Rhonda Schaller is a visual artist and Director of Career and Professional Development at renowned Pratt Institute in New York. She invented the Meditation Incubator and teaches Creative Mind, Business Mind, a ten week class where meditation, visualization, and self-reflection techniques help to deepen creative processes and are used as a business planning tool. It has been very successful since the program started in 2014. In spring 2016 she will include meditation as part of the regular curriculum in the classroom.
Rhonda, when do you find time to meditate?
I meditate on the subway every morning when I come to work. Because I am busy at home making breakfast for my son, feeding the cat, getting ready. Sometimes I do get up early enough to do it at home but I always meditate on the subway. And when I come in – both refreshed and deepened – I bring that lense to what I do. Meditation is a stress reliever but it deepens consciousness and it opens us up to integrating ideas in a deeper richer way. I see it as a life force for a happier being. But also richer in purpose and meaning in what we are doing.
In Germany most people meditate to cope with depression or to limit stress syndromes. How about you?
Of course you could say: here is a tool, use it for this purpose. But it is also a lifestyle. If we apply the meditative lense to everything that we do it allows us to be more creative and less stressed as a byproduct.
In the US meditation is a growing movement. For example using meditation as part of pedagogy – we frame it as contemplative practices. There are very established Universities like Brown or Columbia that integrate contemplative studies in the curriculum as well as in teaching and learning centers. But I wouldn’t say it is wide spread. The Center For Contemplative Mind And Society – it is a wonderful organization – they sponsor trainings for higher education professionals to create contemplative practices in pedagogy. Now I think especially artists and designers are very open to these practices. Whether scientists and bankers would be I am not sure, maybe the physicists will. –laughs
How did you come up with the idea of the Meditation Incubator project and the workshop program?
I taught meditation the first time at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It was in the masters of digital photography department. There it wasn’t as carreer focused in action steps but it was more centered on content and expanding what the work means and what it is saying. It was part of the curriculum and it changed the way the students worked so strongly in the masters of digital photography program that it got very much recognized.
So when I started at Pratt an alumnus came up to me and asked me if I would create a program for them. So I created the meditation incubator. It has been wildly popular. But here at Pratt I teach it from a career profession development standpoint. Depending on the audience, the tools can be used in a variety of settings and a lot of different ways. But what they have in common is a deepening of tranquility. An expansion of calm and sense of self. And then that’s what we imprint and what we build. So you can define what the outcome should be. That’s the core.
Would it be even more helpful if students did the meditation program in their regular classes?
Just 10 minutes of meditation before class or even in the middle of the class to meditate on the information they just got and then come back to the learning would have great impact. You know this opening deepens the knowledge. I think it would be an amazing tool which I hope to incorporate in business classes that I am going to teach in spring. I let you know how this goes! – laughs – It is an entrepreneur class for artist. One is on strategy. How do I create a vision, create the steps and make it happen. The other one is on communication. How do I articulate what I do, how do I present it. How do I communicate verbally and in writing.
But the meditation will just be a contemplative practice to introduce and augment the curriculum. So there is different emphasis. It will be the first time to introduce and combine what I do in the Meditation Incubator and what I did at the School of Visual Arts into an elective class at Pratt. I am looking very forward to it.
Talking about the Meditation Incubator – do participants come with certain questions to the workshop?
Each individual has their own series of questions they are looking for answers for. So the tools that we teach are really about: how do we source the answers from within. How do we cultivate wisdom, awareness and reflection as part of a planning process. How do we begin to let answers rise to the surface and then actualize them. People will do it in different ways because they will be fine artists, graphic designers, interior or industrial designers. Everyone does it in their own way. But everyone is looking for meaning and purpose.
I don’t tell the students what to do and how to make it real. I just give them the tools so they can implement and make it real. We call this the “prior carrier tool box” or “your life tool box”.
Is meditation something everyone should practice?
There is a worldwide need to slow down because everything is so fast. I am a native New Yorker, born here, lived here my whole life. I am always amazed when I meet New York in quietness and slowness as it is so hard to slow down. But I think wherever we are we are rushing so much and things are changing so fast and are so uncertain that people are drawn to the question: there has to be something more, something better – a sense of personal responsibility to something – like sharing economy for example.
But people are drawn to meditation for different reasons. Some people are looking for a divine plan and meditation will create that access to god. Others are doing it to relax, they just want to quiet the mind, distress. So meditation can serve different purposes. For myself it is this absolut bottom less peace in my mind. It feels sometimes like a truer space then anything else. It is just happy. And I like happy. – laughs
Mehr über Rhonda Schaller erfahrt Ihr in der aktuellen Ausgabe unseres Print-Magazins: hier kaufen
Photo credit: Bob Handleman
Das Interview erschien auf deutsch und in abgeänderter Form in der Ausgabe 05/2015 in der Zeitschrift design report.