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  • Writer's pictureCoen de Koning

Letting go of my (engineer) mind

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

When I was 26 I had just finished quite a few years of studying physics and I found myself in a position to make a choice: find work as an engineer or risk going back to the school benches and study design, the subject that interested me most at the time.

After struggling with this question for a while I decided that if I would be accepted by the academy of my choice, which had a pretty tough selection program especially for someone like me without much relevant prior experience, then I would commit to it. If not, I’d start applying for a job as an engineer.

I developed and submitted a portfolio, did the required assignments and the interview..

And I got accepted.

This was a great boost for the confidence I had in my creative skills and talent. All I really had to go on was my physics degree, a few art classed I had enjoyed in my free time and all the drawings and littles design ideas I had made during boring classes.

My classes started and it soon started to dawn on me that I was not in Kansas anymore.

For a start, the first series of assignments were relatively short and simple (though not easy), some with a clear list of requirements that I tried to satisfy as best I could. But the work of my classmates was often different than mine in ways I had not expected.

When I watched and listen to them, all of them younger than me, hand in and discuss their work I noticed many of those, though maybe impressively elegant or inspiring, had not met those requirements completely. To my initially confused amazements the teachers would often completely gloss over this obvious error and praise their work. Without any suggestion to go back and cover the requirements they would happily encourage them to develop the direction they were exploring with their designs. Though I made sure to cover all the elements of the assignments the response to my work was generally less enthusiastic. Many of the solutions that my classmates came up with for the design assignments were often beyond the reach of any rational, linear thinking engineer mind but frequently they were stunningly elegant or charming. A little enviously looking at what they had done there was no way I could deduce how they had ever reached these wonderful solutions. Also it struck me that that though we could often discuss the many ways in which poor work missed the mark and where there was room for improvement there was often very little that could really be said about the best works. They spoke for themselves in a way that all you could really do was enjoy them.

I realised that I was facing the challenge that my engineer mind and skills were just not going to be enough for me to pass my classes, let alone keep up with my peers.

I spent the rest of my time at this academy learning to let go of the restrictions of my scientific mindset and learning that and how I can (relatively) reliably work towards effective solutions without a rational, linear, step-by-step process. I learned that I can navigate creative processes by making intuitive associations and leaps, some times far beyond the reach of my conscious thinking mind. And that in this way I could create solutions to challenges that may not even have a clear rational solution, at least not ones that were apparent until I stumbled upon one in this irrational way. At first this felt like leaping into the dark, blindly trusting my fickle intuition with no safety nets to rely on. I also learned the value and the role of my rational thinking mind; I needed it to ground the wild leaps of my intuition and the crazy combinations of the associations that came from my subconscious to create designs for the real world and not abstract art.

But I learned. And in time I graduated.

This turned out to be a great preparation for the work I do these days supporting psychedelic experiences that are highly unpredictable, non-linear, often far beyond our capacity to even conceive of. Here too I cannot safely rely only on step-by-step, linear, logical and technical methods or knowledge. Here too I have to trust my intuition, the unpredictable suggestions from my subconscious mind and the empathic associations offered by my nervous system with the people I work with. And here too I have to keep my rational thinking mind on stand-by to make sure I do this while staying grounded in the real world at the same time. It took some time and of course, I am still learning, but it is wonderful to see that I can now actually work with these irrational processes and really help people.

It is a little like dancing with magic. This fascinates my inner scientist and it loves that I get to do this crazy work.

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