The most disruptive innovations at the vanguard of our sustainable future are not crises-fixing solutions, but, rather, reality-changing thought systems and world-views that reshape our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the world we live in. Thought precedes action and form. So to change behaviors and conditions in the physical world, there must first be a change in the unseeable but knowable world of thoughts and beliefs.
I believe that the most essential change, the one from which all other changes spring, is a change in your worldview and your perception of what’s possible; and too, that, transforming your consciousness may be the most important thing you can do for yourself and the world.
In this post I connect the dots between consciousness, transformation and meditation in three steps. Step (1) uncover what it means to transform consciousness and the key elements at play here; step (2) explain the role meditation plays in consciousness transformation; step (3) provide a simple meditation that I use on a daily basis. Let’s get started!
(1) CONSCIOUNESS + TRANSFORMATION
"Focused attention can make you oblivious to sights and sounds that would otherwise be glaringly obvious," wrote Mo Costandi, an expert in the field of neuroscience and neurophilosophy in The Illusion of Attention, published in the Guardian.
There are many studies that have reported on the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, defined as: “failure to notice unusual and salient events in our visual world when attention is otherwise engaged and events are unexpected.” (Simons and Chabris 1999, 1062) Well known studies, like the invisible gorilla, have confirmed that when we’re focused on something and encounter an experience that isn’t expected we won't consciously perceive its existence.
What does this mean for us? The message translates to the understanding that, we can be sure we won’t experience change, in our lives or in our world, when our focus is fixed on the same thing day in and day out, no matter how deeply we desire change. For those of you familiar, this also explains why when we set "intentions" or do creative visualization it is crucial that after defining what we want, we must let go. When we take a larger perspective, those unusual events, those moments when everything changed can come into our lives. Transforming your consciousness transforms your life.
Many of us look into the future and expect that the forces of the present will unfold in a coherent and predictable way. But, as Rebecca Solnit so aptly put it, "any examination of the past reveals that circuitous routes of change are unimaginably strange - can be quite unexpected." Whether you want to take your life to the next level, are interested in exploring new possibilities, or find yourself feeling stagnant and stuck in the doldrums,, transforming your consciousness (a change in worldview and perception of what’s possible) is necessary for change. When our worldview shifts and perspective expands, new possibilities can emerge from the very same landscape we inhabit.
(2) MEDITATION: A TRIP TO THE DESERT
The desert is made first and foremost out of light, at least to the eye and the heart. The desert’s invitation is the abundance of absence and light, and we are drawn to the desert in promise of this. -Rebecca Solnit
Meditation reminds me a lot of a visit to the desert. An invitation to come experience the abundance of absence and light, a bright nothingness of a quiet mind and awakened, present state. Meditation has the ability to bring us total renewal, and completely “cure” in-attentional blindness. The experience and perspective shift that is defining of meditation is at the heart of transformation.
To transform our consciousness we must first let go of our tiny narrowed focus, for a few minutes at least. We can all do this easily (in comparison to the effort exerted from continuous struggle) and effectively through meditation. Having never experienced this type of transformation or maybe having never meditated, where are you to start and how can you go about finding that thing which the nature of is totally unknown to you? You can start with the meditation below. And as for the second half of the question, the only way is to just try. Try your very best, with a genuine intention, and see what happens.
(3) ONE ANCIENT MEDITATION: WATCHING THE BREATH
The practice of meditating on the breath is thousands of years old. Ancient Hindus and Buddhists meditated in this way to tame uncontrolled thinking, reduce negative thoughts and gain an understanding of spiritual truths.
Sit cross-legged on a cushion with your bottom slightly raised (or sit on a chair). Keep your back straight, your shoulders level and relaxed and your chin parallel to the floor. Lower your eyes and focus about a metre (three feet) in front of you. Rest your hands gently on your knees.
Breathe normally through your nose, using your abdomen rather than your chest. Check your posture and relax any part of your body that is tense.
Begin counting your breath on each exhalation; when you reach ten, begin again. Thoughts will intervene and when they do simply let them go and return to counting your breath.
After ten minutes or so, end your session.
Today I left my cell phone at home. I lost myself and it was amazing.
I lost myself in new spaces of familiar places. When we are somewhere totally new, and without tools for orientation, it can be easy to lose ourselves. And when we do lose ourselves, we become exposed, naked and bare-skinned to the present moment, feeling every detail. Without awareness of, or attention on, our self, we lose the separation created by distinct perimeters. The boundaries between us and the present experience disintegrate. We become the experience.
I left my cell phone at home and lost myself in a totally new day, in the same old city. Without my phone I was also without constant access to elsewhere. I was without the experience of being in two places at one time. Body at the corner coffee shop, but my self hitchhiking the virtual world, yesterday, or tomorrow, miles away. I was lost because instead of here+there, I was just here. Each moment is always unique but to experience its uniqueness you have to be 100% here. It had been so long.
"Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance - nothing more," says the 20th century philosopher Walter Benjamin. "But to lose yourself in a city-as one loses oneself in a forest-that calls for quite a different schooling," The schooling is a most important curriculum for all humans. Its lesson in releasing our tight grip around self consciousness teaches us what it means to actually be so very little aware of your self's existence that there is no separation because when we are totally engaged we are in the now, and in the now there is only present moment experience.
"To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away," describes Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost. "To be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography."
Jay Harman's book, The Shark's Paint Brush, dives into the world of boimimicry, across industries and applications, to demonstrate how it is at the root of innovation and how you can utilize the principles of biomimcry in your business or projects (heck-even your personal life).
Towards the end of the book, Harman writes, "A mature forest is a self-sustaining producer of diversity and abundance. Many businesses, however, function more like invasive weeds...spread out rapidly into an area, put down shallow roots, and use more than their share of local resources. Invasive weeds are often species with short life cycles." To me, a business model incorporating principles of biomimicry and operating as a mature forest is certainly a Benefit Corporation.
Here's a great overview to fast track your understanding of and how to put Biomimicry to use for you:
In her book, The Faraway Nearby, Solnit writes, "If the boundaries of the self are defined by what we feel, then those who cannot feel, even for themselves, shrink within their own boundaries, while those who feel for others are enlarged and those who feel compassion for all beings must be boundless.”
Therefore, feeling defines the parameters of our self, and by knowing our feelings and experiencing them our boundaries expand. By avoiding or repressing them, we shrink. Feeling is a muscle. As such, it either weakens (can only feel a little/ numbness) or strengthens (can feel a lot - are aware of your feelings, know what you are feeling and why). It is not static at all. Feeling, experiencing emotions, is a large part of human life, and is a vital life line for health and wellness. Self awareness, and inner emotional intelligence grow through the process of getting to know oneself and become the foundation for developing emotional intelligence, intra-personal skills, and much more.
Developing emotional intelligence and self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with developing a relationship with emotions through experience of feeling; our choice to feel and experience the unseeable but knowable realm of human emotions determines whether our feeling muscle is decaying or strengthening, whether the boundaries of our self are contracting or expanding.
As we go down the path of experiencing feelings and becoming emotionally intelligent it is inevitable that we will encounter pain, and pain serves a purpose, for what you cannot feel you cannot take care of. In time unprocessed pain numbs our psychic and physical senses, lessons our capacity to experience life and our ability to live it. It is important to feel pain and work through it, to purge oneself of it; else wise these unprocessed experiences (and their feelings) create blockages, preventing one from living, and being in the present. They become deadweights on the soul, and this build up casts shadows, outward from your perspective, onto what you see, polluting your perceptions with all types, shapes and sizes of distortions.
While this life wisdom is widely agreed upon, in the face of painful emotions why do we still freak out, avoid them and in extreme cases even cut off, numb or by whatever means necessary, detach from feeling? Emotional pain does (sometimes) hurt and can appear very threatening, but what is it about emotional pain, and painful emotions that scare us so? My best answer is it's the unknown. Painful emotions appear to be just the beginning, the first few steps on a path that leads to greater suffering and unknown depths (and these emotions already hurt!). Therefore, we turn off the path and avoid it all together. But we all know this doesn't really help anything.
Life is a process, not a product, and emotions and feelings are transient. So, in the face of emotional distress and unpleasant emotions it is best to allow them to come up, to let them arise. By doing so, just allowing the feeling, you begin to release it.
What is ordinarily imagined as disintegration is also, or instead, metamorphosis. All stories have an end, but in life endings are new beginnings.
How can we set our lives up in such a way to maximize our health and vitality, ensure depth and breadth of experience and simultaneously be fluid, flexible and flowing? How can we create a systemized way of continual growth and development on all levels in such a way that each day we feel renewed from the fruits of full experience?
I've been studying human potential and experimenting with different life practices for human growth and development since my freshman year of college. It all started in 2006 when I went to Matthew Barney's DRAWING RESTRAINT exhibit at the MoMA in San Francisco. The underlying message in this exhibition of Barney's work was that without the cycle of being challenged -> responding to challenge -> engaging the challenge & "maxing out" -> relaxation, the physical body and creative mind will begin to weaken. In other words, use it or loose it.
To be the change you wish to see in the world means you must engage with your desire to actualize your fullest potential and in doing so you benefit yourself and all other human beings.
Instead of being "driven" in response to your past, the growth process of blossoming into one's full potential is a constantly emerging continuum where one is PULLED by a VISION.
While there is no one single best way to do life, or live a fully engaged life, there are certainly definitive areas of life engagement that practice in does bring to life a fuller, stronger, and more conscious you.
But how do we create such structure and habits for life that enables us to continually become our best self, to grow and develop each day, without getting overwhelmed, stressed out, or simply lose interest? This past year it has become clear to me that most of us really and truly want to be our best and make positive productive life habits for maximized well being.
The gap between wanting to and doing it is simply: how do I? My advice is Integral Life Practice. Ken Wilber's integral life practice is the best resource I've encountered that provides a universal structure for organizing an integral life and setting your self up for long term success. Whether you start with action, or with intention makes no difference. The important part is whether you choose to act and be in control of the only person you can ever have true influence over, yourself.
Integral Life Practice is a way of making sense of—and making best use of—the existing treasure trove of insights, methods, and practices for cultivating a more enlightened life. It offers a uniquely adaptive approach to awakened living through a highly flexible system that will help you develop your physical health, spiritual awareness, emotional balance, mental clarity, relational joy, and energy level, within a framework that integrates all aspects of your life. "Integral Life Practice is the ultimate handbook for realizing freedom and fullness in the 21st century."
"What is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." Oscar Wilde
Aesthetics is crucial for our transitioning from a consumer culture saturated with disposable goods to a more sustainable consumer practice. Aesthetics concerns beauty and sensuous delight. But what is considered beautiful and delightful? Beauty is in many ways connected to taste – and therefore connected to the ideals of our time, our culture. Connected to trends. And yet, I do believe there exists within the world and practice of design (from architecture to clothes to furniture) an expression of a lasting aesthetic - an eternal beauty.
The definition of an aesthetically sustainable design object (whether this being a dress, a table, a bag, or a bowl) is, to me, an object that has a lasting expression… an object that lasts aesthetically. A design containing lasting harmony, and beauty that is not affected by trends. If something is aesthetically sustainable, it pleases our senses as well as our fundamental human need to structure what we experience. It has a constant expression; a lasting look.
The ultimate sustainability must be buying a few, good things that last. That requires durability, quality, and aesthetics! Which look do you never get tired of? Which shirt would you want to wear again and again, year after year (if it didn’t wear out)? How can designers of all disciplines rise above the short term rat race of fast fashion and disposable trends into the realm of aesthetic sustainability?
At what point does sustainability mean beauty and abundance rather than sacrifice and limitations? I'd argue that design and aesthetics are an essential credential for any sustainable brand. Since sustainability can be boiled down to meaning: doing anything in such a way that the matter in which it is done sustains your ability to do what you do, then: when it comes to consumer products, a sustainable brand must be desirable, competitive in design and performance as well as conscious in its practices from A to Z.
Here are four brands that I think hit the nail on the head of what a sustainable brand and products look like.
BEAUTY: SW BASICS OF BK
TECHNOLOGY: VERS AUDIO
In Roman mythology (corresponding to δαιμων in Greek) GENIUS referred to an attendant inner spirit assigned to every person at birth. It was believed that every individual had its own genius. In other words, a genius was something EVERYONE had. Have we lost some of this magic in the modern world?
Last week I found a paper from my freshman philosophy class in which I had written, "advancement of knowledge empowers us by expanding our awareness, but apathy to apply it to our actions diminishes us even more." As I read this it was clear to me just how much the realization I had then has been a driver what I've done since then.
My research, efforts and work in sustainability, and b-corps have driven by not just the desire to share my knowledge but also to share my enthusiasm, and passion. As an early adopter of certified B-Corps (and Benefit Corporations ), I’ve devoted a great deal of time and energy to evangelizing their purpose, sharing my knowledge and research on these sustainable businesses and hybrid organizations. But how did I get on this track, and why B-Corps?
It all started in the Spring of 2010. I was an undergraduate business student at Marymount Manhattan College. I was taking a summer course entitled Business and Society. As the title suggests the class focused on examining the changing relationship between business and society, and critically assessing the future role of business for a sustainable world.
The morning before the second class meeting I had picked up the course textbook and sat down on the bench outside the bookstore to take a quick look-through. I opened the book to a page about mid-way through, and in the upper right hand corner, there was a small rectangle that caught my attention. “B-Corps are one example of emerging practices in sustainable business.” I pulled out my phone and googled “b-corps”. The language around sustainable business was confusing and a bit unclear. I was not totally sure what B-Corps were. However, I was certain, and intuitively knew - without a doubt, that they were something that was smart, good, and that it mattered.
Want to get a sustainability score card for your business? Ever wondered how to take your business into it's next evolution and create values baked in sustaining ability? The B-Impact Assessment is like an "X-Ray" of your business - on all levels - internal and external, operations, policies, social and environmental impact. The assessment gives you a clear understanding of how your business performs against best practices and industry standards. Plus, it's free and confidential. What gets measured gets counted. "Measure what matters." If you haven't already go check it out, click HERE.
The lived experience of his passing greatly expanded my known feeling of being alive. When I read Sophie's World in 2005, I had underlined the quote above as I understood it and knew the importance of its message - but now, I feel its meaning and known wisdom much more acutely. With this my dedication to being my greatest self and living my most fullest life has surfaced to the forefront of my awareness, renewed with full energy, faith and absolute necessity. "I will do my biggest, best life and be my fullest self." I affirmed.
"But what would that be?"
I thought to myself, "Fearless."
"So, then, I need to figure out - where am I holding back? ..."
Luckily, before my mind had time to take hold of these questions in the tiresome way that minds sometimes do, the answer came to me, literally. It was just a few days ago. I was organizing the book shelves in the closet of my childhood bedroom and I knocked a couple of notebooks off the shelf. They fell to the ground and a loose page came out, with the heading, "Lauren's Legacy".
I was in Boulder, CO last September (2013), where I attended the B-Corporation Champion's Retreat. An unforgettable experience, it was a total immersion into conscious capitalism, sustainability driven business and integral perspectives, in action. Never had I been surrounded by so much visionary good. The entire retreat carried a distinctive energy of something wonderful.