Are we in need of a more mindful way of living?
And what role can technology play in this?
Recently, we had the pleasure of talking to Sebastian Nienaber for an exchange of ideas, and a little Q&A. Sebastian Nienaber worked with startups in Germany and UK as an internet entrepreneur, recently set up a meditation and mindfulness consultancy (Profuse29) in London and is also working on setting up a conference on Hacking Happiness (13. – 15. November 2014, London), a Summit on Human Potential, Performance and Wellbeing.
OFFTIME: Hi Sebastian, thanks for being with us! When was your first contact with meditation and the mindfulness topic?
Sebastian Nienaber (SN): I was first introduced to it by my parents, who were occasional meditators. Then I started educating myself about it, and practising within the Zen tradition, then moving towards to the Theravada tradition. Over the years, I’d say that my practices have become less dogmatic, less focused on the religious practice, and more practical- looking at it as a tool that helps us understand how we function, and how our minds work. This is the attitude that I’ve now brought over to my professional dealings with meditation and mindfulness.
O: Do you think that meditation and mindfulness are topics that fit particularly well with certain types of people (i.e. the anxious, stressed, overworked), or is it something that everyone can benefit from?
SN: Personally, I think that it’s for everyone. We’re all dealing with the same condition- the human condition- which is very much connected to the mind. The mind is all-pervasive from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep. Meditation helps us find out how the mechanisms of the mind function, and this is something that transcends individual character archetypes- whether you’re hardworking, a slacker, a creative, etc. It surpasses industries, needs, and age groups.
The people coming to Profuse29 are a really diverse group, but usually educated, cosmopolitan, hardworking people looking for effective and enriching ways of dealing with everyday stress and anxiety. Usually they’ve also been irritated by the new age or esoteric spiritual connotations of other mediation offerings. What I’m presenting is a more science-driven, secular approach without the spiritual trimmings. I’m presenting the pure technique itself, the possibility of learning it, and practising it.
O: Do you think that meditation has become more important given the fast-paced information society we inhabit today?
SN: Our increasingly stressful and information-laden lives are actually moving people- whether consciously or unconsciously- towards finding sustainable forms of relief. I think the rise of technology and the rise of mindfulness are intertwined. If we look at the rise of mindfulness in the Western world, it has almost come part and parcel with the rise of the digital age.
I think that with such vast amounts of information available at our fingertips, it’s vital to develop as much awareness as possible to stay grounded, and avoid getting lost in the sea of information.
O: What’s your take on technology hacks in general?
SN: I use some productivity and task management apps. I think technology can be an amazing help to remain productive and regain perspective. Take what you guys at OFFTIME are doing, by reminding and enabling people to take time off. However, at the end of the day, it really depends on how you’re using these tools, because they can also become a burden on your personal life.
O: So there’s reason to be a little sceptical about the mindfulness movement in Silicon Valley?
SN: A lot of people are complaining about how technology makes us more stressed and less aware. But a determining characteristic of technology is that it brings us together- it connects us. In this way, it’s definitely a double-edged sword, and a complicated situation. While bringing us together, it also removes us from the present moment by providing a portal to the digital world. We need to think about how we can use technology in our favour rather than becoming a slave to technology itself.
O: What’s your take on data driven self-optimisation?
SN: I think the basis is awareness about one’s behaviour. I don’t think the tracking itself necessarily has to be about self-optimisation which, again, can potentially lead to more pressure and frustration. What I do like about our ability to track ourselves in terms of food or sleep is that we’re becoming more aware of our rituals and our unconscious mannerisms. In turn, we have the opportunity to make a conscious decision and change it. The biggest shift for myself was precisely tracking my reactions to different kinds of food. I became more and more attentive and asked myself: If I eat this, how do I feel afterwards, how are my energy levels, how do I feel emotionally?
As long as we avoid the delusion of thinking we need to track and optimise everything, I think tracking can help us gradually move towards a more wholesome way of living.
O: Let’s talk about Hacking Happiness. What is your motivation to organize this conference?
SN: For me there are two major trends in society in the last 10 to 15 year. One is obviously the Internet and tech. The other one is wellbeing and human potential. More and more people want to find out how they function emotionally, physically and mentally and actively take control of their own well-being. I want to capture that zeitgeist in Hacking Happiness by getting these themes of mindfulness and neuroplasticity out of the spiritual corner which many people are turned off by, and bring it into a contemporary, science-driven arena that’s still highly accessibly.
O: If an Internet entrepreneur walked up to you right now and asked for your advice- what would you tell him?
SN: I would ask him, if you just sold your last Internet project for 20 million Euros, what would you do next? That’s what you should do, now.
We only have one life. Scratch the idea of having to become rich and famous just for a second and think about what you would do then. Why don’t you do it today?
We need more people daring to be who they really are.
O: Thank you, Sebastian!
Hacking Happiness, a Summit on Human Potential, Performance and Wellbeing, is on 13. – 15. November 2014 in London.