The Dependence of Sustainability on the Degree of Fear and Aspiration: Q&A with David Mitchell

By Dr Thomas Bruhn

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In mid-July, David Mitchell, Associate Research Professor at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, visited the IASS and gave two talks while he was here. While David is well known in academic circles, above all for his expertise in atmospheric chemistry, he’s had a deep personal interest in the Vedic tradition for many years and represents this tradition as Eco-Minister of the Parliament of World Religions. He is increasingly preoccupied by the question of how society’s transformation to sustainability may be linked to the questions of spiritual development covered by Vedic teachings. During his visit to the IASS, David raised this question at a discussion with a number of interested colleagues. This dialogue is part of a range of activities at the IASS that seek to engage with religious and spiritual perspectives to find out more about their viewpoint and possible contributions to the transformation to sustainability.

David Mitchell

David Mitchell

How would you summarise how you understand the concepts of fear and aspiration?

Fear and aspiration are natural components of human consciousness. The understanding I would like to share here is one based on the ancient Vedic Indian understanding of consciousness. In this understanding, fear and aspiration are two types of energy that cycle through consciousness in a kind of rhythmic and periodic way. Here, aspiration is associated with one of the three fundamental energy waves and fear is associated with another one. They are natural to our human system, but there are ways of reducing fear and enriching aspiration through certain spiritual practices.

And how could a higher degree of aspiration be beneficial towards achieving sustainability in the Anthropocene?

One of the energy waves, called Sattwa, is associated with aspiration, but aspiration is only a small part of it as the concept is very vast. The Sattwa energy basically fulfills us. When we are connected to Sattwa or experiencing Sattwa, we do not have the desire for outer things and we are not chasing our desires trying to fulfill those desires through outer activity. So, as far as global sustainability is concerned: if our actions are not rooted in desire as much and more tempered by Sattwa energy and we are fulfilled by Sattwa, there is going to be less consumption, and we will lean less heavily on world resources to sustain ourselves because we will be sustained by Sattwa. Moreover, our actions will reflect more wisdom and society will advance in accordance with greater awareness.

What can everybody individually do to cultivate aspiration within himself or herself?

Well, meditation is very popular these days. There are different meditation techniques available, and one can choose the technique that they find most comfortable. Another approach is becoming more conscious of one’s shadow self. If you discover the shadows in your life through various methods like clearing techniques or self-inquiry, you are bringing in more awareness and Sattwa energy. Self-knowledge exposes those shadows and removes Tamas energy. So through these practices you will be able to see those shadows and you will not be unconscious of the shadows any more. Aspiration originates in the soul but is communicated to the mind and heart through Sattwa. Any time you increase the level of Sattwa within yourself you are thus enhancing your experience of aspiration.

Header photo: Moyan Brenn/CC BY-NC 2.0

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