The climate crisis has been driven by humans treating the planet as a resource to be exploited. We need to remember where we came from and understand our connection to the earth. Is mindfulness the compass?

The term ‘mindfulness refers to the process of focused attention and awareness of one’s present moment experience, it involves challenging pre-existing thinking patterns and encourages a flexible and adaptive mindset. Through mindfulness, individuals are able to develop new critical thinking patterns which can result in cognitive shifts of awareness. 

Resulting in an individual or collective developing a better understanding of our inherent connectedness, as humans, to the earth and our ecosystems. This could lead to greater awareness and better decision making around our impact on the environment. 

Various studies regarding connectedness to nature and environmental behaviours have shown that individuals with a stronger sense of connectedness to nature are less likely to engage in behaviours that will harm the environment. Since there is the understanding that in harming the environment in which we live and rely upon, we are actually harming ourselves. 

It’s no surprise that those who spend at least 2 hours a week in nature experience greater well-being, but with the world’s resources rapidly declining and the effects of climate change becoming more prevalent, could this be the missing piece in our plight for the planet? 

It’s all connected

Walter Willet, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and Director of the Thich Nhat Hanh Centre, spoke recently at a Symposium event, which brings together a collection of academics, community leaders, activists and mindfulness practitioners who studied under Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who introduced mindfulness into the western world. 

Willet quoted Hanh: “When you wake up and you see that the Earth is not just the environment, the Earth is us, you touch the nature of interbeing.”  Interbeing is a term developed by Hanh and is understood to mean the interdependence of all things within the universe. 

Mindfulness acts as a bridge. This bridge allows for time and space, in a world of overstimulation and activity, to really feel and understand this interdependence and connection to the earth. A greater understanding of this increases the desire to take positive action for the planet. 

“Mindfulness allows us to really feel and see the preciousness of it all…the incomprehensible, mind-blowing miraculousness of the world” said Melissa Hoffer, speaker at Symposium and Massachusetts first Climate Chief. 

Through mindfulness we are able to develop a greater appreciation for our planet, which in turn encourages more prioritisation of the importance of climate-friendly solutions and action. 

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Kicking the habit 

Mindfulness enhances awareness of habitual behaviours, through the practice of paying more attention to our automatic mental processes, so we can switch off autopilot, and bring the unconscious to the surface. 

None of us are perfect. Whether you are swapping to oat milk, trying a vegan diet, or choosing to cycle to work, behaviour changes in light of making better choices for the planet is challenging. Mindfulness can help in overcoming these challenges through greater awareness and letting go of attachment to old habits. 

In a study looking at the link between an individual’s mindset and climate adaptation, it was found that those with a high mindfulness score were found to be positively correlated with a high score for general motivation for climate adaptation. 

The study suggested this may be a result of the associated influence mindfulness has in supporting compassionate or hopeful attitudes, which may guide people away from fatalist behaviour and encourage an increase in pro-environmentalist action. 

Should policy-makers and politicians be mindful? 

Introducing mindfulness at political level and within key climate policy making is something that the Mindfulness Initiative believes is essential in collaborating on decisions around the climate crisis. 

 In 2022, when EU officials were working on the 27-country bloc’s green deal climate policy, the Mindfulness Initiative carried out a report which saw the policy developers attend an “inner green deal” course. The aim of the course was to create a deeper connection among decision-makers and negotiators, and integrated woodland walks close to Brussels and meditation sessions. The intention of this focus on connection to nature and mindfulness was to boost “environmental compassion” within these policy-makers. 

Initial results from the first 80 participants suggested that the course strengthened officials’ impetus to deal with the climate crisis and rise above their own personal misery around the climate crisis. 

The Mindfulness Initiative published the report ‘Reconnection: Meeting the Climate Crisis Inside Out,’ which attributes the failure to apply solutions to the climate crisis at any meaningful rate or scale, as being due to the same factor that drives the crisis: an absence of conscious connection to ourselves, and a created separateness from others and the environment. 

Whilst the solution to the climate crisis may not singularly come down to meditating under a tree, it is clear that mindfulness can be used as a tool to help the necessary societal reprioritisation of nature and help policy-makers to work together more effectively in developing solutions.