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5 Questions with Harrison Lin

Harrison Lin is a designer and engineer who hopes to build a kinder, more sustainable future. You can find his work at harrisonlin.com .

1. Tell us about a moment you experienced awe.
A little while ago, I went on an impromptu kayak-camping trip in Point Reyes's Tomales Bay with my now-partner. Hundreds of jellyfish floated into the bay, and we were drifting amongst them in the kelp. Some were healthy and pulsing in the depths of the waters, while others had landed on the sandy shores, drying up in the unforgiving sun. I reflected on the ephemerality of a jellyfish's journey. How uncertain, brave, and accepting it must be to move through the ocean like one! I sat there in awe, wondering how I could be as accepting as these jellyfish of my path through the world, uncertain yet ungrasping.

2. What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why?
I adore Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, and show excerpts to my friends every chance possible. Kimmerer's stories are gifts in the truest sense, drawing from her culture's wisdom to reframe our relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one of care. My favorite chapter is one where she speaks of how language fundamentally molds the way we relate with our world. In her native tongue, the world is less so composed of static objects, and more so composed of dynamic actions. To quote Kimmerer, “A bay is a noun only if the water is dead. When bay is a noun, it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores and contained by the word.  But the verb wiikwegamaa - to be a bay... holds the wonder that, for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots… This is the grammar of animacy.”

3. When you're feeling unfocused or overwhelmed, what questions do you ask yourself to get back into flow?
I struggle with this often. I first focus on my physical and social needs. Am I hydrated? Have I eaten? How's my sleep? Have I gotten fresh air? Have I seen my friends, or talked with family recently? Then I ask questions of the mind, and check in with myself. How, exactly, am I feeling right now? I find that it's useful for me to dwell in this recognition, without judgment. Only then do I ask, why might that be?

4. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
The Zen concept of emptiness has immensely helped me navigate relationships, friendships, and life decisions. Emptiness is "a mode of experience in which you perceive things empty of your usual stories about them." In other words, I try to not apply my own judgments (good or bad) onto events in my life, and allows me to actively decide what judgment I willingly want to make, opting for a compassionate one.

5. Share something you'd like more people to know about you.
My deepest wish is to help enable a world where businesses seek to satisfy peoples’ needs simply and elegantly instead of stoking discontent and desire, where resource regeneration eclipses consumption, and where designers plan every product’s end-of-life. I wish for a future where peoples’ material lives are rich, abundant, intentional, and meaningful without exploiting peoples' wellbeing, polluting the planet’s natural resources, or endangering the survival of other species. How might we reimagine life from a first-principles approach to create spaces and products that sustainably meet fundamental human physiological, psychological, and social needs with self-sufficiency, and net-negative impact?

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