MindMirror helps you make this leap in understanding, turning
the ephemeral and often indescribable, into a clear and comprehendible experience.
Whilst I am very interested in the spiritual, transformative implications of meditation — its offered me an increased level of empathy, forgiveness, clarity, and understanding, powerful qualities for a designer to have — I also see it as a practical tool, and feel its effect on my work, creativity and social life in a way that is functional and totally un-mysterious.
In periods of time when my routine is disturbed and I don’t carve the time out to sit, I feel it. I find the neuroscience behind meditation fascinating, and the knowledge of the scientifically proven benefits to my malleable brain drives me when other motivations fail. I have found that my reading and research into the mechanics of meditation have become a crucial part of making the 30 minutes impactful.
I have been provided with a bunch of tools and perspectives that help me deal with my reality, both preconsciously and consciously, every day. Want to find a path that works but not sure how? Educate yourself about what is happening when you meditate and how it is beneficial to you. There are some beautiful eloquent books about your brain.
Meditation absolutely goes to a place beyond words, but the words are a great way to help you get there. I recommend Siddhartha’s Brain by James Kingsland, which cleverly weaves history, neuroscience and practical meditation techniques together. Other good reads include Waking Up by Sam Harris, and The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer.
After five years I still often use guided recordings to help me and there are so many fantastic teachers out there. My favourite, by the way, is John Kabat Zinn. I am always investigating and researching, and I have found a combination and habit that works for me, but I think there are many different routes that can be taken.
Test, try, and design your own practice and in turn your own mind. Patience is a virtue, and yes, meditation can be frustrating, boring, and repetitive. But it can also be blissful, enlightening, and incredibly rewarding. And not in the least bit meaningless.