Being Mindful of Our Immediate Environment

Costa Georgiadis maintains that a return to the simple things of life, such as a home garden, is essential in these challenging times.  Costa is an environmental educator, TV presenter, landscape architect and host of ABC’s Gardening Australia.  His passion for sustainability has its origins in the care and concern for the environment instilled into him at an early age by his grandparents.  His recent book, Costa’s World: Gardening for the SOIL, the SOUL and the SUBURBS, is more than a wonderfully illustrated and informative gardening book – its is really a book about living and restoring, replenishing and re-invigorating our immediate home environment.  He argues for achieving biodiversity, reducing waste and living mindfully in our immediate environment.

Costa contends that at the heart of sustainability is the ability to separate needs from wants – something we do when we go camping.  He uses the analogy that we are “campers” on this earth and we need to be conscious of our imprint day to day, while being able to create an environment that nurtures, protects and sustains us .  His book is imbued with his enthusiasm, humour, energy, conviction and down-to earth practicality.

Getting to know our microenvironment

Costa is a great believer in diaries and logs for getting to know our microenvironment – he argues that grounded data is pure gold.  He also maintains that we really need to get to know microclimates – to understand the climate of our neighbourhood in terms of the variability of the temperature, the timing and volume of rain, and the extremes of heat and cold.   Costa argues that we have to inform ourselves of our local, grounded seasons not just the four traditional European seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – that we are familiar with.  He suggests that we can draw on indigenous knowledge  and descriptions of seasons to better inform ourselves.  He reminds us that seasons shape our lives – they influence what we eat, what we wear, how we spend our time, and the amount of time we spend indoors or outdoors.

Costa has a series of questions that we can ask ourselves to better understand our immediate environment.  They cover issues such as the source of prevailing winds, the physical landscape, tree placements and impacts of fences and structures.  He argues that developing awareness about these environmental elements and the location of our living space can helps us to prevent waste, save energy and invest time and energy in productive, sustainable practices.

Sustaining and regenerating our microenvironment

Throughout his book, Costa provides multiple ways we can restore, replenish and enrich the biodiversity of our immediate environment – the source of life and sustainability.   Here are some of the areas that he explores with practical hints on how to progress them:

  • Composting – Costa contends that in composting we are “bringing dead things back to life”.  He argues that anyone can compost as all the required materials are readily available – kitchen food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, used newspapers, paper & cardboard, twigs and sticks.  He provides detailed instructions with clear illustrations to get us started and practical ways to make the ongoing process easy.  He contends that in composting we are reducing waste and landfill, developing great soil and “making new friends in the community” by inviting worms and multiple insects to break down the composting ingredients. Birds too will happily visit to feed on the worms and contribute their droppings.  He also recommends the ShareWaste app as a way to engage a wider community of people in your local area in the composting process.
  • Enriching our soil – Costa maintains that “healthy soil is teeming with life”.  He encourages us to really observe our soil – its colour, texture, feel, and smell.  He offers multiple ways to test our soil and to enrich it, all the while raising awareness about the soil needs of different plants such as native and indigenous plants.  Costa encourages us to develop a partnership with our soil which is critical to our survival individually and as a species.  Composting has a key role here as it not only increases organic matter in our soil but enables us to get closer to the soil by investing time and energy in regenerating it.
  • Reducing water usage – being conscious of our consumption and waste of water.  Costa suggests that a salutary lesson is to observe the number of times in a day that we access a water outlet and to ask ourselves how we can reduce our water use. 
  • Plastic-free initiatives – here Costa encourages us to start “breaking up with plastic” by reducing our dependence on it.  He offers ways to achieve this “breakup” which include avoiding the use of plastic straws, drink bottles, and cutlery.  He also encourages us to influence others to overcome the habit of single-use plastic which has become so much a part of our lives in modern times..
  • Conscious consumption – Costa suggests that we become conscious of the origins and ingredients of our consumable items such as coffee, tea, clothes, soaps, detergents and toilet paper.  He provides a series of questions we can ask ourselves to increase our awareness of the impact of these consumables on our microenvironment.  

Reflection

I feel that I have not done justice to Costa’s book in this brief review.  He achieves a wonderful balance between depth of information and practicality of application.  His book is replete with examples, activities, projects and guides as well as reinforcing illustrations and quotes.  His enthusiasm for replenishing our immediate environments is motivating and energising. Costa shares a lifetime of study, research and education in his book and maintains that activism for us is “performing day-to-day actions” in our microenvironments.

As we grow in mindfulness through time spent in nature, gardening and observing our immediate environment, we can better appreciate our world, contribute to sustainability and develop an improved environment for succeeding generations.  Gardening can enhance our awareness, give us greater access to the healing power of nature and enrich our lives through increased texture, colour, feel and interest.  It also gives us the opportunity to learn as we try out new plants, locations and soil enrichments – we can learn through doing and reflecting on the outcomes both intended and unintended.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Developing a Relationship with Nature

Louie Schwartzberg reminds us that nature is a source of wonder (exploring and admiring) and awe (questioning the “how”).  In his view, nature effectively represents the intersection between art and science.  Art explores the “why” and generates admiration and inspiration through demonstrating the interconnectedness of everything and exposing nature’s beauty, even in the mundane; science, on the other hand,  encourages questioning with curiosity and openness while exploring the “how”, e.g., how do nectar feeding bats pollinate cacti and create milk to feed their young?

It is particularly apt then, that Louie’s podcast is titled Wonder and Awe which explores the intersection between  art and science through interviews with musicians such as Lisbeth Scott and scientists like mycologist William Padilla Brown.   There is so much of nature that is unknown and invisible to us and these artists and scientists along with Louie’s time-lapse photography help us to deepen our relationship with nature.

Developing an intimate relationship with nature

uie offered his perspective on the need for an intimate relationship with nature during his presentation, True Romance: Falling in Love with Nature, at the recent Nature Summit.  He highlighted the fact that the pandemic has created a “mental wellness barrier” for a lot of people and that nature has a healing quality.  He is now creating digital nature imagery for use in hospitals as a healing modality.  This “visual healing” has been scientifically proven to achieve “shorter length of stay in hospital, increased pain tolerance and decreased anxiety”

The pandemic has created opportunities for people to appreciate what they normally take for granted – the ability to go for a walk in nature, to connect with friends and family, to spend time alone away from the “madding crowd” and associated noise.  It has helped us to be more introspective and value what we have, as so much and so many have been lost.

Louie maintains that if we can develop an intimate relationship with nature through frequent mindful visits to natural environments and personal research (including videos, podcasts and articles), we can begin to care about the sustainability of our planet.  He pointed out that while a lot of scientific research has helped us understand the threats to our natural environment, the wealth of data has failed to achieve any appreciable shift in people’s behaviour in relation to nature’s fragility. 

He points out that our capacity to view nature is considerably limited  – effectively we are able to view the equivalent of one octave of an eight-octave scale.  Through his photography he makes so much more of the beauty of nature visible to us  – by filming at 1,000 frames per second he can enable us to see something that happens in one third of a second, actually 15 times longer.  Hence, he helps us to “explore beyond the one octave”.

Louie contends that the heart has greater influence over behaviour than the head – when our relationship with nature is one of loving and appreciating it, we are more inclined to engage in caring behaviour towards it.  We will be more careful about our paper use (because of its impact on trees), we will avoid plastic bags as much as possible (because of the impact on our oceans and marine life), we will plant a vegetable garden (because it provides us with a closeness to nature and fresh, uncontaminated food).

Reflection

There is so much to learn about nature and our interconnectedness with it – it is a lifetime pursuit.  We can grow in mindfulness as we spend more time in and with nature and adopt nature meditations.  Another way into building our relationship with nature is participating in mantra meditations that incorporate wonder and awe of nature such as Lulu & Mischka’s “Stillness in Motion” filmed with the whales in Byron Bay, Queensland.

Artist, David Hockney, reminds us:

The world is very, very beautiful, but you’ve got to look hard and closely to notice that beauty.

(Source: The Art of Living, Martin Gayford, The Weekend Australian, pgs. 10-12)

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Mindful City Initiative: Mindful.Org

In the previous post I discussed the Mindful City Project focused on a pilot in Highland Park, Illinois. This is only one example of the many initiatives being undertaken in the USA to develop mindful cities. Another key approach is the Mindful City Initiative undertaken by Mindful.Org. I will focus on this initiative in the current blog post.

Mindful City Initiative: Flint, Michigan

The Mindful City Initiative is a social intervention that is one of the three high-leveraged projects undertaken by The Foundation for a Mindful Society. The Foundation aims to improve wellness, health, compassion and kindness in all sectors of society through its publications, Mindful.Org and the Mindful Magazine, as well as projects which aim to cultivate and support mindfulness practices based on evidence-based research. It seeks to achieve these outcomes through an authentic approach to mindfulness that reflects the integrity of the not-for-profit Foundation.

Flint in Michigan is a city that has experienced major crises, e.g. reduction in the GMH workforce from 80.000 at its peak in 1978 to 8,000 by 2010 and lead contamination of its water. The Mindful City Initiative in Flint is designed to utilise mindfulness to assist the regeneration of the city so that it can become, once again, a thriving, healthy and resilient community.

In pursuit of this aim, a two-day workshop – developed and delivered by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) – was conducted for civic leaders encompassing leaders in businesses, education organisations, healthcare, and philanthropy. SIYLI provides leadership training in mindfulness and emotional intelligence, as well as extensive mindfulness resources, including the latest neuroscience research on mindfulness practices.

The leaders in Flint developed a vision of a “flourishing community” and sought the help of the Mindful City Initiative to develop leadership skills that will achieve active collaboration and innovation to realise their vision. Through this initiative, Mindful.org is linking the city leaders to teachers, partners and programs in the mindfulness arena, as well as providing access to their publications and mindfulness practices offered via their major social media site.

A further initiative is planned for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The focus here is on “bringing together city leaders and neuroscientists” to enhance civic leadership skills to enable leaders in different sectors to work together to create a sustainable, “healthy community”.

Through social innovations such as the Mindful City Initiative, organisations are working to enable civil leaders to grow in mindfulness and transfer their knowledge, learning and experience to the broader community for the health, welfare and sustainability of their communities.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Further Reflections on an Action Learning Intervention

This post represents a further reflection on the action learning intervention undertaken by Dr. Rod Waddington in South Africa.  It follows on from my previous reflections on the values differences between narcissism and action learning.

In another earlier post, I highlighted the need to support mindfulness training with organisational interventions designed to address things like over-work, lack of agency, managerial style and toxicity.  This was the perspective of the union body in the UK and the Mindful UK Report.   Now I turn to ways that mindfulness could strengthen an action learning intervention that did address these identified issues.

In the current reflection, I want to highlight the role that mindfulness could play in enhancing the outcomes of the action learning intervention by focusing on self-awareness and resilience.

Mindfulness strengthening self-awareness

One of the outcomes that Rod’s intervention in an education setting in South Africa had in common with Dr. Diana Austin’s intervention in a health setting in New Zealand, is the personal disclosure by participants of what they were experiencing and feeling and what contributed to their pain and suffering.  In the case of the college, the disclosure related to the style of management and the toxicity of the workplace; in the health setting, midwives identified the lack of support that they received following a critical incident.

In both cases, participants had suffered in silence and not shared with others what was happening for them – they were engaged in a “conspiracy of silence”.  The collaborative environment provided by action learning enabled them to feel safe and to be open about what they really thought and felt.

If mindfulness training had preceded these interventions, participants could be more aware of themselves and more willing to share at a deeper level. Mindfulness brings with it self-awareness and increased insight into factors impacting thoughts, feelings and reactions.  Participants would also be better placed to support each other through the disclosure experience.

Mindfulness strengthening resilience

If participants in an action learning program had been exposed to mindfulness over a reasonable period and had undertaken regular practice, they would have brought a higher level of resilience to the action learning intervention.  This, in turn, would contribute to the ability to sustain the outcomes of the intervention as participants would be better able to manage setbacks and difficulties.

The potential contribution of mindfulness for an action learning intervention

As potential participants in an action learning intervention grow in mindfulness through meditation training, they bring to the intervention a greater capacity to contribute openness and honesty, make the most of the opportunities for increased agency and contribute to the sustainability of the intervention through their enhanced resilience.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Quangpraha on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Sustaining Meditation Practice

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Elisha Goldstein discussed the theme, Towards Sustainable Happiness.  He covered the barriers to sustaining meditation practice and offered ways to overcome them. Elisha is the author of a number of books, including Uncovering Happiness and The Now Effect.

Elisha acknowledged that integrating a new habit, such as meditation, into our daily lives is a challenging task. Starting the habit is relatively easy but sustaining it over time can be extremely difficult.

He identified a number of barriers that make it difficult for us to achieve the desired integration:

1. Our negative bias

As we mentioned previously, our brain is wired to perceive danger and threat and persists in a negative orientation as an evolutionary safety mechanism. This manifests as doubts, anxiety or uncertainty when we are trying to sustain the habit of meditation. We tend to question not only the way we are meditating but also the utility (usefulness/ benefit) of meditation. We can focus on the effort involved without seeing the benefits.

2. Fractured attention

In this day and age, we are constantly interrupted by technology, advertising and noise pollution. Our attention is continuously fractured by interruption – we now talk about disruptive marketing as a means to capture the attention of our desired audience. This continuous disruption to our attention makes it increasingly difficult to meditate and feeds our doubts and uncertainties.

3. Our cultural environment

The acceptance of busyness as laudable and inactivity as blameworthy, translates into little tolerance for being still, taking time out or meditating. This means that there are very few positive models within our immediate environment to inspire us to sustain our meditation practice. There are few rewarding or supporting social cues that motivate us to maintain the effort.

4. Our loss of connectedness

The development of our social norms means that increasingly we are superficially connected to lots of people (via social media) and see ourselves as separate and independent. Images of meditation practitioners reinforce this separateness. However, neuroscience confirms the view that we are social beings that are interconnected and interdependent. We have a reliance on each other whether we are conscious of this or not. Research also highlights the fact that social isolation can lead to physical and mental illness including depression.

Elisha’s very strong recommendation, based on his own research and experience, is to work towards enriching our environment as a way of building sustainability in our meditation practice and enhancing our experience of happiness.

He suggests that this can be done in two ways, (1) enrich our physical environment, and (2) build social connections that provide positive social cues and inspiration.

On a physical level, we can surround ourselves with inspiring books and sayings, clear clutter than distracts us and detracts from the inner journey, value the beauty and calmness of our natural surroundings and develop a space that engenders calm and ease of meditation.

On a social level, we can get connected to like-minded people by participating in retreats, workshops, online conferences and courses. What is more likely to be sustaining for our meditation practice, however, is regular participation with a group of people who engage in meditation.

If we enrich our physical and social environments, we are better able to grow in mindfulness by sustaining our meditation practice, so that the benefits are longer lasting and flow into our everyday lives outside the meditative environment.

Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of RitaE on Pixabay