A sustainable mindset

THOMAS BRUHN is a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam, Germany. He is a researcher and bridge builder, helping experts and change-makers from all sectors of society to come together to explore the topic of sustainability, listen to each other, and develop solutions.

In part 1 of his conversation with JUDITH NELSON at the Spirit of Humanity Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland, he talks about the walking holiday he had after finishing his studies, and how it informed his perspectives on nature and sustainability.

Q: I was intrigued by some of the content of your session this morning, particularly when you talked about your walk, where you went from a mindset of “think, think, think” and “work, work, work” to something very different. Can you explain more?

TB: That transformation came after I completed my diploma thesis. It was an intense phase of working, where I had little space for myself. Originally, I had huge plans after my studies like, “I’ll go to the Himalayas, or the Rocky Mountains, or the Andes,” but I didn’t have time to organize anything. I ended up packing a very small bag and started to walk in Germany. I only had a plan for the first three days, because there was a place I had been in my youth with my parents, and I thought, “That’s a nice place to start.” There is a place in the very south of Germany and I had intense memories of that place. I thought I would like to end up there.

When I started walking, I realized how long it took for me to calm down, certainly a whole week. All sorts of things came to mind – music, songs, inner voices. I thought of my diploma thesis. Was there something I had done wrong? Because I was walking and I was on my own, I could observe and allow everything to be as silly as it seemed.

I wrote everything down in a diary, but the real beauty was the experience of transformation throughout that journey. I learned to let go of planning and I enjoyed that so much. In fact, it was like a pilgrimage. The less I planned, the more I was surprised at what happened. There were such beautiful encounters. Each of them was very small and insignificant.

Along that road, there was one thing that everybody told me: “Oh, you must see that particular place.” But that was the least touching experience of the whole journey because it was loaded with expectation and planning. Everything that happened when I let go of planning was such a blissful experience. So, it’s the best type of holiday I have had!


Everything that happened
when I let go of planning
was such a blissful experience.


I didn’t take a tent with me, so I really didn’t know where I would sleep. Maybe everything would be occupied, maybe I would have to hitch-hike a little bit. Right after that pilgrimage, I met my wife. For years, I told her about this kind of traveling, and she said, “Yeah, sounds nice, but I don’t know, especially not knowing where I’m going to sleep.” Five years later, we did a similar trip together. Doing it as a couple was such a profound experience of letting go and trusting whatever comes up. So that’s the story of that experience. [Laughs]

Q: You also talked about needing a lot less than we think we do. Can you expand on that?

TB: Yes. I was carrying so little, but by the end of my travels I realized there was so much I took with me that I didn’t need. Even food. I needed less and less food during the trip. You might expect that hiking is intense for the body, so you would need a lot of food, but no, it was less and less.

By the end, I didn’t even need any kind of impulses from the surrounding environment. It was not like I was taking a specific path to have perfect experiences. It was just, “Okay, I’m on the road, walking, and that satisfies everything I need.”

Because I hadn’t had that experience before, I didn’t know whether I’d return after a week, or my mind might go crazy without the usual needs – distractions or calling people. In the first week I had my phone with me and I did call quite a few people just to connect, or just to let my parents know that I was okay. Even all that communication dissolved throughout the travel. That was very beautiful as well.

I feel that in any moment
I’m a human being,
I’m an organism,
am Nature in myself.


Q:  The other very interesting thing in your talk was your positivity and your sense of not being separate from Nature. Could you explain a bit more?

TB: That’s a weird paradox within myself. On the one hand, I don’t feel disconnected from Nature, but I grew up in an industrialized society and I work in a concrete building, and so forth. So, I feel I’m not as connected with Nature all the time as I am when I’m walking through a forest. At the same time, I feel that in any moment I’m a human being, I’m an organism, I am Nature in myself. I often wonder if the experience of “I am Nature” is not so much about the environment that I’m in as it is about the Nature that I experience in my own being, actions, and in my relationships with people and with everything around me. So, I can be alive in any context, you could say.

A relationship with Nature, for me, doesn’t necessarily mean trying to find the perfect, pristine, non-human Nature out there and thinking, “Now I’m in Nature.” No, I am Nature in any moment … learning to be Nature.

Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL

To be continued.

The original article can be found at www.heartfulnessmagazine.com/a-sustainable-mindset/. It is reprinted with permission from Heartfulness Magazine.

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