I’ll take the vibe, you keep the leggings!
The 2500-year-old practice of mindfulness is surging in popularity. But what can mindfulness offer sustainability?
In the first of three articles, Enviro-Mark Solutions Principal Sustainability Advisor Shaun Bowler explores what mindfulness is, and why it holds the key to our sustainable future.
We face challenges and opportunities unprecedented in history - a changing climate, plastics in our oceans, threats to global security; diseases of affluence and poverty and the dark side of digital technologies.
Technology (think: compostable coffee cups, EVs) will only get us so far. Albert Einstein famously said that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Unconvinced? Consider that Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first unlocked the science behind global warming 120 years ago. Since then the challenge has only grown. If we can’t think our way through this, what then?
Mindfulness is emerging as the answer.
Mindfulness is being attentive to the present moment while adopting a non-judgmental attitude to experiences (including our thoughts) as they arise. This state of inner awareness can help us achieve greater sustainability in many ways, such as:
- Providing “an antidote to consumerism1” – and reducing the likelihood of our ‘spending money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t really like’. The products we consume use energy and resources and create environmental and social degradation. Yet often we buy to distract ourselves (‘retail therapy’, anyone?) rather than need. Connection, love, to understand and be understood – these are real needs. Acting with awareness is related to conscious consumption, consuming less, or even not consuming at all.
- Making us more fully present. Once out of ‘auto-pilot’, we can break old habits for new, more sustainable ones – like remembering to take our re-usable shopping bags. Our available choices in each moment expand (“What do I want right now?”) from their default (“I’m late - I don’t have time for that.”).
- Promoting greater compassion for people we don’t know, plants and animals, increasing the likelihood that we will act in ways that support our common future.
In fact, there is so much evidence for the role of mindfulness in sustainability that some people think we should have social programmes to promote it2.
Yoga, tai chi or meditation – can we, in the spirit of conscious non-consumption, return the leggings but keep the vibe? Om shanti.
There is rich irony that an ancient practice rooted in past millennia, which requires us to focus on the present, may be the best tool we have to deliver a prosperous future!
In the next article we’ll explore how we can use mindfulness to accelerate climate action.
1 Rosenberg, E.L., (2004). Mindfulness and consumerism. In: Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, US, pp. 107–125.
2 Blackburn, E., & Epel, E. (2012). Too Toxic to Ignore? Nature 490, 169-171.