Transdisciplinary Design

the monstrous unknown and how we became friends

Posted on December 12, 2021

t.w. death



I am friends with the monstrous unknown.

We were not always friends but now we hold hands as I walk through the city.

When I glimpsed this unknown I was overwhelmed with anxiety.

I needed a plan to define who I would be, what I would do, how I could make everything be okay.

And when my best friend died this monster loomed over me.

Could anything ever come close to what Rose and I shared? What good was love if it could not protect those I did love? How could I decide to be open to this pain, especially as a child riddled with far too much anxiety about the world already.

I felt the ground beneath my feet shift completely, this moment was not part of the plan, it was not part of the pure world I had designed. This unknown was a monster, “… messing up progress, crosshatching the neatness of things, blurring the edges, belching shimmering boundaries, making us porous, and challenging our ideas of purity.” (1)

It was a moment of realization that, “… absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder.” (2) Entropy.

I slowly began to talk to this monstrous unknown and change the way I walked through the world. There was something else growing as the monster and I grew closer, a sort of trust.

Maybe something similar to, “… the world has a way of guiding your steps.” (3. p.44)

And this new friend stuck around, and we grew to love each other.

Over many years and many moments. Getting hired to walk a golden retriever who would become my best friend the day after ending a three year relationship. My parents’ divorce and the disintegration of my relationship with my father. Dancing in the river fully clothed after randomly stopping by the road. Losing my grandma, uncle, and dog in one year. Ending up in NYC at design school. Wandering along the river in the woods with my family. 

Moments upon moments this monster walked with me hand-in-hand.

Reminding me to question and that sharing in this uncertain space together did not mean that I could not laugh, cry, or experience fully.

And over those many years I often struggled with wanting to define this sort of unknown trust? With myself, the monster, or something else? The world? Faith? Was it religion? No, I didn’t believe or not believe in this and that. I really loved science but I didn’t think it held all the answers, or maybe just not yet? Intuition maybe?

I asked my mom one day as we talked about reincarnation, “How can one believe with such certainty?” And she told me she didn’t, but that the way she saw it was that our matter will remain, and return to the Earth, and this itself is a reincarnation already, just maybe not the way that it is often defined. She shared with me a quote, “We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy, we are being nothing other than what we can’t help but be, a part of our world.” (4)

My mother and I often ponder in this merged space, “Might science and traditional knowledge be purple and yellow to one another, might they be goldenrod and asters? We see the world more fully when we use both.” (3. p.46)

So with my monstrous friend I sat and looked at this feeling I had been struggling with, needing to decide between spirituality and science, or gather strong opinions on uncertain notions. I came to absolutely no conclusions. I stayed right there in the middle, where I simply didn’t know. The monster and I just looked at each other, and that was all the answer I got, a smirk on its face and a sparkle in its eye.

“The middle I speak of is not halfway between two poles; it is a porousness that mocks the very idea of separation.” (1)

A middle, or an unknown, something of a groundless in-between state. I was re-learning yet another time from my monster friend that, “There is power in questions and questioning, in being able to live in the understanding that not everything is known or knowable.” (5)

My friend reminds me of what it means to be in this middle space and allow it to fill me with peace and fullness. A continuous practice of being reminded, “… to see naturally that they, the universe, and all beings without exception are spontaneously pure and perfect.” (6. p142)

And in the moment where I feel I have not talked about design enough in this blogpost, but I feel as though I have grown and learned the monster reminds me, “Sometimes you just have to let everything fall apart.” (7)





1. Bayo Akomolafe. “When You Meet the Monster, Anoint Its Feet.” Emergence Magazine, October 16, 2018.

2. Michael Pollan. “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs.” The New York Times Magazine, May 15, 2013.

3. Robin Wall Kimmerer. Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions, 2015.

4.  Carlo Rovelli. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Penguin Group USA, 2106.

5.  Sium, Aman, Chandni Desai, and Eric Ritskes. “Towards the ‘Tangible Unknown’: Decolonization and the Indigenous Future.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1, September 16, 2012.

6. Sogyal Rinpoche. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco, Calif. :Harper San Francisco, 1992.
7. Pema Chodron. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Shambhala, June 7, 2016.