Tag Archives: Buddhism. Mary-Lou Stephens

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.

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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.

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.