Ecological Mindfulness

“No ecological renewal of the world will ever succeed until and unless we consider the Earth as our own Body and the body as our own Self“ [1].

The environmental and sustainability challenges humanity is facing are greater and more complicated than ever before. Every country in the world is seeing the drastic effects of climate change. The impact of global warming is getting worse. On average, the annual losses just from earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones and flooding count in the hundreds of billions of dollars [2].

In order to prevent generalised ecosystems collapse, changes on a large scale have to occur in the near future. People must experience a change in consciousness comparable in its intensity to the cultural shifts accompanying the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Issues of environmental sustainability are largely about human choices and actions, therefore, mindfulness has much to contribute to understanding and formulating how the required change might occur. Mindfulness practice can be an effective way to cultivate a sense of inter-being between ourselves as human beings and all other organisms that make up the ecological community that we call earth.

What is ecological mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement [3]. By practicing mindfulness our tendency to relate to our experiences in automatic ways is neutralised. Habitual and conventional interpretations are recognised, identified, acknowledged and then choices made that allow us to pursue new and more adaptive ways of seeing the world [4].

By practicing mindfulness, a shift of attention occurs, from focusing on what is in the consciousness (the content) to the consciousness itself (the container). For example this is similar to when one shifts focus from looking at the objects in a room to the room itself and noticing how spacious it is. Frequent practice of mindfulness meditation [5] can lead to the spaciousness we are after.

Mindfulness enhances the richness and vitality of moment-to-moment experiences. It heightens our perceptual awareness of our surroundings giving us a better geographic and ecological consciousness [6]. In a mindful state, people do not sense and feel themselves separate from everything else that enters their minds. In mindful experiences there is a sense that self and world arise together moment by moment. In this state people are more reluctant to participate in ecosystem destruction and may be more likely to seek renewable resources for their basic needs [7].

 

 Keeping the Earth in Mind

The general perspective, then, is that if people feel connected to nature, then they will be less likely to harm it [8]. Mindfulness practice can make a vital contribution to becoming environmentally friendly by helping us to discover a better connection with nature and hence being able to appreciate its intrinsic value:

Mindfulness and ecologically responsible behaviour [9]: Mindfulness can promote environmentally friendly behaviours. In a study researchers measured mindfulness meditation, subjective wellbeing and ecological behaviour (recycling, sustainable food choices, and eco-friendly household practices) in 829 people. They found that mindfulness not only improves wellbeing but also it strengthens eco-friendly behaviours concluding that what is good for personal wellbeing is also good for the planet.

Mindfulness, nature and wellbeing [10]: The connection to nature or sense of unity with the natural world is an important predictor of ecological behaviour and wellbeing. Being connected with nature is associated with the extent to which people are flourishing in their personal and social lives. Therefore, happier people live in more ecologically sustainable ways and mindfulness can promote this virtuous relationship [11].

Mindfulness and responsible consumption [12]: There is growing consensus that individuals need to change their behaviour and consumption patterns in profound ways to create an environmentally sustainable society. We can consume in a way that preserves our natural resources so that our children can enjoy them, and their children and their children after that. The hard part is how to achieve that goal.  Mindfulness practice can help to see our attachments, and rather than being carried away by the impulse to cling to things that have little probability of offering long-term satisfaction, we are able to make decisions less likely to leave us with regret.

Getting Started

It is possible that individuals could spontaneously exhibit mindfulness awareness in their day-to-day lives; however, the most effective way to cultivate a mindful state is by formal and informal mindfulness practice]:

Formal ecological mindful meditation [13]: It is possible to cultivate mindfulness by formal meditation: Sit comfortably but with your spine naturally straight and tall. Relax all your muscles, half-close and soften your gaze, or close your eyes, and anchor your attention on your in-breaths and out-breaths. If your attention wanders off, gently bring it back to your breaths. Become intimately and curiously involved with your breathing. Once established in the basic mindfulness process, you then attend, in a natural and relaxed manner, to sensing all kinds of fluid in your body (saliva, blood, sweat, tears, etc.) running their course. In each instance of noticing the presence of liquid activity, note to yourself that you are water. Feel yourself being one with the oceans, rivers, lakes, streams, waterfalls, clouds, and rain in the sky. Repeat this with three other elements: air, fire, and earth. For air, pay attention to the air that goes in and out of you and any other gaseous presence in your body. Use your imagination to feel yourself being one with all kinds of wind blowing across the land and over the ocean. For fire, you feel the presence of heat in your body, and then again imagine feeling yourself being one with volcano, lightening, forest fire, and summer sun. For earth, you feel the solidity of your bones and flesh, and envisage feeling yourself being one with rocks, soil, mountains, trees, flowers, and animals.

Informal everyday ecological mindfulness: The informal approach consists of practicing mindfulness in daily or routine activities such as eating, walking, etc. Any pause becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness. The purpose is to notice how the mind and body feel throughout the day in various circumstances. For example, you can practice mindful walking. Pay attention to your steps while being aware of the surroundings. This allows you to relax into the present moment, and to give your mind breaks from the habitual thinking.


References:

1 Panikkar, R. (1992). A nonary of priorities. In J. Ogilvy (Ed.), Revisioning philosophy (pp. 244). Albany, NY: SUNY

2 UNDP (2015). Sustainable development goals. New York: United Nations Development Programme.

3 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003).Mindfulness-based Interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

4 Kudesia, R. (2015). Mindfulness and Creativity in the Workplace. In J. Reb & P. Atkins (Eds.), Mindfulness in Organisations: Foundations, Research, and Applications (pp. 190–2012). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5 Bai, H., & Scutt, G. (2009). Touching the Earth with the Heart of Enlightened Mind: The Buddhist Practice of Mindfulness for Environmental Education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, 92–106.

6 Mueller, M. & Greenwood, D. (2015). Ecological mindfulness and cross-hybrid learning: a special issue. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 10(1), 1–4.

7 Mayer, F. & Frantz, C. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(4), 503–515.

8 Mayer, F. & Frantz, C. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(4), 503–515.

9 Jacob, J., Jovic, E., & Brinkerhoff, M. B. (2009). Personal and planetary well-being: Mindfulness meditation, pro-environmental behaviour and personal quality of life in a survey from the social justice and ecological sustainability movement. Social Indicators Research, 93(2), 275–294.

10 Howell, A., Dopko, R., Passmore, H., & Buro, K. (2011). Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(2), 166–171.

11 Brown, K., & Kasser, T. (2005). Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness, and lifestyle. Social Indicators Research, 74(2), 349–368.

12 Ericson, T., Kjønstad, B., & Barstad, A. (2014). Mindfulness and sustainability. Ecological Economics, 104, 73–79.

13 Bai, H., & Scutt, G. (2009). Touching the Earth with the Heart of Enlightened Mind: The Buddhist Practice of Mindfulness for Environmental Education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, 92–106.


Ecological Mindfulness

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