Tag Archives: Mary-Lou Stephens

Techno-Rogered!

I think we all know by now that the well-touted technology revolution has not given us more leisure time, nor made our lives easier, and it definitely has not made us happier, healthier or wealthier. It may have made some people extremely wealthy but they would have probably invented something else that would’ve made them rich if they hadn’t come up with all this computerised guff. And guff it is.

Technology should be quick, useful, easy and even easier to move on from. None of this waiting for 10 minutes for your computer to log on, the endless frustration of documents that won’t open, screens that freeze, work that disappears when the network crashes or money lost when hackers get your details.

Not only does technology dominate our lives from work, to play, to home but now we’re all so dependent on it, it’s started bossing us around. I could get used to my car telling me I’d left my headlights on, that’s actually useful. But telling me off for not having my seatbelt on, for having the keys in the ignition when the door’s open and for something else that I haven’t even worked out yet? I don’t think so.

My washing machine alerts the neighbourhood when I haven’t balanced the load properly. You can hear it two streets away telling everyone how hopeless I am at basic domestic chores. The microwave demands to have its door opened after it’s finished destroying all the enzymes in my food and the dishwasher trills an ode to how clever it is when it’s finished doing the dishes. And I’m really not in the mood for attitude from my fridge. If I leave the door open too long it starts up, gently at first, with a few warning bleeps. But if I don’t obey it’s request to close the door it really lets me have it.  And I thought technology was supposed to help us, not dob us in!

Then there’s mobile phones. Smart phones. Yes, they are smart. Smarter than us. Think about it. Who’s the boss in your relationship with your phone? How many times do you leave it unanswered? When it tells you it has a text or a Twitter alert or a diary entry do you jump to attention? Even when you’re with company, even if you’re on a date with the person of your dreams, I bet that phone comes first.

Technology hasn’t set us free. Technology has enslaved us. Technology is the true opium of the masses. We’re all stoned out of our minds and totally hooked. And like all addictions it’s getting increasingly demanding and more time-consuming. It sucks us into a vortex that we can’t escape from and don’t want to. You hear it all the time. “I can’t live without my computer.” “I couldn’t function without my phone.” It’s the greatest trick there is. Why? Because it’s not true, and we all know it, but we want it to be true and we live as if it is. Totally techno-rogered.

Swan Song

Some dreams are rather obscure; you wake up confused and baffled, shaking your head to rattle the dream loose from your mind. Other dreams are like faint stars in the evening sky; you think you catch a glimpse of them as you wake but when you try to examine them closely they disappear. Then there are the dreams that remain clear and stay with you for the rest of the day or perhaps the rest of your life. Dreams take you to another dimension where anything is possible.

Some people like lucid dreaming. They train themselves to recognise that they’re dreaming and then direct the dream. Most of us try too hard to control everything in our waking hours, the thought of controlling everything in my dreams as well is just too exhausting. And why would I want to control the outcome of something that can be deeper, more profound and ultimately more interesting and fun than anything I could come up with.

Recently I woke with a dream still clinging to my mind and there’s no way I want to shake this one out of my head. It’s a dream I’ll take with me to the grave, literally. In this dream I was sitting in a café with some friends. I was dying, although I felt perfectly well. I’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness and my friends and I were discussing the fact.

“You know you get to sing a song just before you die,” one of my friends said.

“Really?” It was the first I’d ever heard of it.

“Yes,” she said. “The Angel of Death comes around and gets you to pick out a song.”

And wouldn’t you know it, right at that moment the Angel of Death dropped in to
the café for a visit. She wasn’t wearing black or carrying a scythe, she had long wavy Pre-Raphaelite hair with flowing robes to match and was carrying several songbooks.

“Can I choose any song I like?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.”

So out of all the songs in the universe what did I choose? Take It Easy by the Eagles. During the dream I became quite nervous. I didn’t even know all the words to Take It Easy. Then I was told that I had to sing it a capella in the beer garden of the local pub. At the last moment I changed my mind and sang a song I remembered from my childhood. I used to love delving into my dad’s LPs and Nat King Cole was a particular favourite. So the song I chose to sing before I died, while the patrons of the pub danced slowly around me, was Nature Boy.

“The greatest thing, you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

The next day I told The Hubby about the dream. I sang Nature Boy to him and asked him to play it at my funeral, whenever that may be. But until that day we’ll probably do what we did that afternoon; drive down the road with the Eagles blaring and both of us singing along with glee and gusto, “Take it easy, take it easy, don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”

Oh the pain, the pain!

One minute I was fighting fit. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror tying my hair back in readiness for a walk with the dog. It was a beautiful morning and I was looking forward to striding out through leafy streets, past creeks and canals and then back home again for breakfast. I had planned a day of cooking, gardening and writing. The Hubby was away and I was free to do as I pleased.

I finished putting my hair in a pony-tail and as I did my entire right shoulder went into some kind of spasm. That’s the only way I can explain it. One minute I was pain-free, the next I was in incredible agony. All my plans for the day dissolved as I came to grips with this sudden reality. The pain was dramatic. I couldn’t turn my neck and, when only a few moments ago I felt invincible, I now felt small and vulnerable, close to tears.

I managed to walk down to the park at the end of the street with the dog sniffing and pulling at the lead. I even managed to throw the ball for her with my left arm and the help of one of those ubiquitous plastic ball throwing devices that almost all dog owners own these days.

At home, on the couch, I reviewed my situation. I could still write and that was a blessing. I usually avoid pain killers but in this instance I succumbed and with the help of heat packs I got through the day.

The next morning I went to see the chiro. Sean, the massage therapist warmed me up before the chiro came to do the cracking.

“Do much computer work?” Sean asked.

“Oh yes.”

“That’ll be your problem then.”

It was puzzling though that tying my hair back had brought this on. I had had a lot of trouble with my right shoulder but the pain was usually lower down.

“Something, somewhere, at sometime will complain,” explained Sean. “It’s cumulative and that’s the action that triggered it.”

“Okay,” I said. “I make a pledge here and now to make a change. I’ve tried before and given up because it’s so darn hard, but from today I will use the mouse with my left hand.”

And here’s my challenge to you. Try using the computer mouse with your non-dominant hand and see how long you last. Especially at work, under time pressures. There have been times when the stress, tension and frustration of doing so seemed counter-productive but I have persisted. I am determined to become adept at using the mouse with my left hand. My body has demanded change and I am delivering it. I’m not alone with suffering shoulder pain from mouse usage, here are some tips that might be useful if you’re in the same boat.

I also bought and downloaded some Feldenkrais mp3s specifically for shoulder pain. I first encountered the Feldenkrais Method when I was at acting school and it has come back into my consciousness recently. The method is all about awareness through movement. The founder Moshe Feldenkrais said, “With awareness everything is possible.” That appeals to me enormously. It also got me thinking about the pain and my body. What was right about this pain that I wasn’t getting? What was it about this situation that I was pretending not to know? And the answers that came to me were all about awareness. I am guilty of treating my body like a machine. There are certain tasks, often very repetitive ones, that I demand my body do without me ever being aware of how they’re affecting it. I used to have one of those timers on my computer at work that buzzed every 20 minutes to tell me to stretch or to get up and take a little walk. It got so annoying I turned it off and kept ploughing on through, as usual. I was denying my body. So this shoulder pain is my body saying to me, “You can’t ignore me anymore, something has to change.”

And let me tell you this, if you do try using the mouse with your non-dominant hand it will be a revelation. I can no longer take my body for granted. I am no longer a machine. I am acutely conscious of every time I use the mouse, I know exactly what my body is doing and what is involved with getting that cursor where I want it. Awareness through movement? You betcha!

Connection

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

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

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

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

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

Opinions? Who needs them.

I have made a recent addition to my list of people to avoid. From now on, along with those who use our beaches as an ashtray and able-bodied types who park in disabled spaces, I’m putting a big black mark against people with opinions.

How many times have you been trapped by a loud-mouthed obnoxious bore? Once is one time too many. I’ve done my time smiling and nodding politely, knowing that trying to get a word in edgeways is useless. People with opinions don’t want to have a discussion, they just want you to listen awe-struck to their dissertation, which is why they always talk so loudly.

I was with a group of people recently, one of whom was a very opinionated man. There’s a reason why “opinionated’ is used in a derisive fashion. He was a supreme example. Everyone else had been beaten into silence but I took advantage of the fact that he was a smoker. When he took a pause to drag on his cigarette I seized my chance.

I pointed to a nearby waterway. “Are there eels in that river?” I asked, looking at everyone except the opinionated bore. “If you went for a swim would you find an uninvited guest up your bathers?”

The result was amazing. Everyone had a story about eels; catching them, being frightened by them or eating them. I even found out that eels can travel over land, a most unsettling discovery. As we swapped stories and anecdotes, I noticed Mr Opinion shuffling uncomfortably. Once he was no longer the centre of attention he didn’t know how to interact. Eventually he shuffled off, probably to go and park in a disabled spot and stub his cigarette out on the beach.

Don’t get me wrong, I love ideas and I love discussion but it seems to me that having an opinion and having to tell everyone about it is a very alienating hobby. Macramé would be much more useful.

But then again that’s only my opinion.

Fathers Day

It’s Father’s Day today, a strange time for all of us fatherless children. Not that it was always so for me. I wasn’t robbed of my father’s presence at an early age by separation, divorce or misadventure but in my adulthood by his death.

He was a gentle man, kind and patient enough to put up with me when, at the age of 13, I wouldn’t speak to him for a year. Teenagers!

Dad was a music lover and an avid collector of albums, he even had them all catalogued. I loved flicking through his card catalogue and slipping the LPs from their places to admire the covers. My eclectic taste in music is due to what I found there, from Fats Waller to Old English lute songs to Bob Marley. Yes my dad was the first person in town to buy Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Natty Dread album. None of us kids had ever heard of him but there was my dad, the conservative pillar of society that he was, grooving to Lively Up Yourself. We were mightily impressed.

He had always suffered from asthma. He had his puffer close by in case of an attack of the wheezes. A bad bout saw him land in hospital when I was a kid. It was confusing and awkward to see my dad all tucked up in bed when he was the one who usually tucked me in. It was even harder to see him become more and more childlike in his final years. I wouldn’t recognise his voice on the phone, it was so small. And when I’d come home to visit he was more helpless each time.

My mum rang me very early on her birthday. I knew that wasn’t why she was calling but I sang her Happy Birthday anyway. I wanted to put off hearing the words that she would find so hard to say.

I got out a suitcase and started to pack. An hour later I was staring at an open suitcase with a pair of bathers in it. What do you do when your dad’s just died? I wrote a song. It took me two years to finish it. Grief has it’s own timetable.

Two years later and I’m still crying in the mornings,

Someone said it never goes away.

The man who loved me since before I can remember

And he died while I was away,

No chance to say

It’s ok.

Happy Father’s Day dad, this one’s for you.

The Four Fundamental Questions

My friend Maggie asked me if I’d like to go to the Hay House Convention. I’d only heard of two of the speakers, Louise L. Hay, of course, and Neale Donald Walsch. I’ve seen the movie about him and I’ve even read the book, Conversations with God. I said yes and met up with Maggie in Sydney. What a weekend. I kept an open mind and an open heart and learnt a lot.

Neale Donald Walsch was the last speaker and the only speaker to come down from the stage and walk amongst the crowd. It was in keeping with his message which was: don’t believe those who would tell you that you and God are separate. If you believe that, then you will believe you are separate from everybody else, that your society is separate from other societies. You will believe in us and them and it follows that you will feel free to treat them in ways you would never treat yourself.

Neale believes that God is within us, that there is no separation. He also asked us to ask ourselves four questions, every day, three times a day for ninety days:

1. Who am I?

2. Where am I?

3. Why am I where I am?

4. What do I intend to do about that?

Neale’s answers:

1. I am an aspect of divinity.

2. I am in the realm of the physical.

3. Only in the realm of the physical can I express who I am.

4. That’s up to you!

For myself, I do believe I am an infinite being. I believe that that which some call God is within me, and in you. I believe that my reality is shaped by my thoughts, and that I am here to have fun. And as for question four..that changes moment by moment. But I will tell you what I did in one of those moments.

Neale’s talk was the last one at the convention and people began to leave to catch trains, plains and buses. He made jokes about it as they tried to sneak out the door. Two women left from the very front row just as Neale asked if there was anyone else who needed to leave. I turned to Maggie and said, “Let’s go sit in their seats.” As I made my way to the front Neale assumed I was leaving too.

“No way,” I said and sat down in the front row. He came towards me, those big arms of his outstretched with a smile on his face. Neale Donald Walsch was asking me for a hug. What did I intend to do about that?

Let me say for the record – Neale Donald Walsch is one of the best huggers on the planet. Did I feel separate? Absolutely not. Did his whiskers scratch? Not at all.

So, who are you, where are you, why are you where you are, and what do you intend to do about that? And, if given the opportunity, would you hug Neale Donald Walsch?

 

 

Success with Each Step

I used to have a very fixed opinion about success. I knew what it looked like, how it would arrive and, once I obtained it, I knew my life would be perfect. My plan was to become famous. I studied acting and performed on stage and screen. Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly good at it and I didn’t like hanging out with other actors. They were all completely self-absorbed. So instead I decided I would become a famous singer/songwriter. I played in bands, I toured, I wrote songs, I recorded. I was even offered a recording contract. But bands break up and recording contracts disappear. When all was done and dusted I didn’t have the energy or desire to keep going.

Then along came radio. It was the perfect combination of acting and music. After years of banging my head against closed doors, all the doors swung open. It was a miracle. It was meant to be. I landed my dream job. Success at last. And here’s the thing about having a fixed opinion of success; the goal posts shift, life is fluid, everything changes. In other words my dream job turned out to have warts. I did discover, after much resistance and then acceptance, that I could still love it, warts and all, but it no longer fulfilled my definition of success.

Perhaps a successful relationship would do the trick. I achieved the required standard by getting married. But, you guessed it, I found out there is no such thing as the promised happy-ever- after. My job might have had warts but my marriage had bunions. However once again, after much resistance and then acceptance, I learned to love it, bunions and all.

Years ago I started writing. A quiet pursuit, never in the spotlight, unlike my other attempts at fame. Most people wouldn’t think I was a success because I wasn’t published. But my definition of success had changed by the time I took up the pen. Finishing eight drafts of my novel and finally completing my meditation memoir after six years, these were successes to me. I sent them out into the world and they returned with kind suggestions and notes about revisions, most of which I took on board. Each small compliment was another success. I did the work and sent my manuscripts out again. A process of growth and refinement.

And now, success. My meditation memoir will be published by Pan Macmillan next year. A cause for celebration. But I know this is not the end. This is just another step on the journey. A journey where every step, no matter how many warts or bunions, is a cause for celebration, is a success.

***You can also find this post in the latest edition of Holisitic Bliss 

 

 

The Olympics vs Game of Thrones

Picture by Steve Christo, Fairfax.

Ah the Olympics. It’s the only time I feel virtuous while watching television. How can you possibly feel guilty when you’re supporting your country and spurring our very own Aussies on to greater glory. Surely it’s our patriotic duty to watch as much television as possible during the Olympics.

This time twelve years ago I moved to the Sunshine Coast. Well, it wasn’t this time exactly, the Sydney Olympics were in September, but I digress. I’d given myself a couple of weeks to settle in and find a place to live. I spent most of that time glued to the TV in my temporary accommodation. There I was, a recent arrival in the most beautiful place in the world and I couldn’t tear myself away from the box. Somehow I managed to find an apartment and moved in with the few possessions I had while I waited for the rest of my stuff to arrive. Unfortunately I hadn’t had the foresight to throw the telly in the back of my car. I spent the next few days languishing in the electrical sections of department stores pretending to be interested in wide screen TVs. Actually I was very interested in wide screen TVs, I just didn’t want to buy one. Well actually, I did want to buy one, I just didn’t have the money.

At those Olympics, our Olympics, there was one very special event. You can still ask people  “Where were you at the time?” and they could probably tell you. As it got closer I became increasingly agitated. This event was at night, all the electrical stores would be closed. I could have gone to the pub but drunk people are very odd, especially when there’s a major sporting event. How was I going to see this race? Thank goodness there were some people in the area who must have watched a lot of Neighbours before they started watching a lot of the Olympics. I had waved to them a couple of times as I scuttled off to stalk TV salesmen but we really hadn’t talked. But what could they do on that night of nights when I knocked desperately on their door like a junkie needing a fix. Luckily they took pity on me and gave me a cushion on the floor right in front of that cathode ray tube. And there she was, looking like a cheap alien from Lost in Space, in head to toe lycra. Our Cathy. And when she won gold good neighbours did indeed become good friends. I couldn’t help but jump about and give them great big hugs. What a celebration!

Twelve years later and there’s no Cathy, there’s not even a Thorpie and it’s not our Olympics. Ironically I do have a huge TV these days but all I want to watch is Game of Thrones. Hmm… Game of Thrones, that’s given me some interesting ideas for Olympic sports.

Reasons to Love Spinal Tap

I’ve never had an amplifier that went up to eleven. I’ve never played in a band that had an exploding drummer, let alone a drummer who died in an unfortunate gardening accident, nor even a drummer who choked to death on someone else’s vomit. Although you could never be sure whose vomit it was, you can’t dust for vomit you know. Sorry if you’re eating right now but I’ve just waded through over an hour of out takes from This is Spinal Tap and it’s had rather a strange effect on me.

I first saw the film in a small independent movie theatre in Melbourne when I was an earnest young acting student. I think it was a dead give away that I’d rather be watching a mockumentary about a fictional British rock band than yet another Shakespeare adaptation set in a typewriter factory. I spent most of my three years in acting school yearning to be a female Nigel Tufnel or failing that a pretty good likeness of the lead singer David St. Hubbins. Not a very well-known saint, Saint Hubbins, but a vital one. He was the saint of quality footwear.

I spied the special edition DVD of This is Spinal Tap at my local and thought, “What have I got to lose, it’s Tuesday and it’s only going to cost me a dollar for the week.” I know my memory is pretty bad, especially after the years of rock and roll lifestyle I pursued as soon as I graduated from acting school, but I’d completely forgotten that Billy Crystal played Morty the Mime from the catering company Shut Up and Eat at the pre-tour party. I hadn’t realised that Fran Drescher played the record company PR rep. And Angelica Huston, as Polly Deutsch, was the one responsible for the 18 inch Stonehenge, the one that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf on stage.

Should I be embarrassed to admit that I related more to the film now than I did when I first saw it in the eighties? Back then I was the veteran of only three bands, having had the silly idea that I’d rather be an actor. As soon as I got over that misapprehension, as Nigel would say, I spent the next ten years getting lost on tour, playing for audiences who’d rather be watching the dog races on Sky TV, going deaf in rehearsal rooms, eating pizza in recording studios, and winding up as second billing to a puppet show. Well okay, I made that last one up, but some days it felt like that. What a delight then, to watch the absurdities of the music business played out in such fine form, while safely sitting on my couch, cup of tea in one hand and banana muffin in the other. To quote David St. Hubbins himself, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”