Sustainable Me. Mindful Me.
Why Mindfulness is the key to sustainable living
I believe that sustainable living is rooted in mindfulness. Making sustainable lifestyle choices is about making intentional decisions in full awareness. Mindfulness is simply knowing (free from judgement) what I am doing, while I am doing it, why I am doing it, and the impact that action creates. Being sustainable is about finding the answers to those same questions, then asking, "Is this best for the Earth?"
Cultivating mindfulness fosters a deep respect for the planet because when we are mindful, we can easily see how interconnected and interdependent we all are - humans, plants, animals, and non-living nature alike. Mindfulness arms us with the mental tools and strength to consider and create alternative sustainable options. Mindfulness reveals a new way to consider our relationship with the planet.
Let's be honest...
Living sustainably is a challenge and can be exhausting - simply because we are literally working against the system we live in. It's a challenge because our current infrastructure is not set up to support sustainable living choices - whether we are privileged, or not. Our infrastructure is not designed for longevity of purpose or seamless integration with nature. It is not set up to replenish what we take, or restore what we exploit. This is precisely why mindfulness is necessary to make eco-conscious decisions. Mindfulness cultivates deep understanding of our environment.
Yet even at our best, we all have momentary relapses where we act in oblivion or produce more waste than necessary (oftentimes both at the same time). Sometimes we make harmful choices because we lack knowledge and understanding. Interestingly enough, our culture is not engaged to support mindful living, either. In an increasingly chaotic world, it is easier than ever to disconnect from nature, each other, and ourselves - without even knowing when it happened.
Many of us are lost. We work too hard, our lives are too busy; we lose ourselves in consumption and distraction of all kinds and have become increasingly lost, lonely, or sick. Our addiction to consumerism, to buying and consuming things we don’t need, is causing so much stress, so much suffering, both to ourselves and to the Earth. We don’t realize that it’s not fame, wealth, or power that will make us happy, but our level of mindful awareness.
Thich Nhat Hanh; Love Letter to the Earth
However, there is hope...
Both practices can become easier over time. By making small changes, one at a time, sustainable living and acting in mindfulness becomes doable.
As with any mindfulness practice, it starts with our breath. Intentionally inhaling and exhaling - breathing with the Earth. Grounding. Aware of our environment and our actions, in the moment, free of judgement. Calming our senses and thoughts long enough to experience a mindful moment will provide us with the clarity and courage to act in a way that supports ourselves and the planet. This newfound clarity allows us to change the way we see the world. Before long, we realize that we and the Earth are one.
Considering our biological make-up, we are all stitched together with a different combination of the same basic elements. Oxygen, water, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorus, etc. In truth, we are all separate creations, and yet, created of the same matter.
A macroscopic perspective shows us that the earth, encompassing all life and non-life, is it's own living, breathing, and working organism. If we are linked in symbiosis, then a crisis for the earth is a crisis of our own.
“There is a revolution that needs to happen and it needs to start from inside each of us. When we change the way we see the world, we realize that we and the earth are one and begin to act in mindfulness, our own suffering will start to ease. There is no difference between concern for the planet and concern for ourselves… There is no difference between healing the planet and healing ourselves.”
Thich Nhat Hanh; Love Letter to the Earth
In our efforts of becoming more sustainable, there are times when we have the opportunity to make a choice between something that is convenient, or a sustainable alternative. Oftentimes, the convenient option comes at a cost to the planet, and eventually us.
As a global community, we do not have the luxury to sweep this environmental crisis under the rug - as tempting as it may be. It is truly up to us to accept our current state - non judgmentally - then make positive changes one moment at a time. This is the way of acting in mindfulness. One breath at a time. One moment at a time.
It is in these moments, when I’m at a crossroads of a decision, when I’m in the heat of a busy day, an exhausting day, or a stressful day, that I use my affirmation. "Sustainable me. Mindful me." I take each opportunity, slowly, one step at a time. All the while, these two sentences rest on my breath. If I make a mistake, I know that it’s okay. I’ll use the next opportunity to try again.
This affirmation reminds me of the choice that I have made to take responsibility and take action. It reminds me that I have the power to do the right thing. I have something to live up to because I am worth that type of behavior. My community, my family, the earth - we as one, are all worth my best behavior. It’s a personal reminder that I can do better. I can keep trying.
Just to be clear, I know there are times when we don't have access to sustainable options because it is out of our price range or location (which happens to all of us). I am not talking about those times. I am talking about the times when we have access to a sustainable alternative (even if it takes preparation, or seems inconvenient) and an opportunity to choose.
I’m also talking about the moments when it’s challenging to do good. When we are spent, discouraged, overwhelmed, unmotivated. It is especially during these times that we must choose to be mindful.
I fully believe that when my sustainable living efforts are rooted in mindful thinking, I am better able to see through green-washing or make a thrifty decision. I am better able to create a sustainable alternative or consider a different possibility. I am also better able to recognize that myself, others, and the planet, are all worth my best effort.
For me, organic gardening and being in nature is a link between mindful awareness and sustainable living. Pulling each weed, planting each crop, and spending time with my hands literally in the earth is a meditation in action. All my senses are engaged in listening to and collaborating with the Earth. It also affords me to the ability to be self sustaining and significantly lower my environmental impact.
I encourage you to find something that creates that link for yourself. Find something that engages you with our planetary systems and reminds you that you are not just on the Earth, but an extension of the Earth. Find something you can do in mindful awareness that supports you and our planet at the same time.
I share my affirmation with you because we all struggle with living sustainably - despite what you may see on social media. Nobody is doing it perfectly. You don't need to do it perfectly, either. You just need to try.
Just for the record, I don't care about perfection. I care about progress.
This affirmation has helped me be better when it would be so much easier to take the convenient route. So, if you are forgetful (like me), lack the motivation sometimes (like me), are scared to start (like I was), or even feeling discouraged, perhaps this affirmation will help you too.
Sustainable Us. Mindful Us.
Have you ever practiced mindful awareness in your sustainable living endeavors? Do you think it would change the way you make decisions?