There’s a considerable amount of pessimism surrounding our relationship to the planet and what we’ll have to do going forward to keep things on even keel. And new research suggests we tend to think we’re all doomed, even as we hope for a better personal future. So how can we put that personal optimism to work in addressing environmental problems?
We think having a few mindfulness practices that foster a positive connection to nature—from leafy forests to office ferns—could help bring that personal optimism to a more public arena.
Here are four ways you can mindfully appreciate nature, with examples offered by scientists and researchers:
1) Consider your own connection to nature.
“Every time we breathe in, we’re breathing in other organisms,” says David Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen. “Our bodies are covered in bacteria that has come from all over the place. Our bodies are communities of bacteria.”
If you’re thinking that being indoors in front of a computer screen doesn’t lend itself to this kind of inventory, Haskell says we can think of the web as a smaller version of a much larger web of biological connections.
“These days we’re very attuned, thinking about networks like Facebook and Twitter and all that,” says Haskell, “but in nature it’s more than Facebook. It’s whole Bodybook. In some ways the Internet is a rediscovery of what biology has been doing for billions of years.”
Appreciating our connection to nature is an essential practice that can even be taught to young children.
2) Foster greater awareness of your natural surroundings.
Consider how your senses help you relate to your environment, in both dramatic and small ways.
“I was in Alaska with my son, going up a stream, being taught by a guide how to smell for bears,” says Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle. “The Alaskan Brown Bears are the ones who’d like to have you over for dinner to eat you. Once you’ve smelled that smell, you never forget it. That’s an example of using a sense for a very important purpose.”
And while not all of us are going to be in Alaska, we can tune into the environment that’s around us every day by taking a mindful garden walk to appreciate the nature in our own backyards.
3) Actively appreciate the good and growing things that surround us.
As difficult as it may feel, we can acknowledge the destruction of our natural world while continuing to open our hearts to the nature we deeply cherish.
The feeling of awe that we get when we’re surrounded by nature can even contribute to making us happier and healthier.
“Mindfulness teachings point us to meet the present moment as it is: We behold both the beauty of nature and the devastation that is occurring,” author Mark Coleman explains.
4) Accept that better understanding can lead to a better change.
“Over human history nature has become ‘other,’ something separate,” says Lauren Oakes, a researcher at Stanford University, who measures the evidence of climate change on the environment. “I actually physically feel something when I stand in a forest that’s alive and healthy, than one that’s dead. As a person I naturally feel responsible for things. How does that knowledge affect us? What role does hope play in a connection to that resource?”
Understanding the role we play in protecting our natural environment is an essential step towards ensuring it not only survives, but thrives.
“That word, sustainable, sounds to most people like survival,” says Louv. “The bare minimum. That doesn’t get most people excited. Obviously, survival is important but we weren’t put here just to survive, we were put here to create. What if we could begin to imagine a nature-rich future with new kinds of cities, homes and neighborhoods? New kinds of workplaces? If we don’t aim much higher than sustainability, we’ll never reach it.”