Category Archives: Spirit

How to Eat Cake

IMG_0160

The other morning I had a vision of the reality of life. It wasn’t profound. It was prosaic. Ordinary but delicious. The vision was of a cake. In this vision I saw a big round cake with icing on the top and one of those decorative cake wrappers around the circumference. I had to do an internet search to find out what those paper wrappers are called. They’re called cake frills. Even though most of them aren’t frilly. In my vision I saw that the life we know and experience is the same as that cake frill. Thin and inedible. It might look pretty but to eat the cake you have to take off that cake frill and discard it.

The real deal, the delicious, dense and deep stuff, is the cake. But we don’t see it, we don’t experience it, because all we see is the cake frill and we think that’s all there is.

It’s an unsatisfying way to be and live, convinced that a tasteless piece of pretty paper is the sum total of our existence. But we all agree that it’s all there is to life and that the prettier the cake frill the better our lives are. If anyone dare mention that perhaps this piece of paper is just a wrapping and nothing more, that the real experience is underneath and that this real experience is huge and deep and delicious beyond description, then they are derided. Scoffed at for being mad, deluded, odd, poor, ugly and probably frigid to boot. How dare anyone question the validity of our cake frills!

I realise also that this is how I judge most people. I see their external wrappings and all my thoughts are clouded by that wrapping. The car they drive, the house they live in, the way they look, their teeth, their hair, their skin. Their cake frill. I get distracted by it because this is all I’ve been taught to see.

The words we say are cake frills as well. We all want to impress, entertain, engage and prove our worth by our words. Cake frills for the ears. We take people at surface value, often too afraid to see or hear beyond that paper wrapping. Anything more is dangerous. Even if we realise that the true reality is beyond the cake frill, even if we sense that the real stuff of life is exquisitely delicious, the thought of removing that wrapping and discarding it is terrifying. We will never be able to go back. Once the cake frill is gone we will never fit in to this world again. We will be lonely. Outcast.

Fear is the thing we use to keep ourselves from having the cake. It is the thing that keeps us believing the cake frill is all there is. And so we live in the narrowest of realities. A sliver of paper just a breath away from heaven.

My Black Eye

This post originally published by Mamamia

http://www.mamamia.com.au/health-wellbeing/what-happens-when-you-try-to-stop-violence-against-women/

Screen Shot 2013 06 24 at 11.07.02 AM Her boyfriend didnt do this to her. But he didnt stop it happening either...

Mary Lou Stephens after the ordeal

Her boyfriend didn’t do this to her. But he didn’t stop it happening either….

I was a lot younger than I am now when it happened. And I was a lot more idealistic. I was sitting in a pub with my boyfriend and his mates.

A man and a woman I didn’t know began to fight nearby. The fight turned violent. He hit her. More than once. More than twice. I waited for my boyfriend and his mates to do something. To tell the man to stop. To protect the woman. They did nothing. They steadfastly ignored what was happening only metres away.

“Aren’t you going to do anything?” I asked them.

They didn’t answer. They wouldn’t even look at me.

“I’m going to stop this,” I said and stood up.

My boyfriend put his hand on my arm. “It’s none of our business.”

I shrugged his hand off and moved away. The couple were screaming at each other. He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back. She was crying, her face red from where he’d hit her.

“Hey,” I said. “Stop it.”

The man span around to look at me. “What?”

“Stop it. Leave her alone.”

And he did. He left her alone and strode over to me. “This is none of your business,” he said, echoing my boyfriend words. He was angry, drunk and wild-eyed.

“Well, if it’s none of my business don’t do it near me. You do it in front of me, you make it my business.”

What did I expect? Did I think he’d see reason? Did I imagine he’d stop, think about it and say, “You know what, you’re right. Sorry.”

BM1NZG4CEAAAmh9 380x488 Her boyfriend didnt do this to her. But he didnt stop it happening either...
Should someone have stopped Charles Saatchi instead of taking a photograph?

Wrong. This was a man who hit women. This was a man who hit women in public and didn’t care who saw him do it.

This was a man who didn’t think twice in picking up a beer bottle and taking a swing at me. I got my arm up to block the blow. I thought he would stop after that.

I thought my boyfriend would intercede, after all surely it was his business now. Wrong again. The man took another swing at me. I wasn’t expecting it.

Luckily the beer bottle was full. Luckily the bottle didn’t smash. I was almost knocked unconscious but I was not cut.

The man dropped the bottle and ran. The woman ran after him. My boyfriend offered to take me to hospital.

“Why didn’t you do something?” I asked him.

“If he’d hit you one more time I was going to,” he answered.

“Twice was not enough?”

He didn’t answer.

My eye was swelling up. I could hardly see out of it. I slumped in my seat, dizzy and nauseous.

My boyfriend’s mates helped him get me to the car. “We’ll get that fuck wit,” they said. “We’ll get him and bash him up.”

“No. Don’t,” I said. “Violence isn’t going to fix anything.” Besides I was worried that if they did, it would start a chain reaction. I was a woman who lived alone. I didn’t fancy being hit again, or worse, by that man. “Just take me home.”

“You don’t want to go to the hospital?”

“I just want to go home.”

My boyfriend and I split up not long afterwards. He was prepared to do nothing while a woman he didn’t know was beaten up in front of him. He was prepared to do nothing when I woman he did know and supposedly loved was bashed in front of him. He was not the man for me. He was a coward.

Don’t walk past. But do take care.

Some people told me I should have known better. That I shouldn’t have got involved. That, really, it was none of my business. “I guess you’ve learnt your lesson,” they said. “I’ll bet you’ll never do that again.”

My answer always surprised them. The answer from a woman with a black eye, a swollen face, a woman who has a small dent on her cheekbone to this day as a result.

“I would do it again and I will do it again if it happens in front of me. It is unacceptable. What does that say about me if I accept it?”

I didn’t have the Chief of Army’s fine words to say to them back them but now I do. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” I wear that dent on my cheek with pride and awareness. If a man is violent to a woman there is every chance he will be violent to me when I intervene.

Don’t walk past but do take care.

 If you need help or just somebody to talk to, you can contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or go to their website. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.

Mary Lou Stephens has worked in music and radio but has now discovered a passion for writing. Her first book is entitled “Sex, Drugs and Meditation.” Follow her on Twitter here and visit her website here.

Personal or personally? Your choice.

It’s the little things. The little things that make a day gloomy. The little things that brighten it again. The rainbow in the grey and drizzly clouds. Clean sheets to slide into after a tiring day. The dog leaning in for a pat, eyes full of love, even though you know she’s just dug up the silver beet. Again.

Many little annoying things throughout the day can make it seem as though the world is Smiley coffeeagainst us. One annoying incident can be ignored. Two and we might become irritable. Three and that’s it, we know that everyone and everything is out to get us. The best advice I’ve been given in these situations is not to take it personally. Because it’s not personal. It just is. Once we take something personally though, everything becomes loaded with meaning, with emotion, and with blame and resentment. Don’t you feel tired just thinking about it? Nurture your mind, reclaim your energy and your smile by not taking stuff personally. No one’s out to get you, and even if they are, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do them. So no matter what’s happened, it’s not personal.

Instead of fretting about those little things that don’t mean anything anyway, why not spend some time getting personal? If you stop taking things personally you’ll have more time to spend with yourself and with other people. Take some time out to breathe, to stretch, to skip, to smile. One of the quickest ways to get personal with yourself is with meditation. If you want to find out what you’re really thinking, try to stop thinking! But all the experts agree as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference to all kinds of health and emotional issues. Nurture your soul with a little meditation.

There are some who think that the answer to all of life’s problems is a nice cup of tea. Whether it’s the extended process of brewing up a spicy chai on a cool winter’s night, or simply boiling the kettle for a quick and simple green tea, the whole process is imbued with anticipation and delight. And the end result is a sip, a sigh, a smack of the lips. The little things that add up to an experience. A small experience that’s true, just a little thing, and the easiest way to nurture body, mind and soul.

 

Ten Insights into Sex, Drugs and Meditation

From an interview with Beauty and Lace.

You have had quite a varied career Mary-Lou, what made you want to write a book?Sexdrugsmeditation-pile 2

When I traveled overseas some years ago people asked to see my photographs when I got back. I had only taken twelve and they were on a disposable camera. A friend pointed out that photography clearly wasn’t my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead. I did. That resulted in being asked to write a weekly column for the local newspaper which in turn led to writing short stories and a novel. The instigation for this memoir came from reading self-help books. I always loved the case studies where people transformed their lives. I realised my life was one big case study and that people might like to read about it.

Can you tell us a little about ‘Sex, Drugs & Meditation’?

I didn’t go to a ten day silent meditation retreat because I was happy. I went because my life needed to change. Sex, Drugs and Meditation is told within the framework of that ten day meditation retreat. During those ten days I confronted the demons of my past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion…. and the demons in my mind; paranoia, self-loathing, fear and rage. I relived my time spent in Twelve Step programs, my years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of my former life as a musician and the journey that led me to work in radio.

For ten days and nights I battled with my memories, mistakes and fantasies. The long hours spent meditating resulted in excruciating physical pain.

Facing the pain, accepting it and overcoming it enabled me to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.

When I left the meditation centre I knew I had changed. What surprised me was that within 2 weeks something so wonderful and completely unexpected showed up in my life that even I, the great doubter, had to believe again in life and in love.

What would you say was the catalyst for changing your life?

I’ve had many changes in my life. The catalyst for giving up drugs was the death of my father when I was in my twenties. I realised for the first time that I wasn’t immortal and as I was going to die anyway, why rush into it.
The catalyst for doing the meditation retreat that changed my life was my work. My dream job had become a nightmare. My new boss made my working life hell. I knew he wouldn’t change. I knew the company I worked for wouldn’t change. If I was to keep the job I loved, there was only one thing I could change. Myself.

What was the most enlightening lesson you took from your 10 day meditation retreat?

I had many realisations at the retreat; why I’d always had trouble with relationships, why I’d always resented my bosses, and why I’d always felt like a victim. But the biggest realisation was that I create my own misery by the way I choose to think – always churning over the past, always worrying about the future, and if there’s nothing to worry about I invent things to worry about! I make myself miserable for no good reason. I learnt how to stop creating misery in my life and let the joy in instead.

Music, Radio, Writing – how closely do you think the three are related?

I love radio. It combines all my skills into one. When I played in bands I used to play music and talk in between. When I first started in radio I used to play music and talk in between. Perfect. These days I work in a talk radio format and there’s a lot of writing involved. I love to write introductions and teases that will interest people and hook our listeners.b&w performance 1 1995

I wrote songs for years and sometimes I would marvel as to where they came from. It was as if a muse had delivered them to me.

Writing prose can be like that too. And then there are other songs and writing that take endless rewrites and much changing around until they are ready for the world. But all three – music, radio and writing are best when they connect to the heart of the listener or reader. To me that’s what it is all about – connection.

Different readers will take different things from your book, but if you had to pick just one thing what would you want readers to take away from Sex, Drugs & Meditation?

That we create our own misery and that meditation can help us realise that and change it.

How does your life to date compare to what you had planned for it as an adolescent?

My life as an adolescent was not a happy one. I pretended all the time to be someone I wasn’t. The only time I was happy was when I was acting in school plays or singing in the choir but I never thought they could be career options. I did at one stage want to be an archeologist which is amusing in hindsight given that with this memoir I am, in a very different way, digging up the past.

What’s been the most satisfying stop on your career journey up until now?

My journey into working in radio was truly amazing. After many years of banging my head against walls as a singer/songwriter, once I decided to get into radio all the doors opened. It was incredible. I describe those events in my memoir.
And I must say, landing a publishing deal after years of writing was a real gift.

What’s next for Mary-Lou Stephens?photo-11

I continue to work full-time in radio and when I’m not at work I am writing the sequel to this memoir. Sex, Drugs and Meditation has a happy ending. My next book is the truth about the happily-ever-after.

What does being a woman mean to you?

I have worked in mostly male dominated areas, the music industry and radio. I had an epiphany when I was 36. For once I wasn’t wearing jeans and for some reason was painting my toe nails. I was suddenly struck by the thought that I was a woman. I realised that I had been living my life as if I were a seventeen year old boy; no responsibilities, playing and living all over the county, shooting the breeze with the blokes, going to the footy.
It made me take stock of what was important to me – being a token bloke or being the real me, a 36 year old woman. I stopped trying to impress the men and started exploring what was important to me. Being a woman means being equal but different. Taking pride in those differences instead of trying to deny them.

Thanks for your time Mary-Lou.

Why you must rest…

Woodford-14

Blaise Pascal was a clever man. He was a mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher. He also worked out the solution to all our problems. Incredible when you discover he lived almost four hundred years ago. This Renaissance man from the seventeenth century had the answer to every single thing that plagues us today. And what is that answer?

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Some call it meditation, others call it contemplation, but the ability to spend time with ourselves in silence is something that is very rare these days. There are so many distractions.

My favourite Australian philosopher Michael Leunig reached much the same conclusion. In the Curly Pyjama Letters Mr Curly says to his friend Vasco:

“It is worth doing nothing and it is worth having a rest. In spite of all the difficulty it may cause, you MUST rest Vasco – otherwise you will become RESTLESS!”

mr Curly

And there you have it. Two great minds, centuries apart, coming to the same conclusion in their own way. Peace, quiet and rest are necessary. Otherwise we become anxious, restless, dissatisfied and stressed. We become exhausted, drained, depleted and sick.

For myself, meditation is the solution I choose. Sitting quietly in a room alone has unexpectedly been the source of my greatest creativity and my greatest healing. The mind is an amazing thing when left to its own devices, without the constant overstimulation that bombards us every day. When my mind stills from the relentless inane everyday chatter, when it stops milling over the nuance of every interaction and action of my past, when it ceases worrying about possible future events that may never happen, then the glory of its creativity can blossom. It arises from a space that is usually crowded out by the noise and busyness of the world outside my quiet room. When I give my mind the space and time to just be, it rewards me with treasures from the deep.

Sitting quietly in a room alone has also given me a range of healing. The physical benefits of meditation are well documented; lower blood pressure, less pain and it is the only thing that has been proved to help with auto-immune diseases. Also the emotional healing I’ve gained from meditation has changed my life, my work and my relationships.

We simply must rest, sit quietly in a room alone, to be, to create and to heal.

This post originally appeared in the May 2013 edition of Holistic Bliss Magazine

 

If You Love Someone, Set Yourself Free

This article was published by The Elephant Journal on 21/4/2012

 

It was love at first sight—that clench of the guts, wallop in the heart, stars in the eyes kind of love.

Handsome, talented, funny and creative—how could such a man want to be with me? But he did and I was in a haze of happiness. With his dark lashes and hypnotic eyes, he Woodford-22seemed to be surrounded by a halo of light. Or so I thought. I resisted the drugs at first but heroin kept my illusions in place and him in the state in which he preferred to exist. And still I thought he was the most delicious creature on the planet.

Denial is the strongest glue there is.

Our relationship imploded in a fury of betrayal and lies when, while I was away at my father’s funeral, he had sex with his ex-girlfriend. I was shattered, mad with grief, left with no trust in men or myself. The terror of being hurt and the fear of not being able to rely on my own judgement meant that relationships had no chance of surviving. I swung between looking for love and running away from it—an endless tug of war.

I found relief from this insanity during the time I spent in Twelve Step programs recovering from my addictions to drugs, alcohol and food. I worked those twelve steps many times and shed my skin in therapists’ rooms, yet relationships remained elusive and transitory.

My friends began to get married while I continued my pattern of short-stay serial monogamy. One of these friends suggested I try The List to manifest my perfect man. I had to write down everything; his physical appearance, his work, his interests, the things we’d do together. I wrote pages of intense descriptions, hopes and dreams. Then I had to hone it down to the essentials—my “Top Ten.” Next I had to sleep with The List under my pillow and burn it at the next full moon. Ridiculous. But I did it. Nothing happened. Instead, I began avoiding my friend because of her questioning looks and my own sense of failure.

My love-life might have been a source of continual disappointment, but my working life blossomed. I began a whole new career in radio and after some time landed the job of my dreams. Unfortunately, the dream didn’t last. With the arrival of a new boss, my job turned into a nightmare.  Thanks to my years in Twelve Step programs I knew I couldn’t change him, and I knew I couldn’t change the company I worked for. If I was to keep the job I loved, I had to change the only thing I could—myself.

Ten days of silent meditation was the solution I chose. During those ten days, I was forced to confront the demons of my past and the monsters in my mind. On day seven I was shocked when that old wound of betrayal showed up with the same intensity as it had when it first happened. Had all that therapy been for nothing? I hadn’t worked through it—I had just suppressed it.

That night I had a dream. I was walking through a spacious room. White gauze curtains hung from the ceiling. On a huge bed was the man I had loved, naked with a young woman I’d never seen before. The familiar pangs of betrayal and heartbreak flooded through my body. The woman saw me and approached,

“You think he’s yours. You think he belongs to you. But he’s mine now.”

It was then I noticed her skin was pierced with large, heavy hooks. I realized the same hooks were embedded in my chest and legs, their barbs puncturing my body.

She sneered at me, ‘He never belonged to you.’

Her words hit me like a slap. She was right—he had never belonged to me…he was never mine. He had only ever belonged to himself.  And as he had never belonged to me, all the hurt and pain I had felt was a lie. My body began to vibrate with pricks of energy. All the betrayal, anger, jealousy and fear flowed out of my body to be replaced with joy. He had never belonged to me. There was no reason to go through the torture I had put myself through. He was never mine. The hooks fell from my body. They left no marks and caused no pain. He had never belonged to me. The hooks were gone. I was free.

I awoke from the dream smiling. Nobody owns anyone. Love is a choice, not a commandment. We are all free.

I realized I had never had a real relationship. Not one where I was present. I’d always been afraid, enmeshed, hooked in, jealous and obsessive. Terrified of being abandoned but also terrified of anyone getting too close. But if I don’t belong to anyone and no one belongs to me, I am free. They are free.

After the meditation retreat was over, my challenges at work remained.

But at a dinner party a week later, despite all my best efforts and worst habits, I met the man I would marry.

 

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – Sunshine Coast Launch

For those of you who couldn’t make it and for some who were there and would like to hear it again. Parts of the In Conversation I did with John Stokes plus a solo performance of Nature Girl – an angry and bitter song that, for some strange reason, everybody loves.

 

 

Madison Magazine gets Meditating

This was originally posted on the Madison Magazine website  05.04.2013 www.madisonmag.com.au/life/sex-drugs-and-meditation

One women tells how meditation changed her life, saved her job and found her a husband

I sit still, close my eyes and breathe. That’s it. Nothing more. Who’d have thought such a simple thing could change my life? A simple thing yes, but not an easy thing. Madisonpic

It wasn’t happiness that drove me to a ten day silent meditation retreat. My dream job had turned into a nightmare thanks to a new boss who was determined to make my working life a misery. I knew he wouldn’t change. If I was to keep the job I loved there was only one thing I could change. Myself. My colleagues were sceptical. I talk for a living. How was I going to last ten days without uttering a word? I did it because I was desperate.

I had done my research. I knew the physical pain, resulting from sitting cross-legged for eleven hours a day, was going to be tough. What I wasn’t expecting was the emotional pain. In those silent hours my past came rushing at me with all its attendant demons; my childhood as a neglected kid in a crazy religious household, my past addictions to drugs, alcohol, food and stealing. Waves of rage, fear and self-loathing threatened to overwhelm me but I continued to meditate as I was instructed; observe the breath, observe the sensations, remain aware, remain equanimous.

The theory is that when we’re confronted by painful situations, if we don’t react, then we liberate ourselves from past hurts as well as the present ones. They come to the surface, manifest as a sensation, then pass away. The basic tenet of the meditation technique is – everything changes. Why get attached to something that’s going to change? Why fear it, avoid it, crave it or hate it? It’s not going to last. Just observe it and let it go. When the demons were flying at me with jagged teeth and tearing nails, when the pain was so great it felt as though my bones would rip through my flesh, I found it hard to believe that theory. But when I was able to keep breathing, to observe the sensations and not react to them, miracles happened. The physical pain dissolved into a thousand effervescent points of energy. It’s one thing to know in your mind that everything changes but to get it on a physical level, in every cell of your body, is another.

The emotional pain also changed. I was shocked when an old wound demanded my complete attention. A relationship so wracked with obsession and betrayal it had destroyed my ability to trust. I thought I’d worked through it. Turns out I had only suppressed it. On day seven of the retreat there it was, slapping me around the face. I didn’t react. I kept breathing, kept observing. The result was a life-changing realisation and a sense of freedom I had never experienced before.

Having such insights in the closeted surrounds of a meditation centre is one thing but what about back in the real world? Those ten days have had a profound and lasting effect on my life. I used to be extremely reactive. My response to anyone in authority was one of resentment and defiance. No wonder I never got on with my bosses. I stopped fighting, started listening and kept meditating. My work life improved. Eventually my boss moved on but even while he was still there I was much happier. I didn’t have to suffer anymore. But the biggest change has been in my personal life. I was terrified of relationships. Although I desperately wanted to, I could never commit, the fear was too great. Everything changes. Within ten days of leaving the meditation retreat I met the man I would marry.

Words by Mary-Lou Stephens author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

by Rebecca A Rose for the ABC.

When Mary-Louise Stephens embarked on her first 10 day meditation retreat, colleagues were taking bets about how long she would last.

Now that she has just completed her 7th – and published a book on how it has changed her life – they are not so quick to scoff.

IMG_0028

Above: Mary-Lou at an OB with Annette Hughes

The ABC Coast Presenter is a renowned chatterbox and not even she can believe how much she enjoys staying quiet for so long.

“To be silent – it was a relief!” she laughed.

“When I was forced to be silent I realised how worried I am of the impression I am making, by what I say, by my level of knowledge and interest and humour – how much I want to impress people and want them to like me.

“A lot of (what we) talk is about that.”

Her life has changed so much that she decided to write a book about the experience in the vein of ‘if I can do it, anyone can!’ Her memoir will be launched at Ariel Books in Paddington tomorrow night.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is the story of how Mary-Lou went from heroin addict with a string of failed relationships behind her to happily married and serene, at one with her troubled past and optimistic about the future.

Meditating in silence for 11 hours a day over ten days, Mary-Lou had some amazing revelations about herself.

b&w performance 1 1995 Above: Mary-Lou in her band.

Practitioners of mindful meditation focus on being present in the moment – by concentrating on their breathing they hone in on their emotions.

“The difficulty is breaking down the walls between the conscious and subconscious.

“When you get into that state, all of the stuff that really drives you – not the stuff you think drives you, but the internal stuff – comes to the surface.”

The theory that we are the creators of our own misery rang true.

“What I was doing before this was to blame everyone else for my misery. I was blaming my boss, management, old boyfriends. If I had nothing to be miserable about I would make stuff up.”

It is not just the silence, but the physical constraints of trying to stay still and the emotional turmoil of turning the spotlight on yourself so intensely that make meditation retreats such a hardcore experience.

But that doesn’t mean that every thought is on a higher plane.

“Sometimes I let my mind have a holiday and do what it wants to do – I had bought a lotto ticket and was thinking about how I would spend the money,” she said.

“Or I would worry about the house burning down because i had left the iron on!

Mary-Lou’s book covers some hair-raising days from her youth, including an unhappy childhood and drug addiction. It has taken her many years to write as she struggled to be as honest as she had to about how far she has come.

“It is hard because people are going to know all these things about me. Yes, I used to take heroin and I used to steal. I am concerned in some ways – what will people here think of me?”

In the end, her transformation is the story and according to Mary-Lou that was the reason it had to be told.

She has taken ten weeks off to promote the book as well as write the follow up, which will explain the nitty gritty behind the ‘happily ever after’ ending of Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Ten Terrifying Questions

Mary-Lou Stephens, author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

 by John Purcell, The Booktopia Book Guru

The Booktopia Book Guru asks Mary-Lou Stephens

author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation Ten Terrifying Questions

———————–

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in that part of Australia that’s often left off the map and in true Tasmanian style headed off to the big smoke as soon as it was a legal option. I hung out with drug dealers in Kings Cross until someone I knew was murdered. After that I ran back to Hobart to play bass in bands, it was safer.

For three years I studied acting at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne which helped me to realise that I preferred playing in bands. After years of being a singer/songwriter in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney I retrained in radio at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Radio is perfect, it combines my performance skills with a love of music and gives my insatiable curiosity a valid outlet. And I get paid more than I ever did as an actor or a musician.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be liked. I always felt like an outsider.

At eighteen I wanted to be Jean-Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers.

At thirty I wanted to be a famous and well paid singer/songwriter instead of an obscure poor one.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I thought I was immortal, that nothing could kill me; not drugs, not knives, not dark alleys at the back of the Cross.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

When I was in high school we studied Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It confounded, frustrated and astounded me. It stretched my heart and my mind.

Seeing The Stranglers at the State Theatre in Sydney in 1979. I turned to the punk next to me and asked “What’s that sound?” He sneered at me, he was a punk after all, and said, “That’s the bass guitar.” I decided in that moment that I would become a bass player. From being a bass player I became a song writer. The lyrics to three of my songs are in Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Sigur Ros, from Iceland. Listening to their music is like being in a cathedral made of ice and vines. I have written whole scenes of my unpublished novel inspired by this band. Two of my main characters and thousands of other characters become entwined in the epic beauty of their songs.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a book?

I feel as though I’ve lived many lives already; as a bass player, an actor, a singer/songwriter, touring the country with bands. A friend of mine once asked me why all the good stuff happened to me, why I had such an interesting life while he was stuck in a small town in a small job. I told him it was because I said, “Yes.” Yes to adventures and opportunities and new experiences. I never had any money but I did what ever I wanted. I lived like a 17 year old boy with a driver’s licence and no responsibilities. When my last band broke up and I realised I was in fact a 36 year old woman, radio was there to embrace me.

After working in radio for a while I had enough money to go to the USA and visit the places where much of the music I loved was made. When I came back my friends asked to see the photos. I hardly had any. I’d only taken twelve on a disposable camera. A colleague at the ABC suggested I write about my travels instead. I haven’t stopped writing since.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Mary-Lou’s dream job has become a nightmare. She knows Eliott Purvis, her young, ambitious, sociopathic boss, will not change. If Mary-Lou is to be free of the anguish and keep the job she loves, there is only one thing she can change. Herself.

Ten days of silent meditation is the solution she chooses. During these ten days Mary-Lou is forced to confront the demons of her past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion. She also has to deal with the demons in her mind; paranoia, self-hate, fear and murderous rage. She relives her time spent in Twelve Step programs, her years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of her former life as a musician and the journey that led her to work in radio.

For ten days and nights she battles her memories, mistakes and fantasies. The rigours demanded by the long hours spent meditating result in excruciating physical pain. The overcoming of this pain enables her to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.

She is shocked when an old wound she thought had healed demands her complete attention. A relationship so wracked with obsession and betrayal it destroyed her ability to trust. Through the eleven hours of meditation a day she finally releases the resentment and blame and comes to a place of forgiveness.

When Mary-Lou returns to work the challenges remain, but she went to the meditation centre to change herself, not her job, and the results are surprising. At a dinner party a week later, despite all her best efforts and worst habits, Mary-Lou meets the man she will marry.

Click here to buy Sex, Drugs and Meditation from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is a story of transformation. It’s the story of a woman who is at breaking point and very close to losing all hope. I went and sat in pain and silence for ten days and things changed. I changed. I’d like people to recognise that there is hope, no matter how dark things seem. I’d like them to consider meditation as a possibility for creating that change. But more than anything I’d like them to enjoy a really good read and feel uplifted after they’ve turned the last page, knowing that anything is possible.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Anyone who finishes writing a book. So many people say they want to write a book, some may even start, but to those who start, stick with it and finish it – I admire you, even if you never get published.

As far as published writers are concerned this is a tough one for me. Books pass through my hands like water. I have a regular books and writing segment on ABC Local Radio and I read like a fiend. It’s important to me that I read the book before I interview the author, which I’m told is rare. I admire every author I interview because their lives are usually ones of tenacity and inspiration, hard slog and brilliance.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’d love to inspire people to know that change is possible. I’d like my books to give people hope as well as being a really great read. The book I’m writing at the moment is the sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation. It’s the truth about my happy ever after; the story of how I stayed married – against all odds. I’d love to see this book in print, as well as the novel I’ve written and the many others I have planned. Much as I love my work in radio, one of my ambitions is to make a living from writing.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I’m going to assume that most aspiring writers are already reading voraciously and writing compulsively, those being the basic building blocks of a writer. So my advice is to get yourself some writing buddies. People who will become your allies and your cheer squad. Friends who will give you honest feedback when you’re feeling strong and heap praise upon your writing when you’re feeling vulnerable.

A writing group who evolve together and whose bonds strengthen as the years go by. Writing can be lonely and people who don’t write often can’t understand why you won’t go out on Saturday because you have to write or why you spend so much time doing something that may never see the light of day. Your writing buddies will get it and they’ll get you.

Don’t be lonely, there’s no need to feel misunderstood. A small writing group of like-minded souls to encourage and to challenge your writing is the balm to soothe and sweeten this writing life.

Mary-Lou, thank you for playing.

_____________________________

Click here to buy Sex, Drugs and Meditation from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore