“How am I to transform? I see the truth – at least, I see something in it – that a change, a transformation, must begin at a level that the mind, as the conscious or the unconscious, cannot reach, because my consciousness as a whole is conditioned.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Inspired by a few Earth Day initiatives, I once started this project of reducing tissue consumption, simply because I have done plastic on daily basis for a few years now. Reminded of a TED Talk by Joe Smith (“How to use one paper towel”), which I have been practising ever since I watched the talk, it seems to be interesting to extend the practice to other types of tissue and paper.
So the mind began with trying to exactly measure the current tissue consumption, observing the process to find any non-value added use of tissue, and then trying to measure the right quantity that is necessary for each activity. Complicated, that is just how the thinking mind is, as it always runs with assumptions and frameworks. In this case, the mind assumed that there must be a certain perfect formula just like the one for paper towel and it operated under continuous improvement based framework.
It did not get me anywhere.
Until I noticed that as I observed myself taking any tissue or paper towel, the amount that I threw away after use was noticeably less than when I took the paper in a rush or absent mindedly. After a while, I decided to stop trying to figure the perfect practice. This self observation, which is actually one of mindfulness qualities, is sufficient in reducing waste.
“We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.” ~ Anthony de Mello
Then I went for one week mindfulness retreat in this really cool facility that allows for no unorganic waste to be left behind in the compound. If we produce ANY unorganic waste, we have to bring them home. And yes, this includes any plastic wraps, bottle, tissue and paper towels.
So I went there with a few big waste plastic bag ready, thinking that no way I could abruptly adopt a lifestyle with so little one-time use things the way it used to be decades ago. Also, retreat is for the so-called “real” practice, I did not wish to trouble myself with any inconveniences that would deter my practice. In other words, I was ready to litter.
Astoundingly, I went home with barely a quarter of small waste plastic bag filled in, and it was not inconvenient, nor did it feel primitive at all. In fact, the lifestyle felt no less natural than breathing when we practice mindfulness in each step, each movement, each breath, in every single task, no matter how simple or unimportant or mundane the task may seem to be. It appears to be easily translated into very little waste.
Since this was so easy, I was easily convinced that I could be just a good friend to the earth as I had been from then on, only to find that being at home, my trash bin quickly fills and I empty my box of tissue just as quickly. How so?
One main variable was the availability of things that could easily turn into waste. This is perhaps one of the few occasions where we find scarcity highly beneficial. The Retreat centre simply did not use nor provide anything that is of single use or non-recyclable. While I have quite a few in my bag, the fact that it was not readily available simplifies our struggle to use less, and because we were mindful, it was effortless not to complain as we easily turned to what is available.
Then, there was hardly any trash bins in the compound that we do not get to see anyone putting anything into trash bins and I recognize the use of clothes instead of tissues every now and then. The only two trash bins within sight are almost empty throughout. Given that human brain is designed to mirror our environment, we tend to behave the way others do. As individuals, each of us endlessly copies and reinforces our behaviours to one another.
In this case, it is easy to reduce our consumption when everyone else does. Removed from such environment, we have to perpetually battle our nature to mimic those around us.
Above all that, most essential is the fact that we were all there to practice mindfulness, being aware of our actions and thoughts from moment to moment. If being Mindful on some trivial moments is already beneficial in reducing tissue consumption without any other active effort, the same applies on a bigger scale during moment to moment mindfulness.
Now imagine applying this to more people working together in an organisation set-up, that is, mindful people working together in a mindful way, with a few mindful ‘conditioning’. CSR would no longer be in constant conflict with shareholders interests. Green marketing would not be a me-too movement under social pressure, but an automatic gesture as a result of Mindful thinking behind every action. We all would have less recycling to do because each of us optimize our consumption and thus the most important link of the reduce-reuse-recycle happens most of the time. The remaining resources, or money, can be allocated for many other things. If people end up using less of our products, they will have more money for the extra frills and services, providing we know what to offer and why we offer them. Everyone will end up happier.
How do we make that happen? Nothing sophisticated, one Mindful breath at a time, one Mindful action at a time, and one Mindful conversation at a time.
That is all it takes, no more, no less.
“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.”
~ William James