I have been radio silent for a number of months now, further training in insight meditation and also taking a moment to really focus in on my own personal development and meditation practice. This half year has brought me to actively feel and understand the world at a deeper level. It is the understanding of interconnection between ourselves as humans and our world – chiefly the environment – around us. For the close of a year so focused upon the state of our world, I thought I would share my thoughts in the hope that this may help the continued efforts to help our planet into 2020.
Increased global focus
There has been a lot of media focus around environmental causes, not least exemplified through Greta Thunberg’s UN speech and being named as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Whilst many of us have either long championed the preservation of our environment or have been sitting up and taking increased notice of it and trying to do our part to reduce our carbon footprint, unfortunately there are still some who do not see this as a concern. Others, although concerned, may feel it very difficult to actively make any drastic changes due to the way our world currently works – high volumes of plastic still rife throughout packaging of food and products in general, businesses trying to increase profits by competing to deliver products quickly causing increased pollution to the planet through same day delivery services. But we can all do our bit. Yes governments and corporations need to take the environment seriously, but each and everyone of us still can and must do our part and not let ourselves feel disempowered. Again, looking to Thunberg – she was one girl who felt the urge to voice the needs of the planet. She could easily have thought herself only as a girl. Instead she wanted to do her part in any way that she could. And that one choice led to increased awareness about a movement. We all can do our part. Maybe our contribution won’t be recognised from a fame point of view, but this is not the point. Our world will feel the contribution and in turn this contribution will continuously be returned to us in the form of fresh water and food – the very basis of our survival as a species.
Feeling connection with our world through meditation and mindfulness
But what does this all have to do with meditation and mindfulness? I personally feel that somewhere along the line many humans forgot that they aren’t above nature; we are part of nature. Our conscience and intellect can be used in one of two ways: to either respect and work with ourselves as part of nature or to believe ourselves superior to it. Those who believe themselves to be superior to other beings, creatures and the environment is have not necessarily lost the ability to not cognitively understand our interconnection with nature (although this may be the case for some), but to really feel that connection. Cue meditation and mindfulness. At a certain level of practice, one can simply sit and rest with every aspect of his/her world becoming the rich tapestry of the practice. When one starts meditating, perhaps the practice is full of distractions or is strongly focused on the breath or body. But as we meditate more, we can feel our breath, body, senses and the stimuli of the senses, i.e. our world around us, become one complete experience. Nothing vies for attention. Everything simply is, just as it is. The changing nature of the experience even as we may sit still on the meditation cushion, becomes the constant flow of connection and calm abiding. We begin to realise that we are at one with the world around us, no part of us against the tides of nature at play. We are not controllers of life’s experiences rather than the mediators or receivers. Sure we can shape the world or the narrative of it in our own way or as a collective, but ultimately we cannot defy nature.
I like to think of each of our senses as receivers of the world. And that’s what they are – receptors to stimuli. We have got into the habit of looking or listening out for things, pushing away what we don’t like the taste of, avoiding things we don’t like the smell of and denying what pains us physically or emotionally. But in meditation we can learn to be open to everything. It doesn’t mean we don’t still have preferences rather we accept that that’s what is happening. We may have a negative preference towards some stimuli, but we understand that we’re not stopping it. We can’t stop receiving information from the world around us, because we are part of the world around us.
It benefits us to care for the world
Whilst it’d be nice for everyone to be generous and loving towards our world, there are some who need to see how it benefits them in order to take notice and start doing their part. In capitalist societies, focus always gets drawn back to wealth with the belief that wealth will buy us the things we need and initially focusing on things more obviously directly connected to our earth, like food and water, seems too far removed. So if we think of the very basis of physical money, both coin and notes are made of the resources of this world. If we don’t look after the world, we can forget about the metal and wood that makes the paper. If we think of digital money (or arguably even money in general), these are agreed concepts between humans. Forget the hardware or software that might go into maintaining those systems – these are all ultimately built and powered by humans (yes there is artificial intelligence and machine learning, but unless you’re fine thinking of a world run by AI and ML alone, I’ll presume humans’ welfare focus is on themselves, friends and family, even if it does not extend to humankind as a whole). Our arguably largest combined belief system of money is maintained by humans. And what do humans need to survive? Food and water. So even if some can only think in monetary terms, they may begin to start recognising money is conceptual. Yes it seems to be one agreed upon global concept upon which we have built our civilisations, but it is a concept nonetheless. I recommend reading Yuval Noah Hirari’s Sapiens or watching the Netflix documentary about money (I forget its name now…possibly Money Explained(?)) to understand more. For now, let’s explore food and water further.
Remembering origins and the story
Many of us have the privilege of living in beautiful houses and perhaps within great cities. We built these cities and houses to provide us with jobs, warmth, security and the ability to buy food and drink and posessions. But if we strip everything back to what we really need to survive physically as humans, it is food and water. Perhaps as we buy food from the supermarket we take little thought to its origins or the efforts from the earth to produce it. Perhaps we also don’t see the people behind the production of the foods we have bought – the people who worked the land. All we see is the end product sitting on the supermarket shelf. Maybe too we think of water as coming from taps or bottles. We forget the swathes of sea and ocean beyond. Being mindful of the fact that we often only see the end product can help us remember the origins of it. I like to think of everything I buy as a story. What is the origin of this product? What processes did it go through? How will/did it end up in front of me? By thinking of the full story of our food and water, this can help us connect back in with our world and to remember how we need our precious world and its ecosystem to thrive because we are reliant upon it. And it is reliant upon us to treat it with respect. We will have no food or water if we continue to disrespect the world. If it sounds drastic, then think carefully even in the most basic of terms. Our food needs water to grow. Our planet is heating. Our water supplies are gradually depleting. No water = no supply to drink or to grow the food we need. Also a reminder that we are 60-70% water, so we are in a very direct sense depleting ourselves of most of what we are made of. What contributes to this depletion? Arguably consumerism and the aforementioned global concept of money and that having more money = being better able to have things we want. We have focused so much on what we want that we’ve forgotten the essentials of what we actually need. Somehow the global climate crisis has seemed too far removed for some money-makers to care about. They cannot see that depleting the world’s resources is in fact an annihilation of themselves. Or perhaps some may think that it won’t affect us rather than something for future generations to deal with. If we lack innate empathy and compassion, perhaps we can at least look to our children or the youngest generation and imagine if we’d really be ok with leaving them in this mess. And even if it’s not them but a generation or two beyond who really suffer the effects of this generation, think about how devastated we would be if facing food and water poverty is something we or our children would be happy to live with or how devastated our children would be if their kids or grandkids were starving and crying out of thirst. This may seem so alien a connection in terms of really feeling what the ramifications would be if we currently live in a privileged, developed country, but it is a very real issue that is here and now and only prone to get worse without everyone’s efforts to help.
Developing connection and passion for our world
We can do something simple to connect to our world. Be curious. Go on walks, spend time really consciously engaging with the environment around us. Ask ourselves questions related to origin and process – where did something come from / how was something grown or made / what resources did it need / who was involved in its process? Spend time marvelling in the world. Pretend for a moment that you are an explorer, seeing the land for the first time. Look at things with fresh eyes. Through cultivating this connection, one can begin to realise how much we are a part of this world. Sure we are creators too, but what is created is born out of the very resources of our world.
Wishing you all a lovely end to 2019 and to a loving, happy and compassionate 2020.