• The existential and the joy of a stripped-down lifestyle

    March, 2019

    Norrgavel's founder and designer Nirvan Richter devotes considerable time to stripping away non-essentials—both in design and during his daily meditation practice. Two seemingly separate things that are actually closely intertwined. Meet Nirvan Richter, who has just returned from a 10-day meditation retreat, and let yourself be inspired. Here he shares thoughts and reflections on the benefits and joys of turning inward. And how his lifestyle is connected to living a more sustainable and fulfilling life. We shine a spotlight on the "third leg" of Norrgavel's values—the existential aspect.


    Norrgavel's entire operation is based on a threefold value foundation - humanistic, ecological, and existential. Tell me more about the existential part!

    – First of all, the word "existential" is difficult. It's used in many ways, which is important to point out because many people can be unnecessarily intimidated by the word and also make incorrect connections. When we were working to find a suitable word to use for the value foundation, we tested, among other things, the word "eternity." The word must convey the idea that we want to elevate ordinary things to another level or at least find a different perspective. When talking about these things, words have their limitations, but you just have to accept it. The essence cannot be defined or conveyed exactly to another person.

    In religion, depth is often discussed as the opposite of superficiality. Overall, it's about delving deeper into oneself, a kind of heightened awareness. To give things meaning on a deeper level, one needs to address questions accordingly. Ultimately, all of this revolves around what I've chosen to call existential questions. What does it mean to be human? What is a human life? Just as what is a chair? If one has a longing to contribute something visionary, something with a kind of novelty on a deeper level in the physical world, one must delve deeper into oneself. Otherwise, there's nothing to draw from. Because when you gain a deeper understanding of what a human life is, you make completely different decisions, and life takes on a different direction. This naturally applies to the company Norrgavel as well. Without making that connection, everything becomes meaningless. Then you fall into the rat race and start looking for substitutes for what is real. You have to compensate in your longing for something authentic and touching. This usually leads to a frantic search and drives consumption of expensive beauty products, exclusive watches, cars, handbags, travel... A kind of desperate search that revolves around the belief that happiness is always elsewhere. Things that fill that gaping hole of desire for some kind of meaning.

    But everything that's important in life is somehow paradoxical, because whatever you say, the opposite is equally true. This also applies to our furniture. In one way, it's absolutely crucial how they're designed, and from another perspective, it's completely irrelevant. Buying furniture to become happy isn't a smart idea. But if you're happy in the sense that you truly understand how to live, then it becomes natural to surround yourself with what feels genuinely good. That's where the existential aspect of Norrgavel comes into play.

    There is something stripped-down, even Zen Buddhist, in Norrgavel's furniture - beauty everywhere and in every detail. Quality is synonymous with presence.

    Much of your life is about scaling back - how does that relate to sustainability and happiness?
    – On a physical level, it's intimately connected. If simplicity is used superficially, such as in minimalism, then it doesn't necessarily have to be sustainable. But if simplicity is used in the pursuit of freedom, then it implies not subscribing to the idea that material objects should provide satisfaction in life. You let go of that entire concept. What has been a companion in my life is a kind of harmony or presence that is independent of the surroundings. Like Buddha - a person who radiates total harmony and is completely independent of materialistic objects. If you have that harmony, you are free. There's no need to consume goods or experiences to seek wow moments because you're in touch with the insight that you already have everything. For me, there's no reason to have wow moments as the driving force in consumption. Harmony resides in one's being.
    Early in my teenage years and up until my 40s, my conviction was that if only life could become beautiful, everything would improve. I felt that there was so much ugliness - schools, waiting rooms, fast food restaurants... and I hated it. I simply believed that if things were made beautiful instead, everything would be better. But of course, that's chasing after the wind. It does matter, but to fundamentally change structures, that's not where you should focus your attention. When you're in harmony, you naturally create things as beautifully as possible. Beauty was a vision I had at that time in my life. And perhaps Norrgavel wouldn't have existed without that misconception. Norrgavel was a kind of life vision at that stage of my life. And it wasn't something I let stop me. I got exactly what I wanted, but still, my life didn't change at its core. What's best about realizing your visions is realizing that life doesn't change because of it. That's when I realized I had to search elsewhere, which was an incredible gift and liberation. With Norrgavel, I also had to abandon another idea that was important to me at that time. It was based on the belief that if I just remained debt-free, I would achieve a different kind of freedom. But to realize the vision with Norrgavel, I had to take on enormous debt and risk everything. It was fantastic! That's when I realized that freedom doesn't depend on being debt-free, but rather on my attitude towards debt.


    You have just returned from a 10-day meditation retreat at a Vipassana center. Would you like to tell us what it entails?
    – Yes, why would one subject themselves to this? Ten days completely disconnected from the outside world, in total silence without any form of social contact, sitting in meditation with closed eyes for over ten hours a day... To explain this, one must start with the practical aspect. Vipassana is a technique taught by Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). The entire Vipassana practice is essentially a kind of mental and physical reprogramming. Just as we use physical exercises to improve our physical health, Vipassana can be used to develop a healthy mind. Buddha developed this process, which had an incredible impact even during his lifetime. The technique has three parts:

    1. Moral - which means adhering to ethical principles. This includes not harming any living being, not stealing, not lying, and refraining from violence in speech or actions. It's a kind of moral code of conduct that actually exists in all faiths. These rules are of course very important! If you compromise on them, you can't progress. When it comes to deepening one's self, you must be an honest person in everything you do - both privately and in business.

    2. Concentration/focus - There are many different techniques for this - repeating a word with vibrations, chanting mantras, or focusing on an image. But of course, it can also be worldly, such as in physical exercises. Buddha aimed for simplicity and naturalness because he wanted to find a technique that doesn't exclude anyone, regardless of religion. In Vipassana, pure breathing is used, which means letting the breath be just as it is. You focus on each breath, hour after hour. Then, to increase your presence, you reduce the surface you're focusing on, like the inside of the nostrils, until it's just the size of a little fingernail area between the nostrils. This increases the capacity for presence, and you feel things that you wouldn't normally feel. This isn't a breathing exercise; its purpose is solely to refine attention and develop stillness. This, in itself, is incredibly profound. If you haven't practiced this step, you can't move on to the next stage.

    3. Developing wisdom - Parts 1 and 2 are found in many techniques, but Buddha added this part to achieve total liberation. Once you've developed your ability to concentrate, you turn your attention inward into the body. It's about being present with what is, by systematically going through the body, bit by bit, like a body scan. As soon as you feel a sensation (such as pain, tension, heat/cold, pulsation, contraction, vibration, etc.), you move on to the next part. Your sole task is to observe consciously in total equanimity; that is, without evaluating - you don't develop desire for positive sensations or aversion to negative ones. This scanning continues hour after hour for several days. Over time, the strong sensations, like pain in the knees and back, diminish, and you begin to experience rapid vibrations throughout the body. You gain your own experience - which is absolutely necessary; intellectual understanding alone isn't enough - that everything in the body is impermanent. The identification with your body as a constant physical mass begins to give way to a deeper self-image that's just about being.

    What do you get out of going on a meditation retreat?
    – I long for freedom in my life and realize that it has nothing to do with interest rates. It also has nothing to do with beauty or what is beautiful in life, but it has to do with my own relationship to reality and nothing else. Then it is wise to seek the truth on another level. It is based on my ability to be present and the very act of being. Being is not an absolute unity, but being is something we can cultivate and that is exactly what I am doing in this process. That is one of the reasons why I go on meditation retreats.

    In Indian tradition, there is insight into various levels of being. These levels of being are poorly understood here in the Western world. I have attended really good schools, I attended an excellent architecture program, and also received top-notch craftsmanship training! But nowhere has anyone talked about being or the need to develop being. Being is not something you can learn from books. Being is about wisdom. What you can learn from books is knowledge. You cannot learn a craft from reading. You have to practice and try. You cannot read to become a good opera singer. It requires practice – in the same way, it is with being. It is something you have to practice!

    The reason I go on meditation retreats is because I need to learn how to live – there is so much more within each person's potential than we ever have the opportunity to achieve. I am so grateful that I have devoted time to the level of consciousness.

    Many associate meditation with Buddhism. Is there any religious connection in your practice of meditation?
    – Not at all. Meditation techniques and deepening one's being are completely independent of religions. However, religion is not inherently wrong, but it is not where my focus lies. To achieve greater freedom in life and become a better person, it's not enough to work on religious matters; one must work on their being.

    How does meditation assist in the creative process when you design Norrgavel furniture?
    – A fundamental prerequisite for most of us is a solid foundation in form education and material knowledge. Based on these basic skills, we often learn that it's about inspiration – exposing ourselves to external impressions – as an inflow into the process. I often get asked where my inspiration comes from. You can be inspired by other fields, and that was largely the case before. But to find the roots of something that is adequate to develop, you have to delve into your own depths. The power lies within us, and it's just about making contact with it. Then new ideas and insights emerge.

    To continue feeling a sense of purpose in existence, it's crucial that the design feels appropriate. Otherwise, one has to do something else in life. There must be the same energy in creation as in deep meditation; otherwise, it doesn't work.

    How does meditation assist in entrepreneurship?
    – Why should the business world be disconnected from deeper questions? Unfortunately, entrepreneurship and business often stand in opposition to ethics and existential questions from a Western perspective. For my part, it works because I have directed my life towards seeking and being. This has helped me greatly in how I handle challenges within the company. My life does not depend on the company. A key concept in the whole realm of being is "impermanence". It means that everything is constantly changing. Things come and things go. Victor was here for 21 years (Nirvan's son who died in a train accident in India at the age of 21). The same applies to entrepreneurship. It's easy to think that it should be constant. But there is nothing to cling to, it's a constant change every second. With that in mind, there is no reason to rejoice or worry. Nothing is permanent. In 50 years, Norrgavel may not exist, or if it does, it will be different. This change is very comforting to have in one's bloodstream when seen in the external reality. Many find joy in a company's growth, and of course, it can be so. Things grow and things do the opposite. I understand that it may sound like one doesn't care. But it's more about being able to channel your energy where you feel it adds something good. I see it as an incredibly important part of entrepreneurship that one can spread joy and contribute to people's lives. If you have life energy, it's wonderful if you can use it to bring joy to other people. In that sense, the company is very important. It's a channel through which you can spread joy both materially (through material objects) and also mentally (by conveying the vision behind the company – an insight that it's possible to live one's life in a more meaningful way). The potential is within all of us. There is a Buddha in all of us, it exists in our very being.

    Where should one start if they want to incorporate meditation as a natural part of their life?
    – Personally, I have been meditating for over twenty years, but I was surprised to learn that it is also possible to start from scratch and jump into a 10-day retreat. At this Vipassana retreat, half of the participants were more or less beginners. However, it is a technique that requires a very well-grounded decision. The Vipassana center is extremely clear that if you come there, you must be determined. The ego is used to having control over us, but during a meditation retreat, the ego is set aside. The decision must be so deeply rooted that you stay even if you experience feelings of wanting to escape and suddenly want to leave during the process.

    Another way is to start with yoga in some form. What's great about yoga is that you enter the body and become present. After a while, you realize that something is happening, you connect with sensations in the body, stay present, and perhaps fall into a deeper state. Meditation is about presence, increased focus, and heightened concentration. When you engage in meditation, you will discover that in heightened presence, there is a peace and stillness that everyone longs for. A kind of reverent stillness, much like when the spring flowers emerge.

    The qualities one can access through meditation can to some extent be found through other means as well. For example, through one's professional practice with refinement, or when climbing a mountain wall. What happens when you develop connections in this way is that you become tied to a specific activity to achieve that desirable sense of presence. With meditation, you develop a presence that, regardless of the activity, is always present in one's being.


    Which period of your life has been the happiest so far and why?
    – Now! Always now. And now, and now... Most people who had lived in my body probably wouldn't say it was now. They would have answered the years when my children were young, and I was a father to four kids, living with my then-wife. Because back then, I still held onto my dream of how life should be. In relation to that dream, happiness was complete. The children were wonderful and healthy, our relationship was good, and there was no division or malice. We had a beautiful home that we had created together. Additionally, I had many sources of joy personally - the garden and a fulfilling leisure time - everything on an external level was good and happy. Norrgavel had finally reached a point where my longing for beauty had taken root and could connect with other people. But I realized that I still wasn't happy, even though I had realized the dream. At the time of the divorce, the "perfect" life began to crack. It wasn't the separation itself that was the hardest. The big challenge was daring to let go of the dream of the happy life.

    With the old definition of happiness, the one that characterizes our culture and that most people live by, of course, the dream of the perfect life cracked even more when I lost Victor (Nirvan Richter's son). That image of happiness completely melted away. There was nothing left to grasp there. Unfortunately, many people end up in that pit after such a tragic event. With such deep grief that is difficult to handle, there is a great risk of losing faith in life, happiness, and everything altogether.

    Shortly before the news of Victor's death came (in 2011), I had decided to deepen my relationship with death. I was on vacation in Italy and reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead when the news of his death arrived. From an "external perspective" regarding definitions of happiness, it was, of course, a complete disaster. So when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called and told me they had found Victor and that he was dead – it was like falling straight down a drainpipe, with nothing to hold onto. There was nothing in this Norrgavel world to cling to. What happens at these traumatic moments is that one reaches the level of presence achieved during Vipassana meditation.

    But then it was such an incredible relief that I had practiced being and could realize that this is just an external projection of life. Through practice and hard discipline, I have trained myself to enter into a deeper being. There it was calm, there was peace. There was no change in the eternal world, while everything was changed in the physical world. On the physical level, there was meltdown, and that must also be dealt with. It is unwise to enter into some kind of pretend world of denial. In the physical world, he is what we call dead. In the physical world, Nirvan Richter is a physical body, and at that level of presence, there are ways to handle this situation. It is natural for a lot of grief and longing to arise. Something I felt immense gratitude for at that time was that I was no longer afraid of the grief. I had started therapy 15 years earlier specifically to get rid of an undefined sorrow, but the therapist quickly made me realize that grief is a part of life and not something you get rid of. Grief is not the problem itself, but the problem is resisting it. When I let my grief come forth, the door to what I had longed for most in my life opened. Grief became a gateway into the depth.

    This brings me back to the initial question - why go to Vipassana meditation? The answer is simple: to learn to live. The more I learn to live, the more freedom I feel in life, the simpler life becomes, the more loving life becomes - all the things that define happiness. With every step I take at these meditation retreats, even if it is a small step, something happens at the level of perception. Things change a little bit, the ego is weakened, compassion and the desire to do good is strengthened, a level of higher inner peace, presence, joy.... happiness or whatever you want to call it.


    Vipassana means 'seeing something as it really is'. It is one of India's oldest meditation techniques, rediscovered over 2 500 years ago by the Buddha, and taught by him as a universal remedy for universal problems, i.e. the art of living. This technique, with no affiliation to any religion or sect, aims to completely eliminate mental impurities, thereby achieving full liberation which is the highest happiness. Its purpose is to heal man; not merely to cure disease but to completely cure all human suffering.

    Vipassana is a path of self-transformation through self-observation, focusing on the close interaction between body and mind. This is something that can be experienced directly, through disciplined attention to the bodily sensations that govern the life of the body, and which are continuously related to and condition the mind. Based on observation, this is a self-exploratory journey to the common origin of the body and mind through which mental impurities are dissolved. This leads to a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

    The natural laws that govern our thoughts, feelings and sensations become clear to us. We understand through direct experience how to progress and how to fall back, how to create suffering and how to free ourselves from suffering. Our life will be increasingly characterised by increased awareness, clarity, self-control and peace.

    Source: www.sobhana.dhamma.org