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Consciousness & Design

Consciousness is a word often used to describe awareness, particularly in relationship to our own feelings and identity. Many of us experience this awareness as a constantly fluctuating state effected by a myriad of changing daily events and personal situations. For an emerging breed of designers, however, consciousness is being explored as a creative tool. They include architects, interior designers and graphic designers, who are experimenting with how consciousness can heighten their ability to be inspired and gain insight for specific design projects.

Consciousness may be seen as a springboard for our thoughts, decisions and actions. When used in the right way this springboard increases our perception and ability to express. Einstein and many others have said that most people hardly use 10% of their mental capacity. The ability to tune our consciousness offers one fascinating way to access that other 90%, particularly in the area of using our creative and artistic faculties. Designers have a special role in society of giving form to function, creating beauty and depicting in their work the essence of the times. When a degree of higher consciousness is incorporated in their design the physical product is then able to touch the user on a deeper level. A greater sensitivity is gained towards the people, environment and materials involved in the design. Mapping the Mind Apart from creating images of aesthetic appeal that are also practical, designers are increasingly expected by their clients to produce something 'distinctive' or 'unique'. A tuned consciousness is able to access the innate characteristics, preferences and aspirations of a client and consequently be more inclined to meet such expectations.

Two years ago a client asked me to design an extension for his terrace house overlooking the nearby Sydney Harbour Bridge. He requested 'all glass' for the work to maximise the views. I invited the him to undertake a mind mapping exercise from which I was able to acquire a deeper understanding of his personal requirements and lifestyle. The mind map also provided a focus for meditation and for setting the consciousness of the design. Through these more unconventional methods of client appreciation and setting the design brief I realised that the architectural solution needed to nurture and support the owner and that too much glass in the design might prevent this from happening. This was a profound insight to me of the responsibility of architects to create environments suited to both the physical and psychological needs of the Owners. (picture of mind map)

Right Consciousness

There are many formal geomancy systems such as vastu shastra, feng shui, divining, etc which address the subtle yet powerful influences on a design of natural environmental forces and cultural traditions. However the core component for the successful application of these systems is the 'right consciousness'. This 'right consciousness' is the innate awareness to both perceive and express succinctly that which satisfies the body, mind and spirit. The more 'tuned in' the designer is to this the greater the effectiveness of a design in satisfying the needs for a particular situation. After I completed a recent house the Owner commented to me on how pleased she was that a long time desire of hers of having a loft contemplation area above her living room had been satisfied. I was quite surprised since she had never mentioned this in the initial brief or during the course of our conversations in the design process. It was rewarding that the consciousness raising preparations I had undertaken to produce the design had somehow connected to a deeper part of her to access the desire for the contemplation area. Traditionally design is thought of as a discipline for the naturally gifted, requiring a blend of artistic ability and intellectual know-how. In the western cultures of today many of the products coming off the designers drawing boards (or CAD programs) are more influenced by corporate market forces than the desire to create a thing of beauty. The concrete canyons of our cities, cloning of contemporary car designs and standardised packaging of 'home brand' products are a testament to this commercial approach.

Eastern Traditions of Consciousness

Ancient architects, particularly of eastern traditions, undertook elaborate rituals and disciplines in order to purify and appropriately prepare the mind before proceeding with their works. They were not just viewed as artists by society but also as magicians and yogis. Their role was to lead the viewer into a higher realm of experience and effect a spiritual transformation. The purification of the mind was an important preparatory part of the process promoting a consciousness which was keenly perceptive and which could fathom the critical issues effecting the design. An essential component of implementing this higher consciousness was a mindful preparation to instill the right feeling or energy into their creation. For the ancients to both portray and fill the art work with the right essence quality or 'rasa' was one of the prime duties of all artists whether painter, musician, dancer or architect. The Vishnudharmottara, a 7th century AD Indian text, mentions nine rasas as the basic feeling tones and nine bhavas (or emotional responses) which characterise the human condition. These can be summarised as follows:

RASA (FEELING TONE)
Passionate
Comic
Furious
Heroic
Terrible
Odious
Marvellous
Peaceful

BHAVA (EMOTIONAL RESPONSE)
Love
Mirth
Anger
Energy
Fear
Discust
Astonishment
Tranquility
PLAN OF CONSCIOUSNESS
DESIGN ACTIVITY
Meeting Client
Site Visit
Concept Design
Construction

CONSCIOUSNESS
Empathiser
Listener/Observer
Harmoniser
Resolver

RESULT
Insight into clients needs
Appreciation of sites qualities
Efficient links to elements
Solution to building challenges

Each rasa would have a particular representation or portrayal. For example in painting each colour depicts a specific emotional state of the characters and atmosphere of the environment. In classical dance each pose represents a specific of meaning and feeling. These rasa's became an effective means to trigger consciousness both for the artist and the viewer. This is similar to how symbols and iconography are used today to penetrate the psyche in many facets of life ranging from religion toadvertising.

Mindful Preparation

The practice of 'mindful preparation' is also relevant for the contemporary designer. Amidst the pressures of money and deadlines the benefits of preparing an inner environment for creative focus can never be underestimated. Whether via a flash of inspiration or after prolonged deliberation, it is ultimately the designer's consciousness which provides access to the reservoir from which ideas emerge. There is a particular consciousness which is appropriate for each activity of the design process. Above is a plan of consciousness' for an architect in the hypothetical design of an office building.

Because the effects of consciousness are often intangible to the physical senses, its impact can be somewhat underestimated. It may be suprising to many of us how influential consciousness is in decision making in our daily lives. The choices we regularly make between products at the supermarket are often based on intuitions or gut feelings responding to a deliberate intent of their designers and promoters. Some friends of mine were creating a brochure for a public seminar several years ago. There was a lot of disagreement in the organising committee on how the brochure should be designed. In the end one dominating person convinced the rest of the committee to do it his way. Even though the resulting brochure was attractive and well worded it did not attract many people and the seminar was poorly attended which seemed to reflect the consciousness which had generated it.
A state of consciousness which is clear and vibrant allows a more effective use of the sensory perception - the ability to see, listen, hear, touch, smell and even taste will be heightened. These are important faculties for creativity and analysing aspects of the design brief. Take for example an architect visiting a country site for a house design. In such a situation a higher consciousness may assist in the following ways:
1. To think more clearly in addressing technical issues such as taking measurements, site orientation, locating landscaping features, etc.
2. In perceiving the subtle features of the site such as layers of natural sounds, colour patterns, and wind characteristics
3. To sense and intuit non-physical information relevant to the project. For instance: to enquire about the sites spiritual heritage; define favourable and unfavorable energy locations; or to listen and respond to the subtle rhythms of the topography.

Achieving Higher Consciousness
Everything in our life experience from deep seated attitudes passed on by our parents to the way we drive our motor vehicles, effects our consciousness. One of the most direct ways to a higher state of consciousness is by changing our thoughts. If we create positive, powerful and wise thoughts an internal energy will be produced which directly feeds and nourishes our consciousness. It is the mind which we can use to create the higher quality thoughts which in turn gives us a higher consciousness. One excellent method of achieving higher consciousness is meditation. A particularly useful technique for this is raja yoga. This involves experiencing the innate positive qualities of the self whilst focusing on the soul or energy source in the centre of the forehead. The result is a calming sensation which both energises and soothes the faculties of thinking, judging and reasoning. This meditation helps us to effectively become the observer and the creator of our own thoughts. This is easy when we think of the mind as like a screen upon which our thoughts are projected. We can create thoughts which are either positive or negative. The resulting consciousness reflects the quality of these thoughts. For a designer this has a large impact on seeing the potential of a new project and being open to creative solutions. The following is an example of a meditation to prepare the consciousness before undertaking any type of design. I suggest that it is done whilst sitting comfortably with the eyes open and directed at a candle or some other focus point. Sit preferably in a quiet room with some gentle music in the background and essential oil burning. Read these words slowly and a feel their energy and meaning:

sit quietly ………. I allow myself time to just be ………….. I become the observer of my thoughts and notice that I am gently able to slow them down ……….. Bringing my awareness to the centre of my forehead, I focus there on my energy centre or light source and start to feel a pleasant lightness in my being…………… there is a clarity of awareness developing …………… I sensitise myself to the energy emanating now from the forehead and spreading out through my body and the space around me……….. there is a spiritual light encompassing me and I am able to see the goodness and hidden potential of all situations…………. I turn my attention to the forthcoming design and visualise the interaction between people taking place in an open, positive and productive way ………… I am experiencing the feeling of light and harmony …………. I have good wishes and pure feelings for the people involved in the creative process……..I send light to all aspects of the design ……….. I invoke a good outcome, wellness and prosperity for all those contributing ………… for another minute or so I resonate in these feelings and gently conclude the meditation.

This type of visualisation has become an important part of my architectural practice to provide a fertile design environment before any meeting. In a recent collaborative project involving graphic, interior and theatre designers consciousness formed a key element of our creative process. We were designing a country retreat centre and before the design session we would meditate together to raise and harmonise our combined consciousness. The resulting flow of ideas and inspirations not only produced a wonderful design but also bought great joy amongst us as creative and expressive beings. (elevation and 3D drawings ) These benefits of using higher consciousness are not only limited to designers. In many respects everyone is a designer in their own lives. Each time a meal is prepared or clothing combination is decided upon, there is a design process taking place. The principle of consciousness and design working together is an attitude to life and how we choose to create it. For designers aspiring to integrate a spiritual dimension into their design process, the utilisation of consciousness offers an authentic avenue to pursue their profession. This approach not only enhances the design but greatly benefits the spiritual growth of the designer. Back to Sacred Architecture.


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