7 January 2015

My study of yoga and the mind is proving to be invaluable, not only because I am learning how to control the mind through meditation practices, but the insights from yogic philosophy about human consciousness are so relevant to the research I am doing into designers, mindsets and sustainability. I am so struck by the parallels between the ideas from design theory, from the psychology literature, and the teachings of Kundalini yoga about the Aquarian Age.

Across all the literature I have been reading is the notion that we are currently in a period of transition. The beginning of the 21st century sees our global community move towards a post-carbon world that is looking to re-define the economy and the way we live, towards less resource-intensive manufacturing and production, and towards new ideas of well-being and fulfilment that prioritises community, values and equality. This transition though is happening in a world of increasing complexity, where most environmental and social issues – from income inequality to climate change – are ‘wicked’ problems that have no single solution.

In the design literature, the challenges we face are being defined as ‘wicked’ problems,  and the literature is suggesting that designers are well placed to work on these types of challenges due to their unique way of seeing and being in the world. One of the key attributes that is often attributed to designers, is reflexivity. This is the ability to think on your feet, to understand  how you are operating and then to be able to change accordingly.

Interestingly, the RSA has become very interested in the notion of reflexivity recently, particularly with their Social Brain project. They define reflexivity as ‘the ability for self awareness in action’, and suggest that ‘neurological reflexivity’ is needed in our 21st century world.

“Sociologists identified reflexivity – our capacity to reflect on the conditions of our action, and thereby shape our own lives and identities – as a key component of twentieth century selfhood. The RSA suggests that ‘neurological reflexivity’ – the capacity to reflect upon and directly shape our mental processes – may be a key feature of the twenty first century” (Matthew Taylor, RSA)

Being in control of our own mental processes and having a high degree of self-awareness, in order to cope with complexity, is a very similar concept to the ideas found in yogic philosophy. According to Kundalini yogic philosophy,  human civilisation goes through different periods of consciousness and in 1991 we entered the Aquarian Age, coming out of the Piscean Age.

“The transition from the Piscean to the Aquarian Age, will be defined by the flood of information about human potential and consciousness that is now available to us…. there is more transparency and knowledge for all. But we need to develop mental, emotional and spiritual flexibility in order to cope.”

One of the key characteristics of the Aquarian Age is that learning is not enough, we must learn how to learn. This is essentially learning reflexivity. So, all of these different schools of thought are suggesting that the world is increasingly complex, and in order to cope and thrive, we need to develop more self-awareness, self-reflexivity and an ability to control and understand how our minds work.

One of the great joys of doing research has been to connect up the dots of so many different disciplines and discourses and to understand that there are some very fundamental principles that are shared by all of these fields of knowledge.

Image: Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini Yoga master