Kill Your Darlings Part 3

I’ve finished the latest draft of my next book. Not all the words I’ve written have made it into the next round. Instead of being in the book I’m turning my darlings into blog posts. Seems I can’t kill them after all.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes at a meditation retreat here’s your chance.

Each evening, after the meditators had gone to bed, the servers would gather in the meditation hall and sit with assistant teacher. Some times we’d have to kick the more determined meditators out before we could do so. One night a male student, who had the habit of wearing earplugs and a meditation shawl over his head, was deep in meditation and nothing we did could snap him out of it. Touching is forbidden so no one could give him a shake. One of the male servers resorted to doing a strange little dance around him, hoping the vibration would bring him out of his meditation. When that didn’t work he leaned in as close as he could without touching the student and spoke in his loudest quiet voice, shouting also being forbidden. Eventually the student stirred, rose from his seated position and left the hall without acknowledging any of us.

Once we were alone we would talk through the days events and any problems that had come up with the work or with the students. It was here I discovered the truth of what happens behind the scenes in a meditation centre. The dramas and intrigues. While we were burrowed away in the kitchen the male and female managers were on the frontline dealing with all kinds of bizarre scenarios. One of the male students had been asked to leave because his behaviour was out of control. He’d pretended to go but the male manager had discovered he was still at the centre, hiding. One of the other students had been smuggling him food. Then there was the incident involving two female students who broke one of the precepts. They had found it impossible to abstain from all sexual activity. I was shocked. What was wrong with these students? They were here to meditate. In the one and only course I’d done I was a stickler for the rules. Even though I managed to break every one of them, I never meant to.

And then there were the insects. The centre was full of them and they dominated our nightly get togethers. “One of the students says he has an insect in his ear,” the male manager said one night.

“Is it really an insect, or is it sensations?” The assistant teacher asked. We were up to the stage in the meditation course where students were observing their sensations.

The male manager hesitated. “I’m not sure. But he insists an insect has crawled into his ear. He can hear it constantly.”

“Does anyone have a possible solution?” The assistant teacher looked around at our small group.

“You can shine a torch into his ear,” I said. “Most insects are attracted to the light. It will head towards the torch and come out of his ear.”

“Not all insects head towards the light,” one of my kitchen team said. “Some try to hide from it. The insect might head further into his ear.”

“Well, you can always do the oil in the ear trick,” I suggested.

“What’s that?”

“Get him to put his head to the side and fill his ear with oil. The insect will float to the top.” How I became such an expert on getting insects out of ears I’m not sure.

“Won’t the insect drown?” the assistant teacher asked.

“Yes, but…..” I stopped, realising I’d just suggested killing a living creature, something the first precept expressly forbids. The assistant teacher frowned at me. I was overcome with the urge to laugh. I bit the inside of my cheeks to stop myself from giggling like a naughty school girl. Oh dear. I would never make a good Buddhist.

Some of the other servers were bolder than me. The problem of ticks came up quite often. The centre grounds were full of them and students often came to us with a tick’s head buried in their skin, the tick’s body bloated with their blood. The question was how to remove the ticks without killing them. I’d spent a few heated moments the day before with a half-naked male student in the small alcove outside the kitchen. He had a tick on his torso, just below his armpit, and was desperate to have it removed. I was the only one around, all the other servers resting at that time. He stripped off his shirt and I had attempted to remove the tick with a piece of cotton wrapped around its neck. It was a tricky process and one I wasn’t sure was successful. I had dabbed the area with tea tree oil, hoped for the best and sent the very good-looking young male student on his way.

At the nightly servers’ meeting the discussion about the best way to remove a tick became quite involved. Smothering them with Vaseline may kill them through suffocation, tea tree oil would certainly mean their demise, using tweezers would snap off the head, killing them as well as harming the student. One of my kitchen servers became agitated. She’d suffered from multiple tick bites when she’d worked on an organic farm. This resulted in her becoming very ill and she was  incapacitated for eighteen months. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But if it comes down to me or the tick, the tick’s going to cop it.”

The female manager admitted to me later that she had no compunction about killing any of the thousands of mosquitoes that annoyed us everyday. “The way I see it,” she said. “Is if you believe in the Buddhist theory and we are reincarnated after we die, then I’m just giving the mosquito a quick promotion.”

 

Can’t Meditate? Try Joyful Resting

Madisonpic

By now I think we’ve got the message. Meditation is good for us and we really should do it. Everyone from Russell Brand to Rupert Murdoch is espousing its benefits.

But do we really need another “should” in our lives? And besides, who’s got the time to sit and contemplate their navels for 20 minutes a day? Between the kids, the job, the rush for the bus, the lunch eaten at the desk, the unread emails, the never ending to-do list and that little sliver of time that we have to ourselves where all we want to do is read one of the books on that ever-growing pile or catch the latest TV show that everyone’s been raving about, who on earth has time to meditate?

We might start off with good intentions and create a small space in our homes and lives to sit and breathe for 20 minutes a day, but as time goes on and life remains hectic that meditation time is the first thing to go. And fair enough, especially if we’ve turned it into just another dot point on our “must do because it’s good for me” list.

Or maybe we’ve tried to sit and meditate but our thought are so wild and crazy that we’ve given up and labelled ourselves as hopeless because we really don’t get this “still the mind” stuff.

Here’s something radical. Don’t meditate. Don’t even try. Give up on it entirely. Let go of the whole meditation schtick. Elle MacPherson might be really good at it, but you’re never going to look like her by meditating anyway, so it’s time to give something else a go.

Renate Ogilvie is a Buddhist psychotherapist who’s taught at Buddhist centers around the world for over 20 years. You think she’d be pretty good at meditation. Wrong. She confesses to not meditating regularly and really relates to those who find it hard to find time to do it. She knows it’s a crazy busy world we live in. Instead she suggests a kind of non-meditation. She calls it “joyful resting.” In joyful resting, we’re not after results. We’re not chasing after anything or any feeling. All we’re doing is resting. “It’s like dancing,” she says. “You don’t do it to arrive anywhere.” You do it because you enjoy it and who doesn’t enjoy resting even for just five minutes. And that’s the other thing. Joyful resting is to be done for only five to 10 minutes, no more. It’s never a chore. Never a time suck.

So how do you do this joyful resting thing? You can sit or lie down, have your eyes open or closed. Observe how your body feels but don’t judge it. It is what it is, that’s all. Observe what comes up in your mind. If you have a recurring thought allow it to be a recurring thought. There’s no need to change anything. Just relax. We are not responsible for the thoughts arising in our minds, we are not anger, resentment, fear. However we are responsible for what we do with them. In joyful resting we are not doing anything so let those thoughts and feelings fade and be replaced by joy. We are resting, we are doing nothing. Hooray! How wonderful. No expectation, no judging. What a luxury. Who wouldn’t want to do that at least once a day. And as it’s only for five to 10 minutes you can do it anywhere, anytime. You could even do it in a board meeting. You might enjoy the meeting more.

And what about those wild and crazy thoughts, the thoughts that make us think we can’t meditate? In joyful resting it’s like we’re on a warm and sunny beach. The ocean might be turbulent, the surf might be huge but we are safe on the beach enjoying the sunshine. We can observe that wild and crazy ocean but we don’t have to do anything about it. We can just relax. However if we decide to stop that joyful resting, walk towards the surf and jump in, well that’s a whole other story.

Mary-Lou Stephens’ meditation memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, is the true story of how meditation helped changed her life, save her job and find a husband. You can buy it here.

This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.

3 Ways Meditation Will Make You a Better Writer

 

Sex, Drugs and Meditation

I walk to my spot and sit down, a mat beneath me and two cushions under my bottom. I’m comfortable now but I know it won’t last. Within ten minutes the aches will begin. Dull and annoying to start and then as time drags on they will intensify. Ten days of silence, meditating eleven hours a day. Why do I do it? You’d think once would be enough. And yet I have returned time and time again to sit for ten days in silence and in pain.

Must of us live a life of fear and reaction. We do too much in order to impress, or hide so no one will expect anything of us. Tossed on the vagaries of emotion, it’s an exhausting and wasteful way to live. When I sit in silence I experience all emotions, all feelings, all states. I experience them knowing they will change. Everything always does. Even the pain. And during this time, when I’m supposed to be meditating where does my mind go? Everywhere. It dives into the past, raking over the embers. It plunges into the future, inventing scenarios. And when it’s done regretting and worrying it makes up possibilities of increasing drama and intensity. After a while I tire of all of this. But am I ready to do the work? Am I ready to meditate properly? Not quite yet.

1. Meditation clears the mind clutter and allows your creativity to blossom.

When all the whys, wherefores, he said, she said, he did, she did, blame, reaction and catastrophising is done, creativity is free to roam with characters, stories and adventures that are pure imagination, often not of this world. It’s fascinating and freeing to allow yourself to follow where creativity leads. Meditation breaks down that very thin membrane between the conscious and the subconscious. And let’s face it, the subconscious is where all the interesting stuff happens.

I’m not a very good meditator it’s true, but there comes a time when the meditation takes over, when my mind finally stills, when I get the essence of what I’m here to do. Come out of all  suffering, be liberated from all misery. Stop reacting and resenting. Stop being so afraid. I’m not perfect, not even close, which is why I keep meditating. I meditate because it helps in my day to day life, literally. I saved my job and found a husband through meditation. I also meditate because it helps my writing.

2. Meditation gives you the kind of detachment a writer needs.

Meditation is creative, not only because my restless mind supplies me with endless plots and characters. It’s creative because it helps me to write, no matter what mood I’m in, no matter what’s happening around me. It’s not selfishness, it’s just knowing that what ever the problem or drama is, it will pass without you meddling or trying to fix it. And if it doesn’t? Then it’s time for a different approach but an approach that’s tempered by thoughtfulness not desperation.

3. Meditation allows you to write with courage and honesty. To stop judging.

With the loving detachment that meditation brings you’re better able to step aside and let the story glow and burn without the temptation of modifying it to make yourself look better. Judgement is a hinderance to life and to creativity. It carries the weight of expectation. Impossible to meet. The more I meditate the less I judge myself and my work. Other people may judge. They will think what they like. It’s none of my business. Besides, what they think will change. Everything does.

I have returned to the meditation centre seven times. Seven times I have spent ten days sitting in silence and in pain. Seven times I have reaped the benefits. Am I suffering for my art? Some say life is suffering and the art is to overcome that suffering. For me meditation is the art of living. And writing. It is the art of creation.

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post and then was picked Up by The Brazil Post. Yes, I’ve been translated into Portuguese. How cool.

Why Acting Like a Toddler Is a Great Idea

toddler

Have you ever seen what toddlers do when life bumps up against them unexpectedly? Think about what happens when they have just fallen over on their padded bottoms or experienced some other small event that didn’t entirely delight them. They haven’t hurt themselves, they’ve just been given a bit of a surprise. What happens next is very interesting — and every parent, grandparent, aunty, uncle or anyone who’s had anything to do with toddlers will recognize this — they don’t do anything. Just for a second, they pause. It’s as if their minds are doing a little damage report: What just happened? Am I hurt? Is it bad? Should I cry? Should I scream the house down?

And what we do next can make all the difference. If we react, run to them, start fussing over them, then you can guarantee that yes, they will start crying and yes, they will probably scream the house down. But if we don’t react, if we stay calm, if we go on with whatever we’re doing, they will almost always pick themselves up and within moments, be exploring and laughing again.

We can learn a lot from toddlers. What happens when life bumps up against us? Sometimes, something that we want hasn’t happened. Sometimes, something we didn’t want has happened. A friend lets us down. Our boss berates us. Someone we don’t even know is rude to us. We get cut off in traffic. We have to wait way too long in a queue. We don’t win the prize, the girl, the accolades, the contract. What do we do?

We react. We defend, justify, complain. We go on the attack. We try to make the other person feel as bad as we do. We plot our revenge. Or we pretend to shrug it off –“Nothing to see here, folks” – while inside, we’re seething in anger and resentment.

And so here we are. Something bad has happened. We’ve reacted. And now we feel even worse. We are that toddler screaming and crying. We are not having fun. We are not free to explore. We’ve turned that little bump into a major catastrophe.

So, what’s the alternative? We can pause — like that toddler. There is a small space between experiencing something in our lives and reacting to it. For most of us, that space hardly exists. Something happens to us and we instantly go into reaction. Once there, we are left with no choice. But if we pause, if we give ourselves that space, we have choice, and that is a powerful thing.

We don’t have to react. We don’t have to paint ourselves into a corner. We don’t have to be left shaking our heads thinking, Why did I do that – again?! Instead, we can choose how we respond and what we do – if anything. We have the choice.

How do we learn to do this? How do we give ourselves that pause, that space? How do we even become aware of that space? And how do we learn to expand that space?

By doing nothing. Yes, by doing nothing. And just by practicing doing nothing.

Meditation teaches something that toddlers already know — sitting on their padded bottoms, running through those damage reports. And that is everything we experience, we experience as a sensation. Every sight, taste, smell, sound, touch, every emotion, every thought creates a sensation on or in the body. Some we label as good — beauty, love, chocolate. Others we label as bad — anger, weeds, chocolate. But all sensations have a common denominator. They’re ephemeral. They don’t last. They will pass, some slower than others, but they will change and they will end. So, why cause a fuss? Why make things worse? Why scream the house down?

Through meditation, we learn that we don’t have to be driven by automatic reactions. We come out of the habit pattern of our minds, the endless treadmill of cause and effect, and get enough space to look around and go “What do I really want to choose here?” Meditation works because it gives us more space, even if it’s just the length of an intake of breath. Space to be and space to choose. Just like that toddler, with a world of infinite possibilities to explore and enjoy.

My hope for you is that you become more like a toddler. Not in all respects, of course. Being toilet-trained and the ability to cook are two great attributes. But in taking that pause, in being in that space that is yours and yours alone, that small pause gives you power. The power to be anything and to be anyway you choose.

Mary-Lou Stephens’ meditation memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, is the true story of how meditation helped changed her life, save her job and find a husband.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

My TED Talk

Here’s the script for the talk I hoped to deliver at TEDxNoosa. I did the talk but not exactly as is written here. No one would have known though. It was almost the same. Perfection doesn’t exist in nature I am told

little hands and little feetI think we all know what a toddler is. A small version of a human usually found wearing a nappy. Have you ever seen what toddlers do when life bumps up against them unexpectedly? They might have just fallen over on their padded bottoms or experienced some other small event that didn’t entirely delight them? They haven’t hurt themselves, they’ve just been given a bit of a surprise.

What happens next is very interesting – and every parent, grandparent, aunty or uncle, or anyone who’s had anything to do with toddlers will recognise this – they don’t do anything. Just for a second they pause. It’s as if their minds are doing a little damage report – “What just happened? Am I hurt? Is it bad? Should I cry? Should I scream the house down?”

And what we do next can make all the difference. If we react, run to them, start fussing over them then you can guarantee that yes, they will start crying and yes they will probably scream the house down. But if we don’t react, if we stay calm, if we go on with whatever we’re doing they will almost always pick themselves up, keep wobbling along and within moments be exploring and laughing again.

We can learn a lot from toddlers. What happens when life bumps up against us? Something we want hasn’t happened. Something we didn’t want has happened. A friend lets us down. Our boss berates us. Someone we don’t even know is rude to us. We get cut off in traffic. We have to wait way too long in a queue. We don’t win the prize, the girl, the accolades, the contract. What do we do?

We react. We defend, justify, complain. We go on the attack. We try to make the other person feel as bad as we do. We plot our revenge. Or we pretend to shrug it off. “Nothing to see hear folks,” while inside we’re seething in anger and resentment.

And so here we are. Something bad has happened. We’ve reacted. And now we feel even worse. We are that toddler screaming and crying. We are not having fun. We are not free to explore. We’ve turned that little bump into a major catastrophe.

So what’s the alternative. We can pause – like that toddler. There is a small space between experiencing something in our lives and reacting to it. For most of us that space hardly exists. Something happens to us and we instantly go into reaction. Once there we are left with no choice. But if we pause, if we give ourselves that space, we have choice and that is a powerful thing.

I will make one exception  to the “taking a pause” thing- and that is if the attack is physical. Many years ago I signed up for a self-defence class. I thought I would become a kung fu master. Instead the first thing they taught us was “If they want your money – give it to them.” And the next thing they taught was – whenever possible the best thing to do is run away. If in physical danger, don’t pause, don’t stop and think about your next word or action, just run. Good advice.

But in all other circumstances….when we pause, when we leave that space, we give ourselves options, we have choice. We don’t have to react. We don’t have to paint ourselves into a corner. We don’t have to be left shaking our heads thinking “Why did I do that – again?!” Instead we can choose how we respond and what we do – if anything. We have the choice.

How do we learn to do this? How do we give ourselves that pause, that space? How do we even become aware of that space? And how do we learn to expand that space?

By doing nothing. Yes, by doing nothing. And just by practising doing nothing.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time I was head hunted to start up a new radio station. The program director of the network advised me, as he advised all the staff he was recruiting, to read Thick Face Black Heart by Chin-Ning Chu – an expert in business psyche and success tactics. I dutifully bought a copy but never got around to reading it.

Almost a year later, completely overwhelmed by the workload, I was at breaking point.  After each frantic and exhausting day I would crawl back to my small apartment to cry and eat ice cream. The only thing I was capable of reading was junk mail; not much text, lots of pictures and the promise of happiness. I thought perhaps the reason I wasn’t coping was because I hadn’t read the book. Could Thick Face Black Heart be the key to managing the sixteen hour days I was regularly putting in? I had a mentor who would often say to me, “You can only do what you can do.” His voice was soothing but his advice was not helpful. I told him that I was finally going to read Thick Face Black Heart.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “Read her next book instead, The Secrets of the Rainmaker. I think you’ll find it more beneficial.”

I ordered a copy and when it arrived tossed the junk mail in the recycling bin and began to read.

The Secrets of the Rainmaker is based on a story Carl Jung used to tell. In this story a village has been in drought for many years. The people have tried everything, brought in many experts but the drought remains crippling. Finally they call upon a renowned Rainmaker from afar. The Rainmaker arrives, pitches his tent and disappears inside it. The villagers are a bit non-plussed. They were expecting some chanting, a dance, some shaking of a rain stick, something. But no. After a couple of days they start to get worried. Is he a charlatan? Have they been idiots to bring him all the way to their village for this? All he does is sit in his tent all day. After four days The Rainmaker still hasn’t emerged from his tent and it still isn’t raining. The villagers are considering burning down his tent with him in it. On the fifth day the rain begins to fall. When the villagers ask him how he’d achieved such a miracle he answers that he didn’t do anything.

He didn’t do anything. When he’d arrived he noticed that the village was not in harmony with nature, with the Divine, with God, with whatever you want to call it. He spent four days inside his tent bringing himself in harmony with nature, the Divine, with God, with whatever you want to call it. Then the rain came.

Chin-Ning Chiu’s book wasn’t what I was expecting – which was an instruction manual on getting ahead, cramming more into each day and beating my opponents. Instead it talked about trading what you have for what you want, being willing not to survive, and how to respond rather than react through surrender, ease and meditation.

I was already getting up at 4 am but I set my alarm forty minutes earlier to sit in front of a candle on a small table draped in purple silk and meditate. My desperate thoughts would make meditation all but impossible yet I persisted. Day after day in the darkness of early morning, I sat, breathed and gave my heart and mind a place to rest. I did nothing.

The months passed, the workload remained unmanageable, but I kept meditating. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was slowing down enough to allow, as Chin-Ning Chiu says, the angel of good fortune catch up.

And catch up it did. I landed my dream job and moved to the stunningly beautiful Sunshine Coast. Good fortune indeed. But within a year….my dream job  turned into a nightmare Now I’d spent a lot of time in Twelve Step programs in the past, recovering from a gaggle of addictions. There I had learnt, thanks to the Serenity Prayer, that I was powerless over other people, places and things. So I knew I couldn’t change my boss or the company I worked for. If I was to keep the job I loved there was only one thing I could change. Myself. I took some annual leave and instead of having a relaxing holiday I went to a ten day silent meditation retreat where I meditated for 12 hours a day often in excruciating pain.

It was at this meditation retreat that I learnt something that toddlers already know – sitting on their padded bottoms, running through those damage reports. And that is everything we experience, we experience as a sensation. Every sight, taste, smell, sound, touch, every emotion, every thought creates a sensation on or in the body. Some we label as good – beauty, love, chocolate. Others we label as bad – anger, weeds, chocolate.

But all sensations have a common denominator. They’re ephemeral. They don’t last. They will pass, some slower than others, but they will change and they will end. So why cause  a fuss? Why make things worse? Why scream the house down? In those hours of meditation I leant to observe those sensations and realise I didn’t have to react to them. And there’s that space. That space of choice. That space of freedom.  I also learnt to expand that space, to slow down that process enough to allow the angel of fortune catch up.

An angel needs two wings to fly. The two wings of meditation are awareness and equanimity. Thoughts happen, emotions arise. Our job is to be aware of them, use that space to observe them and not to react to them. The power of choice. It’s liberating – and it can be annoying. Sometimes, I must admit, I pause in that space of awareness and choose to be miserable, choose to wallow. Sometimes having a darned good wallow can be fun – the trick is to aware of it, not to take it seriously, and not annoy anyone else if you decide to scream the house down.

So meditation. Sitting and breathing and observing the thoughts, the emotions, the sensations. Through meditation we learn that we don’t have to be driven by automatic reactions. We come out of the habit pattern of our minds, the endless treadmill of cause and effect, and get enough space to look around and go “What do I really want to choose here?” Meditation works because it gives us more space, even if it’s just the length of an intake of breath. Space to be and space to choose. Just like that toddler, with a world of infinite possibilities to explore and enjoy.

My hope for you is that you become more like a toddler. Not in all respects of course. Being toilet trained and the ability to cook are two great attributes. But in taking that pause. In being in that space that is yours and yours alone. That small pause gives you power. The power to be anything and to be anyway you choose. And may you slow down enough, even if it’s just the length of an intake of breath, to allow the angel of good fortune to catch up.

Guest Post: Lisa Venables author of Saving Zali

I’m thrilled to introduce Lisa Venables whose memoir Saving Zali has just been released.  You might feel as though you already know her – the publicity for her memoir has been amazing.

So now over to Lisa and her writing process.

Who I was tagged in by. 

So, I was tagged in by the outgoing Mary-Lou Stevens whose book Sex, Drugs and Meditation felt like she was sharing a cup of tea with me and telling me about her life. There were no holds barred. Her book was interesting reading about a lifestyle I have never experienced but still relatable.

How does my work differ from others in its genre

saving zaliMy book Saving Zali is about the medical miracles that happened to my daughter, then 18 months old when she was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer LCH. She had a complicated and extensive version, and the only treatment available didn’t work. We undertook experimental chemotherapy that caused her to be put into a coma in Intensive Care with less than 1% chance of recovery. The experimental treatment worked and cured the LCH but she developed side effects that were fatal and had no cure. Literally, during the last few hours of her life a mild-mannered genius Dr Munns found an answer. One week later she was out of Intensive Care, three weeks later she was out of hospital and three months later she was back at swimming lessons.

My book is different because it talks about childhood cancer, which is taboo, but very common. My book opens up those dirty two words; childhood cancer, and talks about it frankly. I talk about our experience, and most importantly how we held on, and how Zali recovered in spectacular form.

What am I working on now?

Well, at heart I am a nerd. I love research and especially ancient history. I love that the stories that we tell each other today of family complications, love, war, greed, betrayal are all the same stories we have been engaged in since first man walked out of Africa. I have just submitted a historical fiction to my agent about an incredible ancient history heroine.

I’m doing a course at the moment to work on my third manuscript which is a light-hearted crime fiction, using my previous experience as an Intelligence Officer in Organized Crime Drug Squad. Nothing too serious, just a bit of organized crime, lots of drinking and sex. You know. Police stuff.

Why do I write about what I do.

I am fascinated by all aspects of ancient history. I love seeing pictures on Pinterest of the statues at Petra, talisman from the Sahara, basket weaving done in the same style today as it was thousands of years ago. I can’t help marvel at how we are all still so connected, across time, culture and distance. Something in my very cells tingles in recognition when I see these things. It inspires me.

How does my writing process work.

I have a sunny corner on our enormous deck where I set up underneath a loaded passion fruit vine on a comfy couch with a pot of peppermint tea and allow myself to get carried away from 9.30-12.30. I have some lunch, tidy the house, pick up the kids and do some regular, boring but well paid work. In the evenings I research and allow my mind to wander. I pick up phrases that my characters might say, look at tattoos they would have worn and freestyle imagine.

Before bed I like to meditate to calm my mind. If I don’t, I go to bed buzzing with excitement for my story and the characters talk to me all night. This usually results in me sleepwalking, leaving me tired in the morning. I write because it’s my favorite way to express myself.

I now tag Geena Leigh, and Patti Miller, memoir extraordinaires.

TEDxNoosa

tedxI’ll be one of a wonderful line-up of speakers at TEDxNoosa this year.  TEDxNoosa is a one day event held at The J in Noosa Junction. It is a fully catered for event and doors open at 8am. It is a jam packed day with 18 speakers presenting over 4 sessions, an Innovation Alley, interactive art, displays and even a space workshop. We highly recommend you come ready with an appetite to ponder and meet a very diverse audience throughout the day. This is unallocated seating to give you the opportunity to interact with different people throughout the day. The program guide will be sent to ticket holders prior to the event.

Writing Process? What Writing Process?

I’ve been amazed by the generosity of other writers during this journey to becoming a published author. At every stage there has been a helping hand, an understanding voice and a lift, or in some cases a shove, to the next level. And after publication there has been the same generosity of spirit; other writers willing to spruik my book, to sing its praises and to let the world know. Thank you

Why am I amazed? When I was a musician I helped other songwriters and musos. We were a family. In my life in radio I’ve given advice when asked to those who wanted to work in this form of media. I’m always happy to give what I have in the way of knowledge, connections and practical experience.

Sexdrugsmeditation-pile 2I’ve been a member of a writing group for years and the support of those women has been immeasurable. But when I stepped into the world of publishing I was in unknown territory. That’s why the generosity has amazed me. I’m an old hand at being a singer/songwriter and experienced in the realm of radio but I felt newborn and vulnerable in the world of publishing.

That’s why I’m delighted to take part in this writer’s blog chain. Passing on this generosity of spirit and highlighting other authors in a world that needs to know about great writing.

SusannahI have been tagged by the wonderful and effusive Susanna Freymark whose debut novel Losing February has been described with the same adjective as my memoir. “Brave.” We met at the yearly soiree that our agent throws in Sydney. I was new and shy. Susanna was a beacon of joy and laughter. I was drawn like the proverbial moth. Since then I’ve interviewed her for the ABC and shared a couple of panels with her at The Byron Bay Writers Festival. She continues to be a joy. Susanna is in the process of editing her second novel and you can read about her ongoing writing adventure here.

And now to the questions I must answer about my writing.

So . . .  what am I working on now?

I’m not. There, that was a surprise wasn’t it. I refuse to work. I’m in a mind to relax. To read. To reinvigorate. My memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released last April. My next manuscript is with my publisher after getting the thumbs up from my agent. Right now I’m tired. I need to rest. I’m inspired by the contemporary composer Arvo Pärt and his holy minimalism. Arvo spends time in reflection and meditation to gain inspiration for his next composition. I’m not comparing myself to his beatific brilliance but I resonate with his need to retreat, to be still, to be, before moving on to the next project. This year for me is a year of slow transformation. I know what my next project is and I have a notebook of scribbled lines and ideas which I add to on an ad hoc basis but to tell you the truth I’ve never written anything like this before. My publisher has expressed interest in what really is little more than a title at this stage. I will write it but it needs to evolve. I need to evolve to meet it. For the first time I’m not in a hurry. I’m not anxious. It will come. I will be ready. In some ways I’m already there. (You’ll have an “aha moment” when the title is revealed.)

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My work is inspired, like Arvo Pärt’s, by meditation. My first memoir is about how meditation saved my job, changed my life and helped me find a husband. It might sound a bit woo-woo but it’s real and it’s funny and it’s “brave.” My second memoir is about the truth of the happy ending. Meditation helped me survive some of the toughest years of my life – the early years of my marriage. We’re still married and our marriage gets stronger all the time. This second book is about relationships. Big stuff, sometimes heavy stuff, but also funny stuff  and very, very, “brave” stuff.

I’ve also written a novel that my agent tells me doesn’t work but I haven’t given up on it. It too was inspired by meditation. The story and the protagonist came to me at one of the silent ten-day meditation retreats I insist on doing. Meditation is a creative process. You can’t stop your mind that’s for sure. But when you slow it down some very interesting things pop up.

Why do I write about what I do?

When I used to read self-help books I would skip over the theory and never do the exercises at the end of each chapter. Instead I would head straight to the case studies. These are the stories of transformation that we all love so much; the Hero’s Journey, the overcoming of obstacles, the realisations that lead to change. When it became apparent that my life had changed through meditation I thought perhaps someone might like to read my story. Turns out they would.

I also love fiction because I get to play. I get to make stuff up. I have plans for a lot more fiction after the next book and more resting. Watch this space.

How does my writing process work?

I have no idea. Honestly. It’s always different. It always changes. I’m not methodical. I’m not a plotter. There are times when I write every night after work and every weekend. I’ve gone years without holidays because every scrap of leave has been spent writing or going on those silent ten-day meditation retreats. I saved up my money and took six months leave without pay, worked with a manuscript assessor and a mentor – all for a novel that doesn’t work, allegedly. But boy, oh boy, did I learn a lot about writing. The one constant has been meditation. Meditation breaks down the barrier between the conscious and the subconscious. It gets to the juice, the real driving force. We think our minds are in charge. They’re not. Meditation allows us to access the real deal, the source of all the action, love, fear and truth. As I mentioned at the moment I’m having a rest from writing. Vital for rejuvenation. Some say you must write every day. I say not so. Forget the musts. Find out what works for you. Everyday is creative whether you write or not. I’d rather have some time to stretch and rest and play and then return to writing with love than to feel duty bound to chain myself to a desk everyday. Besides I have a very exacting day job. Sometimes I need some space.

Now it’s my turn to spread the love by introducing you to two writers.

walter masonWalter Mason writes a whole different kind of travel book. Spiritual, humorous, honest and intriguing. If you haven’t yet read Destination Saigon or Destination Cambodia you will fall in love with him too when you do. Walter is tireless in his promotion of other writers. He is an inspiration. I’ve interviewed him for my program on the ABC, I’ve written a blog for his Universal Heart Book Club and he’s featured my book in his own blog. He is a generous and loving soul. Irresistible. Follow his adventures here and check out The Universal Heart Book Club as well.

blue mileKim Swivel writes as Kim Kelly and her latest novel The Blue Mile will be released in May. She tells a great story and weaves so much history into her novels that I find them fascinating. I’ve learnt things about Australia that I never knew and I’ve learnt them the best way – by being entertained. It’s a great mix. I’ve also interviewed her and found her delightful, humble and quietly determined. You can find out more about Kim here.

Check out their blogs for more about them and their writing process. Read their books and keep reading. It’s fun, inspiring and sometimes even life changing.

 

I Didn’t Eat For a Month. Here’s Why.

Many dairy farmers in my part of the world have been doing it tough for years. Drought, floods, deregulation, supermarket price wars and now back to drought again. The number of dairy farms has decreased dramatically and farmers are actively discouraging their children from following in their footsteps. The hours are crushing, the days endless and the return not enough to survive on.

Recently I met with the dairy farmer who supplies my milk. With great concern I asked him how he was faring. His answer took me by surprise.

“Better than ever. The business is going from strength to strength.”

Why? Niche marketing. He doesn’t sell to the big companies who supply the supermarkets, instead he has developed his own range of organic and biodynamic milk, yoghurt and cream. He also has another niche market which is growing steadily and it’s from this niche that I buy my milk.

The sale of raw milk is perfectly legal in some countries and states and perfectly illegal in others. Most dairy farmers I’ve spoken with have drunk raw milk all their lives and intend to keep drinking it until the day they leave for other pastures. It’s legal for them to drink it because the cows belong to them. Which is where my farmer’s other niche resides. I have bought into his herd and therefore I’m able to enjoy the raw milk from that herd.

cows

Before we became industrialised and moved to the cities those that drank milk drank raw milk. These days with transportation times and the demands for shelf-life pasteurisation is de rigueur. Fair enough. No one wants to get sick and not many people like rancid milk. I’m fortunate to live close to a dairy farmer who’s allowed me to buy in.

When I get my milk the first thing I do is pour a glass and drink it down. Delicious. After that it goes into the usual cups of tea and everyday use. But that all changed about six weeks ago. The Hubby came home from work and amongst his news of the day was this;

“One of my colleagues drank only raw milk for forty days. She said it was wonderful and by the end she smelt like a baby.”

He had me at “raw milk”. I didn’t particularly want to smell like a baby but the idea of ingesting nothing but raw milk had enormous appeal. My body said, “Yes please.”

Never one to jump in without knowing the facts I began to research the subject. The internet abounds with information about raw milk cleanses, raw milk fasts and raw milk cures but by far the most detailed information is from two gentlemen; Bernarr (sic) McFadden and Dr Charles Porter. The Milk Diet was very popular early last century and at the time both men wrote how-to books on curing chronic diseases with milk. The Milk Diet: How to Use the Milk Diet Scientifically at Home by McFadden is very practical. Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease by Charles Sanford Porter, M.D. is also useful but rather amusing. He suggests hair mattresses, sleeping pavilions and enough time away from our busy lives to stay in bed for weeks. The books overlap in their information and procedures but the MacFadden instructions are far more conducive to a lifestyle that involves going to work and a remarkable dearth of servants.

Both MacFadden and Porter start off their protocols with a fast, to ready the body for what’s to come. It doesn’t have to be long. A couple of days will do it. Fruit, mainly citrus and a few dates perhaps, or just water. While I fasted I re-read their books, both available for free on the internet. The cures they were doing with the Milk Diet were astounding. Just about everything, they claimed, except cancer. Both of them state the reason the milk cure didn’t become more popular was that no one could believe anything so simple could work.

The first two weeks of raw milk were easy. No hunger and no cravings. The Hubby joined me and lost ten kilos in those two weeks while I lost four. I made clabbered milk, a term I’d never heard of before this raw milk adventure. It was popular before the advent of pasteurisation. It merely involves leaving some raw milk out in a clean glass jar covered with a tea towel. Within a day or two the clabbered milk becomes a great source of  beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately if you try this with pasteurised milk it will just go off. The Hubby and I drank a glass of this thick, soured milk every morning.

Week three was tougher and I began to crave not my usual sweet things and baked goods but scrambled eggs with greens. Week four was easy again and each glass of milk was sweet and satisfying. I lost just over six kilos in total, about fourteen pounds. A gradual return to the world of food sees me eating vegetables at night with an egg or two and drinking milk during the day up until about one pm, as instructed by Mcfadden.

I’ve loved this raw milk adventure. I haven’t gone hungry and I’m amazed that it’s been so easy. I feel clearer, stronger, lighter and thrilled that the craving for the foods that do me harm have completely gone. It’s as if I’ve reset my body and my emotions by going back to my days as a baby when all I drank was raw milk. Thanks mum. Is it for everyone? Possibly not. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Did I end up smelling like a baby? I don’t think so. Do I want to buy into the arguments against raw milk? Not particularly. I know what works for me. I know what works for my dairy farmer. And we’re both happy with that.

DISCLAIMER: Information on this post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional.

How I Became a Huffington Post Blogger

huffpostHere I am, a woman from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, a long, long way from New York City where The Huffington Post is based. So how did I become a blogger for HuffPost?

To tell you the truth it was totally unexpected.

I knew Arianna Huffington was a huge fan of meditation and I just happen to have written a book about how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband. I thought perhaps she might like to read my book,  and if she enjoyed it she might tell her friends about it.

I tracked down her email address, it wasn’t hard, and after she had finished her holiday digital detox I sent her an email. This is what it said:

Hi Arianna

Welcome back to the plugged-in world.
 
I’d love to send you a copy of my meditation memoir. I think you might enjoy it. It’s about how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband. Plus I’m told it’s very funny.  It’s published in Australia by Pan Macmillan.
 
“Bracingly honest, funny and rewarding, this is a book you can’t put down.” Sydney Morning Herald.
 
It is available as an e-book but I’d like to give you a book made out of paper – it is recycled paper :)
 
What’s the best address to send it to?
 
Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.
 
Warm regards
Mary-Lou Stephens
Did I expect to hear back from her? Not really. She’s a very busy woman with way too many emails to read I’m sure. But I hoped someone might get back to me with an address.
To my great surprise and delight, less than 2 weeks later this email appeared in my Inbox.
Mary-Lou, many thanks for thinking of us. We would love to feature your voice on HuffPost about your meditation memoir. I’m ccing our Third Metric editor Carolyn Gregoire as well as our Books editor Zoe to follow up. All the best, Arianna
Very quickly afterwards this email chimed in:
Thanks so much for reaching out, Mary-Lou. We’d be thrilled to feature your voice on the page. All we need to get started is a first blog (typically 500-1,000 words), along with a headshot and a bio, all in one email. Please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to send a copy of the book to the below address. Best, Carolyn

So I did as requested, emailed my bio, headshot and a sample blog.  Within a day I was accepted into the fold at The Huffington Post, set up with my blogger’s toolkit, and my first blog was up on their site shortly afterwards.
The whole experience was miraculous, unexpected, joyful and welcoming. I was amazed at the warmth and promptness of their responses. But I guess when you have the boss suggesting that something should happen, it happens.
So there you have it, I wasn’t looking to become a blogger for The Huffington Post but here I am. And I’m thrilled. Thank you Arianna, thank you Caroline, thank you everyone at HuffPost for making miracles happen.