Fearne Cotton is on a quest for deeper connections, and she doesn't care what the cynics say
Written by Fearne Cotton
In an exclusive extract from her new book, Fearne Cotton explains why she could never have dreamed of writing a book like Bigger Than Us five years ago, but her quest for deeper meaning in life led her along a path she had to follow.
Writing my new book, Bigger Than Us, has changed my life. I’ve gulped down knowledge with an unrivalled thirst and made willing changes to my life in the name of finding a deeper connection. Yet I had no idea of the impact it would have on me. I had no clue that so much would change in such a short space of time.
I’m at a pivotal point in life where I feel that the lurking fog, which crept in like a November morning in my early thirties, is lifting. Writing my new book has marked the start of a process of shedding I didn’t even know I needed, with old layers of life peeling away, falling off in great swaths to reveal new perspectives and a much welcomed lightness.
By now we all have a rough idea of how to look after our bodies and minds. We know that eating a balanced diet, doing a bit of exercise and remembering that cigarettes look cool in films but suck for our lungs will help our bodies out. We know that having decent relationships with others, doing things we love and refraining from bingeing social media will give us a healthier mind.
But what about the other bit? The… what do-you-wanna-call-it bit? The soul? Spirit? Awareness? Energy? I don’t mind what you call it as I’m not sure what name to pin on it myself, but I know it’s there. I personally believe – wait, sod it, I want to be pretty definite about this – I KNOW that I am not just a body and a mind.
There is some other inexplicable part of me which I think gets forgotten about far too regularly; the part of me that feels a deep instant connection with certain strangers I’ve met over the years; the part of me that is pure intuition and knows the answer even though I’m tempted to google the question; the part of me that felt and saw a celestial rainbow of colours during childbirth; the part of me that has felt pure bliss when tripping out looking at the sky; the part of me that could burst into a million tiny pieces when hearing a song that just gets me. How am I looking after that part of me?
As well as nurturing that part of ourselves that gets massively overshadowed by our bodies and minds, I wanted to explore the concept of everything else outside of us too – again, call it what you like: God, a higher power, the universe – and how we connect and perhaps even communicate with it. Not to complicate matters too much early on but this exterior energy, or higher power, is recognised by many spiritual leaders as something that is within us, not outside of us as we may believe.
Reconnecting with Life
I believe that we need to look at this part of ourselves and find new ways to expand our thinking now more than ever before. En masse we’ve never been in more trouble and we know it. We can’t always pinpoint why but the jittery feeling of discontentment is never far away. There probably hasn’t been a time in history when we have been so stressed, anxious, depressed, confused and at times disheartened. We are more technologically advanced than ever before, can video-call someone on the other side of the planet, order shoes that arrive on the same day, send satellites into space to aid/support us navigate our route to work and have modern medicine to help us in physical crises, yet we’re usually dissatisfied and feel we are lacking. We have more than any other generation, yet that feeling of lacking is growing by the minute.
I think all of these uncomfortable feelings are rooted in our total subliminal disconnect. It’s something I’ve talked about at length to my dear friend Sarah Wilson (activist, writer and all-round amazing egg). We are all in ‘disconnect’. We know we are abusing our planet, we know we aren’t always genuinely connecting with other humans heart to heart, we know we are driven more by fear and less by love and are floundering around wondering why we feel so off-centre. We cannot fix this feeling with a new workout, by changing our diets or with mindfulness alone.
Something much bigger, more expansive and more powerful is needed. Connection. Connection isn’t calling up your mate once a week to check in (lovely as that is). True connection is remembering we are all one – not just as individual humans (which we seemingly forget on a daily basis with our road rage, divisive attitudes and war), but also with nature. There is no separation or distinction. That might not ring true to you immediately but it is something I explore in the book as we work out how to nurture our souls and get back to total connection.
I would have been petrified to write a book like Bigger Than Us one five years ago. I would have typed trepidatiously while second-guessing what every cynical person out there might say. I have always felt inferior to cynical people. I’ve labelled them ‘cool’, ‘edgy’ perhaps even more ‘intellectual’ than me but, honestly, at this point in my life I’m so over that.
I love exploring spirituality and what else lies within us and outside of us. The magic, the connection, the inexplicable. I LOVE IT! I’m an out-and-out spiritual junkieand there is no stopping me. So, in short, if you are extremely cynical about this sort of thing, that’s cool, welcome along. My job is not to convince you otherwise; it’s to hopefully give you some other options and tools that might help you find more meaning, magic and purpose in life.
We often think purpose comes from having power or opportunity but that’s not the sort of purpose I’m talking about. I’m talking about purpose and meaning from within. An inner knowing that propels you towards a deeper experience of life.
The book is about getting under the itchy clothes of life. Getting beneath the thoughts, rumination and constant noise of the modern world. It’s connecting the dots and making sense of the nonsensical. This process throughout the book is not wishy-washy or surface. It isn’t exclusively about burning incense and partaking in gong baths while wearing smocks (although they may feature if there is reason to); it’s about getting curious and cultivating the willingness to see life in its full-coloured, bold, ever-changing beauty.
I heard a term coined recently that made sense of the commodification of spirituality in recent years: ‘spirituality lite’, nodding to the vast interest in spiritual rituals without the deeper exploration or openness underpinning them. For example (and please remember I’m not judging anyone here as I’m on this learning curve with you all), many out there may partake in yoga waiting for a six-pack to emerge without experiencing the deep connection from the breath work and mental stillness of the practice. Many will burn sage in their homes hoping that negative energy will magically disappear from their lives without any willingness to look at why they might be attracting negative energy into their lives in the first place. For us to go on this journey together, you will not need to purchase a rose quartz toilet seat or go anywhere near a wind chime. You need nothing more than an open mind and a little curiosity.
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary
This isn’t a new way of thinking for me, thanks to dear Lin Cotton. The mothership and I have talked about spirituality more than any other subject over my lifetime. Mum is on a constant mission for meaning and mostly magic. She often wants the magical answer or explanation to help soothe worry and fear rather than a statistic or something purely practical. I’ve watched her zoom in on orbs in photographs to find minuscule, hidden images that may inspire or guide her. She has found many blurry outlines of her late dog Wilf trapped in floating orbs caught on camera in a snapshot moment, which may sound very out of the box to you but, again, if these moments bring peace and connection to the individual, why question it or judge? She always actively encouraged me to look outside of everyday thinking to find the extraordinary and I’m eternally grateful for that.
At a young age, I was inadvertently introduced by Mum, to meditation even though I had no clue what it was. She had a cassette (for anyone under 25 reading this, you can indeed have sympathy for my generation having to rely on cassettes and their often-tangled tape) which she would often pop on for us both to listen to. We would lie on the 80s dusty-pink floral sofa and zone out while listening to an audio experience that to this day is still crystal clear in my mind.
The narrator, using hushed tones, would usher you through a wooden door at the end of a long mosaic-tiled corridor and there you would find yourself in a house with many rooms. Each room we were guided into held a different colour from the last. The first room was red with many red objects within, which you could pick up and examine. The next room was yellow in hue and contained many sunshine coloured objects of interest. I adored letting my mind wander through this imaginary house and eventually on to a shoreline on a beach umbrellaed with stars. I can so vividly remember the images my imagination threw up in those childhood moments, perhaps more vividly than the real-life occurrences that I experienced. What I didn’t realise was that this imagined house was emulating the chakras and their colours and purpose. As an eight-year-old I merely found it a relaxing and super-fun experience but really it was a beautiful, gentle introduction to how we can relax our minds into a meditative state. This experience also subliminally taught me to look outside the box. To reach for the seemingly impossible, to seek the magic and to make the ordinary extraordinary.
I grew up in a suburban town on the outskirts of London in a mock Tudor semi-detached house with a hard-working mum who held down four different jobs and a dad who honed his craft as a sign writer for his whole working life (bar a brief stint as a milkman before I was born). Nothing out of the ordinary there. A classic 80s/90s suburban childhood full of school-packed lunches, chats on house phones and the odd camping holiday thrown into the mix. Yet Mum was always up for the extraordinary, often desperately seeking it out.
On Pinner High Street above a small shop that sold crystals and wind chimes there was a therapy room. I just had to call my mum to reacquaint myself with the name of this shop as the decades have made the memory fade to sepia tones and she tells me, with absolute clarity, the shop was called Dreamcatcher, which is no surprise to any of us. You could get many treatments, from reiki to energy healing and past life regression, all while, below the treatment-room window, the good people of Pinner bought their weekly shop in the giant Tesco over the road.
My first experience of Pinner’s very own spiritual portal was around the age of sixteen. Mum had been before and said I might have fun booking in for a past life regression session. After making my way past an Everest-sized pile of crystals in Dreamcatcher’s shop entrance, I ducked under the stalactites of wind chimes hanging from every inch of the ceiling, to make my way upstairs to the treatment room. A middle-aged lady with coiled tangerine hair asked me to lie down and close my eyes. I can’t recall exactly what happened next but I imagine that, while I had my eyes closed, she waved her hands around, over and above my body, never touching me but giving off that buzz of energy that is often experienced with reiki.
Now hold on to your hats as I tell you the part you’ll either be fascinated by or laugh your head off at. The first past life she recalled for me was from a period in the early 1900s where I had a twin brother who was my partner in crime as a trapeze artist. We would swing together in synchronised beauty high above a cheering crowd. On one occasion I lost my grip and my dear twin’s hands slipped through my fingers like a wet bar of soap and he fell to his death. Tragic, I know, and maybe far-fetched but I loved the process nonetheless and, even if I came away not 100 per cent wedded to the story itself, it massively piqued my interest in past life regression. It could also be tenuously linked to my omnipresent need to make sure everyone in my life is OK and safe at all times, who knows?
I more recently spoke to the incredible Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, and she talked passionately about how we never die as our ‘energy’ (insert here ‘spirit/soul’ or whatever you are comfortable with) can never die. You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to be on board with this one as none of us truly know where our energy goes once the physical part of us dies. Could it embody another physical form or just weave into our complex universe in inexplicable ways?
Mum also used to open my eyes to alternative possibilities on our evening walks. Eager to break the mundanity of suburban routine, instead of settling for Coronation Street after our Linda McCartney sausages, we would stomp around the mean blocks of Ruislip at dusk. These chats would veer off into the deep expanses of life’s unimaginable possibilities as Mum reached for the stars above the mock Tudor maze.
On one occasion Mum stopped in her tracks and looked around. I mimicked her stance and looked for what had caught Mum’s eye. ‘Do you feel it?’ she whispered. I stopped and looked into the distance with a little more focus and … I did, I did feel a shift in something. This is where things get a little weird again but, you know me, I love weird. The air seemed thicker, time seemed to have stopped. We both marvelled at this secluded moment, just me, Mum and this strange shift in energy we were both feeling and possibly even seeing. Everything looked a little more hazy than normal, a little purple even.
Team cynical will of course say there must have been a nearby bonfire or a heavy mist en route but it didn’t feel like that. Team cynical, I love you just as much as those who are nodding their heads right now having experienced something similar. We can of course continue to look exclusively for the scientific explanation for everything, but maybe there is a little room for intrigue, magic and the totally weird that is left unexplained too. We felt something inexplicable on our nightly walk that summer’s evening. An invisible movement and an all-encompassing shift of sorts. The delicious juxtaposition of the extraordinary in the setting of the totally ordinary.
Bigger Than Us, The Power Of Finding Meaning In A Messy World by Fearne Cotton, published by Ebury Press, is available to pre-order from penguinbooks.co.uk now and is available to buy from 20 January 2022 in hardback, ebook or audio download, RRP £16.99.
Main image credit: Stephanie Sian Smith, others from Instagram
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