Bio: Chloe Asker (she/they) is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter, UK, funded by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership, ESRC. Their research interests centre around mindfulness, (self & community) care, therapeutic geographies, vulnerability, atmospheres and the breath.
Storytelling is ‘a way of redrawing maps and finding new destinations’ (Frank, 1995, p. 53), in that stories offer a way to reflect and come to terms with new ways of seeing ourselves and our lives (Salter and Newkirk, 2019). My doctoral research was based on lived experiences of, or journeys with, mindfulness. As part of the research I worked with a group of participants, tracing their experiences of mindfulness as both a meditation practice but also as a way of living. Over the course of two mindfulness courses and follow up interviews I witnessed the transformative effect that mindfulness had on their lives. Giving my participants a space in which to recount their relationship with the practice offered an opportunity to reflect on their journey, which in turn prompted them to realise the deep effects mindfulness had on their life. One participant was nervous to meet with me, she thought she had nothing to say about her relationship with mindfulness:
“I said to [my partner] “oh Chloe’s coming to see me, but I don’t think I’m going to be much of a project, to write about! I’m not that interesting, because I haven’t done anything else, any of the things!” But actually it’s been a revelation for me to talk to you cos I [laughs}….”
“Yeah, so it’s another blessing really that you’ve come, and I’ve been able to find inside me the things that mindfulness has done for me that I didn’t know.”
[Transcript from interview with a participant 5/6/2019]
As she spoke it became clear that her journey, although at times challenging, had certainly been transformative.
Frustrated with the unreadability of a 100,000 word PhD thesis, I wanted to create an output from the research that would be short, enjoyable to read, interactive and easy to share. I was keen to create something accessible that could communicate the transformative experiences that my participants had shared with me. I also wanted to gently push back against the overwhelming and overarching critiques of mindfulness as ‘McMindfulness’ (Purser, 2019), to show that the practice could be life changing for those involved. I decided to write a zine based on a chapter of my thesis that explores their journeys. I have experimented with the zine format throughout my doctoral research – finding the open format and structure useful to creative and participatory research. I was also inspired by Sarah Marie Hall’s (2017) zine ‘Everyday Austerity’. However, lacking in artist competency myself, I worked with an illustrator, Isabel Mae Abrams, to design the zine together. To fund the project I used a top-up to my Research and Training Grant (SWDTP, ESRC) to fund the illustration and publication of the zine.
The zine stories several journeys with mindfulness based on the participants’ stories (including my own). To make the booklet interactive and mindful in its format, we worked on a colouring page in the centre fold, along with pauses and a body scan meditation at the end. The zine also comes with three illustrated postcards – you can use these however you’d like. But one option is to write your experiences with mindfulness/meditation and send them back to us in order to continue the conversation on the benefits (or frustrations with) the practice (if you’d like to do this use our contact page to request more information).
We would love to know what you think of the zine! Get in contact with us here.
Please note: this blog post has also been posted on the SWDTP website.
Frank, A. W. (1995) The wounded storyteller: body, illness and ethics. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press.
Marie Hall, S. (2017) Everyday Austerity. https://everydayausterity.wordpress.com/zine/
Purser, R. (2019) McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. Watkins Media.
Salter, L., and Newkirk, J. (2019) Collective Storytelling for Health: A Three-Part Story. Storytelling, Self, Society 15(1): 108–129.