Instagram connected me to Fern Taylor – her feed is full of mindfulness tips, a love of nature, and a gorgeous cat. Basically all the ingredients for a contented life, in my view. I have recently been reading her book Here and Now: an Interactive Mindfulness Book and building her strategies into my day to day. I asked her to share her tips.
1. Tell me about yourself! Tell me more about your day job, how long you’ve been doing it, how you came to write your book.
I worked as a Primary School teacher (Key Stage 2, mostly years 3 and 4) for 7 years which I loved. Unfortunately, about 5 years ago – just before I turned 30 – I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition which meant that I had to give up teaching. I found mindfulness really useful in helping me to manage the condition and spent a lot of time learning about the practice. My book was published last year and I hope that it is a hands-on and fun introduction to many of the mindfulness practices that I’ve found really helpful.
I currently have a number of other projects on the go. I’m really excited about writing resources for sharing mindfulness with children.
2. Do you find that people are more keen to nurture their souls, more aware of their mental health nowadays and understanding of modern life’s potential effects on it?
Yes, and I think that there is much more of an understanding of mind/body connection. This seems to be coming about by necessity – as the demands of modern life increase, it is becoming obvious that our minds and bodies were not built to be ‘on-the-go’ and ‘plugged in’ all of the time.
Human beings are amazing and I think we intuitively know what we need. It seems that we are collectively realising that we need quiet time, spaciousness and rest, as much as we need food, drink and oxygen. Our brains and bodies need time to process and restore. As we learn to slow down and take care of ourselves, I think we also come back in touch with the ways in which we are all connected and are able to build stronger relationships and community.
3. What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?
Self compassion – I find that trying to relate to myself with kindness is a constant practice. It can be difficult to do this at times but one strategy I find helpful is to remind myself that when I am feeling low, I am almost certainly not the only one feeling like this. I remind myself that there are so many people in the world, there will be someone who is going through the same thing or having the same feelings as I am right this moment.
I picture them or think about where they might be in the world, maybe why they are experiencing these feelings. I find that thoughts of kindness arise naturally and I focus on these caring thoughts. This practice helps me to feel connected to others, which is very good for the mind and body, and also it is hard to not feel compassion for myself at the same time. It’s not really a formal practice, just a way of softening into kindness in order to let go of that often unconscious feeling that we always have to do/be more.
Nature – Being outside always helps me to be calm and feel more peaceful.
Silence – I try to have a little bit of time each day to just be in silence. This might be in meditation, or less formal – just sitting for ten minutes in quiet and letting my mind release and relax.
Creativity – Doing something with a playful attitude: for the joy of the process, not the end product. I like to draw, write, cook, garden and just enjoy being in the flow.
Laughter and friendship – So important!
6. How do you balance work and life?
Gosh, it’s hard! I think that this is something that we are all learning as we go and it’s all about experimenting and knowing that it’s ok to get it wrong sometimes. I think we’ve got to be really wary of guilt: we’re all just doing our best.
I try to see life as a creative challenge – each day I decide how to respond to whatever comes up rather than seeing my life as a journey towards something. It sounds cliched but this is something that becoming ill taught me.
I can have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist so I’m constantly working on softening and accepting. My mantra is ‘soften and smile’!
I think that it’s really helpful to understand that whoever you are, there will always be times when you will feel like you are not doing enough. We live in a world where there always seems to be more to achieve. Even the people that we see as super high achieving are nowhere near what society views as ‘perfect’ and have as many moments of feeling inadequate as everyone else. When we manage to see through the idea that ‘perfection’ even exists, life is a lot easier and we can really start to be content and happy with who we are.
There is so much inspiration out there… I think my ‘desert island wellness package’ (!) would include …
Kristen Neff – I have the audio version of her book ‘Self Compassion’ so I can listen to the guided meditations.
Jon Kabbat Zinn – I love everything that he teaches about mindfulness. His book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ was the first book I read about mindfulness.
Thich Nhat Hanh – I find his teachings immensely inspiring. I am currently reading, and totally loving, ‘Love Letter to the Earth’.
Mary Oliver – I often return to her poetry.
Podcasts: The Guilty Feminist – fun and interesting. Onbeing – a good introduction to the spiritual lives of many inspirational people .
Francesca Martinez – her TED talk ‘Being Happy is a Political Act’ is spot on and very funny also. I’ve just got her book and can’t wait to start reading it.
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