Transdisciplinary Design

Finding myself in the forest

Posted on December 14, 2021

I have been thinking a lot about what to write for this last post that will close the Transdisciplinary Design course, but I struggle with the challenge. What else can I say that Michael Pollan, Robin Kimmerer, Richard Powers, Suzanne Simard, and many others haven’t already said so beautifully in their essays and books? How can I say that reading them has given names to things that seemed ineffable to me for so long? How can I say that in NYC,  and thanks to this program, this class, and the incredible people I share my days with, I have finally discovered poetry and the previously hidden-to-my-eyes beauty of art?

The other day, Sebastian and I talked about how this program has changed us. We discussed how different we are today compared to the people who started Orientation in September. We are amazed and happy with these new selves. We joked about how we entered this program thinking we would learn to design things but oh, how we were wrong. This is the metaphor we created:

“The Transdisciplinary Design program is like being on a highway, driving a car really fast with a clear idea about where you are heading. Suddenly, you are told to pull over, hit the brake, turn the engine off, step out, and start walking through a forest with absolutely no idea where you are going.”

In this forest, you will no longer move as fast as you thought you would. You are forced to slow down and use your entire body, mind, emotions, and spirit to move forward. Step by step, you will encounter the fact that to design things, you first need to learn how to be a marveled observer and a fine listener. By doing that, you will discover multiple ways of knowing. The scientific one, the only one you strongly believed before, is just the well-known Western way of knowledge spread out in the Americas since colonization.

Transdisciplinary Design has invited me to cross a forest in which knowledge is not only transmitted with language. In this community of ancient beings, you are encouraged to use all your senses: feel with others, create with others, imagine ways to build community, and elevate the power of collaboration instead of individualism and competition.

In the TD forest, your most beloved teachers are the tree branches that extend above your head, the water that runs within all, the connecting mycelium below your feet, the bacteria in your gut, and the emergent behavior of the living things inside you. They teach you that science does not have all the answers and that wisdom goes far beyond humanity. You start to see the world with new skin and feel with the open consciousness that you have never been singular but a plural being.

You finally see that every single part that makes who you are is entangled with the environment around you. All boundaries become blurry, and categories no longer make any sense. In the middle of this forest hike, I stopped to think about the mountains of the land where I was born, and I finally understood why I missed them so much. The mountains and I are made of the same stuff. My eyes were shaped by the beauty of their sight and my breath by the steepness of their hills. The mountains, too, are made up of every trace of presence I left in them. They mutate now that I am talking about them. The Andes and I have grown together.

Thank you, TD forest, for prompting me to ask: what does the tree feel when you hug it? Why is the world so beautiful? Why do we love it so much? As Robin Wall Kimmerer says, the answer is reciprocity. The non-human world sustains us, and the only action left for us is to find better and more ways to give back, giving thanks and honoring the companion species that make our life on Earth so marvelous.

Thank you for reaching the end; here is a Bonus song by Alex Serra:

Wake up from a dream
And look around you
Look around you, see what’s been missing for you to do
And let go of that veil that’s stopping you
From connecting to everything you knew
Everything you know

Stop paying attention to the things that make you tired
Things that make you bored now
Now, now, now, now
The power is yours; you are responsible
For every situation you create
Stop fighting the system
The new liberation comes from the silence in you