This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

Today a guest blogger is joining me.  Brigid blogs from Australia @Kookaburra about well being and how yoga and meditation can help us in everyday life.  Today, she explains how yogic ideas can also be helpful to protect the environment around us.

“My sister and I headed out early yesterday morning, optimistic about meeting our objective for the day: to track down a perfect wedding dress for my sister’s upcoming wedding. To be perfectly honest, I was really looking forward to having a justifiably good reason to spend a whole day in retail heaven. Not that I needed to justify this to anyone else, only to myself, because I’d decided at the beginning of 2011 to spend less time in vapid, time-wasting, resource-squandering pursuits like shopping, and for the most part I’ve managed to honor this intention. At times it has been a struggle. Yesterday though, with the wedding dress as justification, I could browse to my heart’s content.

As my sister and I wandered from store to store, we started to talk about how, although we didn’t need to buy anything, and actually didn’t want to make any purchases other than a wedding dress, we were starting to feel that pull: that desire to go into shops, to succumb to the lure of the beautiful objects in the windows, the signs announcing the last days of a sale. It was all subtly working on our minds, planting the seed that perhaps we actually did need something. After a few more hours of shopping, the quiet urge to buy something had turned into something louder and more desperate. Not only did we want to buy things, we wanted to buy them NOW.

What is this desire we have as humans? This void that makes us chase happiness in things, in acquiring ‘stuff.’ No matter how much we already have in our lives, our thoughts tell us we are lacking somehow; that we’d be just a bit more content if we bought the newest iPod, a later model car, a bigger house. Most of us have far more stuff than we will ever need, and yet the drive to acquire more thrums away below the surface. Spend some time later today rummaging through your cupboards and drawers. How many things can you find that you’ve either never used, or have hardly used at all? Many of us have hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of goods that we don’t really need. When I moved from Australia to Canada last year, I had to pack up all of my possessions and couldn’t believe how many unworn clothes, barely-used kitchen appliances and unread books I owned. But that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to buy more.

As we approach the fifth Earth Hour on Saturday 26th March, I feel that this human desire for ‘more’ is worth taking a look at, as it is a contributing factor to the detriment of our environment. It may not be obviously bad, like leaving the air conditioning on while you’re out at work. It’s subtle, and fairly socially acceptable. Yet the process of producing new things to replace the perfectly good things we already own is a producer of pollution, a guzzler of fossil fuels and major creator of waste. 

When it comes to unnecessary consumption, I don’t mean to suggest that the fault lies entirely with us as individuals. The power of advertising has been acknowledged for many years, and companies will go to great lengths to bombard us with reasons to buy new products. But how is it that advertising can work on us? Why are we so susceptible, even in cases where we would really prefer to save our money for important things? We just keep chasing happiness, looking for a cessation of negative thoughts through purchasing more things.  

After fifteen years as a student of yoga, I believe that yogic philosophy can shed some light on why humans are always chasing more. Yogis have studied the workings of the human mind for thousands of years, and their findings are as applicable today as ever. Rather than being simply a tool to help us make our way through life, the mind is a thought-generating machine that rarely stops. This is wonderful when we have a problem to solve, but when the mind has nothing real to work on, it continues to produce thoughts, and they are not always helpful. The mind’s role as problem-solver means that when it turns its attention to our lives, it cannot help but look for areas needing improvement. If no improvement is needed, it will tell you it’s needed anyway. This is why beautiful people are never beautiful enough, rich people never feel rich enough, intelligent people with innovative ideas are plagued by doubt. 

Spend a moment thinking about your own thoughts. What kinds of thoughts do you have on a regular basis? How often do your thoughts tell you that you are fortunate, that you are a very lucky individual? And how often do you have thoughts that something’s not quite right, that your life is lacking somehow, that things would be okay if only you could improve a little, or had nicer things in your life? Most people find that their thoughts fall heavily on the side of discontent. Yogic wisdom tells us that this is what it is to be human, and that everyone with a mind – in other words, everyone on earth – has a tendency to feel this way. There’s nothing wrong with us, it’s just the nature of the mind. When looking at it from the yogic perspective, we can see how the messages from the outside world, coupled with the messages our minds send us, make it very difficult to feel contentment for any length of time. One of the ways in which we try to find contentment is to fill our lives with ‘stuff’.

If almost everyone is affected by these kinds of thoughts, what can we do about it? Yoga suggests that we can stop taking our thoughts so seriously. The yogic view is that “our thoughts are not reality,” meaning that we don’t have to believe everything our minds tell us. Thoughts that we do not have enough, that we need to consume in order to feel happier do not necessarily contain any truth. Just observing the thought, rather than acting on it, may even result in it disappearing. Learning to take each and every thought with a grain of salt is one of the goals of yoga, and a key way to live a healthier and happier life.  And learning to quiet the voice in our head telling us to buy our way to happiness is good for our well being, good for our bank balance and good for the environment!”