One of the best ways to lead a sustainable lifestyle involves mindfulness training.
Greening our lifestyles will be pivotal for the future of life on Earth. We all know that. However, a new paper in Ecological Economics suggests that simply fine-tuning our behaviors won’t be enough. A truly sustainable future will require us to really reconsider our relations with nature.
And one of the best ways to do it is mindfulness training.
Mindfulness is usually described as a “psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment,” notes Christine Wamsler, the author of the paper who is a sustainability researcher at Lund University in Sweden. It doesn’t mean simply thinking about everything you do. Rather, it regards contemplative awareness about life as it is. In particular, mindfulness can be described through greater attention to detail, release of unnecessary tension or more nuanced understanding of feelings and emotions.
The ways to get there are manyfold: from practices like deep listening and storytelling to participation in social matters like climate marches or pilgrimage to environmentally sensitive areas. Meditation can sharpen our senses, while spending a few hours a week in a forest can help discover nature in ways previously unknown.
Practicing various forms of art is another part of mindfulness training, which helps us to relate to the world outside casual patterns. Recently, neuroscientists got interested in how humans change with a bit of mindfulness training. Turns out the practice literally rewires our brains and enhances our emotional intelligence, encouraging more thoughtful and responsible action, which Wamsler considers crucial to building a sustainable society.
People and communities practicing mindfulness are more resilient to stress and crises, including severe weather events and disasters. The practice has also shown to help emergency workers, volunteers and other people working on post-disaster recovery to cope with the challanges and adapt quickly.
Among other benefits of mindfulness training are higher attentiveness to injustice and suffering, activation of care and greater readiness to act. This is particularly relevant for countries where environmental conflicts and vulnerability to climate change are widespread, such as Bangladesh, Nepal and hundreds of other places around the world.
Mindfulness is also an important part of global religions, and their leaders have been active voices for the climate, from Pope Francis Encyclical Laudato si’ to Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh’s influential statement titled “Falling in Love with the Earth” issued right before the Paris climate summit.
Mindful living allows to avoid unnecessary disputes over resources and power and consider where the common good lies. This, in turn, encourages mutual support and readiness to enact better futures. In the longer-term it can even lead to the changes in social norms, building a much better ground for planet-friendly lifestyles.
Sadly, even considering all those benefits there are not many efforts dedicated to exploring the link between mindful living and sustainability or to pushing the agenda forward. Meanwhile, research by Wamsler shows that such an attitude couldn’t be further from the truth. Practicing mindfulness can really transform our relations with the planet.