Year of Discovery (Week 28: Restlessness and The Main Perpetrator of Climate Change)

Audrey Cheng
7 min readOct 20, 2021

This last week was one where I continued to deep dive on specific topics to the point where I experienced a few existential crises. I’m taking the AirMiners carbon removal bootcamp, deepening my understanding of self and leadership through the Legatum Fellowship and taking part in a Buddhist foundation programme to deepen my understanding of what the Buddha learned and taught. So the intermixing of all of these different topics left me feeling hopeful some days and distraught on other days for the future of the world.

Today, I’m reflecting on restlessness and the root cause of climate change.

Restlessness

One of the hardest parts for me on my Year of Discovery is learning how to slow down and be still. My mind is always racing to what else I can be learning, conversations I need to have to broaden my thinking and writing I need to do to consolidate my learnings. It’s partially driven by curiosity and partially driven by the fear of not being enough. And this year, it’s been absolutely critical for me to understand more clearly what drives my actions and pro-actively work on rewiring my brain. ‘You need to be your own psychologist’, one of the Buddhist monks shared at a dharma talk recently. So I sat in my restlessness this week to understand how to support my own emotional journey.

In Buddhism, the term ‘Auddhatya’ (Sanskrit; Pali: uddhacca; Tibetan phonetic: göpa) means restlessness or excitement.

Flightiness of mind is a part of longing desire. It is the subsidiary awareness that causes our attention to fly off from its object and to recollect or think about something attractive that we have previously experienced instead. Thus, it causes us to lose our peace of mind. — Alexander Berzin, Tibetan Buddhist Teacher

Auddhatya is a state of agitation that contributes to the way we live in which we are always chasing and never satisfied. I find that sometimes within my own experience when I feel restless, I distract myself from the discomfort through constant activity at the expense of neither confronting the restless feeling nor settling it. Because of how uncomfortable restlessness can be — like potential energy ready to be released — it can be hard to hold or pay attention to it and it’s often much easier to look for something external to distract myself.

When I feel restless, my whole being is activated: my thoughts are racing, my breath is quickening and my mind demands I do something or change something. So I look outside of myself and think that by changing my scenary or my activity, I am resolving the tension I feel inside. But the reality is that the restlessness follows me wherever I go, even if it is temporarily muted.

This year, one of the few tactics that I’ve found to calm a restless mind is to do the opposite of what my action-oriented mind tells me to do. Instead of doing anything to escape the feelings, I:

  1. Close my eyes and focus on my breathe, first elongating my breathes in and out if I notice my breathe was short to start with
  2. Imagine my mind is a sky and I imagine my thoughts and emotions are clouds that come and go
  3. Try to hold my focus on the vast, empty space of my mind for the clouds to come and go. If I’ve been regularly practicing meditation, I can quickly catch myself following one of the clouds and bring my focus back to the sky’s emptiness. If not, I can find myself following a cloud for an extended period of time before I remind myself to bring my attention back to the sky.

In this process, I take myself out of being the ‘main character’ of my life, where I’m caught up in the significance I place on myself through my thoughts and emotions, and instead, observe the thoughts and feelings as separate to my mind.

The practice is still ongoing and takes patience, discipline, and courage to sit still and face it. Ironically, if I judge myself or take the practice too seriously, I can bring more restlessness into the practice. So beyond patience, discipline and courage, I practice compassion to bring lightness to the mind. And when I move into a less restless state of mind, the peace allows me to make decisions and think with clarity.

What is ignored, remains. And ultimately, restless energy can drive our subconscious mind, desires and decisions beyond what we see on the surface. What we end up paying attention to when we don’t find peace from a restless mind is that we chase other people, places and things in an effort to relieve the discomfort and pain from the restlessness. So how can we cultivate a peaceful mind instead?

Questions to reflect on:

  • Do you have a pattern of a restless mind?
  • What do you do to reinforce your restless mind? What do you get from keeping this mind going? What do you lose?
  • What are ways in which you can find peace from a restless mind?

The Main Perpetrator of Climate Change

I’m in week 2 of the AirMiners bootcamp (all content here). We’ve covered an overview of carbon removal, soil and forests so far. The program is organized through group learning without a central facilitator, so it’s a way for ‘beginners of climate change science’ to come together and learn about the current situation, challenges and possible solutions.

What’s been striking to me so far is how all of the possible solutions posed have felt ‘too slow’ to reverse the effects climate change significantly. They all appear to be bandaid solutions that can patch up some of the variables affecting climate change, but will not actually reverse the trajectory that we are headed.

In this talk (please find a French speaker to translate!), climate expert Jean-Marc Jancovici urges people to think about climate change not just at arms-length, but instead, at how it will affect our own bodies. Our average human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. A temperature unsustainable for our bodies is 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which would lead to hyperthermia and a life-threatening medical emergency. So imagine that as we aim to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the average temperature of our human body outdoors would be 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s dangerously close to many of us being exposed to dying from overheating.

So what can we do? To slow down climate change, Ryan Orbuch writes that we need to:

  1. Reduce emissions
  2. Remove previous emissions from the sky

To reduce emissions, we often talk about moving from bad energy sources to good energy sources as a solution to curb climate change:

  • Good = renewable, biofuels, hydro, biomass
  • Bad = coal, liquids, gas, nuclear (some see as good)

But what shocked me the most this last week was that despite what I had thought before, the ‘good’ energy sources don’t actually substitute the ‘bad’ energy sources. They are additive to our global energy use. See the chart below:

This chart shows that even as we find ways to create renewable energy, we aren’t decreasing our use of other energy sources. This is because we consume as much energy as we can, regardless of the source. It’s not only the machines that we use everyday — elevators, cars, trains, computers, etc—that contributes to this, but new innovations (like Bitcoin, etc) that increases our energy use per person and at large. Innovations (especially since the industrial revolution) have focused on serving our ‘wants’ and conveniences, rather than serving our basic needs. And the more our capital markets continue to reward innovation that makes our lives slightly more convenient and efficient and increases our energy consumption, the faster we consume the remaining energy resources from the earth and speed up global heating.

All of the above shows me that we can’t look outside of ourselves to understand both the problem and solution to climate change. We need to look within ourselves and understand how our restlessness and desire as humans continues to drive us to consume more and create more vehicles to consume more, instead of finding the happiness we are searching for within ourselves, replacing desire with peace. Growth and innovation is a result of our unsatiable desire to want to succeed on purely economic terms and be influential, famous and seen. We’ve bought into the story that growth at all cost is impressive, inspiring and should be rewarded. Even if it is at the cost of our environment and our home: planet Earth.

As consumers, without ever feeling like we are enough, we turn to temporarily relieving ourselves from that discomfort by telling ourselves we need to consume more, to buy the latest device, to change our wardrobe every season, to achieve commercial success and wealth for ourselves and to travel to the next ‘cool’ destination and more. Everything we do is geared towards more consuming, instead of realizing that the happiness we are searching for can’t be found anywhere but within ourselves. We need to do the hard work.

We can’t innovate our way out of this through new technology, new services or new products. We need to change our societal values, our individual behaviors, our individual habits and beliefs. We need to gain wisdom of where happiness truly comes from and live in accordance to that wisdom.

If anything, COVID-19 taught us that we don’t need many of the things and experiences we thought we did. Instead of escaping, people were forced to confront their fears, insecurities and desires. When our behavior changed to stay still, whether we liked it or not, the Earth was able to breathe again. Are we willing to change our behavior and desires so we can let the Earth breathe and stay habitable for all species?

What I’m listening to this week: Is Discrimination Still Causing the Gender Wage Gap?

--

--

Audrey Cheng

Taiwanese American. Curious about ideas and solutions that support human flourishing.