Tag Archives: love

Relationships: The Hero’s Journey

LoveDo you dream of finding the right person to spend your life with? Are you in a strong relationship already and want to keep it that way? Or perhaps your marriage is a little tarnished and you hope to make it shine again?

Relationships are always a mix; they’re woven from golden shining moments and niggling annoyances, big whack-you-over-the-head disasters and then, just when you were about to give up, a deep sense of tenderness, connection and certainty reminds you of why you fell in love in the first place.

Learning to navigate your way throughout this adventure, with its delights and debacles, is what provides the depth and authenticity of a long-term relationship. This is what makes it a relationship where, no matter what, your partner has your back and you would be quite safe doing a trust exercise — like the ones where you close your eyes, fold your arms across your chest and let yourself fall backwards knowing, absolutely, that the one you love will catch you. Every time. That kind of relationship is a rare and treasured thing.

Relationships that last are not easy. Getting to the place where you feel safe and happy is a journey. The Hero’s Journey, no less, where you surmount problems, even slay monsters and trek through epic wastelands to arrive at your destination transformed. In order to do so you have searched deep within yourself to find authentic answers and resounding truths. The journey you have taken and the lessons you have learned mark the way for other seekers to follow.

I came into my marriage with all my fears and insecurities piled up in boxes, stuffed into suitcases. In the early years of our relationship I added to the weight and size of them with my anxiety and paranoia. Fortunately I married an exceptional man. He takes responsibility for his emotions and actions and expects me to do the same. It’s constantly challenging, sometimes thrilling and often annoying. It has been excruciating at times. But it has been through learning what is mine and what is not, of finding the courage to let go of the things that no longer serve me and keeping the useful treasures only, that our marriage has become a place of freedom, space and light — and love.

Mary-Lou’s latest book How To Stay Married was released on her tenth wedding anniversary. 

How To Stay Married – Your Free Review Copy

How To Stay Married ebookDo you love free stuff? I know I do. Now’s your chance to get a free review copy of my new book How To Stay Married. Just click on the link to the right and we’ll get better acquainted. If you’re worried about giving me your email address please don’t be. I’m too lazy to spam anyone.

The review copy is just for the first 100 but don’t worry. Everyone will get my Seven Tips For a Happy Marriage (and one tip from my mum).

How to Stay Married will be available for sale from the 6th of November which just happens to be my 10th wedding anniversary. There were times I never thought we’d make it but here we are, The Hubby and I, happier than ever.

My first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation chronicled how meditation changed my life, savedSex, Drugs and Meditation Front cover my job and helped me find a husband. How To Stay Married, is the truth behind the happy ending; a journey from fear, resentment and financial devastation, to a place of love, joy and trust.

How to Stay Married takes us around the world; from the glitter and glare of Las Vegas to the sub-zero temperatures of the French Alps and the tropical heat of Thailand, all with cabin luggage only.

The discoveries I made about myself and my marriage are a modern day parable about learning to travel light in life, love and relationships.

I hope you love it and write a review on Amazon for me. Just a line or two will do.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey.

Lots of love

Mary-Lou

I Stopped Meditating: Here’s What Happened

This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post and has been the most popular blog I’ve written for them. Is it because we’d rather read about someone being human than being perfect?

Meditation flagsThis is a hard admission to make. After all I wrote a book about how meditation saved my job, changed my life and helped me find a husband. I’ve written columns and blogs about the countless benefits meditation brings. Meditation was a solid part of my life, like clockwork every morning. Even during the times when I was so busy I could only grant this life changing practice ten minutes at the most. So why did I stop?

Meditation is like a seedling. We plant it, nurture it and protect it from the things that want to destroy it like pests, bugs and disease. We take care of it and it grows. The roots anchor themselves into the soil. The stems grow stronger. The leaves reach for the sky. Our plant thrives. Meditation needs the same kind of tending. If we don’t nurture it, it will wither. The pests and bugs of other people’s needs and opinions will eat away at it. The crush of time poverty, the carelessness of “if I just skip a couple of days it won’t matter” will destroy it. In time all that’s left is a small indentation in the dry soil where our beautiful plant used to be.

I grew careless. Took it for granted. I was feeling great so what did it matter if I didn’t meditate for a couple of days. I thought the plant would stay healthy without me having to do anything. After all it was strong and I’d been taking care of it for years, surely I was entitled to a bit of a break. Days without meditating turned into weeks. It got to the stage where I’d almost forgotten about it. My morning routine changed and meditation was no longer a part of it.

I can’t remember when I stopped hearing the words “You are beautiful. You are loved.” These words came to me during a meditation retreat and stayed with me on a daily basis. They were a blessing; the first thing that came into my mind on waking, the last thought before I slept at night. Until I stopped meditating. That’s when the negative self talk returned. The aches and pains of life manifested in my body. Everything hurt and I was exhausted every day. I dragged myself to work and collapsed on the couch when I got home. Everything else fell away.

One day I woke up and my first thought was “I wish I was dead.” It shocked me out of my complacency. I wished I was dead because I was so tired I couldn’t cope with life, work, other people. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to rest.

That morning I walked past the spot where I used to meditate. Without thinking I settled myself down, crossed my legs and began to meditate. Back into the easy rhythm of observing my breath, observing my thoughts and letting them go. As I relaxed into something that used to be a familiar to me as smiling, I realized that here was my place of rest, here was my place of solitude. Meditation gave me exactly what I’d been craving so desperately; a place of nurturing, away from the clamors and demands of the world. A safe place to rest and come back to myself. In the silence I heard those words returning to me. “You are beautiful. You are loved.”

Fear of Commitment Can Feel Like It’s Real. It’s Not

commitmentCommitment. Why do so many of us find it so hard? I spent many of the early years of my marriage terrified. It was exhausting. Yes, some of our problems were real but there were concrete things we could (and did) do to handle them. It was the things I made up in my head that I had trouble dealing with. Dreadful things. I battled with the demons in my mind.

My fears caused continual mental anguish and even physical pain. They sent me down dark hallways and spine-tingling crevasses. And, in a way, that was the point. Fortunately, thanks to years of work in Twelve Step Programs, counselling and especially meditation, I knew that these fears were not real. Through meditation I had discovered just how addicted I was to feeling bad; to having all these emotions coursing through my body, putting me on edge. It was like a drug and I used it to feel alive even though it was killing me on many levels. I would make things up and then react to them as if they were real. Madness? Yes. But boy did I get a kick out of it.

Often I felt like a trapped animal. My partner was getting too close. It terrified me. And that’s the way I’d acted in many of my previous relationship. Fight or flight. Lashing out at those who got in my way. Yes, I had been hurt in the past –by other lovers, by my upbringing, by my friends –but this fear of commitment was irrational, mad, out of control terror. A base reaction. A lot of us think that when someone really gets to know us they won’t love us anymore. If that is the case, it’s far better they get to know you as soon as possible. Then if they can’t handle the truth at least you can move on quickly.

One of the fears that tormented me was the “but what if there’s someone better out there” kind. And, now I say, well, maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. You’re never going to be in a wonderful and loving relationship if that’s the way you approach it. I knew, deep in my heart that if I couldn’t be in a relationship with this man, I would never be able to make a relationship work with anyone, ever. He was very much in touch with himself and continued to do the work to clear his emotional baggage despite the constant setbacks we suffered. I had to show up and do the work too. I knew he would always support me in that.

But often I didn’t want to and acted like a spoilt brat. Sometimes, I must admit, I still do act like a spoiled brat. However these days I know the truth and the truth is where we always end up. We love each other. We are committed to each other on every level and it’s no longer terrifying.

Mary-Lou Stephens’  meditation memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, is the  story of how meditation helped changed her life, save her job and find a husband. The sequel How To Stay Married will be released soon. It’s the truth about the happy ending.

Kill Your Darlings Part 4

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

You can bury me anywhere because I won’t be there

Mary statueYears later, after my brother died, his wife battled grief and guilt and the despair of two young daughters who no longer had a father. Among her many concerns was that she had no idea what to do with his ashes. Her youngest daughter needed a place to lay flowers for her daddy, but my sister-in-law was too exhausted by the last years of his life and his inevitable but cruel ending to arrange it. I asked if I could help. My brother had always been the bastion of family history; doing things as they should be done, upholding traditions.

I knew our grandfather’s ashes were in the war veterans’ section of the city cemetery and was pretty sure our grandmother’s and aunt’s ashes were somewhere in the same cemetery. If there was room with them I was sure that was what my brother would have wanted, surrounded by those he felt a kinship with and a shared sense of propriety and purpose. I made an appointment at the cemetery office. They were able to find Granny but there was no record of our aunt.

I was given a map and made my way to the rose garden. One slice of a circular bed was given to our grandmother but she was on her own. I could have sworn our aunt was supposed to be there with her.

I visited my mother and asked her. Poor old Mum, brittle and thin, the disease dissolving her substance like acid. Her face fell. “I’m sorry darling. I never picked up her ashes. I was so devastated after your father died, dealing with all that needed to be done. When my sister died I couldn’t face doing it all over again.”

I rang the Hobart Cemetery again. They searched through their records. They kept unclaimed ashes for a while, in some kind of archive, but eventually they were disposed of.

“Disposed of where?” I asked.

A sheepish young man told me they were scattered out the back of the office, in a small group of trees. My aunt’s ashes were mixed with those of strangers, fertilising the trees.

I told my mother. And also told her that I was arranging to have a plaque made for Aunty Deirdre to be placed in the same rose bed as Granny. Her ashes wouldn’t be there but at least she’d have some kind of memorial. I intended to pay for it myself, even after I discovered that tiny plinths and small plaques are very expensive.  Mum wouldn’t let me pay. It was the least she could do to assuage the guilt she had felt for all these years. Once my aunt’s plaque was organised we could go ahead with my brother’s.

And as for my Mum, what did she want? Her death was getting closer every day.

“Nothing darling. It doesn’t matter what you do with my ashes. I’ll be elsewhere.” She smiled, her thin face lighting up with hope and peace. She was on the way to getting her promotion.

Kill Your Darlings – Part 2

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

cider bottles

My brother never thought he would die. When his doctor, and friend of many years, told him that if he kept drinking he only had two years to live, my brother said “Tosh” and promptly found himself another doctor. I took him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting once. I was back in my home town on holiday and thought I should do my family duty. I was the one experienced in Twelve Step programs. He had tried AA but said it didn’t work for him. He had a number of justifications as to why but I thought we could hold them up to the light, to discover whether we could see through them to the truth on the other side. The meeting was full of people, mainly men, sitting in a close circle. They shared in sequence. When it was my brother’s turn he declined. It didn’t matter. Another man told my brother’s story, even though the experiences were his own.

As I listened it was as though a small miracle occurred. My brother’s excuse, that he couldn’t relate and didn’t belong in AA because he’d never been to jail, ceased to hold water when compared to the words of that man.

He had been a successful professional, like my brother, he had enjoyed drinking his entire adult life, his friends liked to drink, they enjoyed getting drunk together. It was a social thing, a professional thing, but for this man it was more, it became a must do thing, a compulsive thing, an out of control thing, a desperate thing, a rehab thing, an AA thing. My brother’s story. Oh, the injustice of it that his friends could still enjoy a drink whereas he was labelled a drunk, an alcoholic. But this man, with the help of AA, had stopped drinking, had found a way to live and love his life again, without the alcohol, one day at a time. I sat and listened and said a little prayer that my brother’s ears would be opened. And for a flicker, a glimmer, I thought they were. He spoke with the man afterwards and as we walked back to my brother’s little flat he said that he’d never heard a story in AA before that he’d related to as much. Hope. Such a fragile thing.

The next day I took his youngest daughter to the annual agricultural show. My brother wanted to come too. I don’t know why. He was weak and shabby from the drink, dithering and feeble, unable to walk the rounds of the exhibits and judging areas, incapable of surviving a wild ride at side-show alley. But he came and within minutes was exhausted. He told us he’d meet us on the grandstand at the grand arena. He would sit and watch the show jumping and other events happily until we were ready to go home. I believed him. Why wouldn’t I? He’d heard his story the night before. He knew he could recover now, as long as he didn’t drink.

Later my niece and I, laden with show bags, went to join her father. We couldn’t find him on the grandstand. “He’s probably inside,” she said. There was a glassed in area with seats and screens, where punters could watch proceedings in a more comfortable surroundings. We walked through the glass doors and I spotted him immediately, propping up the bar, glass in hand, chatting with an equally sozzled gent.

My heart cracked. I had convinced myself that he had seen the light. I was wrong.

There was not a trace of guilt or remorse in him. He was content. Dumb, alcohol-fucked, but content. His brain, beyond knowing what he was doing, had fallen into the crevasse of habit. I glared at his drinking companion. The whole town knew the perilous state of his health, knew he had a problem with the demon drink. Yet here was this man, a supposed friend, inviting my brother to partake of yet another round. And my brother sheep-like and woolly-minded trotted along the well-worn trail to the slaughter house.

 

Until We Live in a World of Foam and Feathers

window latchThe mug slipped from my hands and crashed into the sink, cracking itself open on the tap as it fell. Gravity, there’s no escaping it – unless you have twenty million dollars to spend on a space flight. The mug was beyond repair. It was a gift from a friend who knew I was low on mugs. Why? Because they break. Entropy conspires with gravity and things crash, crack, shatter and smash. I would have to live in a world of foam and feathers to avoid that.

Some may say I’m clumsy but it’s beyond my control. Entropy sees everything crumble to dust eventually.

I’ve heard a theory espoused by a particularly happy chap. He believes that entropy began with the Big Bang. Therefore when the universe reaches its final boundary, and its expansion reverses to rush back in on itself, so entropy will reverse also. When that happens all the things we’ve broken will fuse back together, all erosion will reform, everything will magically fix itself and all will be whole and pristine. Unfortunately at about the same time as everything gets better, the enormous gravity of a Black Hole will render us all dust again.  But the thought of reverse entropy keeps him amused, anything to help him through the damage and loss that every day brings.

I picked the broken pieces out of the sink and realised that my favourite bowl had been chipped by a flying shard of porcelain. I loved this bowl, it reminded me of careless summer days, strawberries and laughter. I looked at the small scar it now bore on the rim and my first thought was to throw it away. It was damaged, sullied, no longer perfect. Why would I want something that was no longer beautiful, that was disfigured? Instead of summer and laughter it reminded me that we are all victims of forces beyond our control.

But, as I went to toss the offending object, a little smidgen of compassion entered the equation. It wasn’t the bowl’s fault it was no longer perfect.  A small chip adds character and another chapter to its story. As well as good times it’s seen adversity and come through only slightly scathed. It was still useful and still beautiful. And as I realised I was going to keep the bowl I also realised a little smidgen of compassion for myself and those around me. How harsh it is to expect all things to be perfect and beautiful. Life gives us gravity and entropy, chips and scars. It’s inescapable. We choose how we respond.

How to Eat Cake

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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.

You are loved. You are beautiful.

Yes, Highly Creative People Hear Voices—& It’s Normal. ~ Mary-Lou Stephens

elephant journal

Via on Jun 26, 2013

Source: via Gina on Pinterest

When I was a kid I heard voices.

The low murmuring ones frightened me. They were dark and powerful. I could never understand what they were saying but they scared me.

The other voices were light, like a breeze rippling through my mind. I liked them. Sometimes the light and dark voices had conversations but it was in a language I didn’t understand. I remember sitting on the toilet listening to them—they liked small spaces. That’s when they talked the most. I liked small spaces too.

Especially ones where you could lock the door.

I don’t remember when they left. Perhaps I was possessed by spirits and they were blasted out by the power of the Holy Spirit at the charismatic Christian rallies I went to with my parents when I was a teenager. Slain in the spirit, talking in tongues, the voices in my head couldn’t compete. They packed up shop and went off to find some other vulnerable, lonely kid.

The voices were long gone by the time I got to therapy, so I never mentioned them. But when I was living in Sydney and heavily involved with 12 Step programs for my various addictions, I became a Lifeline telephone counsellor. At one of the training sessions the subject of hearing voices came up. Afterwards, I had a private word to the lecturer about the voices I’d heard when I was a child.

“Are you a creative person?” he asked.

“Yes. I write songs and play in bands.”

“Well, that explains it.”

“How?”

“Clearly you’re not schizophrenic or delusional,” he said.

“One theory that I particularly like, and I think pertains to you, is that highly creative people, as well as those we’d think of as geniuses, hear voices. These voices can be the source of creativity or a precursor of creativity. I’d see them as a gift.”

He was a gift. The perfect person to ask the question I’d never been game to ask before. I was afraid that I would be thought mad. Instead, he considered me to be a creative genius.

I do still hear voices from time to time but now when they speak I understand them perfectly. A few years ago, I had a voice that would ask me a question. It was always the same question and always asked in a loving way.

“Are you happy?” the voice would ask.

My answer was always “Yes.”

After the latest 10 day silent meditation retreat I went to earlier this year, I brought a new voice home with me. When I’m on the edge of sleep and when I first wake up, the voice says,

“You are loved.”

This voice has stayed with me in the months since the retreat and I hope it stays forever. Sometimes, even during the day, I will hear it say, “I love you.” At the end of my daily meditation it is often there, “You are loved.”

Another voice spoke to me just last weekend. It said something shocking, something so radical, I was rocked to my core. I was walking, on my way to visit a friend, the warm sun on my back, a gentle breeze blowing through my hair. Out of nowhere this new voice said,

“You are beautiful.”

I was stunned. Those are three words I would never say to myself.  The three words I most often say are, “You are fat” or “You are stupid.” Never, “You are beautiful.” But I heard those words, “You are beautiful” and I thought, “Yes. Yes I am.”

Where are these loving voices coming from? A gift of my meditation practice? Is it that the persona I have built in an effort to protect myself is no longer needed?

Am I finally allowing the truth in? I am loved. I am beautiful.

I arrived at my friend’s house and she opened the door. “You are beautiful,” she said.

Without a moment’s hesitation I replied, “Yes. Yes I am.”

 

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