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Philosophy Professor explains the relationship

thriveBlake Hestir, philosophy professor and co-director of CALM Studies, explores how to integrate ecology, sustainability and mental health. He explores how our own well-being and the well-being of the planet are closely intertwined, and he recently shared his thoughts with TCU News.

Would you tell us briefly about your research?

I am interested in the nature of lived experience, how we think about and engage with nature and what it means to thrive. Like others, I have real concerns about the related challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and inequality. The mental health situation in the US is at least partially related to this.

There is this tradition in the US and other countries of thinking of the earth as our natural resource and treating it as a container for our waste. We are also part of this Western worldview that the spirit is separate from the body and the self is separate from the world. My research is dedicated to helping us move beyond these ways of thinking.

What is your primary goal?

One idea that I find optimistic is that we can also change the world by changing ourselves. I maintain that by developing a practical sense of the interdependence of self and nature, as well as a conceptual understanding of what interdependence and flourishing entails, we can work together more effectively to sustain and promote it. And live well doing it.

I would love for us to shift the climate conversation from “me” thinking to “we” thinking and from “crisis thinking” to “thriving thinking,” “prosperity thinking,” and “equity thinking.” I think this is a more constructive way to promote long-term sustainability.

What would you advise people to do as a good first step to implementing this idea in their own lives?

Slow down and dedicate one or two days a month to going without any electronics for a full 24 hours. Rest and just spend time paying attention. If you are able and the weather permits, consider taking a mindful walk through a park, simply noticing with curiosity what you see and what thoughts and feelings arise. Take at least 15 minutes in silence to journal your experiences. This is a great practice.

You often use the word “flourishing”. During the pandemic, many of us were just surviving emotionally. Can you elaborate on what it takes to “thrive?”

I’m working on a book Do we experience? Climate change, sustainability and flourishing, where I explore various conceptions of self and flourishing. One common element is that the self is an activity rather than a thing and that flourishing is an activity of a certain kind. It is an embodied practice, an intentional, skilled way of living that is inextricably interdependent with the land and other living beings, and thereby socio-ecologically sensitive. When we dedicate ourselves to thriving, over time we will not only be healthier and more empowered, we will also feel healthier and more empowered.

What’s next for you and your research?

In addition to the book, I have an article, “Self and Sustainability,” in the works and also co-authored a paper, “Florishing as Practice: An Inclusive Model of Self, Interdependence, and Sustainability,” with my colleague, Religion professor Mark Dennis, and Christine Wamsler at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies. We are also collaborating on a panel discussion around this topic with Yuria Celidwen, a cultural psychologist and contemplative teacher.

In addition to being a professor of philosophy, you are also involved in CALM Studies. Can you tell us about it?

Mark and I, along with our colleague Dave Aftandilian, associate professor of anthropology, devote a lot of time to working with students and helping them learn the skills of well-being through various course offerings, including The Art and Science of Human Flourishing, as well as the CALM Studies student meditation group. Mark and I are both certified mindfulness meditation teachers.

CALM stands for “Compassionate Awareness and Mindful Living.” Our pillars are belonging, wisdom, compassion and flourishing. We are part of an emerging interdisciplinary inquiry into, and critical reflection on, the nature and meaning of the theories and practices of well-being.

More information about what we do with CALM Studies can be found here.

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