Mindfulness for True Selves: From Brené Brown to Will Young and Back Again
We live in a world where we are bombarded by ideal versions of things - the media gives us constant examples of how we can be better and feeds into our deepest insecurities that we are not enough - that we need to be happier or richer, slimmer or fitter.
Brene Brown's Talk on Vulnerability, 2013
In Brené Brown's TED talk on vulnerability that caused an internet sensation, one of the things that stuck with me most was the original meaning of the word courage - 'To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart'. Brené's ability to share the gifts of being vulnerable, authentic and real with us in that talk are truly remarkable.
Modern philosopher Jules Evans refers to mindfulness as spreading through UK culture today "with all the ferocity of the grey squirrel". According to a major mindfulness report written by Ed Halliwell, 86% of us in the UK agree that we would be much happier and healthier if we knew how to slow down and live in the moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction technique (MBSR) explains, "It's the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally". A key antidote to the pressure cooker of the modern age of stress and burnout, mindfulness offers a scientifically proven solution to the anxious mindsets that so often accompany our technology-filled, fast-paced lives. While mental health problems are estimated to affect one in four, mindfulness can lead to a 20% reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. We've all read about the many benefits of mindfulness for mental and physical health but it was a recent phone conversation I had with singer-songwriter Will Young, or as my friend likes to call him..."Will Young .... #popstar" - which really nailed the 'point' of mindfulness with a new clarity.
I became aware of Will's interest in mindfulness a while ago and I knew that such a man was the perfect ambassador for a programme of events where the theme revolves around mindfulness and tapping into our creativity - especially within Wilderness Festival, home of celebrated artists, writers and speakers. For the last three years, my organisation, NOW Live Events, has been engrossed in the arena of mindfulness and arts / creative pursuits, exploring this unique pairing and its beginnings and endings with collaborators from Oliver Burkeman and Ruby Wax to stone balancers, guerilla gardeners and children young and old.
The simplicity of Will's view on the key benefit of mindfulness was refreshing, as he explained, "it's a way to find your voice - not just your physical voice, but a way to express your creative identity and your true self. A way to reclaim your boundaries and become who you really are". Mindfulness became a part of Will Young's life back in 2009. Work, his passion and job, started to become anything but enjoyable. He became a perfectionist and constantly wanted more and more - while nothing was ever enough. Then there was a light bulb moment - and the route back to happiness began with the simple act of noticing. Will explained that he wanted to create a workshop where we could explore how we use our voice in all its forms and levels, through tai chi, grounding work, gently engaging with 'the voices' that are in our heads, logging thoughts that arise and using his technique 'catch and release' - a deeply therapeutic practice where you notice a thought and imagine it to be a tennis ball someone has thrown at you, giving you the choice to throw it back. Here we see thoughts not as 'entrenched truths' but just thoughts - we have millions of thoughts every day and we can choose which ones to catch and hold onto or which ones to throw back out.
We live in a world where we are bombarded by ideal versions of things - the media gives us constant examples of how we can be better and feeds into our deepest insecurities that we are not enough - that we need to be happier or richer, slimmer or fitter. For me, mindfulness points us towards the fact that there is no right or wrong - that we are all different and that this is the very thing we should celebrate. Happiness surely lies in being ourselves and being proud of what makes us feel unique, coming out of our own closets and being willing to be seen and witnessed in all our realness. In this way, the practise of mindfulness gives us the ability to be creative with who we are, and to focus on who we are becoming, getting to know who we are from the inside by turning on the light of awareness as often as we are able. The routes to this are innumerable; for one it may be through singing and discovering our constant ability to renew ourselves and tap into our deepest sense of self; to the other, it may be through gardening. We all have our personal journeys to tread.
At NOW Live Events, our events and mini-festivals take place around the UK at arts centres, festivals and pop-ups. As part of our residency at Wilderness Festival this year, (6th-9th August), Will Young is joined by artists, writers, musicians and cultural commentators in over 40 events designed to stimulate the senses and savour the moment. Led by some of the UK's leading experts, participants are invited to learn the transformative power of being in the moment by experiencing and cultivating the skills of mindfulness. Psychologist Dr Nina Burrowes asks 'What's the Point of Mindfulness' in her workshop exploring authenticity and the creation of our 'selves'; neuroscientist and martial arts expert Dr Tamara Russell leads a pioneering Mindful Movement workshop; Psychologies Magazine & Janey Lee Grace explore how to live an 'imperfect' life and love it; nine-year-old Freya Nightingale takes us back in time with an extraordinary workshop that encourages us to rediscover the imagination of our childhood; acclaimed chef Anna Jones invites us to a mindful feast; Action for Happiness encourage us to have 'big conversations'; Swedish design studio Unsworn Industries offer Chronophone - a telephone service that allows you to record a message to your future self, which will be played back in exactly one year; we are invited to discover how we see ourselves in the past, present and future in a transformational portrait workshop with artist Matt Nightingale; pioneering company Bittersuite present an immersive concert that challenges our senses, whilst bestselling author Paul Dolan explores the components of happiness.