What if capitalism, understood as an economic, social and cultural complex, was on the agenda of a world summit on sustainable development? How has the culture of capitalism – its psychic investment in colonizing our attention – compromised our ability to respond meaningfully to the challenges of sustainable development? Those are two of the questions behind this exploration of the constraints that appear to limit the scope of economic debate at conferences such as Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. There is an emerging consensus that consumerist excess and the media complex of consumerism are bad for us, environmentally, socially and psychologically. This article suggests that we underestimate the way in which our immersion in the ‘social logic’ of capitalist consumption constrains our attempts to understand and respond to the ecological crises at both a personal and political level – and that both dimensions of our response are bound together. In an acknowledgement of a certain closure around such themes within Western thought, the article looks to a point of exteriority in Peter Hershock's work, drawing on China's Chan Buddhist philosophy, for intimations of a worldview that challenges the West's over-commitment to forms of ‘control’ in favour of a cultivation of mindful and careful awareness – and an offering of unconditional attention.