Updated: Apr 3, 2020
How contemplative practices, such as mindful breath awareness and empathetic imagination, can help us live in harmony with nature.
March 3 -- marked World Wildlife Day. The theme for the year 2020 is Sustaining All Life on Earth. To honor this sentiment, the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, invited the world to “push for a more caring, thoughtful and sustainable relationship with nature.” But what would this mean in practice?
Photo by Kimberley Graham: The Red Footed Booby, Galapogas Islands.
We are One Species of Many
Humans share planet earth with approximately 8.7 million species. It may surprise you to find out that humans know very little about the many different life forms on earth. Estimates suggest that there are around 86% of plants on land and 91% of those in the sea that have not been studied, categorized and do not have a name. How can we care about something that we do not know much about?
As urbanization expands, the human relationship with nature is changing. In some cases, wildlife (with the help of human interventions to clean the environment) are making a come-back, such as the 90 or so otters thriving in Singapore. However, many city dwellers do not have active or regular contact with natural environments and other life forms. In some parts of the world, the relationship between humans and nature is fragile.
Yet, humans can learn a lot from other species. The wonder and curiosity of the octopus. The far-reaching and complex social lives of trees. There are many examples and we are only starting to scratch the surface. However, some practices can help to cultivate the creative powers of the human heart and mind. These practices, of mindful breath awareness and empathetic imagination, can help to strengthen our connection with nature, without even leaving the home.
Mindfulness Breath Awareness
Placing attention on the breath opens the space to recognize the importance of oxygen entering the nose, traveling into the lungs and nourishing all the cells in the body via the veins and capillaries. On the exhale, carbon dioxide is expelled. Take a few moments to observe your breath. Watch it enter and exit your nose.
Photo by Eli DeFaria (Unsplash)
Did you know that around 70% of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from millions of tiny phytoplankton in the ocean? Roughly 1 in 5 breaths is from one species called Prochlorococcus. When I shared this fact with my best friend, he said ‘no wonder I have always felt one with the ocean’. When you breathe, you are in connection with the ocean and the millions of life forms within it. The remaining 30% of oxygen in the atmosphere is coming from the trees in the forests. Take a moment to appreciate these green forms of life with each breath and the magical chemical reaction of photosynthesis.
Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris (Unsplash)
When humans look at a tree, they often see wood or consider the visual and aesthetic appeal of the green leafy canopy and the vast forest. On the surface, each tree may seem like an independent entity. However, scientists are discovering that trees are sending chemical, hormonal and electrical signals to each other. Some species of trees, like the birch and the fir, are not discriminating against each other based on species. They are helping each other by sharing water, nutrients, and carbon across large distances. In short, trees are living very active social lives.
From the perspective of wildlife, trees are a life support system. They are home and provide shelter for birds, reptiles, and mammals. Trees are breeding grounds for migratory species, a place of hibernation, and where animals sleep, play and hunt. These insights expand and enrich our view of trees.
A deeper understanding of other species can help to unlock a new awareness of their true value that goes beyond only considering human needs and moves into a space of multi-species appreciation. As there is no limit to human imagination, there is also no boundary on our ability to empathize and appreciate others, including other species.
These contemplative practices open up a perspective that sheds light on the interrelationship between humans and all other life forms on the planet. Mindful breath awareness and empathetic imagination are two ways to cultivate harmony with nature at both the inner and outer levels.
This topic contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goals
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels