The human body is built for connection. In order for all people—children and adults—to be able to thrive, they must feel safe in their environment and feel connected to a community they can depend on.
In fact, survival depends on it. Our bodies evolved to be able to do this in really interesting ways. Dr. Stephen W. Porges coined the term “neuroception” to describe how “neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Neuroception explains why a baby coos at a caregiver but cries at a stranger, or why a toddler enjoys a parent’s embrace but views a hug from a stranger as an assault.” He also explains his Polyvagal Theory, “which posits that mammals—especially primates—have evolved brain structures that regulate both social and defensive behaviors.” In other words, our bodies have evolved to assess our safety, and it does this by connecting to and evaluating our environment and those around us. That’s why developing a strong mind-body connection through mindfulness practices is key in helping us read the cues that our body gives us, so we can gauge our safety in any environment. This is one way mindfulness can help us connect to the world.
Another way mindfulness can connect us to the world is with a beginner’s mind, or appreciating and seeing things as if for the first time. Sometimes this happens when on vacation or visiting a place for the first time. We become particularly alert and observant of our surroundings with a sense of curiosity. Often it occurs when we’re out in nature. We can be filled with wonderment and feel inspired when going on a hike in the woods on an autumn day, when looking at the vast ocean and seeing a dolphin in the distance, or when gazing at the night sky during a clear night and seeing a meteor. But this feeling doesn’t have to occur only during particularly special circumstances.
When we’re connected to our environment in that deep way, we can feel a greater appreciation for life and awe. Dr. Dacher Keltner, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, describes awe as an important emotion for humans. He explains, “brief experiences of awe, for example in standing amidst tall trees, lead people to be more altruistic, less entitled, more humble and aware of the strengths of others, and less stressed by the challenges of daily living. These brief experiences give people a better sense of how they are part of larger social collectives, they stir scientific thought, and are good for the immune system.” This means that practicing bringing awareness to the world around us with kindness and curiosity can help us feel awe and help us feel greater connection in ways that support our health and our relationships. Read more about awe and other positive emotions in Dr. Keltner’s book Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.
When we have a greater connection to our surroundings in this way, we also begin to notice the impact we’re having. Sometimes we forget that our choices have a direct impact on our environment, the communities we’re a part of, and the world around us. If we can remember our connection to the objects around us, we can see how doing things that benefit others supports us and the world. In addition, helping others feel safe in their bodies and communities helps all communities thrive and be healthy. Doing so can help our world be the best version of itself.
For more on mindfulness and environmental protection, click here for information on a “Mindful Climate Action (MCA) curriculum to help people improve…health while simultaneously lowering…carbon footprints.” For more on how mindfulness practices can support social justice, click here for an article that explores ways mindfulness can be “incorporated into social justices approaches.”
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ABOUT ARGOS GONZALEZ:
Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor. He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY. Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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