One year ago, my husband and I sat down at the dinner table with coffee in hand to chat about the possibility of pursuing zero waste in our home. I had recently read an article on ’living your values’ by the lovely Lauren Singer, and felt extremely convicted to better manage my own environmental impact and carbon footprint.
My life has never been the same since.
If there is one thing that going zero waste over this past year has taught me, it is that most issues of sustainable living can be solved by pursuing a daily posture of mindfulness. What do I mean by that? To me, mindfulness, or living consciously, means recognizing that every action I take—large or small—has a direct impact on the health of the planet and our global community as a whole.
In The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
Everything is related to everything else. Your well-being and the well-being of your family are essential elements in bringing about the well-being of your business or of any organization where you work. Finding ways to protect yourself and promote your own well-being is the most basic investment you can make. This will have an impact on your family and work environment, but first of all it will result in an improvement in the quality of your own life.
In other words, intentionally stepping out of my natural, autopilot-like way brings about goodness in both my own life and that of my community. This is the very root of mindful living.
What Daily Mindfulness Looks Like for a Zero Waster
As every zero waster will tell you, going zero waste is not easy. Every day, I make the conscious choice to go against the grain, defy cultural norms and accept inconveniences for the sake of the greater good.
For example, today I:
- Brought a (spotless) mason jar to our local juice bar and asked them to fill it in place of a much more convenient styrofoam cup.
- Turned down the opportunity to enjoy free lunch at work because doing so would have meant tossing a pile of trash, when I had a perfectly suitable lunch already waiting for me at home.
- Asked for dairy-free milk in my coffee because going vegan makes me feel good in more ways than one.
These small, daily decisions may seem inconsequential, but over a lifetime their impact adds up. Had I chosen to go through my day on autopilot, I likely would have tossed the styrofoam cup, taken every freebie thrown at me, at the expense of the planet and left Starbucks with a stomachache and a side of guilt. That’s no way to live!
So, I ask you this: What conveniences are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good? What changes can you make in your own life that will put you on the path toward contentment and happiness? What can you do to live a more mindful, conscious life?
Putting it into Practice
Moving yourself toward a fuller state of mindfulness is not something that happens overnight. It will require a conscious effort that involves education, meditation and reflection. Ready to pursue more conscious living? These tips will help you get started!
1. Question everything.
The easiest way to step out of autopilot mode is to confront everything in your life with a critical eye. Do you really need that plastic straw to enjoy your drink? Would you be better off walking a few blocks to the grocery story, rather than driving your car? Question your choices and start making more intentional ones.
2. Educate yourself.
It’s hard to make a good decision when you aren’t yet equipped with the facts. These documentaries and books are a great place to start. Curious about transitioning to a plant-based diet? Do your research, then make the choice based on what you’ve learned. Want to experience a stronger reaction to issues of waste? Look into the detriments of using and throwing away plastics. You’ll never be the same!
3. Start meditating.
When you wake in the morning, meditate on powerful ideas like love, respect, empathy and interconnectedness. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes (or light a candle if you need a focal point to maintain focus) and consider how you fit into the big picture. To get the most out of your meditation, set clear, specific intentions or try one of these exercises.
4. Equip yourself.
It’s so much easier to make good, conscious decisions when you have a sustainable alternative in front of you. Carry a travel mug with you in your bag so that when the opportunity arises you can use it in place of a disposable cup. Equip yourself with the tools you need to be successful and you will be.
5. Practice empathy.
Cultivating your ability to understand (and subsequently feel) the feelings of another is an important step toward living your life more consciously. What do you think the people who live in the shadow of our landfills are experiencing? What about those who drink water contaminated by industrial runoff driven by human consumption? Asking questions like these will help you to greater identify with those outside your personal experience and help you form an emotional attachment to issues of sustainability.
How do you practice mindfulness and conscious living in your daily life? Do you have any tips for this community? Share your thoughts in the comments!