How Mindfulness Could Help You Save The Planet

Photo: Dimitrije Tanaskovic

By now most of us are aware of the hot mess called global warming. Many of us are trying to make changes and become part of the solution: to recycle, choose renewable energy whenever possible, or review investments with sustainability in mind. All the while, there is tremendous positive momentum toward a clean-energy transition under way, involving trillions of dollars around the world and impressive commitments coming from Amazon to AT&T, from Boston to Beijing, from Paris to the pope.

And yet, looking around, it can feel like that for every electric vehicle on the road, there are a million more spewing emissions, and for every banana peel we might compost, heaps of food waste are still crammed into black garbage bags and sent to a stinking, gassy demise at the dump.

Scientists who study climate change warn of a horrific future if we don't clean up our act soon. Some even say it’s too late. By now, almost everyone can see for themselves that these predictions are eerily on track. Unbelievably, we seem to be destroying our planet. And we are doing this even faster than expected.

The experts go on to tell us there isn’t a moment to lose; we—all 7.5 billion of us—must take swift, decisive action or certain very unpleasant events will continue to slam us. Think flooding, drought, wildfires, rapacious windstorms, insect proliferations. (Mosquitoes and ticks adore the higher temperatures; heavier rainfalls and subsequent standing water that are hallmarks of climate change.)

But at the end of the day, what is at stake? Whose quality of life is affected? Polar bears, elephants, and thin-tissued pocilloporid corals, to be sure. And, also, homo sapiens.

Global warming threatens to make us humans an endangered species. It's a problem that we created, and the solutions lie within us too. That's why it will take a calm, solid centeredness—an intentional, spiritual frame of mind—to nail this threat. In order to enact change, we must first get quiet and look within, using simple exercises like breathing, sitting still, listening, meditating, and getting outside in nature with the people we love. It's these actions that will remind us of all that is at stake, of all that we're fighting to protect. Here are four ways to start:

  1. Breathe. Stop where you are, right now. Stow that phone, shut the laptop. Blur your gaze or close your eyes and relax your face. Now take three slow, full, deep breaths. Let your exhale be one count longer than your inhale.
  2. Yoga trains us to take things one at a time—a skill that we'll need to navigate an uncertain future. Yoga can be a sweaty Taryn Toomey series that shakes your marrow, or it can be an hour spent splat in an arrangement of soft blankets and puffy bolsters, perfectly still. The point is, you are doing it—and you're not doing anything else.
  3. Rest. That means sleeping for eight hours and finding other ways to rest during waking hours. Practice not checking that phone all the time. Kill the noise, and let your mind absorb the quiet.
  4. Find others who are working on solutions: neighbors, entrepreneurs, investors, designers, chefs, engineers, artists who have a larger canvas, a sense of responsibility, people who can entertain thoughts of the next generation or two. Mother Nature didn't create the great Pyramids, the Chrysler building, or the Olympics. We did. We have also created a modern lifestyle that doesn’t think twice about using combustible engines, air conditioning, beef tenderloin, and jetting off to the Caribbean when it’s too cold up north. By surrounding yourself with people working toward a brighter future, you'll be inspired to do so as well.

Growing up, I always somehow assumed it was our responsibility to protect the best of all that output: contribute to it and take it forward. I personally and naively assumed that civilization could and would march forward, that every one of us could be part of that progress, and that we could and would help others who couldn’t help themselves. Climate change takes that girlish assumption, ties it in knots, and roasts it for lunch.

There’s lots of buzz about improving the resilience of power grids and coastlines, about strengthening cities and infrastructure in adaptation to the new normal. We endangered human beings need to take charge of our own resilience, too.

Here is the simplest spiritual practice you can do, and here's how spirituality can rewire your brain.

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