Paying Attention: Caroline Lucas MP on the role of mindfulness in environmental protection

The practice of mindfulness as a catalyst for environmental activism may not seem obvious to everybody. But at our conference last week, Caroline Lucas MP made a compelling case for this approach and the impact she believes mindfulness in schools can have, both in helping young people to fully appreciate the beauty of our planet, and in equipping them with the mental resilience and the practical tools needed to protect it.

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. Anybody who has spent a moment watching a beautiful sunset, or admiring the pattern on a pinecone, or smelling the fresh scent of jasmine flowers will recognise that appreciation of the natural world is deepened when you bring your attention fully to what is in front of you.

Our speaker Caroline Lucas MP described how this sense of being utterly present in the moment, at one with nature around us, can bring about a mindful awareness of the natural world. Recognising that humans are not separate from the world around us, and that “what we do to the world around us, we ultimately do to ourselves”, is a necessary precondition to inspire us to work harder to protect our environment.

In her view, this is particularly relevant to this generation of young people who are spending less time in nature and seeming to become increasingly disconnected from it. This not only has documented ill-effects on young people themselves in terms of increased stress, but it also means that they are growing up without exposure to, and understanding of, the natural world.

“Unless the next generation know and love what’s at threat, then I fear they’ll be less equipped to fight to protect it”, she said.

Speaking with great conviction, she went on to refer to the ‘emotional toll’ of climate change, describing how mindfulness can equip young people with the inner strength needed to confront the scale of the environmental crisis unfolding and take the action necessary to address it. It is her belief that the two are linked: that seeking wellbeing as an individual must surely also encompass the larger world around us on which our wellbeing depends. Whilst it may be tempting to turn away from the accelerating climate and environmental crisis because it is too terrifying to really look at, our speaker asked ‘what is mindfulness if not turning towards the places that scare us’?

Commending the 16 year old Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg, whose solitary vigil outside the Swedish parliament sparked a global movement of young people demanding urgent action on climate change, Caroline described the Youth Climate strikes as one of the most inspiring and hopeful things that have happened in years. She concluded that mindfulness in schools can help connect the next generation with their world, and give them the inner resource to act to protect it.

We are extremely grateful to Caroline Lucas MP for opening our 2019 ‘A Million Minds Matter’ conference with such a thought-provoking and relevant speech.