A New Modernism: How We Can Design A Holistic Future With Ancient Wisdom

As is the cosmic body, so is the human body

As is the cosmic mind, so is the human mind

As is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm

—Ayurvedic philosophy



A friend of mine has a fascinating job that overlaps several fields, where he gets to use his creativity, philosophy training, and business acumen to help companies operate on a more holistic, sustainable level. He’s sort of like a personal life coach for businesses, if you will. In the past, we chatted for hours about the principles behind his innovative work, his enthusiasm contagiously catching on as I grew excited with hope for the possible change these ideas could bring. At my recent request, he refreshed my memory on some of the fundamental concepts behind his endeavors to bring a sense of holism and sustainability to business. As he explains:

“One of the challenges today is that everything is constantly changing. What we know to be ‘right’ today could easily be outdated tomorrow. But we still try to solve today’s problems using yesterday’s mind. When the context changes, sometimes without us even realizing it, we produce a solution that is no longer fit for the problem.

Similarly, a Wicked Problem is a problem so complex, that no solution completely solves the problem. In fact, some solutions will even produce other problems. In Black Swan theory, we may never actually know all the problems that we will create from our solutions.

So what does this have to do with sustainable design?

Sustainable by definition means that something will keep itself alive and nourished on its own. It requires not just maintaining status quo, but changing with the times, as much as the times require. This means that sustainable design in today’s world requires collaborative innovation, involving numerous people and numerous minds, all harmoniously contributing their input, their vision of the changing reality.”

Similar to yesterday’s post, this revolves around stepping outside of our own minds, and leaping into the real world, full of surprises and constant change. What’s really happening out here in our universe, with all of its myriad beautiful senses and contexts? And how can the philosophy behind holism help us to improve our ability to function in it, not only personally, but professionally too?

In order to look toward a holistic future, we need to learn to revere the spiritual wisdom of our past.

Practicing ancient wisdom, today

One process that illustrates some of the answers to this applying ancient wisdom to our daily lives, including our entrepreneurial or professional endeavors. You may have already heard of ayurveda as a set of philosophies generally used for medicinal purposes, such as healing, self-care, and nutrition. But what happens when we take this ancient wisdom and apply it to other aspects of our lives? As life coach Ashley Dentino explains, “when applied, my experience has been that Ayurvedic wisdom leads to more profitable and passionate work.”

Dentino outlines some concrete examples of how we can incorporate some of the Ayurvedic principles into our lives beyond, say, skin care and eating habits:

Connecting with the universe

Continuously coming back to this connection [with our universe] reminds us to stay ‘plugged in’ to the concept that life and nature are not separate from us. In fact, they can even be used as a mirror to help us see ourselves more clearly. Every moment, every thought, every belief, every word spoken and every action taken has an impact. If you don’t like the impact you’re making right now, take steps to shift. Love your life.”

Realizing that every one of us is supported in all ways by the Mother Earth and by our universe is very healing. When we heal, our growth is not limited to our personal lives; healing will help us grow in our professional lives, as well. When we let go of our need to appear in control and let ourselves feel supported by the earth, our choices related to work, finances, and family will seem much clearer and more conscious as a result.

Nurturing our souls

An imbalance in you leads to an imbalance in your business. As entrepreneurs or small business owners, make conscious choices about when to spend resources investing in your education and when to invest in your business.”

This piece can also be applied to those of us who aren’t entrepreneurs or business owners, but who are employees, or even stay-at-home parents. I know that whenever I’m struggling internally, or feeling disconnected from the world, my work as an employee, partner, or caretaker inherently suffers. Taking care of our soul lays a healthy foundation for us to care for our other roles in life.

Looking inward and getting in touch with our internal struggles will have positive effects on the other aspects of our lives.

Intrinsic intelligence and goodness

“Operate on this fundamental principle: people are inherently good and reachable. (…) We’re all happier when we’re working together in harmony with the highest. It’s part of all of our paths.”

Following timeless philosophies like Ayurveda or yoga give us clear principles with which to align our choices. When we do so, respect is shown to not only ourselves, but everything around us: work, children, partners, animals, and the environment.

As I mentioned, I’m not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense. I choose to make a living by doing freelance work when the stars agree to align with my ceaseless efforts, and by taking other types of jobs whenever I need to. Rolling with the punches, so to speak; going with the financial and emotional flow, keeping in mind my desire to share my primary passions and talents with others in mutually beneficial ways. Like most of us, regardless of what are jobs are, there are times when I feel stressed, tired, and overwhelmed; and there are times when I feel fresh, excited, and clear as crystal when I get down to work.

What draws me to this concept of combining ancient wisdom with all areas of our modern lives is that it lays the groundwork for a more holistic way of life.

Real world practice

Another friend of mine uses the idea to meld her love of yogic philosophy with how she lives her day-to-day life. After being introduced to yoga classes at the age of 17, she’s since taken her admiration for the physical practice of yoga, and expanded it to all areas of her life, including how she eats (raw food), where she lives (out in nature), her work (yoga teacher and healer), and her relationship (married to a man with shared values). Now, not only does she practice yogic wisdom in the physical sense, but she engages with it emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

This is not to say that we all need to go to the extreme when it comes to life changes, but she’s a great example of what is possible when we begin merging all aspects of our lives with philosophies that we relate to.

While I personally love yoga and appreciate the Ayurvedic principles, I don’t have any desire to entirely re-vamp my current life with which I also feel kinship: internet, computers, technology, and urban life are aspects of my life that I value, and I have no real need to eschew them in search of a more spiritual existence. But I’m still very much on board with using ancient wisdom and philosophy, like Ayurveda and yoga, as general guidance in my choices and in living a respectful, harmonious life of my own design.

The ancient philosophies behind yoga extend far beyond the physical practice.

Occupy love, not greed

Revolutionary thinker Charles Eisenstein has a lot to say on this subject, too. Most of his exciting work revolves around how we can live more holistically, in harmony with ourselves and the world at large. In one of his films, Occupy Love, he “explores the growing realization that the dominant system of power is failing to provide us with health, happiness or meaning. The old paradigm that concentrates wealth, founded on the greed of the few, is causing economic and ecological collapse. The resulting crisis has become the catalyst for a profound awakening: millions of people are deciding that enough is enough, the time has come to create a new world, a world that works for all life.”

Inspirational words from an inspirational man who has made it part of his life’s mission to apply holistic principles in all aspects of life. With his acclaimed book, Sacred Economics, Eisenstein uses the same pay-as-you-wish method as the band Radiohead did with their stunning album, InRainbows: consumers can download the book for free, or pay as much as they want. The idea is that, in the end, there will still be financial gain, since some people will be willing to pay more, while others choose to pay less, or nothing at all. Like InRainbows, the pay-as-you-wish experiment with Sacred Economics proved successful. As Eisenstein notes, “I am sure that my offering the full text online has helped, not hurt, sales of the physical book.”

This is yet another way that we can play around with merging the wisdom that “all people are inherently good and reachable” with traditional economic systems. Finding new ways of sharing ideas can mean stepping outside our comfort zones, and into the arms of ancient philosophies.

Moving forward with modernism

In light of our need to move toward holism in effort to heal our planet, design has become integral to creating positive change. In order to shift in the right direction, conscious design websites such as Dwell and Inhabit refer to the importance of redefining the term modernism. For design website Dwell, modernism means:

“a frame of mind. To us the M word connotes an honesty and curiosity about methods and materials, a belief that mass production and beauty are not mutually exclusive, and a certain optimism not just about the future, but about the present. Maybe that’s the most important thing. We think that we live in fabulously interesting times.”

Likewise, sustainable design site Inhabitat believes “in the original modernist ideology that form and function are intertwined in design” and that “style and substance are not mutually exclusive.”

The ecology-oriented minds behind these influential, innovative sites understand that Green Design must be expected of all design, rather than a movement unto itself. Sustainability is not separate from good design; it is integral to it. The ladies of Inhabitat expand on this important distinction:

“We believe that all design should be inherently ‘Green’. Good design is not about color, style, or trends – but instead about thoughtfully considering the user, the experience, the social context, and the impact of an object on the surrounding environment. No design can be considered good design unless it at least attempts to address some of these concerns.”

Among those who feel the same is the design duo of Moreless, who share parallel feelings about the importance of designing from a holistic perspective, echoing the inimitable Steve Job’s advice that good design depends on how it works, not just what it looks like.

Value lies in the holistic purpose of a design, and how that is executed through aesthetics, materials, and function: beginning with the inner, and moving outwards from there. This path to harmony aligns with the wisdom of ancient philosophies like Ayurveda and yoga, reminding us that following our spiritual past can lead us forward to a more mindful, holistic future.


The best way to predict the future is to design it.

Buckminster Fuller