As humans, we have a tendency to pop ourselves on autopilot and simply hope for the best – but this isn’t always in our best interests. In a bid to reconnect and alleviate our stresses, we’ve discovered the many benefits of Mindfulness and how living in the ‘Here & Now’ is actually paramount to our well-being.
Mindfulness is also helpful when it comes to feeling more attuned with our emotions and assists us in feeling more aware of self, both mentally and physically.
MMM: For someone who knows mindfulness will help them but can’t quite grasp how to begin, could you suggest a good starting point for discovering its benefits?
Fern: Personally, I found that mindfulness helped me to calm my body and, in time, led to a general feeling of balance and a deep sense that everything is ok just as it is. So I feel that mindfulness is not something you need to strive towards but a state you can rest and relax into. It’s ok to take your time: there’s no rush.
I think self-compassion is a great place to start. It sounds so easy but learning to relate to myself with kindness took time for me. Mindfulness involves a really gentle touch and a lot of kindness to yourself.
There are loads resources out there and different approaches suit different people. If a particular approach doesn’t resonate, it’s ok to move on… if it does, keep it up! You can’t fail at mindfulness, it’s all about finding a path that works for you.
If you are looking for a mindfulness teacher, look for someone who is humble and who embodies a deep peace themselves rather than those who promise quick fixes. Ultimately, mindfulness is about developing a compassionate relationship with your self, so always listen to your inner voice and trust your intuition. Whatever route you take, enjoy it, and ask for support when you need it.
MMM: You recently had your mindfulness book ‘Here & Now’ published by Harper Collins. Where did the inspiration for this book come from and what was the creative process like when designing it?
Fern: The book really came out of my own mindfulness experience. Mindfulness had really helped me to have compassion for myself, feel less alone, and to cope with pain and other difficult experiences.
I’ve always enjoyed being creative and making books to give as gifts to friends. Drawing, writing and generally being creative makes me really happy! It just felt natural for me to want to express my experience with mindfulness and share it with others in a creative way.
Rather than simply explaining what mindfulness is, I thought I could try to people a taste of what mindfulness might feel like for them. I came up with this interactive approach which was fun and seemed to make sense because mindfulness is a very embodied practice – it is not something that we can ‘reason’ our way into, but a ‘felt’ experience. As I was writing, I would think of an aspect of mindfulness that I enjoyed, concentrate on how it made me feel, and then try to come up with a way of helping the reader to explore this feeling.
I think a lot of influences fed into the interactivity idea. For example, I’m inspired by book art, concrete poetry and multi-modal texts like graphic novels, picture books, comics and zines and I love paper.
Making the book was such a fun process and I loved it – I really hope that comes across in the book. I know I wouldn’t have persisted with mindfulness if I didn’t really enjoy it so I think a book about mindfulness should be an enjoyable read!
MMM: You’ve spoken a bit about being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease which evidently resulted in a slight career change for you. We always find moments like these to be quite defining and weirdly result in us finding the paths we were meant to be on. How has mindfulness helped you turn something potentially stressful and triggering into a wonderful creative journey?
Fern: I think that mindfulness gives me a little bit of space to step away from things and to see them as they really are rather than reacting immediately and getting into a spiral of stressful thoughts. It gives me space to work out how I feel and then to respond creatively. I find that mindfulness is actually really good for creativity.
When I first became ill, I was forced to stop focusing all my energy on achieving certain things. I just took each day as it came and practised a lot of self-compassion. I slowly learnt how to value the experience of life unfolding in each moment rather than concentrating solely on the future and worrying about what was to come. This kind of non-striving attitude gave me a lot of space to explore new ideas.
I definitely agree that our biggest challenges can help us to find a path that feels right. I still suffer from chronic pain and fatigue and have to carefully manage my health. However, although it is not something that I would wish on anyone, in many ways it has helped me to get to know and like myself more and to discover what I am really passionate about.
MMM: We had no idea practising mindfulness could actually strengthen your immune system. What have the benefits of this been for you?
Fern: Yes, I find this fascinating. A consultant immunologist in the NHS actually recommended mindfulness to me as there are several studies which suggest that mindfulness can boost the immune system and also lessen inflammation. My experience has been two-fold. First that my physical symptoms seem to be less intense when I have a regular mindfulness practice. Second, I am so much better able to cope with my symptoms than I used to be before I started learning about mindfulness. For me, this ability to manage and accept cannot be underestimated and is a kind of healing in itself.
MMM: What’s been the most challenging part of your journey and how did you overcome it?
Fern: I don’t think I’ve overcome all of my difficulties! But, I know that I am doing the best I can with what I have, and that feels really good! I feel more balanced, content and grounded than I ever have before. I know myself better and I’m happy being me.
The hardest part of my journey has been when I first became ill. I felt a lot of shame around it and I think that this is common for people with a so-called ‘invisible illness’. I also experienced a lot of grief for things that I used to be able to do and no longer could. Mindfulness helped me to feel my emotions and to integrate them, to calm my body and generally to keep my balance. Also, I think it helped me to finally realise that it’s ok to be imperfect (which is such a relief!!) Support from friends and family has of course been invaluable and therapy was useful too.
It can feel like society is constantly pushing us to be busier and busier and to be achieving all of the time. It is quite a radical act to slow down and take the time that we need to look after ourselves and to properly engage with others. I get a lot of inspiration from other people who are committed to living mindfully, creatively and with kindness.
MMM: The book is really interactive – and I’m surprised by how much I love the fact that I can interact with it like its digital, but it’s all about me in the moment with paper – no digital distractions. What inspired this style for you and what has the reaction been to it by those who’ve used it?
Fern: I love that you say it feels all about you in the moment with the paper. Mindfulness is a really personal thing and it’s all about recognising your own inner experience and knowing that whatever your experience is, it’s ok: it’s accepted. I think the interactivity idea was my way of getting out of the way a bit! I want you to feel that your experience is important and valued.
I worried about a lot when I was writing the introduction to the book about being too prescriptive. I really didn’t want to suggest that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to feel. I think it can be difficult if you try a practice and you don’t immediately get the feeling that you think you “should” get. The truth is that mindfulness is not about being anything other than who you are. I hope the slightly quirky, fun approach helps to take the pressure off and to make it friendly and open. When you are able to ‘soften’ into the experience and just enjoy the moment without the weight of expectation or judgement, this is when mindfulness really starts to unfold and make sense.
People have definitely commented that they appreciate the way the book doesn’t bring other distractions with it like digital technologies can. I think that the digital world can be great in many ways, including how it allows us to connect to each other, but sometimes it is overwhelming and can leave our brains buzzing and distracted. I hope that the book is something that you can hold in your hands and it will help you to feel calm and centred rather than taking your mind off elsewhere. I know people who use the book when they need to anchor their minds a bit and find some space in the day. I love watching people use it and hearing their responses!
MMM: What advice would you give to someone looking to turn pain into passion?
Fern: I am hugely inspired by people who are on this journey. If you have been through difficult times and emerged with your generosity and hope intact, you are pretty awesome in my opinion and you definitely have something to contribute. Your creative impulse is an amazing thing so nurture it and value it.
Do not feel that you need to rush to create something to put out into the world. Just being alive and being your wonderful self is a creative act and there is nothing else you need to do. You will inspire people just by being yourself and you do not need to rush to produce something. Take your time and don’t put pressure on yourself. Your offering will emerge when you give it space to do so.
I also believe that you don’t have to be fully “recovered” before you have something to contribute. No one is perfect (least of all the people who appear to be.) Your truth, your vulnerability and your real experience is your strength. Be honest (whilst also having boundaries and looking after yourself). And focus not on how you want people to see you, but what you want to offer to others. Kindness is everything – to yourself and to others. I don’t think we can go wrong if we put kindness first.
MMM: Being creative, especially for ventures like this, can be all-consuming. How do you switch off from it, take a break and find time for you?
Fern: First of all, I’ve learnt that taking a break is necessary for creativity. Good ideas often come to me in the shower!
I try to get outside as much as I can, just being in nature is very calming for me. I meditate but, personally, I don’t have a set time each day and I don’t stress if I don’t manage it for some reason. Deep relaxations are a great way to really drop into stillness and rest and I do a guided relaxation when really need to unwind.
Even though I don’t have a Monday-Friday job, I try to keep weekends as I time when I don’t do any work, even if I really want to! (And if I’m not allowing myself to work, I always really want to!!)
MMM: For the entrepreneurs, stay-at-home workers and artists alike – a process without a team can be a lot to manage alone. Do you have any tips on how to stay focused and organised?
Fern: As far as structuring the day goes, I know that I need to get a balance between listening to my body and also having a regular routine that I stick to. Both are important. I’ve worked out what a realistic workload looks like for me and I create a weekly plan. I use this as a guide but I’m flexible about changing it day to day depending on how I feel.
Also, never underestimate the power of lists. Sometimes, I write lists just for fun. And I do my own form of bullet journaling although not always in the Pinterest-perfect style but in a very functional way!
MMM: What are your top three must-have items on your desk?
Fern: Green jasmine tea, usually my cat, a pencil and real paper rather than just a screen. If we don’t count that cat as an item that’s three!MMM: Finally, what’s next for Fern? What can we look forward to?
Fern: I’ve got loads of ideas about new ways to share mindfulness and there are lots of things I want to make and to write about. I shall keep working away, integrating my own experiences and practice, and we shall see what emerges. I’m thinking about trying to create some kind of online meditation meet-up and I’ve also been thinking about starting some kind of postal link up where people can connect via the post… basically because it’s nice to connect via something material rather than always online… we shall see! Most importantly, I want to keep learning and connecting with others. I feel really passionate about creating communities where people can feel accepted and where everyone’s experience matters. I think that we can all do amazing things when we feel supported and valued.
If you’d like a sneak peak of what’s inside Fern’s Book – you can click the ‘Breathe, Name, Release’ excerpt below!
Book Link: http://smarturl.it/HereAndNowFT