Alum Coleman Fung on the connection between mindfulness and engineering

On Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30, 2019, the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership is hosting the What’s After Mindfulness? retreat at UC Berkeley. The bi-annual retreat will come to the Bay Area for the first time in decades thanks in part to Blue Goji CEO and IEOR alum Coleman Fung. The Berkeley community can receive 10% off with the code FUNG.

We had a chance to speak with him about the connection between engineering and mindfulness.

Register for the June 29 and 30 urban meditation retreat. Use the discount code FUNG for a 10% discount.
Coleman Fung with his dog Pearl.

Why is the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership hosting a mindfulness retreat?

Coleman Fung (CF): “On the surface, one might ask: Why is an engineering institute getting involved with a religious retreat? To me, the connection is very clear. I’ll use the movie, The Matrix, as a metaphor. In that film, human beings are used as energy cells. They are connected to the Machine, which uses a virtual world to keep people alive in a sense, so that It can survive. If you think about what’s going on today, we are addicted to social media and obsessed with connecting. Imagine online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as the machines, running their own algorithm-driven virtual worlds. The users are feeding these machines with online activity, so these machines can profit from our interaction, our attention, and stay alive!

Our future is really about the battle for the control of our consciousness. Thanks to these new online machines and their addictive virtual worlds, just look at how we are living in such parallel universes — or delusions according to Buddha — that we may end up undermining our core democratic ideals! Our Master of Engineering graduates will inevitably be a part of this battle.

I’m not a Buddhist, but I find that the original Buddhist teachings about the human mind are very meaningful and relevant today. How do we condition or protect our own consciousness so that we are truly free to experience reality in this modern, tech-dominated and confusing world?”

What is the link between business and mindfulness?

CF: “Given the rate at which this core practice of Buddhism, mindfulness, has been commercialized by companies, including major tech firms and many mindfulness conference organizers, I would say the link is very strong. However, what’s the intention of these commercial efforts? For example, according to Inc. Magazine, ‘Wisdom 2.0 is a conference tackling one of the biggest challenges of today’s age. Connect through technology, but do so in a way that supports a person’s well-being, work effectiveness, and is ultimately useful to the world.’ These efforts are trying to co-opt mindfulness into a more effective tool for the business world.

Perhaps a more meaningful connection between business and mindfulness should be centered on the basic Buddhist principle of “non-harming” in all business activities. But I suppose this is a very tall order. Besides The Matrixanalogy, think about all the new, emerging technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, autonomous driving technologies, etc. These technologies will displace more jobs, both blue and white collar. But I am more concerned about what these technologies will do to our consciousness!”

Why should engineers meditate?

CF: “Engineers and technologists are intrinsically involved in everything we do today and will be even more so in the future. As engineers create these new technologies, they should be more mindful of this basic “non-harming” principle. I challenge engineers to use mindfulness and meditation as tools to consider different perspectives and the impact of the technologies they develop.

They should come to the retreat! This retreat won’t be a silver bullet in addressing this battle for the control of our consciousness, but I think it will be a good start.”

How long have you been meditating and what has it brought you?

CF: “I have been practicing meditation for the last three years. A dear friend from Berkeley introduced me to Ajahn Brahm, a popular Buddhist teacher known for his entertaining dharma talks on YouTube.

Meditation has brought me calmness and the ability to gain clarity. I’ve become a sharper and more thoughtful thinker.

Meditation has brought me calmness and the ability to gain clarity. I’ve become a sharper and more thoughtful thinker. When I am working on a tough problem or issue, I usually put it aside and meditate. Similarly, I sometimes do a running mediation, quietly, without music. Afterward, my subconscious always come through with a clever solution or two! Everyone should try it, especially my fellow engineers.”

Is there a link between storytelling and mindfulness?

CF: “I believe there is a direct connection between the two. When you tell a good story, that’s all you are focused on. There’s no distraction. When one is captivated by a story, they don’t think about anything else. This is the type of experience meditation brings.”

If you look into the future and engineers are successful in integrating mindfulness into the technical aspects of their work. What type of future do you envision?

CF: “I hope they will become leaders in whatever they do and respect our collective consciousness. I hope mindful engineers will be able to avoid the harmful consequences of new technologies. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope this event will inspire engineers and others to think about a more fair and equitable future for all.”

The What’s After Mindfulness? retreat will offer various tracks throughout the weekend, filled with guided meditation, movement/yoga classes, panel discussions, small circles of sharing, dharma talks, live music, demonstrations, two movie screenings, and a closing concert by Imee Ooi. Local restaurants will also offer vegetarian street food tents on site for a fully immersive gathering of activities. The Berkeley community may receive 10% off with the code FUNG.