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Mindfulness, Mother Earth & Making a Difference

How are mindfulness and nature connected?

Your first introductions to mindfulness will undoubtedly lead you inward. As your practice finds its rhythm, you may find that you instinctually ground yourself in internal self-awareness. But as your mindfulness practice deepens, you’ll come to recognize that being present in the here-and-now extends far beyond the individual experience. It comes with acknowledging all that’s happening outside our bodies and minds, too: the people around us, the situations affecting us, and the world we live in. Leaning into this understanding helps us notice the experiences that are bigger than ourselves—and it is here that we find the chance to direct our attention to the natural world.

This connection between nature and mindfulness isn’t new. The natural world has informed mindfulness and meditation for thousands of years! Buddhism and Hinduism have both formed the foundations of what we call mindfulness today; these religions teach human reverence for nature and its creations. They encourage oneness with the Earth, and through their teachings, instill a duty to respect the environment. Though many people in our modern, globalized society practice a more secular version of mindfulness, its roots in environmental care are as strong as ever. And if you let them, mindfulness practice and nature can go hand-in-hand.

Look no further than contemporary peer-reviewed science. New research suggests that practicing mindfulness can provoke measurable changes to individuals’ treatment of the natural world. Scientists believe that mindfulness, which encourages people to examine self-identity and break down the ego, can create an attitude of care and responsibility, leading to value-driven action. As the study concludes, “the mechanisms linking individual self-identity and corresponding values and attitudes with environmental quality can lead to a virtuous cycle,” in which individuals shift their behavior to benefit the environment. This attitude of care could look like personal action—buying local, picking up litter, and growing pollinator-friendly plants—but it could take the form of systems-level change, too.

Begin with the act of noticing.

For people who aren’t so data-driven, this research might not feel all-that significant, but there are other (less academic) ways to understand the relationship between mindfulness and nature. For instance: if you’ve ever practiced mindfulness while on a hike, these concepts will likely feel familiar already. When you’re in a natural space, it can feel profound to take in the expansive beauty around you. Any feelings of smallness or insignificance are automatically tempered by the intimate connection you’re experiencing: the inherent relationship we have, as natural beings, with the environment. When you feel like you’re a part of nature, rather than something outside of it, you tap into something poignant. In fact, choosing to stay intentionally present has led to some of my favorite moments spent outdoors.

If you have the access and resources to spend time outside, you can easily try this yourself. During a walk or hike, mind your senses: feel the air on your face, the ground pushing against your feet, the ache in your legs as you propel yourself uphill. As you take it all in, direct your attention to what’s happening around you. What’s the temperature like? Is there wind? Do you hear the leaves rustling or water running? Can you sense the humidity in the air? Instead of your breath (or your usual mindfulness anchor) try using the natural environment to ground yourself. When you do this, you shift your perspective outward and encounter a new perspective: one in which you are part of the world around you, rather than distinct from it.

There are other situations ripe for mindful connection to the Earth, too. As a farmer, I see so much opportunity to build mindfulness in the ways we consume food. By pausing, focusing on our food, and being present during meals, not only can we foster gratitude for our Earth-grown nourishment, but we can start thinking about where it came from: the soil that had to be cultivated, the nutrients that came together to create food-growing magic, the people through whose hands the produce passed. When we bring mindfulness into different contexts, we might be surprised at how much of our practice comes back to our relationship with the Earth and her people.

Now’s the time!

As humans, the connection that we foster with nature grows more important with each day. Maybe you've noticed warmer winters or unusually unpredictable weather. As a farmer, I see traces of climate change with more acute droughts, shifting seasons, and unprecedented spread of pests and diseases. Mindfulness isn’t a silver bullet solution to these problems by any means; still, it can certainly help as we veer into uncharted climate territory, says this article from the American Psychological Association.

For example, tapping into mindfulness can help us curb mindless routine, like overconsumption. Studies show that mindfulness can improve wellbeing and personal satisfaction, thus mitigating our urges to self-soothe through purchasing. Practicing mindfulness encourages us to find contentment within ourselves, rather than through external sources. This route to avoiding overconsumption eases the stress on our environment, which has only a finite amount of resources.

Mindfulness can also help us reconsider—and readjust—habitual behaviors. Both meditation and mindfulness ask us to question our internal, automatic mental processing and ask why we do things, instead of just doing them. The practice of staying present can interrupt our day-to-day decisions—like choosing more sustainable diets, opting for reusable items instead of single-use ones, and avoiding food waste. Mindfulness can be key to feeling more closely connected to the everyday choices that ultimately impact the people and environment around us.

And if you don’t feel empowered to make tangible, lasting change, mindfulness may be able to help with that, too. Stress and negativity inevitably make it more difficult to act on our values and address large-scale concerns like climate change. But mindfulness approaches have been shown to support mental health and fill up our internal reservoirs of resilience. A more grateful, positive, and compassionate perspective can go a long way in turning our visions for the future into a reality.

Musings on Earth Day…

Each year, we come together to celebrate Earth Day on April 22. Sometimes, this celebration—this demonstration of respect for our planet—is extended to a week, or a whole month.

What if all 365 days a year were Earth Day? Each and every item we use relies on the planet: from the phones we carry, to the meals we consume, to the very houses we inhabit. Opening up our practices of mindfulness to acknowledge this interconnectedness is the first step to prioritizing it. We truly have the power to discover our role in the larger world.

Mindfulness can get us to that place of recognition, and it can propel us forward, too. This Earth Day, take a moment to simply notice the thoughts and feelings that arise from an appreciation for the natural world. You might find yourself compelled to nurture that relationship to the Earth like you depend on it—because we all do.

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