Category Archives: Meditation

Is there such a thing as bad meditation?

I’ve always thought that any meditation is a good meditation. Sure, some may be better than others – positive and uplifting, rather than ho-hum, or should that be ho-om…

I love my mediation time. It’s time to myself, to be with myself. I watch those thoughts flit by until they calm down and diminish, until I’m left with space and a blue-sky mind. Other times it’s enough just to be able to sit down for a while and have the excuse of “I’m meditating” to keep all those bothersome tasks at bay.

But apparently not all meditation is good meditation. I’ve interviewed two people recently who have said that meditation can keep us in a negative loop. That if it’s done incorrectly it can ingrain harmful thought patterns and behaviors into our psyches.

Gary Little calls himself a wellness navigator and has spent twenty years researching the causes of pain. According to his findings pain is mostly in the mind and yes meditation is a great source of relief but he’s known people who have maintained their negativity with bad meditation practices.

Peter Hoddle is a metaphysical healer. He has spent a lot of time meditating. Although looking back he believes he wasn’t actually meditating at all when he was in his early twenties. He was either asleep or being run ragged by his mad and damaging thoughts.

In meditation our consciousness is heightened, our awareness expands and our thoughts slow down. It doesn’t matter what kind of meditation you do, as long as it works for you. Observe those mad and negative thoughts and let them go, as opposed to getting hooked in by them and letting them run the meditation and be the boss of you.

But I’m a fine one to talk. So many of my mediations have consisted of fighting with my mad monkey mind. It’s exhausting. But it’s also great fodder. The descriptions of just how mad my mind can get are part of my meditation memoir being released in April 2013 by Pan Macmillan. Oh, hang on a sec. Maybe I need to get the release date pushed forward. Isn’t the world ending in a couple of weeks? Now that’s something to meditate on.

Breath. Breath in,observe. Breathe out, observe. Repeat. I’m feeling better already.

 

 

What’s in a Name?

I’m supposed to be doing NaNoWriMo. I was already falling behind when my copy edits came through. It was a simple decision and one that had to be made thanks to the full-time job. New writing, that may or may not be published, or old writing that has already scored itself a deal? As I said – a simple decision.

Once more into the depths of the as-yet-still-to-be-named meditation memoir. Yes, two rounds of edits and still no title. This is starting to remind me of being in bands. Writing the songs, playing the instruments, booking the gigs are the easy part. Well, straight forward at least. But naming a band? That’s tough. The name has to be just right. First impressions and all that. I like my title, sex, drugs & meditation but I understand if it needs to change. After all, it started out as Ten Days to Enlightenment & A Really Sore Bottom and then turned into The Vipassana Diaries. Anything is possible.

I’ve never had to name a child but I’ve heard how fraught it can be. Mind you I did change my name by deed poll when I was about twenty years old proving you don’t have to be stuck with the name your parents have agonised over.* Can a book change its name once it’s been christened? Books do have different titles in different markets. I guess that comes down to the publisher’s choice. When the overseas deals start coming in, will I go through this process all over again? And how does the digital world of ebooks deal with different titles in different markets? This is all ahead of me.

I do wonder about the power of names. We called our second-hand six-year-old dog Maddie, and that is what she has proved to be. Her RSPCA name was Magic. We thought it was a bit naff. We couldn’t see ourselves calling out “Magic, Magic” on the beach. Which is possibly why we can no longer take her there. We called “Maddie, Maddie” and instead of coming to us, she bit a dog. Mad indeed.

But Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What’s in a name indeed? I wonder if he had trouble naming all those plays. That’s just given me some ideas for the title of my meditation memoir. How about Much Ado about Sitting Still and Doing Nothing. Or Taming of the Mary-Lou? Or As You Don’t Like It? Ah the possibilities are endless.

It is just like naming a band. But in the end you need something to put on the CD cover. I wonder what it will be. Has anyone done the self-titled album thing with books? The eponymous approach? Mary-Lou Stephens by Mary-Lou Stephens. You know what, I like it. Now all I need to do is to convince the publisher, the sales team and the book buyers. Wish me luck.

*I changed it back again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected Joys of Detoxing

“Why do I always do this to myself ?” I found myself thinking three days into a detox retreat. When other people take time off work, most of them have a holiday. Instead I spend seven days without food, taking lots of herbs to clean out my entire system, which before it gets clean feels like…well you get the idea. Other so-called holidays I’ve had involved meditating in silence for ten days and only having lemon water for dinner.  I seem to think that holidays are meant to fortify the body and soul rather than relax them. Perhaps I feel a certain amount of guilt living in a permanent holiday destination, where driving to work means a beautiful meander along the Maroochy River and I get to go to the beach everyday.

Friends and family laughed when I told them I was going on a detox retreat. “You’re the cleanest living person we know,” they said. “What have you got to detox from?” And that was a very good question, a question I didn’t find the complete answer to until almost the end of the retreat.

The answer I found was that I was detoxing from the media, from the news, from the gossip, from the latest round of tragedy and betrayal. I was detoxing from the internet, and boy did I go through withdrawals. Not being able to google myself up an answer or some information at the touch of a keyboard was almost as tough as going without three meals a day plus snacks.

I was detoxing from a certain mindset that pushes us all to achieve in the external world, to acquire and grasp and cut ourselves off from each other with our possessions and positions in life.

I was detoxing from fear, from the need to constantly prove myself in the eyes of others.

And strangely enough of all, I was detoxing from music. I fill my ears constantly with sounds from all over the world, the latest hit single from the multinational multi-labels to obscure bouzouki playing duos recorded on the last two-track reel-to-reel in existence. Sometimes your ears need a good cleaning out as well as the rest of your system so that you can appreciate a simple melody or a beautiful lyric.

The joy of detoxing is that you get to begin again all squeaky clean and when you do you can really enjoy that brand new song, the latest factoid on the internet and the taste of, well let’s face it, just about anything tastes good after a week of not eating!

**This post also appeared as a column in Holistic Bliss Magazine November 2012

The thing about a broken heart..

The thing about a broken heart is you never know when it’s going to strike. You may get an inkling; storms cloud gather, the sky turns a strange shade of green, birds fall silent and retreat, but still you think that the lightning will pass you by. You’ve weathered storms before and emerged unscathed. You reason to yourself that you’ll just lay low for a while and wait for it to blow over. But it doesn’t. It hovers directly above and you’re frozen with fear. In that split second you know it’s coming and you know there’s no escape. Time stretches to draw out the arrival of that certain agony. Why is that? Is fate so cruel that it has to underline its arrival by slowing time to a trickle in order that we feel every nuance of impending doom?

But that is nothing compared to what’s about to follow. The lightning, that you swore would leave you be, cracks your world apart. Things you thought you’d hold forever are gone. Precious, cherished moments of joy turn to ashes and worse. Jagged, broken, bitter bits of dreams catch your clothing and tear your skin. Everyday there are reminders that render you unable to think or reason, let alone speak.

We are all capable of great love and that is in itself the danger. There is so much to lose; a marriage betrayed, a job annihilated, a child lost, a home destroyed, a friendship defeated, a belief shattered, a sense of belonging destroyed. Everything from your football team losing the Grand Final to a massacre in your homeland.

Helen Keller said that security is a superstition. It does not exist in nature. And when lightning strikes, as it always will, there may be some comfort in those words.

Buddhism says when the lightning strikes we are forced to look at the places where we are most stuck, our suffering shows us what we are most attached to. Therefore we should welcome such experiences, because it’s only by facing the sadness, the loss, the sense of betrayal and the grief that we can be free of these things ruling our lives.

Although I understand that to be true and have experienced the change it brings, sometimes I am made of softer stuff and need something more. So I turn to what sustained me as a child singing myself to sleep, as an adolescent suffering the usual humiliations, as an adult struck by the lightning of betrayal and bereavement. Music. And if I ever I lose that precious sense of hearing, I’ll lay my head on my pillow until I hear the music of the spheres.

The Unexpected Adventure of Writing

It was explained to me, by a more experienced writer than myself, that saying, “I felt sick,” when asked how I felt when I landed a publishing deal, was best avoided, even if it was the truth. She said most people, who haven’t been published, expect you to say, “It was fabulous, I was so excited, over the moon,” and if that wasn’t the case then I should practise saying it until it sounded natural.

Trouble is I did feel sick, and she understood why. She’d been through it herself and talked to many other first time authors who felt the same. It’s about letting go. Letting go can be tough, especially when you’ve nurtured your manuscript for six years. The realisation that my brutally and beautifully honest meditation memoir was going out into the world to have a life of its own was a tough jump to make, even though I’d wanted it to happen for years. Dreams and reality are two very different beasts.

I took a deep breath, jumped, and signed the much desired contract. Reality rushed to meet me head on with a touch of dreaminess to soften the blow.

My publisher told me it was one of the most complete manuscripts she’d ever read. There wouldn’t need to be many changes, she said. I met my editor and my publisher – and how good does it feel to say that when you’re a first-time published author – and we talked about time-frames and covers. Bliss. They told me they were both going to read the manuscript again and send me their suggestions, but that there wouldn’t be much to do in that regard.

When the manuscript was emailed back to me with comments and suggestions my reaction was extraordinary. And I say reaction in every sense of the word. It was chemical, physical,emotional and totally illogical. I was angry, defensive, hurt and full of fear. I started scrolling through the suggestions and my chest clamped up. How dare they? How dare they challenge my work, my bravery, my art? How dare they want me to change any bit of it? I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I was not capable of doing it. I swung between fear and fury. I decided, within half an hour of receiving the email, that I wasn’t going to go through with the deal. I was going to email them and tell it was all off. I’d had enough. It was too hard.

Crazy woman. I watched myself go through this agony. I watched my insane, terrified mind writhe and twist. Two things became apparent. I’ve always hated being told what to do. I’ve resented every boss I’ve ever had. My publisher was just another boss at that point, telling me what to do. The other realisation was that I was just plain scared because I’d never done this before. I’d never had to revise a manuscript for a publisher. I’ve done plenty of writing courses and been given feedback. I’ve been in a writing group for years and accepted suggestions from my fellow members. But this was on a whole new level. I’m a professional now, a soon-to-be published author by a major publishing house. This was totally different. I was out of my comfort zone and in outer space somewhere, spinning and lost.

So I did what I always do. I emailed my editor and my publisher and said, “Sure, that’s fine. And yes I can make the changes by the dead line.” And then I didn’t do a thing. I would slide through the manuscript and drift over their notes from time to time, like a tongue seeking out the aching tooth, but that was it. As the deadline grew closer I read the notes more carefully. They weren’t as bad as I’d first thought, in fact some of them were complimentary. My confidence returned just enough to read some more. The suggestions made sense, ah yes why hadn’t I noticed that, and oh, that would make it easier for the reader to follow. By the time the last weekend before my deadline arrived I was feeling as if I could possibly, maybe do this and not stuff it up too badly.

I allotted myself four days. The Hubby was away for two and a half of those. I’d have the place to myself, except for the dog. The first day and a half I did everything else but work on my manuscript. There were too many distractions. Everything was more important than my book. Finally, when The Hubby was gone, the dog was walked and everybody else was taken care of, I got down to work. I didn’t leave the house, except to walk the dog, I survived on what ever food was in the fridge. Slowly the pages, changes and suggestions started melting away. In the midst of it I had major realisations about the core message of my memoir. I made subtle changes that made the story sing and sob. I felt a whole new energy vibrating through the words. I cried and laughed, and howled with the dog. By the afternoon of day three I knew I was home. Right in the middle of my own life. Doing what I was destined to do. Doing what I loved. And it was working.

And I knew something else. I had conquered my fear, I had done something I’d never done before and my book was so much better for it. Clever publisher, clever editor, clever me.

Connection

I was in need of some time out. The stress levels were on the rise and my ability to cope diminishing. Ten day silent meditation retreats may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday but that’s what I chose. I’d done a few before and knew they worked for me. I also knew what I was in for; eleven hours of meditation a day, no talking to, or even looking at, any of the other meditators, and some physical pain.

The retreat was held at an old holiday camp on top of a cliff. The ocean crashed against the rocks below making a mockery of the so-called silence. The waves were a loud and constant soundtrack during those ten days. In the hours of meditation sometimes my mind would wander to the sea and as I practised observing my breath and observing the sensations I felt my body dissolve and become one with the ocean. During one of those hours a character formed in my imagination. An energy being who came to Earth to make amends for a mistake she made in the long distant past. The only place where she can take her true form is in the ocean, like golden particles suspended in the water. In the place where she comes from connection is the most important thing but because of her transgression she has been dealt a cruel punishment, the worst possible for those who depend on being connected. Separation. Exile.

After the retreat The Hubby came to collect me. He took me to the beach and as we dived through the waves I told him about this character and how I would write a book about her. I opened my eyes under the water and saw her suspended there, golden motes dancing in the water.

True to my word I took six months leave without pay and wrote my first novel. I called her Maggie and she was my constant companion day and night for those six months. Maggie can do things with space and energy that quantum physicists can only dream of. But it is the Little Blue Planet she loves, and the oceans that give it its name. After being cast out by her own she searches for connection wherever she goes and finds it here on Earth.

They say all first novels are autobiographical. Perhaps it is my love of the ocean that shines through in this book, my fascination with energy and how it works that determines Maggie’s form. And if it is true, is it my desire for connection that colours her actions, her motivation? Or was it simply that Maggie was imagined into being at a meditation retreat where I was not allowed to connect with anyone but myself. And there’s the key. Connect to self and all else will follow, including imagination, creativity and companionship.