In a world that is as full of distractions as this one, how does one stay on-track, or mindful, of the important bits – particularly those that are, like sustainable behaviour, difficult, un-habitual and easy-to-avoid. Psychologists refer to the dilemma as a cognitive dissonance – the peculiar human ability to justify to ourselves the continuation of certain behaviour even though we also know it is having a detrimental impact. The environmental commentator Alan Brennan has referred to the dilemma as an incontinence: faced with the difficult situation of a mismatch between our actions and our attitudes, we adjust those attitudes rather than our behaviour.

We all have a degree of mindfulness. Otherwise, we could not accomplish anything. But how does one train one’s mind to maintain an awareness to a task we may not relish and can easily avoid?  It is a central need – and dilemma – of sustainable development. But curiously it appears to receive little attention. It was though one of the seven key matters identified by the “practitioners of sustainable development” we reviewed in the previous two editions of The Fifth Estate.

These lessons are expressed as a series of patterns – or templates.  Critically, their solution component is composed so that it can be achieved in a myriad of ways, depending on the person and the circumstance – and still achieve the desired principle. As such, they seek to encourage creativity, not dogmatic conformist responses. Together, the patterns comprise an embryonic language on how to generate a mindfulness for the practice of sustainable living.  As in the previous work from the practitioners, they are peppered with their own direct comments. The first pattern is below.


The daily demands of living, as currently structured, do not allow the opportunity to re-consider everything we do in one go: [It’s] complicated, everything connected; I would find it very difficult to go about my daily business if I thought about every single item. And yet, because sustainable development is all encompassing, at some stage, we must.

This is a dilemma of the systemic viewpoint of seeing everything connected: where do you start, and what should come first? It is the problem that some practitioners seek to address by using lessons from the sequential growth patterns and centres typical of biological processes: take things one step at a time, but make each step in itself both a self-contained whole and a part that then contributes to the achievement of a larger whole. A continual process throughout our lives….One weekly goal. Doing what I can rather than thinking of everything in a whole mass.

By seeing environmental action as one and the same thing as our on-going everyday decisions about living – with each action being seen in as both a whole in itself and a part of a larger whole –  small steps can become cumulative actions in the greater whole of our life  – and in the achievement of a sustainable community. In turn, the flow of life will prompt the process to keep moving. It’s dynamic … If we can hold within ourselves the idea of a caring use of the environment – that will determine our impact – rather than a high minded “I do this, I don’t do that.”

Watch how your decisions change over time as you become more practised, knowledgeable, and intuitive, so that the greater whole unfolds:  Not just in my own backyard, but worldwide. Helping in Third World communities.It’s protecting the Amazon jungle. It’s so many things. It is ethical investing;  Learning and improving by doing; learning to be patient by working with the earth – solutions always bloom in their own time.

Approach environmental action as a set of small steps derived from and infused into everyday living – a caring use of the environment, rather than a series of separate, detached “instructions” on what should or should not be done.  Consider and take each step in its own time and watch as the range of matters you start to address increases as knowledge, comfort and confidence grows.

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