Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mindfulness and Ecology:
How do they Relate?

Image: Mind Full or Mindful? 

What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
Without any doubt, most of us live very mind-full lives. That is—as startlingly yet simply illustrated in the below photo, our minds are a cluster-fest of thoughts, emotions, concerns, fears, anxieties, plans, hopes, fantasies, wants, don’t-wants, and the list goes on.

Image: Mind Full 

Without question or exception, we all suffer from this “crazy mind” syndrome. And while some suffer more than others (especially those with Autism-spectrum disorders like ADD, ADHD, Schizophrenia, epilepsy, etc.) very few people can claim to live in complete mental peace and equanimity at all times.

And yet, mental tranquility is very much a component of true relaxation. The mind-body/body-brain connection is well documented. And while there are many practices and techniques to achieve it—most relating to meditation—a quiet mind is not necessarily the same as being mindful; nor is it a prerequisite to be mindful.

In meditation, for instance, we may seek to achieve a quiet, receptive state of consciousness…a quiet mind. However, one cannot force the mind to be quiet and remain truly relaxed and peaceful. Nor can one sit in frustration as the seemingly endless series of thoughts emerge one after the next, and expect to achieve a quiet mind. The frustration itself feeds the crazy mind. One can, however, simply be mindful of the mind that is full.

In other words, being mindful is simply observing, being fully present and aware of what is going on around us and within us—in our hearts, our mind and our body—at all times, including during meditation. Being mindful doesn’t mean we have an empty mind, it means we are not allowing ourselves to be caught up in the stories our mind is telling us. We observe the stories arise, and then we observe them pass. We do not dwell on them.

Try it now:

Video: Guided Meditation with Eckhart Tolle

In meditation, this technique for simple mindfulness—coined psychological kung-fu by Samael Aun Weor, but also known as ‘no meditation’—eventually leads to a completely quiet, peaceful mind. Like watching the waves slowly die down after a storm has passed, the ripples in our psyche settle down and eventually—if we do not get caught up in the waves and/or produce new mental storms to whip them up once more—the mind becomes as calm and smooth as the surface of a mountain lake, perfectly reflecting the world as if it were a mirror.

Image: Mountain Lake calm water glassy mirror 

And, it is upon this perfect reflection that inspiration, imagination, insight and experiences of pure joy can be witnessed. In other words, when the mind settles down, the true nature and substance of the consciousness can be perceived directly.

Mindfulness and Nature
"Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it. How still they are, how deeply rooted in Being. Allow nature to teach you stillness."
~ Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks 
If it is true that observing ourselves—our own mind, heart, body, can lead to a stillness in consciousness, an emptiness into which true insights can emerge, then what about being mindful about the world around us? What happens if we apply the same principles used in mindfulness meditation while in nature? Actually, a very interesting phenomenon takes place. We begin to comprehend its true nature.

For example, Rudolph Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Schools in 1919, said “All of nature begins to whisper its secrets to us through its sounds. Sounds that were previously incomprehensible to our soul now become the meaningful language of nature.” Source:

This sentiment is most certainly echoed by countless esotericists, mystics and practitioners of mindfulness, from practitioners of Japan’s unique brand of Shinto Buddhism (which incorporates Japan’s traditional ancient Shinto tradition of nature worship and Buddhism) to the Dalai Lama.

Video: Mindfulness in Nature

But this is not to say that the relationship between mindfulness and nature has gone unnoticed in more secular circles. Books like Awake in the Wild by Mark Coleman are an example.

Image: Cover, Awake in the Wild 

There are also numerous scholarly articles addressing the issue. Consider the abstract from Andrew J. Howell’s, Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness:
“Wilson’s (1984) biophilia hypothesis predicts that people’s psychological health is associated with their relationship to nature. Two studies examined associations among nature connectedness, well-being, and mindfulness in samples of undergraduate students while socially desirable responding was controlled. Significant associations emerged among measures of nature connectedness and indices of well-being (in Study 1 and Study 2) and mindfulness (in Study 2). Results are discussed in relation to possible mediators and moderators of the association between nature connectedness and mental health.”
This is all well and good, but let’s be realistic. With the massive urban intensification programs being pursued worldwide in a bid for efficiency and curbing the impacts of population explosion, access to that which can be seen and experienced as “nature” are becoming rarer and more far afield than ever before—for most people.

The term Nature Deficit Disorder or NDD has emerged only in the past few decades as a direct result of people’s changing relationships with their world—particularly as young people switch to virtual representations of the natural world delivered on interactive devices—and the impact it is having on their minds.

Mindfulness and Ecosystems

Ecosystems are a way of bringing nature in its highest expression back into our daily lives, so that we can be mindful of it and our relationship to it. Rather than being surrounded by lifeless, artificial, and largely toxic environments at work, at school or at home, we can surround ourselves with vibrant colours, lush textures, and living sounds of conscious super organisms: trillions of creatures living together in harmony and mutual symbiosis.

Image by Genesis: Mindfulness & Ecosystems

To be mindful in the presence of an ecosystem, is to open the door to a whole new level of consciousness, a whole new world of peaceful discovery. It’s not a world that can be described; it is one that must be experienced. But that’s how it goes with matters of the mind: be it the busy, crazy mind that’s full, or the peaceful, tranquil, mind that’s aware, receptive and present…mindful.

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