A few days ago, I was speaking with my dear friend and colleague Kristine Janson about straws. Yes, you read that right: straws. Kristine had asked me if I used straws and I didn’t think that I used straws, but then when I really thought about it, I realised that I actually use straws all the time.
Whenever I go to my local coffee shop and order a smoothie, I am given a straw. Or when my children order slushes (which in the summer is ALL the time), they get the fattest straws possible. And lately on my drive home from teaching, I have been stopping for a chocolate milkshake and I drink that milkshake with a STRAW. In my head this is my weekly act of self kindness 😉
However, while this is an act of self-kindness for Jane, is it an act of kindness for the planet?
Well, my conversation with Kristine reminded me that it’s not. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are 500 million straws used per DAY!!! And what happens to those straws? They just sit there and pollute. They do not biodegrade. In fact, according to Jackie Nunez who wrote “The Sipping Point”, every piece of plastic ever made is still in our environment in some capacity.
When I thought about this, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I mean we are talking about straws. If this one teeny tiny item could cause so much havoc for our earth, what other mindless consumption habits do I have?
Kristine and I spoke about this overwhelm and of ways in which we can engage and act to counter mindless consumption in ways that do not feel like we are being completely engulfed and dragged down by the enormity of the issue: the destruction of our environment at the hands of humans. How can we move forward in a way that is helpful, but also in a way that one can maintain a sense of hope?
One thing that Kristine has taken on is some advice from the late Akong Rinpoche, past Abbot and Founder of Samye Ling which is a Tibetan Buddhist centre in the borders of Scotland. In the film ‘Akong – a Remarkable Life’, Akong Rinpoche talks about the importance of not just practising for ourselves and our own benefit, but also of acting in society. He calls this acting in society ‘outer’ practice, to complement our ‘inner’ practice of meditation. Akong Rinpoche did much charity work with one of his project being ROKPA, an international relief organisation that is represented in 17 countries world wide! His ‘outer’ practice was robust.
Kristine has been focusing her ‘outer’ practice of environmental issues. She’s been inspired by the work of Joanna Macy, the eco philosopher and author of “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy”, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh, who considers and encourages mindful consumption in a way that honours all generations. His teachings stress the interconnection between all living beings, and in his book “For a Future to Be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life”, he states that “[w]e have to eat, drink, consume, but if we do it unmindfully, we may destroy our bodies and our consciousness, showing ingratitude toward our ancestors, our parents, and future generations”. Therefore, it is no surprise that these principles have come together to shape and influence Kristine’s teaching practice; and in February 2020, she will be leading a course on Engaged Mindfulness, or a course that helps mindfulness practitioners really develop their own ‘outer’ practice in a way that does not overwhelm, rather nurtures and supports well-being (for more information on the Engaged Mindfulness course, please click here).
In the meantime, I have decided to give up using plastic straws and I have pledged to continue to find small ways in which I continue to transform my consumption from mindless to mindful.
I would also like to extend this challenge to you- Can you find your own small modification to your consumption habits that might help nourish rather than deplete, not only you but this planet?
[Jane Negrych is the Managing Director of the Sanctuary and teaches on their Being Present: In-depth Mindfulness training, MBLC Teacher Training, Caring for the Caregivers programme and the SWAY programme.]