DIY rituals for the self-help age


Scope: 10 weeks

Brief: Ideate, refine, and implement an experience design around living a better life with chronic pain.

Outcome: A DIY ritual workshop that teaches a framework for positive everyday coping, couched in the metaphor of a tea ceremony.


My research on living one's best life with chronic pain uncovered an interesting fact: how one feels about one's pain is just as much of an influence on pain perception as one's actual physical condition. Even more interestingly, I discovered a parallel between what we currently understand as the placebo effect*, and the study of ancient Chinese ritual**.


Placebos and rituals both address what we cannot control: they "domesticate the gods," and rein in feelings and situations that are otherwise insurmountable (like chronic pain!). And they both center around a few key elements: vision, goal, object, context, action - and human interaction.


Kharmacy borrowed from the typology of the labyrinth, international tea ceremonies, and therapy sessions to form a DIY ritual workshop held in New York City during March 2017. Guests were prompted to move through five "stations", representing the five main elements of a ritual, and then met with a "facilitator" over a cup of tea to pull it all together. In feedback (prompted and unprompted), users reported feeling calmed by the atmosphere, flow, and warmth of the facilitator - and motivated to move forward with the rituals that they created.


Before Kharmacy, I had never so much as planned a birthday party before, so it was a wholly new experience to orchestrate a designed social engagement. After running Kharmacy the first time, I learned so much, that I decided to run it again, with a few tweaks; each time I have prototyped it, the experience has become smaller and more intimate, and in the future I would love to see this become fully portable. 

Many thanks to Emilie Baltz for her mentorship and guidance through this process!