Central to Mind & Life’s mission is fostering insights that inspire action toward flourishing. Below a recent event participant shares how contemplative practice reinforces her sustainable lifestyle choices.
Mind & Life’s recent conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Greta Thunberg, and climate scientists inspired me to write about ways we can help our future world. In listening to His Holiness, I take to heart his concern that we take action in whatever way we can. Each of us can make a difference. If we are kind to even five people, those five people will be inspired to be kind to five more. Soon lots of people are kinder. The same holds true with action on climate change.
Watching the videos on climate feedback loops shared at the event, it’s clear we need action now. We need governments and industry to respond to the crisis, and we need to take political action, for example, when we vote. We can all join and support groups that take action, like Mind and Life, and many others.
Contemplative practice has played an important role in my own journey to cope with the climate crisis and take action on a personal level. A lot of my practice focuses on nurturing contentment. In relation to the climate, this means examining whether I really need new things and being happy with what is sustainable.
“A lot of my practice focuses on nurturing contentment… this means examining
whether I really need new things and being happy with what is sustainable.”
Listening to news reports about the future can create worry and anxiety. When asked how to deal with this, His Holiness often quotes the 9th century teacher Shantideva, who makes the point that worry is not helpful. If we can do something we should do it. If we cannot, then why worry? In my years of thinking around the climate crisis, I often return to this sage advice. I analyze carefully what I can do, physically and emotionally. When I can’t do something, I don’t worry.
I also practice patience with myself when trying to implement change. We need to begin slowly. Even though change is urgent, if we try to change too much too quickly, the mind will create a backlash. We may discover meat is damaging the planet and wish to help, but our biology and our habits are very attached to our diet. If stressed, the mind reverts to the lazy thoughts of ‘nothing will change even if I buy this’ or ‘there is no point in me giving up my cheese as it won’t make any difference.’ It would be safer to give up one meat meal and when you no longer miss it, think about letting go of another. This way we use the psychology of slowly transforming habits to our advantage, being kind to ourselves as well.
By examining my thinking and using patience, or perseverance, over time I have seen that inwardly I have adapted and outwardly things have changed due to actions taken by people like myself.
Just as Greta Thunberg models how young people can inspire change and make a difference, there’s much older generations can contribute, especially through our individual purchasing power and lifestyle choices. Below are actions I’ve taken over the last decade that are supported by my contemplative practice.
I became mostly vegetarian with the realization that animal farming is hugely detrimental to the environment. There is no way around it; beef and sheep are a danger to the planet. Supermarkets now offer many alternative plant-based ‘meat’ products. Some are so good it’s hard to tell them apart from the real thing. Most are vegan and planet friendly. They are more expensive because so few get sold. If more people ate them, the price would drop, so I try to support this growing industry. Even two years ago, it was hard to find such products. If a few consumers change their habits, it drives the market.
It is also important that the change is gradual because the ‘market’–the growers and producers–need to time to adapt to new ways of consuming so we don’t have lots of unemployment.
There are many other ways our consuming habits matter. I try to buy local, use green cleaners, and avoid plastic wraps. My efforts are a work in progress.
I deliberately bought a ready-built home that can hold solar panels, has minimal heating and cooling requirements, and is not too large for my needs
My solar can give back to the grid. However, I discovered from experience that it’s important to think about the larger picture so that going off the grid doesn’t make power more expensive for others. Luckily here in Western Australia, we’ve made lots of strides with renewable energy.
I also use second hand furniture. My wood tables are recycled and look as good as many new ones.
I replaced my lawn with native plants suited to the climate. I live in a dry area so water conservation is paramount. The local plants did well here before we watered them and we have pretty wildflowers, which are now available from a community garden center run by committed volunteers. The native varieties also attract the right insects.
It is best not to use plants that need fertilizer, or nitrogen rich input, as these get into waterways and cause algae blooms and other problems.
I have money in a retirement fund, and where possible, invest in sustainable green options. A few years ago I couldn’t find such options. Nowadays it’s easier, but some are creative about what they mean by sustainable so it’s best to check.
This year I worked hard to purchase sustainable presents. There are now sites on the web to help you out. My family started giving me sustainable presents because they knew what I was doing.
I am adjusting to fashion trends, for example, hemp pants as opposed to cotton. There are now quite a few options. Even cactus leather exists. These are expensive, but sometimes it is those with money who drive the economy. We need affordable, sustainable fabrics as well, and my daughter suggests we get back to having fewer but more durable outfits.
My local council now does a much better job of recycling, and I compost many things. Recently, our state banned some plastics, which is helpful. All I have to do is comply, and buy as little plastic as possible.
Even before COVID, it was a good idea to minimize flying. I’m happy to replace an overseas holiday with a local trip.
Where I live, we have limited public transport, so cars are still an issue. I would love to have an electric one but they are too expensive and not enough stations exist here. We need more trains and buses. I make do with a small and fuel-efficient car.
I haven’t suffered from the choices I made for the planet. Some have been economically advantageous. It took time to get used to not eating my favorite meat and cheese, but with time your taste changes. Now, soy milk tastes better. There is a small loss in taste but a gain in satisfaction in feeling I make some contribution.
I am one person in a particular area of Western Australia. The strategies I have developed apply to my circumstances and are magnified many times over by committed people and organizations around the world. I thank Mind and Life and others who offer insights on ways to take action, and the many people who go without something to help all of us have a better future. It’s helpful to reflect on what is being done, and what’s possible in creating the future we want.