Category Archives: Writing

A Book That Changed My Life

I was asked to write a guest blog for The Universal Heart Book Club and this was the result

Mary-Lou Stephens on a book that changed her life

Walter Mason writes: One of my favourite books  this year has been Mary-Lou Stephens‘ totally unique and beautifully written memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation – you can read my review of it here. I have been asking the very busy Mary-Lou (she is also a much-loved radio host on ABC Sunshine Coast) to write something for us for some time, and she has finally told us about a book that taught her that less is more:

It was my second job in radio. I was head-hunted to start up a new radio station in a major regional market. 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.

Chin-Ning Chu, inspirational author of Do Less, Achieve More (Secrets of the Rainmaker)

Six months 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. What I found within its pages changed my life.

The Secrets of the Rainmaker, subtitled ‘Success without Stress’, 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 for four days. 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. When he arrived he noticed that the village was not in harmony with heaven. He spent four days inside his tent putting himself in harmony with the Divine. Then the rain came.

Chin-Ning Chu extrapolates the Rainmaker’s success into four secrets; creating a harmonious inner environment, putting your mind at ease, finding the resting point within, and letting spirituality energize business. Within these secrets are many more insights including trading what you have for what you want, being willing not to survive, making peace with time and how to respond rather than react.

To say I was surprised by what I read is an understatement. I was expecting a book about getting ahead, cramming more into each day and beating my opponents. Instead I devoured a book about surrender, ease and meditation. It spoke to my weary soul with words like, “When one is excessively busy, his heart is dead.” I set about reviving my heart and replenishing my soul. 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.

The months passed, the workload remained unmanageable, but I kept meditating. I had tried many guided meditations before, in my time, in Twelve Step programs recovering from a gaggle of addictions, but this was the first time I let my mind just be. I didn’t realise it then, but by spending this time in meditation and reflection I was slowing down enough to allow, as Chin-Ning Chu says, the angel of good fortune catch up. It took a lot longer than the Rainmaker’s four days.

The first time I saw the ad I couldn’t believe it. The job I had always wished for at the station I had said should exist, but never thought did, in one of the most beautiful places in Australia. It was my dream job. I put in the effort and then let go. Another secret of the Rainmaker, the balance between energy and ease. Three months later the job was mine. Miracles happen much more often than we are willing to acknowledge, says Chin-Ning.

I had learned in the rooms of AA and NA that I couldn’t change other people, places or things. The only thing I can change is myself. The Secrets of the Rainmaker brought that fact into focus for me. Less than two years later I was to use that insight again when my dream job became a nightmare. I didn’t pitch a tent and disappear into it for four days, instead I went to a meditation retreat and spent ten days meditating in silence. Once again miracles happened, unexpected miracles that remain and continue to unfold to this day. And to this day I continue to meditate. I enjoy allowing the angel of good fortune to catch up as often as possible.

(NB. In the USA Secrets of the Rainmaker is called Do Less, Achieve More. The book is a lot easier to find under the second title.)

Bio

Technology is the New Cigarettes

fountains & lightsI love my mobile phone. It wasn’t always the case. I refused to have one for years until someone gave me an old one to keep in the car, “just for emergencies.”  The small grey oblong stayed neglected, and usually out of charge, in my glove box. Later my husband upgraded his smart phone and gave me his old one. I took it with me on a trip to Sydney and that’s where my fascination began. I used this mobile phone to find my way around, to book tickets, to access public transport, to find out when and what movies were playing and to text, Tweet and Facebook. It was a miracle.

That phone became, along with my keys and wallet, the only thing I’d never leave home without. And even at home it is usually beside me, my constant companion. Where ever I go, I see people with their constant companions as well. They are unable to keep their hands off them. Even school children walk around with their heads down, thumbs moving quickly as they text and upgrade their statuses. At conferences, festivals, events and social gatherings, even at a lunch with friends, our phones take precedence over the real conversations we’re having.

RED PHONE BO

I love my laptop. I reach for it as soon as get home, sometimes as soon as I wake up, and often when there is the slightest pause in proceedings I’ll find it in my hands almost sub consciously. I’m writing on it now while having all my social media sites up, just incase I feel the need to enhance my life and work by telling the world that I #amwriting.

I’m not so fond of my computer at work. It’s a bit slow but it still plugs me into the world, delivers the thousands of emails I receive and allows me to do all the things I need to do to get a radio program to air every day. And that’s a lot. These days it’s not enough to do an interview on air, it needs to be blogged, Tweeted, Facebooked, Tumblred and uploaded to Soundcloud.

All of this is not unusual, it is the accepted reality of modern life. But should it be? Recently I was reading an interview, on my laptop, with Rich Pierson, the founder of the online meditation company Headspace. One of his comments made me laugh out loud. Not because it was funny but because it was true.

 “I genuinely feel that we will look back in 10 years time at technology and it will be viewed in the same way we view cigarettes today, and people will say: “What the hell were we doing?”. It obviously has an important role to play in the modern world, but it’s definitely out of balance.” 

A life out of balance is not a sustainable life. I gave up smoking years ago. Can I give up technology? Every time I look at my mobile phone should I see it as a packet of cigarettes? Each time I reach for my laptop should I view it as an overflowing ashtray?

I need to use my computer at work, I couldn’t do my job without it. I need to use my laptop at home to write and to keep in touch with my publisher. But just maybe I could leave the house with my wallet and keys and put my phone in the glove box “just for emergencies.”

Kill Your Darlings – Part 1

I’m writing the second draft of my next book. And editing. At over 100,000 words the first draft is too long. So instead of being in the book I’m turning my darlings into blog posts. Seems I can’t kill them after all.

cadbury-biscuits-2

It’s embarrassing to be staying as a guest in someone’s house and to be stealing their chocolate biscuits.  Of course they wouldn’t see it as stealing. They were generous and hospitable, educated, erudite, warm, kind and old. One afternoon I had to escape the happy wedding preparations, if just for a few hours. The old man and I investigated river cruise timetables on the computer in his study. Every piece of wall space was hung with maps, masks and curios from time spent living and travelling overseas. Bookcases stuffed with mementoes, shelves laden with ephemera. So much stuff. His poor children.

“Why do you have so much stuff when you’re going to die soon?”

I imagined his kids having to sort though all these piles of dust. The agonising task of what to keep and what to toss. But if dad thought it was important shouldn’t we keep it?  Going home laden with memories from another’s life and duty bound to keep them – for what? For someone else to have to sort through them when they themselves died? Jetsam discarded when they left this world bound for another place where these things – they’re just things for God’s sake – were meaningless.

Thankfully the question stayed inside my mouth. Only just. I had to bite my lips closed to keep it there, safe, unsaid. What business was it of mine to question a man who’d lived a good life, an exciting life, a rich life and that the proof of this life was abundant. The physical reminders were everywhere, cluttering the large office into a small and claustrophobic space. If he needed such undeniable proof of what he’d done and where he’d been who was I to judge. This man was happier than me, richer than me, and – if I kept secretly eating all the chocolate biscuits – may well live longer than me.

 

No Pain Without Gain

This article first appeared in WQ, the monthly publication of the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC).

Mary-Lou Stephens, Sex Drugs and Meditation

The coolness of the concrete floor is a relief after the heat of the afternoon sun. Outside the scrub is drained of colour. All the leaves are grey. Inside the light is dim and a blessed air conditioner hums high on the wall. 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.

I do it because I’m a moody woman. I resent, I hate, I react, I refuse. I’m terrified of everything and everyone. I do too much in order to impress, or hide so no one will expect anything of me.

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. Oh no, not yet. This is where things get really interesting. My creativity bubbles with characters, stories and adventures that are pure imagination, often not of this world. It’s fascinating to allow my mind to follow where my creativity leads.

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 my suffering, be liberated from all my misery. Stop reacting and resenting. Stop being such a moody bitch.

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. 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 gives me the kind of detachment from the world a writer needs. It’s not selfishness, it’s just knowing that what ever the problem or drama is, it will pass without me 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.

Meditation also allows me to write memoir with bravery and honesty. I’m able to step aside and let the story glow and burn without the temptation to modify  to make myself look better. It wasn’t always that way.

 

Front coverThe words on the screen terrified me, on the page they were even worse; more permanent, more real. In interviews I’m often asked how I feel about my life, my dirty laundry some call it, being out there for all to read.

 

 

 

It was a different time, I say, I was a different person. The more I meditate the less I judge myself and the easier it is to talk about the life I’ve lived. Other people may judge me. They will think what they like. It’s none of my business. Besides, what they think will change. Everything does.

Judgement is a hinderance to life and to writing. I’ve been working on the next book and my progress is excruciatingly slow. This confused and frustrated me until I realised that I was demanding the first draft of my new manuscript be as good as the final draft of my last. What a weight of expectation. Impossible to meet. And yet I was judging every paragraph, every sentence with that dictate. Time to let this go, but how?

I have returned to this meditation hall hidden in the Queensland country side seven times. Seven times I have sat 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.

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Mary-Lou Stephens studied acting and played in bands in Melbourne and Sydney before she got a proper job – in radio. Sex, Drugs and Meditation (Pan Macmillan) is her first published book but not the first book she’s written.

Find her online at www.maryloustephens.com.au and on Facebook www.facebook.com/maryloustephenswrites

 

How I Learnt to Swim in the Mainstream

Main Stream

How can we swim in the mainstream and still frolic in the areas that we love, those deep and mysterious rock pools where the mainstream doesn’t flow? By playing the game. Why not? It’s just a game after all. The beauty of the mainstream is that everyone knows the rules. The trick is to colour between the lines while using your own palette.

When my book was picked up by a mainstream publisher they wanted to change the title. Sex, Drugs and Meditation was too confrontational. Sex was okay. Drugs was not. They came up with a pleasant, inoffensive title and a pretty pastel cover. Trouble was neither the cover or the name was indicative of the truth inside. Fortunately, with a little persuasion, they agreed do go back to the drawing board. Literally. A new designer was commissioned. Her work was bold and edgy. I loved her cover concepts with a passion. But what would my publisher think?

I’ve always been on the edge creatively. I played in indie bands, wrote alt-country songs, before the phrase alt-country was even invented, and went to the alternative acting school, the one which fostered independent self-created work instead of slim blonde movie star smiles.

Money was not my goal nor was it the result. I learnt to live on very little. It was a great space in which to live and play but when my last band broke up I knew it was time to move on. When working in radio became an option I grabbed it with both hands, even though it meant diving into the mainstream. Commercial radio. Not my first choice but I worked hard, learnt a lot and eventually moved on to where I’d always wanted to be. The ABC. By then I had the skills that commercial radio demands and that the ABC wants. Now I get to swim in some interesting places indeed. For example in my series Modalities I explore the many ways of healing the body and soul that are available and interview the practitioners who facilitate them. Fascinating.

Writing books grew from writing columns for a newspaper. A weekly discipline that I loved. Although it was mainstream media I was given the freedom to be creative. Years of writing and rewriting have finally seen my book on the shelves. Despite diving into some very deep and mysterious waters the mainstream world has embraced it. You might see my meditation memoir in your local bookstore with my original title and a fabulous cover. How did that happen? Why did the publisher change their mind? The clever designer managed to swim in the mainstream but still remain edgy. A perfect balance. The best of both worlds. She played the game and we all won.

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.