The Overview Effect

Sally Rawlins

Sally is a Master of Public Affairs student in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

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Personal Project: Reflection

This personal project was quite a challenge! I had a hard time coming up with a way to measure my progress, so a journal seemed like the best way to track changes and reflect. I don’t know if it turned out the way I imagined it, but it did keep me thinking about things. Some of the scientific measurements of mindfulness didn’t seem applicable to my project, but I did like some of the things the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) prompted me to think about.

I think one of the biggest things I’ll take away from this project is the idea of incorporating mindfulness prompts into my life as a way to change behavior. The toilet paper thing was an accident, but it sparked a good idea. Of course, once you become less mindful around these prompts, you’ll have to change it up again, but change just makes life more exciting.

I loved loved loved the Stephanie Kaza book, Mindfully Green,  and I think I’ll buy a copy for myself so I can read it again and again. (Right now my library copy is way overdue, which probably negates every good, mindful thing I’ve done this semester. Oops!) Anyway, I think I had some success, and I’ll definitely continue thinking about mindfulness and observation and reducing harm, because those are things I like to do in general. This project was a neat way to try to organize my thoughts on all these things, and I’m sure I’ll keep refining my system well into the future.



Personal Project: The Journal

Sunday October 27:

I went to Louisville this weekend to visit a friend and I was mindful the whole time about how much gas I was consuming. Ugh. Does that count?

This was a new pedestrian bridge across the Ohio River, repurposed from a now-defunct railway.

This was a new pedestrian bridge across the Ohio River, repurposed from a now-defunct railway.

Friday November 1:

I’ve been thinking about the idea of Reducing Harm as a way to prevent suffering and improve health. Stephanie Kaza’s book re-spurred this notion for me. I’ve thought about it before when dealing with people and animals, and it’s great to start thinking about it in terms of inanimate objects and other living things on our planet, as well. She says:

Learning to make the connections between individuals and systemic suffering is part of becoming a useful witness. This is one of the most basic practices on the green path: simply seeing what is going on and calling attention to what you see. By being keen observers for our planet, we are more connected to the world around us and in a better position to prevent harm and improve the health of the earth… The more skilled you are in observing, the more you will be able to detect changes in the system. (Kaza, Mindfully Green)

I love that quote. It gives this project direction and purpose. I’ll focus on better observations to create better mindfulness.

Sunday November 3:

I saw an acquaintance at Bloomingfoods today – he’s one of those guys who kind of feels needy, he sucks your energy, won’t stop talking, etc. I admittedly kind of hide when I see him, but today I thought about Reducing Harm. I thought – what could it hurt if I stopped to listen to him? He’s a human who deserves to be seen, just like anyone else. And 60 seconds of smiling and nodding is not going to hurt me at all. I paid attention! I observed! I reduced harm! Victory! It felt good, too. I started to see him as a reflection of a side of myself that I usually try to keep buried or under control – it was nice to realize that we’re all the same, we’re all connected. I’ll keep that in mind when I come across others I initially might bristle at.

Thursday November 7:

I remembered today about a few sessions of meditation I took at Thrive a couple years ago. I wanted to learn how to do it so I could try it on my own. Admittedly, it didn’t last long. I found the piece of paper the woman gave me with her loving-kindness meditation techniques written on it. We would go through these steps each time:

1) May I be safe…

2) May I be happy…

3) May I be healthy…

4) May I live with the ease of well-being…

She would take us through these thoughts as they pertained to ourselves, then to someone we loved, then to someone we had difficulty with. I was thinking you could also direct these thoughts to the planet in general, perhaps developing more mindfulness about sustainability.

Monday November 11:

I’m the worst at recycling. What a mess.

Thursday November 14:

I discovered something new today. I accidentally put the roll of toilet paper on upside down and now every time I reach for a piece I notice it – I’m more mindful about it! I’m using this new awareness to reduce the amount I use. Perhaps this could be a new way to create mindfulness about the things I do on autopilot…. Create little hiccups in my day to snap me back into better awareness… Kind of like a prompt… Hmmm….

Sunday November 17:

It’s working! I came up with some other prompts kind of like the toilet paper thing. For example, I put a lid on my trash can so that every time I went to throw something away I’d notice the new lid and be reminded that it’s a new interruption. This new interruption then reminds me to think about whether or not this is a recyclable or even if I can re-use the thing I’m about to toss.

Friday November 22:

I’m posting this on my refrigerator because I’m terrible at letting food go to waste. TERRIBLE. Gotta be more mindful about those poor fruits and veggies. New prompt, do your magic.


Saturday November 23:

I was reading Scott Russell Sanders’s book The Country of Language  and was reminded of Kaza’s emphasis on good observation. I love this passage from Sanders:


My chief teacher outdoors was my father, who took me for long, ambling walks through the Ohio countryside. He marveled over everything alive, including the dirt, which he often scooped up by handfuls and sifted through his fingers. Sometimes he would rub a pinch of dirt into his palm, feeling the texture, and then he would lick it, comparing the taste with other soils he’d known. He never crossed a patch of mud or a field of snow without scanning for animal tracks. Here was another alphabet for me to learn, with many more than twenty-six letters: the sharp, two-pronged imprints of deer; the four dots for rabbits, with one hind leg trailing the other; the raccoon’s track shaped like a baby’s plump hand; the dimpled footpads of squirrels; the splayed footpads of fox; the small scrapings of mice.

Sunday December 1:

I thought I should get back to those questions from the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI). I found a new neat little chart. I hate to brag but I think I’m pretty good at some of these things! 😀 A lot of these things, I’ve been working on for a long time, so I’ve gotten a lot of good practice in. And they’ve mostly become something natural to me, or at least something I can shift into pretty quickly when need be. The one’s I’m pretty good at are:

I am able to appreciate myself.

I pay attention to what’s behind my actions.

I see my mistakes and difficulties without judging them.

In difficult situations, I can pause without immediately reacting.

I experience moments of inner peace and ease, even when things get hectic and stressful.

 Some things I could work on are:

I sense my body, whether eating, cooking, cleaning or talking.

When I notice an absence of mind, I gently return to the experience of  the here and now.

I watch my feelings without getting lost in them.

FMI scale

Personal Project: Measuring Mindfulness

(Note: I wrote this at the end of October in my new project journal, but I’m just posting it now.)

There are several ways to go about measuring mindfulness, and I settled on one with an easy little questionnaire and chart. I wanted to make this as simple as possible, since I’m not a clinical psychologist and I don’t fully understand the statistics and modeling involved in some of the other measurements I’ve looked at — I also just don’t think that level of difficulty is helpful for me in this personal project.

The Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) is the one I finally chose. I thought that the questions asked here are ones I could easily remember and ask myself periodically throughout the day – and this led me to the idea that I’d keep a little mindfulness journal for the last half of the semester wherein I think about some of these questions and reflected on any progress or changes I notice in myself and my sustainability behaviors.

The Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) asks you to answer the following questions with a “Rarely,” “Occasionally,” “Fairly Often,” or “Almost Always.”


The purpose of this inventory is to characterize your experience of mindfulness. Please use the last ___ days as the time-frame to consider each item. Provide an answer the for every statement as best you can. Please answer as honestly and spontaneously as possible. There are neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’ answers, nor ‘good’ or ‘bad’ responses. What is important to us is your own personal experience.

  1. I am open to the experience of the present moment.
  2. I sense my body, whether eating, cooking, cleaning or talking.
  3. When I notice an absence of mind, I gently return to the experience of the here and now.
  4. I am able to appreciate myself.
  5. I pay attention to what’s behind my actions.
  6. I see my mistakes and difficulties without judging them.
  7. I feel connected to my experience in the here-and-now.
  8. I accept unpleasant experiences.
  9. I am friendly to myself when things go wrong.
  10. I watch my feelings without getting lost in them.
  11. In difficult situations, I can pause without immediately reacting.
  12. I experience moments of inner peace and ease, even when things get hectic and stressful.
  13. I am impatient with myself and with others.
  14. I am able to smile when I notice how I sometimes make life difficult.


Measuring mindfulness—the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) 

Harald Walach a,d,*, Nina Buchheld b, Valentin Buttenmu ̈ller c, Norman Kleinknecht c, Stefan Schmidt a

a University of Northampton, School of Social Sciences, Division of Psychology and Samueli Institute—European Office, Boughton Green Road, Northampton NN2 7AL, UK
b Klinik fu ̈r Tumorbiologie, Breisacherstr. 63, 79108 Freiburg, Germany
c Institut fu ̈r Psychologie der Universita ̈t Freiburg, Germany
d Universita ̈tsklinik Freiburg, Institut fu ̈r Umweltmedizin und Krankenhaushygiene, Germany

Received 10 January 2005; received in revised form 1 November 2005; accepted 1 November 2005 Available online 27 March 2006 

Course Reflection

The co-teaching/co-learning format worked really well for me. I tend to get bogged down by tedious tasks like memorization of content for exams and quizzes. I personally do better with material when I get to write about it, critically engage with it, be creative with it, and talk about it.

I enjoyed the reading for this class. The Wheeler and Beatley Reader was great at helping me understand the canonical works in the field. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of the history of sustainability from the writers included there. Roseland’s Toward Sustainable Communities is something I think I’ll continue to use in my studies and professional life. It’s easy to use and a good jumping off point for finding more in-depth information about the big issues. Tweeting before every class helped me to keep on top of the readings (something I admittedly have trouble with if left to my own devices).  

Blogging has been a challenge for me (but probably a good one) because I never felt like my posts compared well to others’ high-quality posts. The blogs made it very clear to me that others in this class have a much more extensive background in the field of sustainability than I do. But that was great to see! I learned so much from my classmates’ blogs. There is so much more we can learn when we listen to 15 teachers as opposed to just one. I also liked having a place to keep track of the media – pictures, videos, articles – that I wanted to spend more time with.

Some of my favorite days included presentations by the professor on his own projects – and I would have loved to have seen more of that. Or it even would have been nice to have short presentations explaining projects that related to the readings. Having a presentation about UniverCity, for example, with pictures and videos, maps, or other media would have gone a long way toward helping me understand the material in a real world context.

Sunrise on Smokestack. I took this photograph on my early morning walk to class in the first weeks of the semester.

Sunrise on Smokestack. I took this photograph on my early morning walk to class in the first weeks of the semester.

The thing that stood out most for me was how I felt after leaving each class. Getting up at 7am every morning is not necessarily any grad student’s idea of a good time, but I soon learned that I always left this class with a smile.  Now maybe it was partially the caffeine habit I unfortunately formed, but I left each class feeling so energetic, inspired, impressed and (often surprisingly) more hopeful about our future.

Out of class experience: Colonel Mark Mykleby

Monday October 21, 2013 – Colonel Mark Mykleby

“You can’t get to a good place in a bad way.” – Navajo proverb

Colonel Mark Mykleby came to the Law School to speak about his position at the New America Foundation and his quest for a Grand Strategy for the 21st century. Col. Mykleby is a retired Marine Corps officer with a Masters degree in Strategic Studies. He’s currently touring the Midwest talking about the Mid-America Cluster, a regional designation in which to promote localized trade and new economic policies – his Grand Strategy is one of sustainability.

Colonel Mark Mykleby

Colonel Mark Mykleby

It makes sense that he would be hired to head up this project because he was a very persuasive, energetic, and powerful speaker. He was knowledgeable even when asked tough questions, and his background as a military man could really sell the idea of sustainability (often maligned as a “leftist” idea) to a larger group of people.

I liked his idea of creating a “national strategic narrative” – I think storytelling makes it easier for people to understand a problem, and allows people to spread their ideas in a more meaningful, inspired way. He focused on traditional ideas of sustainability, but also on resilience, or the ability to remain diverse and productive over time. With a changing world and with new problems to solve at every turn, our economies better be resilient. He believes that resilience is achieved through localism.  He focused mostly on walkable communities, regenerative agriculture, and a revolutionary change in production and productivity.

“It takes 10 calories of petroleum energy to get 1 calorie of food into your body.” – Colonel Mark Mykelby

It was great to hear Colonel Mark Mykleby speak and answer some tough questions about his Regional Economic Clusters. I’ll be watching the program to see if his ideas come to fruition.



Out of class experience: Economic Sustainability with Local First Bloomington

I am on the Board of Local First Bloomington, and on October 2nd we held our first big member event since our restructuring about a year ago. We are a nonprofit organization that serves to support and promote a healthy environment and a sustainable, local economy. Our mission specifically reads: “The mission of Local First Bloomington is to be the forum where business and community come together to model and transform an economy built on sustainable practices.” We are part of a larger localism trend that is happening all across the country. There are organizations like LFB in many cities, like Denver, Tucson, Chicago, and my favorite – Sustainable Connections in Bellingham, Washington. We are all part of a national network called BALLE – the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies – and we work together to share resources and ideas for strengthening our local economies.


With these lofty goals in mind, we decided to hold a very civilized and professional Karaoke event at Nick’s English Hut. We invited some local “celebrities” to present PowerPoint presentations that they had never seen before. The crowd voted for their favorites by putting money into Nick’s Sink-the-Biz buckets, and the presenter with the most votes donated all the money to their favorite charity. Councilman Daryl Neher won the votes and donated the money to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

It was great to see so many supporters of our cause after a long year of behind-the-scenes work, and we plan to have similar events every month from now on.

The crowd at Nick's English Hut.

The crowd at Nick’s English Hut.

Greening the Ghetto

My first foray into graduate studies was at the University of Illinois in 2003, and one of the classes I took that year was a class on the history of landscapes (I was a dorky art history student then). In that class we talked a lot about the ability of geographies to exclude people, particularly “others,” and the institutional racism involved in many of our nation’s housing and zoning regulations. There is a history of redlining, disinvestment, loan terms preventing people of color to buy in certain neighborhoods, and unlawful segregation under the guise of street redesign and highway-building (for more information, see note below). It was because of this background that I was drawn to Majora Carter’s efforts in “greening the ghetto.”

MacArthur-winning activist Majora Carter has dedicated her life to environmental justice, or what she would rather call environmental equality — the idea that no community, regardless of race or class, should bear the brunt of a region’s environmental hazards or be excluded from its environmental benefits. She began her journey in this field by going back to her hometown, the South Bronx, an area stricken by years of poverty, crime, and pernicious zoning regulations. In her moving TED talk she highlights the unfortunate fact that both race and class are accurate indicators of where environmental blight will appear in a city. She notes that black Americans are twice as likely than white Americans to live in an area where air pollution poses the greatest risk to one’s health; that black Americans are five times more likely to live within walking distance of a power plant or chemical facility; and that land use decisions lead directly to problems like obesity, diabetes, and asthma. The environmental inequality in the South Bronx is killing an entire community of people, slowly but surely. 

Roseland’s chapter on Housing and Community Development touches on some of the problems Carter has seen in the South Bronx in regards to safe, affordable, healthy urban housing. Roseland does a nice job of covering some of the options for affordable housing, from mutual housing associations to shared-living spaces to community revitalization programs and fair regulations. But while many government and non-profit programs do offer subsidies, far too many people are still forced to travel further and further outside of the city — away from amenities, transportation, jobs, and walkable neighborhoods. Others, still, choose to stay or are economically forced to stay in their own dying neighborhoods. Roseland does not really get into the nitty-gritty issues of urban environmental blight and the covert racism imbedded in our zoning laws, but Majora Carter does. She recounts the history of her neighborhood, with many blue-collar African-Americans moving to the area in the 1940s. And her father was one of them. Whites moved away, and racist redlining by banks and the housing disinvestment of the 1960s would not allow for any kind of positive investments to take place in the area. Furthermore, a multi-lane freeway for rich suburbanites to travel quickly to Manhattan was erected around the same time, displacing 600,000 citizens and physically dividing the South Bronx neighborhood.

Majora Carter has been chipping away at the blight and poverty and crime that has long-plagued her community. Her organization, Sustainable South Bronx, “works to address economic and environmental issues in the South Bronx — and throughout New York City — through a combination of green job training, community greening programs, and social enterprise.” She began by spearheading the creation of a waterside park, bike path network, and street redesigns. She started the Bronx Ecological Stewardship Training program, which provides job training in ecological restoration to young people in her neighborhood. She created New York City’s first cool roof and green roof demonstration project on top of her office building, and she even made a redevelopment plan to reclaim the highway that destroyed her neighborhood years ago. It’s inspiring to see how Majora Carter has been giving marginalized communities like her own South Bronx not only a sustainable redesign, but also a new, sustainable voice.


Children gardening, via Sustainable South Bronx

[Note: For more information about exclusive geographies and the covert racism of regulation see Race, Real Estate, and Uneven Development by Kevin Fox Gotham (2002), Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City by Mike Davis (2000), and Geographies of Exclusion by David Sibley (1995).]

Personal Project: Reading, Reading, Reading

The most difficult part of my personal project so far has been trying to decide exactly what to measure and then coming up with a way to measure it. My project is different than others in that I can’t necessarily weigh the amount of compost I’m making or tally up receipts on the amount of local food I’ve purchased — So how do I measure the progress of my thoughts, my awareness, my kindnesses?

My first inclination in this process is to read, read, read. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been in contact with Dr. Linda Brown, a clinical psychologist (and our Professor’s wife) who studies and uses Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques in her own practice. She has been instrumental in getting me started down the right path. The research on the connection between Mindfulness and Sustainability is still pretty scant, but she did recommend a wonderful book by Stephanie Kaza called Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking.


I have also been looking into the ways in which Mindfulness is measured by psychologists in ways that don’t necessarily pertain to sustainability. I figure that I’ll take as much as I can from some of these methods and then devise a way to apply it to whole earth thinking. Some of the measurement systems that I’ve been exploring are the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI), the Mindfulness and Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), the Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS), and the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Scale (KIMS). It is still unclear to me how helpful these various scales and inventories will become in this project, but they will have to do to get me started.

The Bartlett Reflection Center

I recently made a visit to the Bartlett Reflection Center at the DePauw Nature Park in Greencastle, IN, which, when built in 2008, was only the third new building in Indiana to achieve Gold Level LEED certification. Bartlett Reflection Center, September 2013

This is the main room of the Bartlett Reflection Center — a clean, open space with lots of light, a fire place at one end, floor-to-ceiling windows with exterior shading devices, and a luminous wooden floor with circular geometric designs. I did not realize until after visiting the space and taking these pictures that cell phones, cameras, and other electronic devices are not allowed. Oops.

The beautifully repurposed nature park provides the perfect setting for the Bartlett Reflection Center, which intends to tread lightly in this already-damaged quarry landscape and allow visitors a place to meditate, relax, or study. According to the website (and in accordance with LEED standards) the center “was designed sustainably to minimize its impact on the environment and its immediate environs; the building was constructed with natural, regional and recycled materials; the site and adjacent habitat were restored with native Indiana plants and incorporate a natural rainwater treatment pond; and the interior environments were designed to maximize natural light, views, human comfort and controllability.”

Bartlett 2

The landscape immediately surrounding the Bartlett Reflection Center is designed with native Indiana plants and a small pond. The back/side of the building is seen in the background.

For me, it’s neat to think about what this building represents — not only does it represent a commitment to sustainable building practices with its LEED certification, native plant landscape design, and its gentle, almost healing incorporation into an environment that has seen severe human impact in the form of a destructive rock quarry — it also represents certain ideals about the importance of spirituality, quiet contemplation, and mindfulness. And I believe that these things all go hand-in-hand. Gretchen Person, the former Director of Spiritual Life at DePauw, states: “By its very presence, this reflection center makes a statement that DePauw values reflection, a thoughtful examination of life, how we should live, a spiritual dimension of life, care for the environment, wholeness, and the intentional consideration of what gives meaning to life.”

Visiting this building was an important reminder to me about how the ideals of sustainable design and programs like LEED are very much connected to living a thoughtful life in general. The ideas are the same — people and buildings should both live gently on our planet; we should enhance our environments (both mental and physical environments) and not devastate them. These are the connections that I am continually struck by in this class.

For more information:

Bartlett Reflection Center

CSO Architects

Community and Connection in Bellingham, Washington



Bellingham, Washington is an inspiring case study for local living economies and The Number One Small City in Urban Sustainability:


“For me, it’s going down to the Farmer’s Market. I know the farms there, I know who’s growing my food. In the summer we use basil and mint… it is still warm from the fields when it comes in.” –Liana Lipman, Mallard Ice Cream

“Everything that I possibly can source, I source within twenty-two miles. It tastes better, it’s better for you, and it’s better for the local economy. And I love to support the local farmers, because they are hard workin’ people. Really hard workin’ people.”  –Jessie Straight, 22 Greens

“It’s pretty awesome. It’s really fun just riding around town and seeing bikes everywhere that you’ve built for people.” – Bellingham bike shop employee

“I have a lot of friends who are farmers, and I just trade my cookies for their vegetables. I just kind of like that whole mentality, how that works.” –Lindsay Kastelic, The Baker’s Cousin

“We get a lot of the trees that we work with from that forest right there. So he’ll cut ‘em, and he’ll bring ‘em right here. I mean, it’s a quarter mile away.” –Andrew Smith, Smith and Vallee Woodworks

“I love this community. It’s amazing. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s the reason I’ve stayed as long as I have.” –Liana Lipman, Mallard Ice Cream

The Bellingham, Washington business owners and residents (quoted above and seen in the video) are working within a community that has successfully inspired and fostered a great deal of civic engagement and a focus on sustainable living. These people voice reflections on their work and their city that really illustrate the depth and richness of the connections they have made. They speak of an almost emotional response to sustainability. These people talk about love and relationships and passion when they talk about their community, and they seem to be happier, healthier, and more engaged because of it.

So what is it about Bellingham, Washington that allows for this kind of rich and passionate engagement? The town’s history is steeped in community involvement, education, and political activism. A small city of about 80,000 people, Bellingham is the home to several higher educational institutions, the largest of which is Western Washington University. It has a lively theater and arts scene, in large part due to the University, and it has a rich political activist history. One weird and quirky example? –> the longest-running peace vigil in the United States has been taking place on the corner of Magnolia Street and Cornwall every Friday for more than 48 years. Bellingham has also been named one of the nation’s leaders in urban sustainability. Local businesses make up the majority of the economy and about 60% of Bellingham households buy local on a regular basis. The passion in this community seems palpable.

Much of the push toward sustainability in Bellingham comes from a nonprofit called Sustainable Connections, whose mission it is to create a “network of local, independently-owned Whatcom County
businesses and supporters that strives to facilitate a sustainable economic climate through education, networking, and market development.” Organizations like Sustainable Connections have been popping up in cities around the country over the past ten or fifteen years. Successful efforts have been made in Phoenix, Buffalo, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, and even Bloomington (yay!) (

Bloomington Community Farmer's Market, August 2012

Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market, August 2012

I’m on the board for Bloomington’s local living economy nonprofit (which is still a very young organization), so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to foster the kind of connections that allow for the sustainability-focused entrepreneurial spirit that really thrives in Bellingham. Developing civic engagement is a huge and daunting task, but Bellingham seems to be doing it pretty well. Perhaps some of the Community-Based Social Marketing techniques we’ve been learning are important. Perhaps advocating for policy change is important. Perhaps creating spaces, like farmer’s markets, where people have no choice but to really be connected to their neighbors and local food is important. And it is certainly this last piece – this kind of rich connection and community – that the people of Bellingham speak of most passionately when thinking about their city. And it is certainly this kind of line-blurring between nature and city that environmentalists like Aldo Leopold and Anne Spirn have also championed. How can Bloomington blur these lines and make these connections? How can we get our city-dwellers inspired to connect and communicate with each other and with their earth? It’s a daunting task, but I’ve been looking to Bellingham for some of those answers. And I do think that Bloomington is in a pretty good position to make these positive changes.


Journey of Action, “Bellingham, Washington: A Local Living Economy.” Video. November, 2010.!