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Mindfulness, a once-traditional Buddhist practice has become a normalised part of secular society and is lauded by many health and wellness authorities. It is now found in many public spaces such as schools, politics, military units and hospitals.
Increasingly, researchers are finding new applications and interventions for mindfulness practices to enhance individual well-being, including the reduction of stress, anxiety and depression. While these have demonstrated promise for improving numerous aspects of human health, little research has explored the potential benefits for mindfulness to contribute to collective well-being, especially during times of widespread crisis.
My research has found that mindfulness can be used to advance not only individual wellness, but depending on the practice and its application, a broader sustainability agenda as well. This relatively unexplored means of supporting sustainability progress has immense value to offer in times of crisis, particularly COVID-19.
Mindfulness and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced many deep sustainability concerns. What it has also emphasised is our too-often mindless ways of being that have resulted in deep inequities and an exploitative relationship with the biosphere.
Researchers have found that mindfulness practice can increase compassion and empathy, which are essential traits for supporting both individual and collective resilience.
And as social distancing and quarantine measures keep us physically separate and yearning for connection, the role of mindfulness in nurturing feelings of interconnectedness and reducing risk factors for loneliness and isolation has become increasingly important.
In response to physical distancing guidelines, mindfulness classes have moved online.
Mindfulness has also been found to deepen connection to nature, and even heighten recognition of climate change.
Together, this understanding and commitment to well-being for all are critical processes to mitigate our current unsustainable ways of being and doing. Since mindfulness has been found to reduce consumerism and promote more sustainable consumption habits, it supports a path for tackling large sustainability challenges.