London Climate Action Summit - The Mindfulness and Compassion approach
Here is the full text from the talk I gave during the LONDON CLIMATE ACTION SUMMIT, where I was invited by GoneWest and Leaving a Legacy to speak about the general anxiety that we are all feeling right now as a result of the current situation of the pandemic, the unrest being experienced by social inequality and the effects of climate change that we are already seeing, and about how Mindfulness can support us in our journey and work to achieve each of the UN sustainable Development Goals.
As we are collectively awakening for the reality the world presents us on a daily basis, the question is how to address it without getting caught in despair or overwhelm and respond in a helpful way.
The pandemic as triggered all the frailty of a global crumbling system, Social injustice is engrained in all of mankind’s history and climate crisis remains the most global problem. And its effects are well known for over fifty years.
Ultimately, all processes are intertwined: viruses pandemics are largely cooked by human intervention in the natural world, and the especially violent disruption it causes in global communities, enhances the fragility and the injustice that permeates various levels of society around the globe (one can see how, e.g. in Portugal – Lisbon, the virus contamination is growing now that people are coming back to their “normal” habitual living patterns. Inadequacy of housing in conglomerate communities, massive collective transportation where sanitary measures are impossible to maintain, insufficiency of medical support to populations, all are becoming more real now that people aren’t so confined anymore. This has become more evident in racial issues, as numbers show a larger number of deaths by COVID in black population across the US, and in the unbalanced way the pandemic has been affecting different parts of the world, namely those with less economic and social support)
Although we know just by observing other social changing processes (because climate disruption is the effect of social change along the past decades) that these take a long time to shift, in this particular moment there is the uncertainty of having enough time to change what needs to be changed, the dimension of the problems arising day by day.
And the, there is also the growing need of awareness of our own privilege; no matter the difficulties some of us (maybe most…) can be going through at this moment, there is a certain amount of privilege that we may not be completely aware of: being able to sit and attend this summit, living in a reasonably peaceful place on earth, having certain means at disposal, not being part of some minority group…
And of course, this can be quite overwhelming once you really get in touch with it all and start to feel into the real dimensions of climate crisis, social injustice, health disruption. Fear and anxiety are underlying all our lives at this particular moment. We have never lived under such dramatic conditions in a global way, although some (few) people still remember WWII or Spanish flew and many people around the world don’t know anything else for their entire lives (children refugees and in camps…)
Well, it feels that the way to address it is by, first pausing to let living experience unfold in such a way one isn’t always trying to get ahead of it, of oneself, searching to overcome goals in a permanent competition.
And of course, the world is out there “running”, and many times that means one needs to act, prepare, organize, schedule, project…but all of it doesn’t necessarily means “getting ahead” of anything or anyone or oneself. It may just mean being more fully engaged in a grounded and embodied responsive way (as we experienced in the previous practice) instead of being in “auto pilot” mode. As this “imposed” STOP we have gone through with lockdown has shown, taking a break, a step back, created less pollution, more clear air, more time to observe and feel…. And, paradoxically, all happened because of a virus that affects your breathing system. So, we need to PAUSE to BREATHE! Individually and collectively.
To step back a little thus allowing the natural perception and awareness to be more engaged in the present moment or, better saying, in the NOW! Now and here, where we always are! And this is Mindfulness practice!
And then, slowing down. All of which can conduce to a better assessment of what is going on, moment by moment by moment. And also, in every moment, to question oneself “What do I need, right now?” “How can I really be helpful to myself and to others?” The answer to these fundamental questions arises by engaging into one’s core values, one’s meaning for acting alive, what makes each and every one of us get out of bed every morning, despite the ongoing conditions…
So, how can we do this?
One way is by embodied presence. Mind is quite fast and can also be quite elusive (although very useful!) … body on the other hand is slower and much more grounded. There is a world of difference in expressing an emotion solely through words or by letting it be seen through body sensations. Awareness is pre-conceptual. A baby knows what it needs even without words; language. And have you ever seen a ballet dancer? Emotions arising with no words needed? So, you start by grounding as much as possible. In a more formal practice to establish regularity and intention, but also and fundamentally in daily life, in daily routines, actions, relations, commitments … engaging oneself as fully as possible in every task.
So, first one sits for a while, pausing all activity and getting in touch with all there is: (lead as an exercise?)Sitting tall, comfortably, alert
Soundscape (int, ext, near, far, smells, air temperature and it’s nuances, ground, chair, … and then, body: from head to toes, getting in contact with all sensations that are present, regardless of them being pleasant, like relaxing shoulders, letting the body weight just rest, unpleasant, like some tensions in the neck or the back that might be present in the moment, some hitching or pain, or more neutral, like some awareness of clothes touching the skin, or lips touching each other, right down to soles of the feet flat on the ground. Noticing without changing, if possible …
Then, you may start getting aware of breath. A natural, ever present object to focus on. Inbreath and outbreath. Gently, you can start feeling expansion and widening body on the inbreath; relaxing, letting go of tensions and dropping down on the outbreath.
Along the way, mind keeps working and so thoughts appear. Naturally. When they appear, we can just come back to this place through breath, body, sounds…whatever feels more appropriate and focusing. And we stay. Just like this… not judging thoughts, not believing in them …
Getting in touch with what’s there as present living experience. Moment by moment.
And of course, the wandering mind will be active in a thought stream from past memories to future projections but this, with time, also becomes a fluid part of the ongoing experience, so instead getting caught in judgement about mind scape, we start to integrate it in the wholeness of life. We start to become intimate with it. And CURIOUS about it. Instead of just letting mind be some kind of commanding officer and living experience be an autopiloted predetermined map, we engage as fully as possible in the unfolding process of life happening. Moment by moment, thus dissolving the separation from “me” and “mind” and “life” … it all becomes one piece of the same experience. In doing so, one becomes more and more discerning about where and how one’s attention goes, whether into the past, present or future and more able to embrace the whole life experience, whether good, bad or neutral, hence more able to choose the responsible action to undertake; the most attuned response to life. In every moment.
Me, life, the world, other beings … all of it is part of this particular living experience.
Ultimately, compassion – acknowledging sufferance along with the willingness to alleviate it – contains the seeds to responsible action (cultivating response ability). And is the key ingredient to go along the process.
We are unperfect, flawed and traumatized human beings (yes, all of us or at least about 90% of all human population has been subjected to some kind of trauma according to recent data). So, we will fail, over and over. We will stumble on our most urgent needs for perfection, wholeness, love. And we will fail. The only possible way to hold this is through compassion. Towards oneself, because “This one also matters” – Chris Germer, and towards others, because in this particular aspect which is suffering we are all connected as humans. If there is one common humanity thread it is Suffering! And we don’t know where it comes from …
For everyone you listen to
Even if they don’t want it
Even if it seems cynicism
Is always a sign
Always a sign of things with big efforts
Always a sign of things no eyes have seen
You do not know
What wars are going on down there
Where the spirit meets the bone
– Lucinda Williams –
As we struggle to find the thread of a more fully living experience, we need to acknowledge suffering and … hold it. Be compassionate about it. Let your heart open to sustain your needs and your imperfections in every moment. It is important to do so, if one really wants to engage in some kind of inclusive and responsive collective action. One can only do so much; if you don’t cultivate kindness towards yourself in order to refill your cup, you will never be able to refill anyone else’s, right?!
And of course, in doing so, we can more clearly see that there’s no real outcome in blaming and feeding guilt, but there is a clear notion of responsibility. We are ultimately not guilty of our world views, the ways we engage, because it all lies on very old stuff – ancestry, parenthood, siblings, friends, work, society, lovers, partners, diverse traumas – and if nothing else, it’s your mother (in a Freudian note…) – but we are responsible for the consequences of our actions, deeds, words, thoughts.
“We have automatic behaviours that are shaped by evolution and the world. We have automatic behaviours that are shaped by our habits. We have automatic behaviours shaped by our thoughts. But through consciousness you can reshape a lot of those automatic behaviours (update your programs)” Ash Lee –
So, kindness is the way to connect to oneself and others. Real kindness, which has very little to do with “politeness”: kindness is a true heart response to whatever needs to be attended. Sometimes that emerges as a passive behavior (just listening or being present), but sometimes it requires a fiercer action (saying NO to some behavior one has clearly see and felt that is no longer sustainable or helpful; establishing boundaries; intervening on behalf of some or someone’s difficulty).
And, one last piece is that this fierce action has little to do with anger, because anger burns us out letting appear what lies underneath: hopelessness. And when we are feeling hopeless, we pretty much disengage from proper action or simply succumb to pressure, depression …
Indignation is a better word for the fueling of a fiercely compassionate action. An action where we can engage in community, with one another, going beyond particular interests or results. There is no room for comparing what my action looks like with someone else’s but only the willingness to take care of what needs attention.
the four stages of human bridge-building by ©Michelle Maldonado.
This practice is based on the four stages of human bridge-building outlined in A Bridge To Better: An Open Letter To Humanity and Resource Guide by Michelle Maldonado https://www.mindful.org/author/michellemaldonado/ https://www.mindfulleader.org/michelle-maldonado