"You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth…In that kind of relationship you have enough love, strength and awakening in order to change your life.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
You might have already learnt about the myriad physical, mental and spiritual benefits of practicing mindfulness, but have you considered how practicing mindfulness could also help save the planet? We’ve looked at some teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh to help us understand this idea. Thich Nhat Hanh is a revered monk who has been practicing mindfulness and meditation for over 70 years and was nominated for the Nobel peace prize for his contribution to humanity. More recently his teachings have also been directed towards how our relationship with ourselves effect our relationship with the planet.
Re-Connecting to Ourselves
“Mindfulness can help you to be happy in the here and now. Every moment can be a happy moment. Take a few minutes in order to experiment to see the truth."
The stories that play on loop in our mind are often negative about ourselves and it’s easy to get swept up and believe our damning self-talk. When we reconnect to the power of our mindfulness, we might start to find that we can begin to get to know ourselves in a whole new way. When you allow your thoughts to drift on by like clouds scurrying across the sky, you might start to notice that on the backdrop of your mind (the sky) is calm, eternal inner peace. By adopting the position of observer of our thoughts, instead of being swept up and away in the thoughts themselves, you might begin to ask – who is this person observing my thoughts? We are starting to recover our true self, who contrary to our often negative stories, is good, calm and full of infinite inner peace. Just as we learnt here how we are all born with mindfulness, likewise we are all born full of goodness. The Buddhists call this ‘Buddha Nature’ – the belief that all sentient beings are born with the potential to become Buddha, once all negative aspects are removed from the mind. Ok, so we're all good at our core, and have the potential of a Buddha...what does all of this have to do with the planet?
Discovering the Interconnected Tapestry of Life
Practicing mindfulness means focusing all our attention on the present moment and this encourages us notice more of the intricacies of life. Practices such as the Raisin Meditation, bring awareness to the interconnectedness of everything in life, us included. We don’t exist in isolation; we are dependent on our planet Earth for our very existence.
"So to breathe in and be aware of your body and look deeply into it and realise you are the Earth and your consciousness is also the consciousness of the earth. Not to cut the tree not to pollute the water, that is not enough."
For example, when you start to pay attention to the breath, you might start to be more aware of the constant exchange of air between us and the world…we are connected. Our breath ties us to the lungs of the planet; our trees, plants and forests.
Likewise, bringing awareness to eating and drinking can help us appreciate the flow of energy from the earth through our bodies. Water circulates the skies, rivers and oceans and food grows from the ground, to be absorbed into our bodies before eventually being returned to the earth. We are the earth and the earth is us.
When we can see ourselves as part of the inter-connected tapestry of wider meaning, we can start to understand that the choices we make effect both our health and the health of our planet.
Loving the Earth is loving Ourselves
“We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love, to be at one. When you love someone you want to say I need you, I take refuge in you. You do anything for the benefit of the Earth and the Earth will do anything for your wellbeing."
When we practice self-care, we are caring for our little part of the Earth, when we care for the Earth, we are caring for ourselves. Looking after ourselves, others and the Earth with kindness and compassion comes naturally when we are connected to our true nature. The more love, kindness and compassion we practice towards ourselves, the more it radiates out to the world around us, and the more we care for Earth, the greater our own sense of wellbeing. There is a growing wealth of research showing the connection between 1spending time in nature and 2being engaged in environmental issues and their positive effects on our mental health, and that 3caring for animals and plants – nurturing something else into life - can greatly improve our own wellbeing.
Bringing Awareness to our Choices
“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way."
One of the ways we can do our bit for planet Earth is to start bringing more awareness to our choices; to the things we buy, the way we travel and the organisations we support.
Mindfulness can help us to become aware of and curious about our choices. As we observe our thoughts we have more space to respond with thoughtful awareness rather than react from habit or impulse.
This extra space means we might start to identify desires which aren’t necessarily rooted in genuine need, and by reacting to these desires through over-consumption, we may not be nourishing ourselves with what we truly need. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings show us how capitalist society has us trapped in the cycle of desire and dissatisfaction and addicted to over consumption. This not only ultimately perpetuates negative feelings about ourselves but is also the driving force behind the destruction of our Earth.
Mindfulness can give us the space to ask how we can you give ourselves what we really need; love, compassion, connection…perhaps the answer isn’t the shiny new shoes after all….! With this freedom comes the ability to slow down and make considered choices which are good for ourselves and the planet. With the myriad ways of making planet friendly choices becoming available to us - from zero waste shops, to upcycling, staycations to gardening – choosing to be eco-concious means no loss in quality of life…it means greater wellbeing for all. Understanding the impact of making planet friendly choices feels rewarding and fulfilling and can help us feel even more connected to ourselves, each other and to Earth.
Starting a Ripple…Creating a Wave
"This kind of enlightenment is very crucial to a collective awakening. In Buddhism we talk of meditation as an act of awakening, to be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living species are in danger.
The practice of mindfulness helps us to touch Mother Earth inside of the body and this practice can help heal people. So the healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth and this is the insight and it is possible for anyone to practice.”
Appreciating our place as part of the planet, re-connecting with the true nature of ourselves, bringing awareness to our choices and acting with intention is a beautiful formula for happier and healthier people and planet. Even the smallest act of clear intention ripples through the fabric of life far beyond our ability to see or trace it. And when we each start a ripple, eventually we’ll create a wave.
You can learn more about Thich Nach Hahn's teaching’s on the Buddhist approach to our relationship with the Earth in his best selling book 'The World We Have'