Blake Hestir, philosophy professor and associate director of CALM Studies, is seeking to integrate ecology, sustainability and mental health. He’s researching how our own wellbeing and the well-being of the planet are closely woven, and he recently shared his thoughts with TCU News.
Would you tell us briefly about your research?
I'm interested in the nature of lived experience, how we think about and engage with nature and what it means to flourish. Like others, I have a real concern about the related challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and inequity. The mental health situation in the U.S. is at least in part related to these.
There's this tradition in the U.S. and other countries of thinking of Earth as our natural resource and treating it as a receptacle for our waste. We're also part of this Western worldview that the mind 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 through developing a practical sense of the interdependence of self and nature, as well as a conceptual understanding of what interdependence and flourishing involve, we can more effectively work together to sustain and promote them. And live well in doing so.
I would love for us to shift the climate conversation from "me" thinking to "we" thinking and from "crisis thinking" to "flourishing thinking," "well-being thinking" and "equity thinking." I think this is a more constructive way to promote long-term sustainability.
What would you advise people 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 simply spend some time noticing. If you are able and weather permits, consider taking a mindful stroll 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 about your experiences. This is an amazing practice.
You often use the word “flourish.” During the pandemic, many of us were just surviving emotionally. Can you expand on what it takes to “flourish?”
I'm working on a book, Are We Experiencing? 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 sort. It's an embodied practice, an intentional, skillful way of living that is inextricably interdependent with the land and other living beings, and thereby socio-ecologically sensitive. When we dedicate ourselves to flourishing, over time we will not only be healthier and more empowered, we will also feel healthier and more empowered.
What is next for you and your research?
In addition to the book, I have an article, "Self and Sustainability," in the works and am also co-authoring a paper, “Flourishing as Practice: An Inclusive Model of Self, Interdependence, and Sustainability,” with my colleague, Religion Professor Mark Dennis, and Christine Wamsler at the Lund University Centre 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 philosophy professor, you’re also involved with CALM Studies. Can you tell us about that?
Mark and I, along with our colleague Dave Aftandilian, associate professor of anthropology, dedicate much time to working with students, helping them learn the skills of well-being though 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 Living Mindfully.” Our pillars are belonging, wisdom, compassion and flourishing. We are part of an emerging interdisciplinary inquiry into, and critical reflection on, the nature and significance of the theories and practices of well-being.
More information about what we are doing with CALM Studies can be found here.