As you might know, May is Mental Health Awareness month and we would like to share with you a weekly practice that the design team at ID has – a “kōan.”
Every Monday, you will find the design team dressed in black to be in an absorbing state of mind. We gather around, to have a meeting which has no point to it. There’s no agenda, no plan and you don’t necessarily even have to know what’s going on.
Well, you might ask,
Why have this meeting if there is no point? Isn’t it a waste of time?
And you would be right.
You see we as humans are always trying to find the meaning of things. Meaning in a sentence, an email, an action, or even silence. We constantly interpret. 24/7.
‘Kōan’ comes from Zen Buddhism in Japan. It literally means a “paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution” (Oxford Languages). It was used as a meditation device for novices. Some of the most well-known kōans are: “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Some kōans are set up in a question-answer format, as in the question “What is Buddha?” and its answer, “Three pounds of flax.”
Novices would take months or years meditating on a single kōan. But the point was not to struggle with its meaning. It was something to keep you company, whatever you are doing. Let it slowly transform your heart and the way you move in the world. It’s not about knowing but being comfortable with not knowing. When you hear a kōan you are “joining a timeless conversation and you are forming a relationship with the kōan” (John Tarrant), so you can let all that happens, happen, without worrying about it.
Back to the design team at ID, on a particular Monday morning – there are tech packs that designers need to send to buyers; product developers need to source trims and realise we are out of snap buttons. There is a collection deadline encroaching and the digital marketing team is brainstorming about how they will showcase this collection on social media.
However, once a week for about 45 minutes to an hour, the team tries to set these things aside and gather for a kōan. The practice has no particular structure though we happen to start and end by meditating to the sound of a singing bowl. We might contemplate on whether “are we breathing or is breathing us?”, and deliberate about if our work desk is happy about being a work desk. After this hour of nonsensical discussions, we do go back to our deadlines and commitments but hopefully with a new perspective and a kōan to keep us company as we move about our day, and somehow, almost magically get everything needed to get done, done.
So, readers, next time you hear something that interests you keep it with you. It may be a healing story, a piece of music or even an earworm. Let it keep you company. Don’t try too hard just show up, be confident in what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to experiment. You can share this experience with people close to you and even your place of work.
"When you are working you have a lot of tension. So what a kōan does for me is it takes my mind off of work. It gives relief, makes your mind light and gives me a break, a break from the work. Before the kōan, I'm always thinking about a lot of stuff not just related to work but personal as well. So I'm always stressed. But when the singing bowl is played during kōan, listening to its sound I stop thinking about everything. There was just the sound and I was in that sound. I was calm. Later once the kōan is over I go back to work and might even be stressed again. But during the time of kōan, I'm completely relieved of everything."Navneeta M.S.Textile Designer
“Kōan is very influential, it changes people's way of thinking. It also helps in personality development. It makes you think out of the box. Whatever is discussed in kōan you can relate it to your day to day life, it helps you release stress and calms you down. It also changes your way of thinking and you can do anything once you change your thinking. It's a human tendency that the influence of anything doesn’t stay for a long time it eventually wears off. So it is a good thing that we have kōans regularly. You think about what is discussed in kōan during the following days, for example, we once talked about when you are driving and a cow comes and stands in your path you get frustrated but the cow doesn't know of humans making roads for themselves to drive cars on and that humans want these paths clear at all times. The cow thinks this place belongs to them too and if you think about it is you who are actually in the cow's path.”Aslam HussianDesigner
“There are lots of things in kōan that I can relate to. Things I have been thinking about for quite some time and then Ambereen (Creative Head) also says it during kōan. For example, in one kōan we discussed not staying in your comfort zone and not creating your identity based on specific binary things. I have a lot of interests that I would identify myself with but then over time, I didn't identify myself with them anymore. If I would sing a song then I would be a musician or if I listened to R&B or Souls music then I am a fan of only that genre. But it's just a phase maybe later I will have other interests. So this was discussed in kōan also that the more you put an identity to yourself the less likely you are to be open to new things. So, It’s very relatable. A lot of things happen during the week that you link back to kōan sessions, if you get frustrated then you think I should probably use the technique that was discussed in kōan to calm myself down. I always look forward to kōan sessions, I’m very excited about them every week.”Goury PrathapDesigner
“Kōan is nice, it's very nice. It feels good to talk to one another and discuss our feelings. It refreshes your mind. We get to know each other. Also when we do exercises like looking into each other's eyes we get more comfortable with one another. In kōan, we try to go to this magic world where we understand what the person in front of us is thinking. On one side there is fun on the other knowledge. Our last kōan also was nice. I'm not the type of person who sits and thinks and then understands what the person in front of me has said. Some things I understand quickly other things take time. So when we had the activity in the last kōan where we had to roam around the office and then take the apple to the white paper marking the destination, I thought, why should I run around when I can keep the apple directly. I understood it right away, the point is to take the apple to the destination so I went to keep it directly.”Mohammed AfrozProduct Developer and Photographer
“Kōan makes me think from a completely different perspective which I never thought of. It's fun and relaxing to participate in the kōan. Activities we do during kōan help me in self-awareness, even outside of work!”Mohamad Hidayath K.P.Product Developer