You’ve heard of the #slowfoodmovement and of #tinyhouses. You’ve seen people online following the #KonMarie method and moving toward #minimalism. You’ve stopped shopping #fastfashion and you carry your @keepcup. You know there are shifts happening in your community, and in the world.
But with all these huge shifts happening, it can be hard to know where to start!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I believe that it all starts with changing your mindset, changing your priorities and setting goals that are in line with your core values.
The #slowlifestylemovement is just that. It encompasses the many ways that people are getting creative and coming up with antidotes to the symptoms of a culture sick on stress (destructive agriculture, overconsumption, environmental degradation, and so on).
And it starts with you. It starts with you getting clear on your values. It starts with you examining your lifestyle and changing what doesn’t work anymore. It starts with you setting everyday goals and following through. It starts with you taking steps to build a life YOU’RE proud of (not the one society says you should be proud of).
And magically, once you start, everything slows, and the solutions begin to organically unfold.
I recently read a criticism of the #mindfulness movement that I found incredibly interesting. (The Mindfulness Conspiracy by Ronald Purser, for anyone who is interested.)
The author made the point that it is unsurprising that mindfulness has become big business in a time where our systems of work and leisure have become unbearable. He goes on to suggest that by making #stressreduction the responsibility of the individual, we allow systems of exploitation, #capitalism and injustice to thrive.
And I was shocked to find myself agreeing with him.
The ‘Individualization of Responsibility’ is something that comes up regularly in conversations about climate catastrophe. It is the idea that solutions are marketed to individuals as their responsibility (like using reusable bags or ditching straws) while corporate entities continue to destroy and pollute at devastating rates.
I have to wonder, is mindfulness-based stress reduction just another way we are making the individual responsible for systemic failings?
I don’t have a definite answer yet. Systems of stress and exploitation are long standing and deeply entrenched; they are not going to change overnight. Tools that foster resilience and improve our emotional lives need to be widespread if we’re going to maintain the energy to dismantle those systems. However, branding mindfulness as the singular cure-all for societal woes (obviously) isn’t the solution either, and could be contributing to performative activism.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on bridging the gap between individual mindfulness practices and collective mindful living systems!
Modern stress is a social justice issue.
I try not to paint stress as a totally negative bodily response. Your stress response is your body’s way to communicate concern or danger about your current physical or emotional environment.
However with increasing economic instability, impossible levels of student debt, and pretty much guaranteed worldwide climate catastrophe, it makes sense that we are seeing epidemic levels of chronic stress and stress related disease. It’s a natural outcome of a body that is communicating pathological levels of environmental stress.
Which is undoubtedly a social issue.
So what can you do?
First and foremost, build a life that sustains you. Do the hard work of examining your values and activating them in your life. Start small if you need to, but start.
Once you have some stability in your own health and well-being, look to your community. Can you use your skills to help a neighbour or an organization? Can you organize a rally or a political letter writing campaign to demand social change? Can you bring up your concerns about stress and burnout to a leader or HR Manager in your workplace? Ask for help. Get creative. Share your story. Connect with people who have similar concerns and who are working to make changes in the world. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead