Workshop: Mindfulness in action

Discovering body, emotions, feelings and mind

Overarching workshop questions:

 

  • What do my emotions and feelings have to do with my actions?
  • Is my brain my mind?
  • What are the implications of body-mind-unity for my mind and actions?
  • How can I know what motivates me for any given specific actions?
  • What is the role of mindfulness for cultivating a body-mind for sustainability?
  • How can I make sure my personal suffering from injustice or destruction does not translate into further suffering in the world?

Target group:

 

Bachelor/master students, post-grads, social change makers, activists.

 

Duration:

 

1,5 – 3 hours (adjustable to group interest)

 

Background:

 

This workshop addresses the overarching question “how can humans cultivate a mindset that translates into more sustainable actions and outcomes in the long run?”

 

The workshop takes an unconventional approach by first addressing the question of “what do we mean by mind?”. For a long time, Western scientific disciplines, mainstream pedagogy and politics have been rooted in the separation of the body and the mind. Rational thinking, planning and decision-making was seen as a process of the brain and only the brain. Evidence in neurobiology and academic fields demonstrate the interconnectedness of the brain with the larger body and its tissues and organs. Decisions and taking actions are not brain-only processes, but involve reactions from the body in the form of emotions, changes in physiological states. Emotions translate into feelings, which in turn provide necessary information to the brain. Hence, rational thinking and decision-making processes can only occur with full awareness of one’s body, thoughts, emotions and feelings.

 

Buddhist psychology traditionally teaches the unity of body and mind. Thoughts, bodily phenomena, feelings, posture, tension in the body, all these and further aspects are recognized as relevant for a mindset that translates into socially and environmentally healthy and harmless actions. Yet, humans tend to act habitually: whatever we practice, grows stronger. In Buddhist terms, the seeds we plant in our mind are likely to be the actions we harvest. One key question is: what seeds, or qualities of the mind, translate into sustainable or unsustainable behavior? Can qualities of mind be identified, observed, felt and distinguished?

This course introduces into the concept of bodymind, reflects and discusses on the many qualities of the mind and guides into the practice of mindfulness as an everyday, every moment practice as a gateway to socially and environmentally more healthy and sustainable behavior.

 

Course content:

 

Part I: Thinking & Feeling, Body and Mind

 

Together, participants discover the connection of their sustainability-relevant actions, their thoughts, emotions and feelings by investigating experiences in their daily lives. A brief input uncovers the long-standing Western idea of the seperation of body and mind and its consequences for education and scientific disciplines. A new, evidence-based working concept of the mind, or better, the bodymind is being introduced. Plenty of evidence suggests: science, action and politics cannot any longer be viewed as “rational” without fully respecting the role of our feelings.

Methods: reflecting in silence, sharing personal stories, presentations

 

Part II: The many qualities of our minds

 

Together, the facilitator and participants discover numerous qualities of the bodymind and discuss their role for sustainable behavior in our daily lives. Joy, fear, anger and despair – what qualities, what feelings and dynamics of the bodymind support sustainable behavior, and which tend to not support sustainable behavior?

 

Methods: game, group work, chart writing, discussion in plenum

 

Part III: Planting seeds of sustainability

 

The seeds we plant in our minds are the fruits of actions we harvest soon. Can humans actively cultivate qualities that are supportive for sustainable behavior? What skills are needed? This part involves a brief introduction to the Buddhist idea of store and active consciousness. Mindfulness is being introduced as a method to observe the our bodyminds and step by step cultivate a bodymind in which sustainable actions may root more easily.

 

Methods: presentation, mindful breathing exercises, sharing

Western science references:

 

Academy for Systems Change (2016). Real leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility: A systems view. URL: http://donellameadows.org/real-leadership-in-corporate-social-responsibility-a-systems-view/

Ericson et al. (2014). Mindfulness and Sustainability. Ecological Economics.

Walsh, Zack (2017). Contemplative Praxis for Social-Ecological Transformation. The Arrow. URL: https://arrow-journal.org/wp-ontent/uploads/2017/10/Z.Walsh-Contemplative-Praxis-Oct-2017.pdf

Numenaa et al. (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. PNAS. URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/2/646.full.pdf

 

Buddhist teachings involved:

Sutra on Full Awareness of Mindful Breathing; in Thich Nhat Hanh (2012). Awakening of the Heart. Essential buddhist sutras and commentaries. Parallax.

Dharma Talks by Thich Nhat Hanh on Buddhist psychology:

Plum Village Online Monastery. Talk by Thigh Nhat Hanh on mental formations. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHetqgMB8SM&t=4691s

 

Facilitator:

 

Christoph Pfisterer is by academic training MSc. Environmental Governance. As a sustainability activist and professional in Germany, Canada and South Africa, he experienced and observed the strong role of emotions and feelings on his personal and other people's behavior patterns. The teachings by the heartful nuns and monks in the Zen Buddhist monastery Plum Village have helped him better understand the role and functioning of his body, mind and how to take care of his suffering so that he can better avoid causing harm to himself or other people.

In his workshops, Christoph invites participants to actively reflect their own experiences in the light of insights from Western sciences and traditional Buddhist teachings on the unity of body and mind and their dynamic interplay.

 

Workshops held:

2017: International School, Freiburg

2018: University Hohenheim, “Mindfulness and Sustainbility” event by Greening Hohenheim

2018: University of Osnabrück, internal workshop for the Institute for Environmental Systems