For anyone looking to ease their emotional pain and feel more empowered, I recommend a touch of MAGIC: meditation, acceptance, grit, intention, and common humanity.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Forrester.
Kim Forrester is a global traveler, holistic well-being advocate, and kindness enthusiast. As an award-winning author, educator, and consultant, she combines cutting edge science with spiritual philosophy to inspire holistic well-being and fullness of living. Kim is the host of the Eudaemonia podcast, offering inspiring and intelligent insights on how to flourish in life, and has contributed regularly to numerous well-being publications around the world, including MariaShriver.com, Thrive Global, and Wellbeing Australia magazine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ijoined my first meditation circle at the age of 26, and so began my decades’ long journey into mindfulness, consciousness, and spiritual philosophy. After several years, I was excited to discover the plethora of scientific research being conducted in the fields of spirituality and holistic well-being (such as the work conducted through the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Greater Good Science Center) and this helped feed my intellect, even as I delved deeper into more ‘soulful’ non-physical concepts. Now, in my articles, courses and speaking engagements, I blend scientific research with spiritual philosophy to (hopefully) inspire a deeper perspective on what it means to have a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most important understandings I have gained in my 20+ years of study is that, often, the solutions you seek are available to you if and when you become more connected to the present moment, and take instinctive action — even (and especially) if those actions are outside of what you would logically choose for yourself. A powerful example of this instinctive action at work is when I had an idea for a television pilot, several years ago while living in Sydney, Australia. Like many of my ideas, the concept started forming gradually in my mind, with pieces of the whole falling into place over a matter of weeks and months. One day, just as the concept of a television pilot had taken hold, I had an instinctive desire to audition for a local musical theatre troupe. Although I had studied the performing arts for some years, I had never been inclined to perform in a community theatre. It felt like an illogical use of my time and an activity that would not bring me any closer to my goal of a TV pilot. However, the impulse for me to audition, this time, was clear and insistent. To cut a long story short, I auditioned, I earned a lead part in the performance and I had an enjoyable three months rehearsing and performing with a group of wonderful new contacts. Several months after our last performance, I had a very clear idea of the TV show I wanted to create, the structure of the segments, and an exact idea of where I wanted to film the pilot. My only challenge was that I had no TV production experience — none, nada, zip — and I knew nobody in the industry who could help. It was on Christmas Eve that the magic happened. Around 10 pm that evening, after wrapping the last of the gifts, I had that familiar instinctive urge well up inside me — this time, I was compelled to take the paper waste out to the recycling bin, at my front gate. The moment I opened the front door, a voice spoke to me from out of the darkness, “I love your Christmas lights! Merry Christmas!” Making my way to the front gate, I realized that the voice belonged to the young man who had played the lead role in our community theatre performance. He was wandering the streets, looking at Christmas lights, and just happened to be outside my door as I opened it. I hadn’t seen this man since our last performance and yet, as we chatted, the compulsive instinct kicked in again and I heard myself explaining to him that I had an idea for a television show but had no technical skills to make it happen. His eyes immediately lit up. “I’ve been studying television production full time since we did our show”, he explained. “I’ll be your production manager!” And so, my dream began to manifest into reality. The young man took over the technical details of my show, mustered an entire crew of student volunteers, and managed to secure professional broadcasting equipment through his tutors and professors. Within six months, I had filmed a live-audience, professionally produced and edited television pilot that I eventually introduced to several network executives around Australia. As improbable and illogical as this story may seem, I know that my dream was only realized because I allowed myself to stay present in each moment, remained mindful of my gut impulses, and followed the instinctive actions that called to me.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Savvy leaders already understand this, and the trend toward ‘emotional intelligence’ in the workplace is to be celebrated: humans are not biological machinery (an unconscious paradigm which stems from the scientific perspectives of the 18th century). We are complex, natural beings with inescapable emotional, psychological and instinctive needs. Therefore, leading with integrity, compassion, humility and the honoring of dignity are the keys to effective leadership in this modern world.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book that made a huge impact on me, and ultimately led me into my current career, is The Conscious Universe, by Dr. Dean Radin. It was in this book that I learned a reality-shattering statistic — that, according to accepted cosmology, only 4.6% of the composition of the universe is matter and energy. The other 95.4% is completely unknown and unfathomable to human minds. It was here, in this book, that the musings of spiritual teachers and the limitations of Newtonian science collided, and I realized that our human experience is more profound and expansive than we allow ourselves to believe. Just as gravity was influencing our lives long before it was ‘discovered’, and our unconscious mind was guiding our actions long before its clandestine power was (recently) understood, the invisible forces of the unknown universe must, and will, be influencing our experience of life in yet-to-be-discovered ways. I find this fact both invigorating and liberating. Intriguingly, in his books, Dr. Radin outlines the modern empirical research — in fields such as consciousness, psi, and quantum mechanics — that is allowing us to glimpse a deeper understanding of what it means to be conscious and alive.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
I would describe mindfulness as the act of having a conscious awareness of our experience of life — that includes our external experiences (our environment), our inner experiences (emotional responses), and our sublime experiences (instinctive and intuitive responses). When we live mindfully, we aim to filter out mental distractions (such as memories, ruminations or imaginings) and bravely move through any resistance (such as denial, projection or emotional suppression) to accept, acknowledge and act upon whatever our life is bringing to us in each moment. Of course, it has to be acknowledged that very few humans, if any, can attain a continual state of mindfulness. The human experience is, after all, one of perfect imperfection.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
There is an abundance of physical and mental positive outcomes that arise from increased mindfulness, such as decreased stress and anxiety, boosted immunity, enhanced sleep, increased mental clarity, and greater life satisfaction. However, I believe the benefits of mindful living can be summarized in two words: empowerment and choice. When we are more consciously aware of the stimuli in our environments and how we are reacting to those stimuli, we are more able to respond in considered and self-empowered ways. As we go through our lives, there is a brief pause between stimulus and reaction. However, most people are unaware of this momentary stillness and often fall prey to automatic ‘trigger’ responses and well-worn mental and emotional habits. A state of mindfulness enables us to use that pause to our advantage; it empowers us to better evaluate the situation, become aware of (and prevent) habitual reactions, and choose the wisest and healthiest response. Again, this is not always possible, and it’s very rarely easy, but by leaning into mindfulness as often as possible we become more empowered and more able to master the trajectory of our lives.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
It is only natural to be feeling a sense of uncertainty and anxiety at this time. We are living through what will surely be a generational inflection point, and the emotional impacts of this will be intense, understandable and near-universal throughout the human population. Although there is no ‘magic wand’ that can fully alleviate any sense of fear or emotional discomfort, there are steps we can each take to tap back into our innate ability to endure, to rise above adversity and to grow through challenge. For anyone looking to ease their emotional pain and feel more empowered, I recommend a touch of MAGIC: meditation, acceptance, grit, intention, and common humanity.
Meditation: When it comes to dealing with emotional pain and discomfort, there are few actions as beneficial as a meditation or stillness practice. By incorporating mediation into your daily schedule, you will enhance your ability for mindfulness and become more attuned to the workings of your mind and body. Importantly, you will become better able to tap into a mindful state in those moments when emotions feel overwhelming. Often, just by bringing yourself back to the breath — that most fundamental of human functions — you will be better able to disengage from unconscious and unhelpful mental habits, and bring yourself more fully into the present. Full disclosure: a meditation practice is not something that comes naturally or easily for many people — I, myself, have struggled with this for most of my life. However, I do encourage you to persevere and keep experimenting (and re-experimenting) with various meditation modalities. Like me, eventually, I believe you can and will find a practice that works for you.
Acceptance: One important key to holistic well-being is the acceptance of ‘what is’. Although this may sound cliché, it’s vital to accept the reality of your life circumstances and to ‘forgive’ life for what it is bringing to you. Holding a grudge or resisting ‘what is’ activates your fight-flight response, increases stress and decreases your immunity. Although not easy, we can all learn to let go of resistance by consciously reframing the question, “Why is this happening to me?” into “Why is this happening for me?” By tuning your thoughts into the benefits and positive possibilities that are inherent in any life situation, you relieve your body’s fight-flight response, lower stress, and boost your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Grit: As with the acceptance of life’s circumstances, above, it is also important for our well-being that we allow ourselves to accept whatever emotions we are experiencing, at any time. Our authentic emotional state can be a huge source of judgment and self-recrimination — we may be feeling things that we believe we ‘shouldn’t’ feel, that we don’t want to feel, and/or that run contrary to our own values system. Therefore, it can take persistent and plentiful courage to accept and acknowledge our authentic emotions, as and when they present themselves. As explained earlier in this article, we activate the true potency of mindfulness when we ‘accept, acknowledge and act upon whatever our life is bringing to us in each moment.’ This includes the acceptance and acknowledgment of all our emotions — an ongoing attunement that takes great personal courage and commitment.
Intention: Although mindfulness can offer us a powerfully clear picture of where we are in each moment of our life, the true potency of mindful action arises from having an established intention around where, and who, we want to become. This intention becomes a mental blueprint for what we want in life, and consequently guides the responses we choose for ourselves in our most mindful moments. Personally, my greatest moments of fear and anxiety arise when my lifetime of people-pleasing is triggered; when I feel that I am being dismissed, ignored or deemed unworthy. In such moments, I reach not only for a mindful acknowledgment of these long-held emotional habits and beliefs, but I also reach for my heartfelt intention — that I grow to understand my value independent of others; that I am worthy in all I do; that I am strongness and never ‘wrongness’. This intention is my touchstone in times of emotional instability and becomes the ‘lodestar’ that helps me define which responses are healthiest and wise for me.
Common humanity and connection: Human connection is one of the most vital — and, often, one of the most overlooked — factors in emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. Our modern societies have created a sense of isolation and disconnect, and when anxious and uncertain, our fear compels us to contract even further from others; we tend to tell ourselves that we are alone in our struggle and grief, and/or that nobody would care about, or understand, our pain. A powerful way to activate mindfulness is to acknowledge in moments of despair that you are just like everyone else; that struggle and pain are universal components of the human experience. In appreciating the universality of struggle and fear, you not only better understand the thread of common humanity that binds you to others, but you also activate your compassion for others in your situation (and worse). Put simply, human connection is an incredible force for good in our lives, and understanding the power of common suffering is an effective way to expand your sense of self, recognize that you are not ever alone in your despair, and find a greater sense of peace in your inner turmoil.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We have no right, nor capacity, to make anyone feel less anxious or more light-hearted about their lives. However, we do have an opportunity to create environments that support and sustain those who are fearful and uncertain, and we can model the hopeful and empowered behavior we wish for others to adopt. We can do this by:
Modeling vulnerability: If we are to be honest and peel back the facade of social expectation, we can see that, somehow, having personal challenges and painful experiences is regarded by society as a form of failure. Successful people are expected to be happy, well-rounded and in control of their personal lives. This has created a dynamic whereby most people, when fearful and in pain, feel the only acceptable response is to ‘tough it out’ alone, pretend that all is well and/or avoid truthful and vulnerable expression at all costs. If we want a world where we are open to suffering, and where others are able to support us in our times of need, we must all take courageous steps to be more vulnerable. Therefore, I encourage you to speak out when you are in pain, express your grief and fear, model authentic vulnerability and be fearless in your requests for help and support.
Embodying non-judgment: Emotional healing cannot thrive where judgment abides. One of the most profound actions we can take, as individuals, is to recognize emotional vulnerability in others and take conscious steps to help them express themselves authentically. This means, not judging. Passing judgment on their situation, condition, decisions or state of mind is not helpful nor healthy. It also means, not rescuing nor gossiping. Just be kind, open and understanding; be a safe place to fall.
Developing trust: Following on from the concepts above, it is important to develop a sense of trust with, and for, those who are feeling anxious and uncertain. This means, simply, being a trustworthy person and honoring another’s trust as the precious entity it is. When we become a trusted and trustworthy space for those who are suffering, we empower them in two ways: first, they will feel more able to share their intimate fears and feelings with us, and secondly; they will come to trust our outlook and modeled behaviors (allowing us to allay their fears through our optimism and solution-based attitudes).
Engaging in positive expression and action: It can be difficult to keep an emotional equilibrium in times of widespread uncertainty and turmoil. It can become near impossible to do so when we allow ourselves to fall prey to ‘learned helplessness’. Multiple studies have revealed the increasingly negative slant of most media outlets — responding, as these outlets are, to our own inbuilt ‘negativity bias’ that attracts us to fearful and negative stories. The good news is, there is always good news — and by seeking out solution-based narratives and consciously (mindfully) choosing how we frame world events, we have an opportunity to maintain (and, importantly, act upon) a more hopeful and empowered view of the world, and our future.
Embracing accountability: Healthy personal boundaries are essential when we are seeking to support those who are grieving and fearful. To use a common metaphor — the goal is to help lift them from the dark hole, not allow yourself to be pulled into it. Therefore, be mindful of the behaviors and emotional dynamics that are in play. Don’t buy into or ‘feed’ others’ anxieties. Have firm boundaries about the kind of behavior you will accept from others, and hold yourself accountable to those same standards. Apologize when you fail in your attempts to remain within your defined personal boundaries, and accept sincere apologies when they are given to you for these same indiscretions.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
I strongly recommend that readers combat the ubiquitous sense of learned helplessness by carefully filtering their information diet. A subscription to the UK-based Positive News, or any similar media outlet, is a powerful way to active solution-based thinking. As mentioned above, meditation is an essential key to emotional well-being. Therefore, I recommend readers explore the multitude of meditation or mindfulness apps and courses currently available. I use the Calm app; however, it’s important to find the practice that works best for you. Importantly, don’t give up on finding a meditation practice that suits you and your lifestyle. Please, keep looking.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
As mentioned above, the quote that has sincerely served me best in life is “Nothing happens to you, it always happens for you.” This has been my mantra on many occasions and has helped me reframe ‘unpleasant’ situations into a more positive and hopeful perspective. In turn, this has allowed me to remove any resistance to ‘what is’ and maintain a more empowered, healthier emotional perspective. The most recent example of this is manifest on my social media pages, where I have been posting a daily covid-19 ‘silver lining’. Each day, this practice compels me to ‘check-in’ and recognize what I, and the world, are gaining from what could otherwise be regarded as a purely ‘bad’, ‘negative’, and ‘unwanted’ experience. Most often, I complete the exercise full of hope, gratitude, and excitement for what is possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s important to understand that, apart from rare cultural exceptions, the whole discussion of living mindfully (and its associated benefits) is one that is deeply rooted in economic and cultural privilege. Although there is now widespread criticism of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, his theory does point to an underlying pattern within society; one in which humans are not free to consider concepts beyond their basic needs unless and until they are safe, liberated, sheltered, feed, and educated. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support the implementation of a Universal Basic Income or similar social system — ideally, across the globe. By ensuring all humans enjoy a life that is fundamentally safe, comfortable and free from survival-based struggle, we unlock the creative, intellectual and spiritual potential of all of earth’s human inhabitants. Imagine what we could accomplish with the unbridled potential of all of humanity working toward a greater good!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
I invite you to visit www.kimforrester.net. There you can learn more about me and my work, and find links to my articles, podcast episodes, and social media accounts.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!