How Mindfulness Can Help for COP26 and Beyond

The past few weeks and months may have felt like a rather frantic swimming in a soup of social media, news and documentaries and all sorts of busyness to try to make sure that important messages about the need for urgent climate action are heard. There has been a dizzying array of events and announcements to try to keep abreast of. 

So here is a gift to you – stop for a moment; close your eyes and breathe; just a few moments where you do not have to do anything, where everything is just as it should be. 

Here I am, adding to the things to read, but I hope this one is about restoring your strength and increasing your positive impact. If you prefer, I have made a meditation which incorporates many of the elements I mention here.

So how can mindfulness help?

I recently wrote in my journal on what got me through a crisis in the past. I realised that my initial response to the crisis was to look to my brain to figure out ways to assess the danger and fix things. However, what I found is that it was not my intellect that got me through the crisis – although it is a helpful tool and it helped me to identify the issues and put forward suggestions for ways to fix it. What helped me most though was community, having a spiritual basis for living, staying true to my values, being compassionate to myself and others and generally using the tools of mindfulness. It is interesting how there is a very heavy emphasis on the human intellect to formulate ways to solve the climate crisis, without nearly as much appreciation of the role of nature and the healing that is needed through the more-than-intellectual.

The Twofold Approach

Mindfulness helps in two directions. The first is nurturing yourself. The second is in making your actions impactful and aligned with your values – it is an opportunity to check your compass and make sure of the direction of travel.

Choices

When we pause and come back into the present moment, we are given the opportunity first to acknowledge ourselves and what we need in this moment. Ask yourself “Am I tired, hungry, stressed? What do I need right now?” Then we can assess what we are most needed to do (or not do) in this moment. I have found it is very easy to get sucked into social media, trying to keep abreast of developments and to speak out and make sure that key messages are heard.

We can check that what we are choosing to do (or not do), and the way that it is done, is in line with our values and in line with what best serves us. I came to the conclusion that it is not so great for my own wellbeing to spend hours on social media and that I need to balance it with other activities. I also realised that I needed to be amplifying important voices that are getting drowned out, rather than adding to the noise.

Compassion

Mindfulness is only really powerful when combined with kindness. Making the choice to honour the needs of your body and mind is an act of compassion. However, it is also a quality that you might choose to adopt in your actions. I was shown a kind of alchemy. When we feel angry, we can combine this with compassion and now you have fierce compassion. Actually you get fierce compassion when you combine passion and compassion too – we could experiment with recognising the passion in anger – there is often something we care about that we are protecting when we get angry. So if anger/passion is the fuel, can compassion take the driving seat? Where would we direct our energy and how if we are acting with fierce compassion?

For example, I may not like what a particular politician is saying. I can feel compassion for the person by recognising their common humanity – they are flawed and imperfect just as I am, but they probably also have a family they love and some compassion of their own, even if it is not obvious to me. On the other hand, I have compassion perhaps for the Earth and for other people. So holding these two things, how can I choose to respond from a kinder perspective? Maybe I might acknowledge how difficult their job is, keeping lots of different people happy – people who are worried about their own income and people who are worried about the future of their children. I might also recognise that we are all faced, politicians included, with having to lose the future we thought we were going to have, and that is painful. Then I can kindly paint the picture of the ways I think the world will be better for all of us as I dream it. Perhaps they will listen, perhaps not. 

Acceptance

This brings me to acceptance. Mindfulness teaches us that acceptance is about allowing what is here right now. It does not mean not choosing to try to change things. The problem is that when we are not accepting the past or the present, we waste our energy fighting something we cannot change and we cause ourselves suffering. We can make choices in this moment that may affect the future and that would then be a useful way to expend our energy.

Let’s suppose we are faced with someone who does not accept the scientific consensus. We might find that hard to understand and refuse to accept that their position in this moment. So we might feel the need to fight this fact – to tell them they are wrong and give them the reasons why. The problem is that they are probably not wrong, at least not from their perspective. Anyone with their experiences, education, social circle, choice of news outlet etc. might well believe exactly what they do. What they have been taught may be factually incorrect or it may be that their world view seems to protect something they are afraid will be harmed. We have an opportunity to move from this moment, either to accept that there are some people who are not ready to move from their position or we could try to learn how they came to reach these conclusions. We are back to choices and whether our next move is to learn and to understand so that we can see a way to have a useful conversation with someone in this position or whether it serves both of us better to wish this individual well and move on.

Isn’t this quite a weak response?

Compassion and acceptance may sound like a weak response when we are presented with the “fight against climate change.” However we will not solve this through fighting nature nor the people who we see as causing climate change. War begets war.

We may not realise it, but we are all on the same side. We all want a liveable planet and to have our needs met. I recognise that we have all been born into a system which says that some people achieve those things at the expense of others.

I can certainly understand how the injustices of a system that has cost the lives and livelihoods of people (who had that system imposed on them) make us feel angry and not willing to accept a future with those injustices continuing and I believe those feelings are exactly as they should be – anger is an appropriate response as is wanting to make reparations and changes. The problem is that those injustices came about through a lack of compassion and a lack of acceptance. Surely the system that we want to transition to should have compassion and acceptance at their foundation and can only come about through adopting these qualities.  

We are on the same team – all of us are being affected, to varying degrees, by the climate and biodiversity crises. We are also all likely to be affected to varying degrees by the social injustices (this is absolutely not to say that there are not people who feel those injustices more acutely, but to recognise that perpetuating these injustices is an act of self-harm – we all carry the burden of it and pass the guilt on to our children, whether we realise it or not). We all have an interest in resolving these crises – some may not yet be aware of this yet, but we should not be perpetuating the myth of self and other – the myth that we are not on the same team.

“Winning” here, for everyone, is bringing about the necessary changes towards a fairer, kinder world and that means giving people the space to change by not forcing them to defend their indefensible positions. Through compassion and acceptance, we create the path for change to happen. Through mindful, conscious choice we ensure that our intentions are honourable and that we stay true to our values.

Here is a meditation to help with both the nurturing element and the intentional qualities. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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