Fiona Robertson is a writer, trainer and facilitator. Her collection of essays: The Art of Finding Yourself: Live Bravely and Awaken to Your True Nature has recently been published in the US and the UK. Based on the innovative, mindfulness based Living Inquiries, the book explores how deep self-inquiry can free us from limiting beliefs and fears.
Tell us a little about your new book The Art of Finding Yourself?
It’s all about my experiences with the Living Inquiries over the last five years or so. When I first learnt about the Inquiries, my life was a mess, to put it frankly. I’d done other kinds of therapy and meditation over the years, but the Inquiries really helped me to get to the core of what was going on, and I began to write about my discoveries. The idea of finding yourself can seem quite clichéd, but this isn’t about trekking off to India or somewhere. It’s about getting to know who and what you really are. Each short chapter is a self-contained article, so as one reader said, “The format is great, I can dip in at any moment, each piece inspires me. And makes me reflect on our common humanity. As I read, I keep finding references to my own life.”
What are the Living Inquiries?
They’re like a form of supercharged mindfulness. By becoming aware of how our thoughts and bodily feelings are intertwined, we can begin to unravel the fears, beliefs and compulsions that often run our lives. As writers, many of us deal with low self-esteem, a fear of rejection, or that inner critical voice that whispers that we’re not good enough. The Inquiries are a way to unravel all of that, naturally and organically, without rejecting any part of our experience. As we inquire, insights and realisations come effortlessly and we become more authentically ourselves, rather than who we think we should be.
How did the idea for the Living Inquiries come about?
The Living Inquiries are the brainchild of a friend of mine, an American author called Scott Kiloby. He’d been through a lot in his life, including addiction and trauma, and after getting sober, he began to explore mindfulness and other inquiry methods. Self-inquiry has been around for thousands of years in different forms, but Scott was able to hone in on the essentials and modernise it for the kinds of issues we face today. Once he knew he had something useful, he trained the first small group of us. Together, we’ve developed it further and the method continues to evolve and spread. I now work with people from all over the world.
What interests you about this subject in particular and what motivated you to collate your essays into a book?
Ultimately, I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of the mind, and how our minds and bodies are so intricately interwoven. Just as one example, we talk about anxiety as a mental health issue, but as anyone who has ever been anxious knows, it’s a visceral, physical experience as well. Doing the Inquiries has given me a way to understand all of that much more deeply, from an experiential rather than an intellectual viewpoint. As for the motivation to collate the essays, I got fed up with trying to find particular pieces – I’d written them on two different laptops – so I decided to put them all into one document. Once I’d done that, I realised that I’d written enough for a book.
Tell us a little bit about your background as a writer?
Well, I was always a keen writer as a child, and I’ve kept journals since I was eleven, but it never occurred to me to write anything more than that. In fact, it was doing the Inquiries for myself that reconnected me to my creativity. I started my blog in 2012, and three months later, spurred on by a friend, I entered a Ways With Words essay competition and came second. It was at that point I realised I could write well enough to put my work out there. In 2013, I began writing poetry as well as prose and joined the Nottingham Writers’ Studio.
Do you find writing useful as a reflective tool when you have been facilitating sessions and discussing the Living Inquires with other people?
Very much so. In fact, when I’m self-inquiring, I always write. I find it really useful to look at the words on the page and see which words resonate on a bodily level. If a particular word stands out, I often look it up in the dictionary, to really get the felt sense of it. As a writer, it’s given me an even greater appreciation for words and their exact meanings. I regularly write articles on various aspects of both my work and the human journey overall. Recently, I’ve written pieces on denial, freaking out, and the nature of the ego. Often, ideas for pieces come from sessions or discussions with clients or other facilitators.
Which writers and thinkers influence your work?
The Sufi poet Hafiz has been a big influence on me. Even though he was writing in the 14th Century, I find his poetry inspiring, true to my experience, and often funny. D. H. Lawrence is an inspiration – his poetry in particular. Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver and Guy de Maupassant have all been influential, too. Carl Jung and James Hillman also deserve a mention.
How are you finding the response to The Art of Finding Yourself, so far?
It’s been really good. The book launch at Waterstones went well – apparently, it was the second most successful launch there in the last two years. And I heard a great story from a friend in the US the other day: he walked into an AA meeting (he’s been sober for more than twenty five years) and a guy came up to him and asked if he’d heard of this book, The Art of Finding Yourself, because it was really resonating with him. I’ve had some lovely reviews on Amazon, too. I sometimes get emails from readers saying how much they relate to what I’ve shared. That’s very gratifying.
If people want to know more about you or the Inquiries, what do you suggest?
Our websites are the best place to start – my personal site is beyondourbeliefs.org. The Living Inquiries website is livinginquiries.com. My poetry site is whilstwalkingjack.com. Everyone is welcome to get in touch if they’d like to know more. And the book is available to buy from Waterstones here. It is also available from Amazon, Blackwells and other bookshops.