There have been increasing talks about mindfulness in the world in recent times, both at the individual level as well as on macro levels including communities, societies and even nations. But what is mindfulness? Do we understand it correctly or have we somehow managed to twist and turn its meaning into just another new age mumbo jumbo?
Mindfulness is simply the practice of bringing our attention to the present moment. It’s a very simple concept if you think about it and yet, for some reason, it has remained elusive to most people in our history. That’s ironical in more ways than one. We pride ourselves in being intelligent human beings and have built wonders using our intellect, but when it comes to controlling the multi-faceted abilities of our brains, most people fail miserably. In essence, the problem lies with their minds’ inability to remain rooted in the present moment.
The problem with us human beings is that our awareness floats, most of the times, in the past or the future. None of these two places really exist. It’s only the present moment that exists in perpetuity. Being aware of this fact, and living our lives accordingly is what will help us achieve the coveted state of mindfulness. This is not only desirable but a necessity in the world that we live in. That’s because, using our intellect, we have become masters of the planet, but as a side effect, we are hurting our very home.
Today, we are facing several global crises that can one day, threaten our own existence. These are challenges that we had never thought we would need to face. But, our rampant use of our planet’s resources and our exploitative practices have put a huge burden on our very habitat and by extension, our own species. The globe is warming up, climate patterns are changing, the polar ice caps are melting, pollution levels are at an all-time high, natural calamities seem to be getting more severe. Human activities are to blame for a lot of these crises.
This simply cannot go on for a long period of time. The need of the hour is sustainability. Every individual, every society, every nation of the world needs to ensure that sustainability becomes the new way of living. Without it, we are looking at our own doom. Even after so much damage has been done already, we still have time. If we mend our ways, we can make a real impact within the coming decades and save the sinking ship of our civilisation. This will ensure that nature recovers to its original state, and we can lead healthier and happier lives. But for all this to happen, we need to implement the mantra of sustainability.
But what exactly is sustainability? Unfortunately, it too has been misunderstood. Many people tend to think that living sustainably entails giving up all our needs and desires and living life with bare minimum resources. That’s not the case whatsoever. Sustainable living is simply a lifestyle where we reduce our impact and demand on the environment. This ensures that there is more to go around for everyone which will ‘sustain’ our lives further. That is why sustainable living is also called ‘Earth harmony living’.
This is exactly where mindfulness comes in. When we are aware of our own activities and the kind of impact that they can have on the planet and other people’s lives, we can finally take steps to change that. When we are mindful, we can relate to everyone and everything around us and a feeling of compassion is generated. Once we start feeling this way, we realise our role in the grander scheme of things. We realise the importance of living in harmony with everything around us.
Sustainability through mindfulness
Scientists believe that being mindful can literally change how our brains are wired. For the better. It has such a huge impact on the way we think and feel, that it can almost be considered as a transcendental level of existence. In a way, it is. That’s because most people live lives that are influenced by their erratic thoughts and emotions. So, in a sea of people, if we are able to become mindful, it really is a transcendental form of living compared to them. On such higher levels of thought, we are able to make better decisions that foster positive change.
When we are mindful, we think about things from a different perspective. From a deeper perspective. We think about how things relate to one another, how we fit into the greater puzzle and how humanity as a whole interacts with itself and with the environment. We also start thinking about the bigger issues and are inspired to take action wherever and whenever we can. When enough people take action and do their bit, it culminates into something huge. That’s when change happens. The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts. If the small parts act responsibly, the greater whole flourishes.
Also, if we approach the biggest crises that we face today with a state of mindfulness, we will be able to come up with much better responses. Just being in that state opens up so many options that were simply not present before. It influences how we approach risks, how we view environmental resources and makes us realise that our short term greed leads to long term suffering. It can also influence how we cope with the impact of such crises and enhances our natural ingenuity to come up with better ways to adapt. As we can see, the ultimate result is us battling challenges on all fronts which leads to a sustainable future.
One very important aspect of being mindful, that doesn’t often get enough credit is its ability to drive compassion in us. When we are compassionate about something or someone, we naturally try to act in the most prudent way with them. That’s because we care about them and would do anything to prevent jeopardising our relation with them. Thus, mindfulness can directly lead to sustainability as we become more compassionate towards nature and the planet. We do everything in our power to not harm it and contribute to helping conserve and grow it. This is the true power of mindfulness.
Another very important change that mindfulness brings in a person is a transition towards a non-materialistic way of living. We all know that we live in a consumerist world. Large corporates keep pushing products and services and through clever marketing, they make us believe that our lives are incomplete without those products. As a result, we keep buying more and more, regardless of whether we really need them or not. But, this is an endless pursuit. No matter how much we have, it will never be enough. When we become mindful of this fact, we slowly shift from materialistic to non-materialistic values within us.
I recently realised my car wasn’t a real necessity in my life, living in a relatively small city most places I go to I can get to by bike, so I’ve sold it. It feels good!
Living from moment to moment helps us analyse each and every action of ours and we immediately realise whether what we are doing is sustainable or not. It helps us examine every facet of our lives. For example, we become aware that using public transport or riding bicycles to work would help us decrease our carbon footprint. We realise that reducing our meat consumption could have great benefits for the environment and that we should be more judicious with the way we use water. Basically, it puts every habit and lifestyle elements of ours, under a microscope and we can decide from there on how to change them to a more sustainable model.
In recent times, many scientific studies have concluded that practising mindfulness can have many psychological, physiological, emotional and societal benefits. Many scientists say that aligning our intellectual intelligence with our emotional intelligence defines our effectiveness as humans. Many large organisations have begun understanding this fact and have started implementing programs for employees so that they can become more mindful. This not only helps the organisation as a whole but it also helps the employees in their work as well as their personal lives.
Google, one of the largest tech companies in the world, has a mindfulness training program for its employees. In fact, the job description of the head of this training program includes words such as, “enlighten minds, open hearts and create world peace”. It tells us how much importance the company puts on the program. This is not all though. Google also created a two-day mindfulness training program and made it public so that everyone can reap its benefits. Many other organisations such as General Mills, Target and others are following suit and have initiated similar internal programs. The world is waking up to the need for sustainability and how it can be achieved through mindfulness.
How We Can Be More Mindful
Now that we understand how important it is to be mindful, we must learn the techniques that can help us do so. As with everything else, it takes time to get better at it. Through consistent practice and determination, we can slowly build mindfulness like we build other skills or aspects.
One of the first techniques that we can use is mindful breathing. It is pretty easy to follow once we get the hang of it. Basically, it involves paying attention to our breathing. The objective is to bring awareness to something that is an involuntary action. It promotes our ability to just stay in the present moment.
Another really powerful technique is to meditate. If we can get into the habit of meditation, it can be one of the most relaxing things that we can do. It helps us control our thoughts and emotions and makes us mindful of ourselves as a piece of life. There is nothing more serene and peaceful than experiencing a state of nothingness.
There are many other techniques as well but most require us to bring our attention and awareness to the present moment. Like going for a mindful walk for example. During this practice, we have to be mindful about every aspect of walking like how we are lifting our foot, how the ground beneath feels, how our hands move in relation to our legs, and so on. Practising these techniques will slowly but surely develop mindfulness in us which will lead to better lives for ourselves as well as people around us.