014 | Integrating with the world

As we slowly begin to get a sense of normalcy post-pandemic — let's challenge our ways of interacting with ourselves and others.

Has the world changed or have I changed?

Morrissey poses the question in The Smiths’ song The Queen is Dead, has the world changed, or have I changed.

As the world begins to return to a form of normalcy, I’m pondering the same question.

After the gold rush

Over the past twelve months, we’ve seen the world unite through our shared fragility — some more fragile than others, and have come together to advocate for shared ideas and methodologies.

Many of us have capitalized on the virtual world. I’ve built new relationships with co-workers and peers from different places. The anniversary of my organization, the Chicago Graphic Design Club, will be May 6th of 2021, something that perhaps wouldn’t have happened without the pressure of needing a community during a pandemic.

My hope is that as the world continues to open up, we carry the same enthusiasm to be vocal and action-oriented about the issues that plague the world; and that we hold ourselves accountable for our actions and our place within systems of oppression.

This past week, I listened to an interview with designer Jessica Helfand about her views on the current state of graphic design and she said something that resonates:

Recently, I went to an online design conference and watched the creative director of a multi-national corporation present something that in his view epitomized the expression of empathy. Big buzzword in the corporate world. Empathy in design. It was bringing to market very quickly a very unhealthy junk food product that was meant to be comforting to people at home during the pandemic. Not only was this thing essentially the Monsanto of junk food, it was basically chemicals in a box. So he is paid an absolutely exuberant fortune, being heralded on this call by 75 people who think that they should be genuflecting before his work. He talks about this as an expression of empathy. We’re talking about junk food and chemicals which are killing people… That was for me the final nail in the coffin…

You can listen to the rest of Helfand’s story in the episode here.

This should encourage us to reframe our association with words such as empathy and urge us to be inquisitive about the voices that are pledging to have society’s best interest in mind. If we want to see a better world, we must be vigilant about those at the top and be willing to be vocal about red flags that sprout from the ether.

Exploring a plum mountain

Feburuary 14, I received Jukai, which is a formal Zen Buddhist ceremony, in which a Zen student commits to living a life devoted to following a series of vows, and amongst them is the vow to save all sentient beings and actualize good for others. If you told me ten years ago, that one day I would be bowing, meditating daily, and talking about doing good for others(!), I might have laughed in your face.

One of the reasons why Zen, in particular, resonates the most with me, out of all the paths I’ve studied, is because it’s quite simple. And its simplicity is what makes it paradoxically difficult to practice at times. At its core, Zen is experiencing the nature of things and recognizing the oneness that we all share. Rather than seeking answers out in the world, we rely on our own present experiences.

In a recent episode of On Being, host Krista Tippet speaks with a clinical psychologist, Christine Runyan, about the toll this past year has taken not only on our mental and physical health but on our nervous system. The conversation made me question the ways I coped this past year with the trauma that we all endured and I think the way my sanity was maintained was by regularly checking-in on people and staying as grounded as I possibly could in meaningful relationships — a form of the Zen Buddhist precept, actualizing good for others. Something I’ll get to later in this issue.

In the previous issue of this newsletter, I wrote about the meaning of the term Beginner’s Mind and I’ve also been quite vocal about my distaste for self-care rhetoric that is presented to us by mainstream media — the commercialization of “mindfulness“ being amongst my biggest gripes. And more specifically Western culture’s obsession with branding absolutely everything and shoving lifestyles down our throats.

Giving is receiving

I’ve been speaking lately with friends about the word threatening — a word typically carrying negative connotations. If I say that love is threatening — what comes to mind? How can we become empowered to be a threat to the industries that exploit the vulnerable? How can we be a threat to mammoth institutions that capitalize upon the suppression of the meek?

A radical approach to well-ness that doesn’t get the attention it deserves in mainstream media (and thank God because it probably would turn it into a commodity with an awful logo) is the rightful act of giving. Yes, giving.

Often, we associate receiving as a form of acquiring value and meaning into our lives, thinking that somehow we need things beyond our basic needs, to feel worthy. This past year demonstrated that we all have an abundant reservoir of things to give and offer, and if we adopt an attitude of giving, we automatically transform our lives to function in a way that sustains giving.

Giving is an antidote for difficult times. Giving is receiving.

I asked on Instagram recently for people to answer the question: What does giving mean to you? and these are some of the responses I received.

  • Opening your self to needs beyond your own

  • Usually, monetary or tangible items to be distributed out

  • Dedicating energy in any form to someone or something else

  • A surrendering and commitment to an intersubjective existence

We can look inward to determine what it is that we have available to give — whether it’s our time, energy, guidance, money, etc.

A big barrier that tends to stall giving is our hardened hearts that have been beaten by trauma and our past. Each time we engage with others, we have the opportunity to chip away at our discomfort, insecurities, and grow. Giving is a form of healing.

As doors begin to open — let’s set aside time to be of service to others in whichever way we can. The well-being of our community is fundamental to the well-being of ourselves. We can build the world we want to live in. Or at least get closer to it.

I leave you with this song: