Brussels officials are being trained to meditate to help them tackle the climate crisis as part of a new wave of “applied mindfulness” that seeks to take the Buddhism-inspired practice “off the cushion” and into hard politics.
EU officials working on the 27-country bloc’s green deal climate policy are attending “inner green deal” courses intended to foster a deeper connection among decision-makers and negotiators tasked with tackling the crisis. The courses incorporate woodland walks near Brussels and meditation sessions, including one that invites participants to feel empathy for trees and animals to boost “environmental compassion”.
Mindfulness has boomed in the west in recent years through courses, meditation apps and books. But it has drawn criticism that it has become a “religion of the self”, with one critic warning of “McMindfulness”. However, it is recognised by the NHS as an effective treatment for recurrent depression when delivered as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Now advocates of “applied mindfulness” believe it could accelerate consensus-building between climate decision-makers. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the need for “inner transitions” and the potential of meditation to encourage lower-carbon lifestyles.
Some UK MPs are backing a policy report launched this week that argues examining the human heart and mind is the “missing dimension” in the global response to the climate crisis.
The report, overseen by the Mindfulness Initiative, which supports the UK parliament’s all-party group on mindfulness, says tackling climate breakdown has too long been framed as a problem of technology rather than compassion and empathy, and this is holding back humanity’s ability to move faster.
Supporters include the former UN climate negotiator Christiana Figueres and the UK’s only Green party MP, Caroline Lucas.
The report argues the climate emergency is rooted in “a crisis of relationship that has us treating the world we belong to as a resource to be exploited, and the other people in it primarily as competitors”.
It calls urgently for policy attention to “the neglected inner dimension of the climate crisis” and argues for “the importance of mindfulness and compassion practices in restoring the conscious connection fundamental to human and planetary health”. Applying mindfulness, it argues, can help decision-makers mentally “stay with” the often overwhelming problem humanity is facing rather than fleeing it.
Figueres, who led the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord negotiations, told the Guardian her practice of “deep listening”, which is related to mindfulness and emerges from Buddhist teaching, was “the key” to the successful agreement.
“Had I not been practising deep listening I never would have understood where 195 countries and thousands of stakeholders were coming from,” she said. “I really wanted to know deeply what they were saying. I chalk up a lot of the Paris accord to deep listening.”