A designer’s view on spirituality
My journey into the spiritual showed me that art and design are a great portal into the spiritual. In fact, my journey in art and design has defined what the spiritual is for me. I have also found that the spiritual can enrich my work in design exactly because they feel like a natural extension of each other.
For some years now, I have been deep diving into the spiritual. I can remember the exact moment I first started on this journey. At the time, I was studying engineering and was getting more and frustrated by the rational, scientific view of the world. At the time, I didn’t know where the frustration came from but now I know it was because it felt limiting. I was sitting in the common room of the student house I was living in. An interview with James Redfield was on the TV. He was talking about his book The Celestine Prophecy. This is a book about spiritual awakening. I bought the book the next day and finished it over the weekend.
As it so happens to be this was also the same moment I started to dive into art. My frustration with the scientific view of the world drove me to explore the complete opposite in my view: art. I knew nothing of art, I did not like drawing or arts and crafts in high school. But I found a different view of the world in art. I found it initially in the Dutch Art magazine De Stijl. In the writings of Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondriaan I found a different way to look at the world. I saw that by painting, one could see the world differently. That is what I wanted so I bought paint and started to paint and dive into art. I felt this was a whole new world I did not understand but it had an immense pull on me. So after I finished my engineering degree I went to art school and painted for years. The biggest gift I got from that was the ability to see the world differently. It gave me a way to see the world that goes beyond ratio, beyond words, beyond science. It opened my mind. It showed me there is a whole world outside what we can think that is only accessible by doing, by paining, by making art. It showed me that there is a way to solve problems that goes beyond what you can think. Jan Bor has written a great book on the limitations of thinking (in Dutch) and how art can take you beyond the limitations of thinking.
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
Art took me beyond the limitations of thinking. But after years of studying art and working in design, I found that there is also a limit to imagination. I found that life is not only bigger that you can think, it’s also bigger than you can imagine. Art is a great way to go beyond the thinkable. But some time ago I had an encounter, an experience, that led to what you could call an awakening. It took me beyond the imaginable. I have a well developed imagination and I know how making things can take me to a space where I can solve problems beyond the thinkable but there is a level beyond that in which things fall into place in a way that goes beyond my wildest imagination.
What I found, was a space beyond conventions, a world beyond the culture we live in. I found that everything around us is made up by people. All the thoughts in my head, all the rules of society, all the feelings in my heart, what is good and what is not good. I saw my own programming. We are all programmed. That program is called society. It works. We learn how society works and then we know what to do, what to think, what to feel, how to be successful, what to love, what to hate. Art goes beyond thinking but it still operates very much within the culture we live in. Images have meaning because of cultural conventions. My heroes from De Stijl had spiritual goals but their images only worked because they could deconstruct the cultural idea about an artwork. But by doing this, they became part of the culture.
“Life can be so much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people who were no smarter than you.” — Steve Jobs
The spiritual, to me, is the part of existence that goes beyond what we can think because we are limited by language, the part that goes beyond imagination because we are limited by culture. Many people have tried to describe the spiritual. But since it’s a space that is out of reach of language, there are so many versions, so may spiritual stories and traditions. Many people have tried to visualize this space. But since it’s a space that is beyond the cultural limitations, there are so many different images. What we can perceive with our senses and what we can think is only part of existence. There is more. And for lack of a better word for it, this what I see as the spiritual.
Everybody has their own path to this space. Mine involved a journey through the visual realm, the world of art and design.
But why is this story on a blog about design leadership?
How this does relate to design leadership?
Design has a role to play. I have been writing about that a lot. The role of design is changing. We have entered an era in which the old ways of solving problems don’t work anymore. People are looking for new ways. Design is one of those ways. But for design to play that role, some changes are needed in the way that designers work, in the way that designers see themselves. For designers to be change makers, they need to be systems thinkers. A systems thinker is someone who has the ability to see how everything is connected. If there is one things that you discover in the spiritual space, it’s that everything is connected. It’s not just about seeing how things are connected or understanding how things are connected but sensing it. In TheoryU, they describe this as “sensing what wants to be born”. It’s about finding the root of the problem. That can be found by thinking about it, by using the visual but also by sensing it. Complexity can be navigated rationally, visually, but the most effective way is to combine this with spiritually.
This space in which you can transcend dichotomies, conventions, ego, individual differences, fear, past, pain, shame, guilt, culture, programming, all of that, is a space where it’s easy to connect, easy to find the roots of problems. It’s a space where everything is systems thinking. It’s a space where everything is connected. It’s a space where complexity can be embraced.
It’s a space where nothing is impossible. We live in a world of limitations. So things need to be manifested. The ideas need to land. Making things, designing is a way to let things land. In TheoryU they call prototypes landingstrips for the future. After you sensed what want to be born, you have to let it land. Design can play a role in that. Design can show the future we want to move towards. This is where imagination comes into play. Designers can help to imagine how the things that want to be born can manifest. And then also stories, language can come into play to tell the story of the journey.
I found that being able to move beween the spaces of language, images and the spiritual enables a way of working that allows me to navigate complexity by connecting. Ideas, people, words, images. I found that the spiritual can make you more creative. I found that the spiritual can help you connect things better.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button so I know I connected with you. Let me know what you think in the comments. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or talk to my bot at dennishambeukers.com :) You can also find me on Instagram. When I am not blogging about Design Leadership, I work as a design strategist and project manager at Zuiderlicht.