Tag Archives: Mary-Lou Stephens

Before You Start That New Year’s Diet…

cakeThe festive season is a strange conundrum. First we’re encouraged to go to lots of parties, eat too much, drink and generally over indulge. Then suddenly it’s as if someone hits a switch. Magazines and newspaper life style lift-outs start wagging the finger and tell us that the good times are over and we must pay for all the excess. Instead of recipes for the perfect chocolate pavlova, the best Christmas pudding and the most impressive cocktail, we’re instructed in ways  to remove the undesirable poundage that the pavlova, pudding and fluffy drinks have deposited on our thighs, waists and chins. It’s like getting your first credit card statement of the year. New Year’s resolutions become abound as the fun times fly out the window.
I was tempted for a few seconds once by a seductive little New Year detox number that promised to clean out my system, get me in to my old jeans and supply me with the perfect life all within the space of 10 days. However when I read what I was expected to eat, or more importantly not eat, I came to my senses. I realised that 240 hours of sheer misery was too much to endure, even for the promised perfection at the end of the torture.
Let’s face it. Diets aren’t about reaching your healthy goal weight.
Diets are about reaching your goal happiness, your goal size smaller than your best friend, your goal boyfriend, your goal life and best of all –  your goal envious looks from other people. Diets are about being suddenly slim and glamorous, they’re about swanning around in sports cars and being lusted after by movie stars. Wouldn’t we all be deliriously happy, content and rich if only we were just a little bit slimmer?
I’ve waded through the sure-fire kilo-dropper starvation plans and the swathe of Celebrity Diets. There are only two things I’ve read that have made any sense. One was a famous singer saying that the only way to lose weight was to eat less and exercise more. The other was a famous actress telling us not to believe other actresses who say they eat whatever they like and stay stick thin. She said that she, like the rest of them, was hungry all the time.
 So when the over indulgence of the first part of the festive season turns into the cold light of a New Year, I don’t allow myself to be harangued into a life of deprivation. Thanks to a few honest celebrities I now know that people who are slimmer than me aren’t morally superior beings who live incredibly fulfilled and fascinating lives with their perfect partners. They are just people who are a bit hungrier than me.

 

Book Review – Sex, Drugs and Meditation

“For a first book, it’s exquisite.”

Sex, Drugs and Meditation Front coverWe all know the rules. Stories, whether fiction or memoir, need to contain conflict. So when I heard that Mary-Lou Stephens had written a book about ten days of silence at a meditation retreat, my inner cynic snorted. Where’s the conflict in a bunch of people sitting silent and cross legged all day? Maybe Mary-Lou’s peppered the narrative with interesting flashbacks, but even so, the book is 270-pages long. What’s going to move the story forward?  When I finally meet Mary-Lou Stephens, I admit that Sex, Drugs and Meditation is an interesting title, but what I really want to know is how she made a book about silence so interesting that the world’s fifth largest publisher wanted it. 

The answers are in the text, but they’re not easy to explain. I’ve read the Macmillan-published book twice now, and to get your head around how she accomplished this feat, you have to imagine the book as three narratives, each with its own antagonist. In the first narrative we meet  Mary Lou in her afternoon drive-time ABC radio presenter persona, competent to the core, clearly loving her job. But then along comes nasty Mr Purvis, with his sharp suit, his pointy shoes and his perfect teeth. He tells everyone there’s been a restructure and even the old hands must reapply for their jobs. The Hideous Mr Purvis, as Mary-Lou calls him, is her new-found capricious enemy, and is the literary equivalent of Chekov’s gun. We know he’s coming back in the final scenes to take a swipe at Mary-Lou’s composure; he’ll turn up again after her meditation retreat, no doubt. In the meantime, though, it’s the Christmas break and she’s off to the Vipassana retreat.

Those familiar with meditation centres will recognise the subtle interplay of powers and hierarchies that Mary Lou flags. This is Mary-Lou’s first time; returnees get special tea, a tailored meditation routine, and possess an enviable straight-backed purity. Soon it’s obvious to readers that the antagonist in this second narrative is Mary-Lou’s inner critic. Readers familiar with Bridget Jones will recognise the negative self talk. Regarding Bernadette, a fellow meditator she’s only just met: I’m hoping we’ll be friends and I like my friends to be as flawed as I am. Because no one’s able to talk, Mary-Lou tells herself all kinds of stories about the people here: that the straight-backed meditator feels no pain, that her roommate suffers lung cancer, and that the cool yoga chicks want Mary Lou out. In Mary-Lou’s Sittings of Strong Determination, she must learn to remain composed against the demanding pain of an old knee injury. Quiet on the outside, her inner self is all noisy turmoil. At one point during her meditation, she takes up her imaginary machine gun, and mentally opens fire on all the perfect people that annoy her and then all the imperfect people who annoy her. As the heavy artillery rains down, she declares to her inner triumphant self, Take that you fucking serene shits. 

Dealing with ‘serene shits’ is only one of Mary Lou’s myriad challenges. In the third narrative, presented through flashbacks, we meet the younger Mary-Lou: needy child, isolated adolescent, young adult junkie, talented musician. The antagonist in this narrative is Mary-Lou’s mother. From age eight, Mary-Lou felt that her mother, already burdened with raising five other children, simply stopped loving her. Mary-Lou’s never been able to reclaim that love, and always feels as if she doesn’t come up to her mother’s expectations. The dramatic climax to this narrative is the day Mary Lou’s mother condescends to tell her daughter she mustn’t have a social drink today because she’s a recovering alcoholic. [My mother] said it with meanness and spite. Sitting on the couch opposite me, glass of sherry in her hand. I felt wounded beyond measure. I’d been honest with her about my work in Twelve Step programs and she threw it back at me, as an insult. I could let it slide but I knew I would resent it. ‘Mum, it makes it really hard for me to tell you things that are important to me when you say things like that.’ ….She said nothing. The silence stretched between us. I began to panic. I had just stood up to my mother and it didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel safe. I wanted to suck those words right back in….Instead, Mary Lou rallies against a retraction and holds her ground in silence. It is a pivotal moment in the book, and an astonishing tribute to the power of silence in the context of conversation. It marks a nice contrast with the studied, contrived silence of the meditators, a much harder silence to admire.

Beyond the book’s clever structural conceits, you’ll find a narrator with a taste for humour: be it ironic, bathetic, or self deprecating. At times her voice turns lyrical, particularly in passages that coalesce around grief: the Port Arthur massacre, her mother’s two miscarriages, and the loss of her father. For a first book, it’s exquisite. She says there’s a sequel on the way. Whether it’s about silence or not, it’s sure to get the tongues wagging.

Ali Quigley, SCLA secretary

 www.scliterary.org

Going Home

Mum & kids beach 2The past is pulling me back. Sometimes as slow and sweet as honey flowing from a jar. Sometimes as sharp as cold metal. I’m going home, back to the land that raised me, back to the town where I was born. It’s the time of year when people gather, with friends, with family, to celebrate the old and light a candle for the future.

 You make a move in life, a decision no matter how small, and that move or decision ripples out, bumping up against other decisions, other lives.

Long before I board the plane the past is nibbling at my ankles. A long neglected friend calls from the south. He sounds as though he’s at the bottom of a well. His life has fallen to pieces, he needs a friend. I tell him I’m coming down for a the holidays. I feel the weight of his need. He clings to me in the hope that I will patch him up, help him through, make him feel like the person he was all those years ago when we were friends. I’m his portal to the past, to happier days.

The past is enticing me back. I receive an email from a school friend. He wants to plan a reunion for later in the year. It’s been an embarrassing amount of time since we were at school together and he wants to celebrate that fact. He’s sent this email to others from our year and soon I’m connecting with people I haven’t seen for decades. The annoying boy that I used to avoid in the school hallways is now a successful lawyer. His email gives away the fact that everything he does in life is considered from every angle. I admire the way his mind works and I’m amazed that I can now relate to some one I had nothing in common with when we were kids. I suggest we meet up for a cup of tea when I‘m in town. I’m sure he drinks espresso.

The past is calling me back. My gaze falls on a photo of my family at the beach when we were young. A friend had mentioned that we all look as though we’re in pain. I explain that even though the photo was taken in the middle of summer the water was freezing and out toes were probably turning blue. I smile and pack my bathers anyway.

The past is calling me back. I embrace it as the jet engines thrust me into the wide blue open. I’m going home to acknowledge the past, to honour all we’ve achieved over the days and months of the year that’s been. And I’m going home strong in the knowledge that the year to come will grant us many more smiles and sighs, will bring laughter and tears, and will give us many more reasons to celebrate.

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.

They called me Hunchfront!

IMG_2912

Okay, I’m just going to be honest here. I would love to have smaller breasts. And if I’m going to be really honest, I might like to have none at all. I spent my early teens in denial and refused to wear a bra. They weren’t breasts, it was just puppy fat. I remember some older girls at school, after I’d just competed in the school athletics carnival, telling me it really was time I got a bra. I felt humiliated.

The first thing I do when I get home is take my bra off. But then if anyone comes to the door I have to put it back on. Those girls at school were right. I look unseemly without one.

I’ve never liked my breasts. They are unwelcome guests who came for a visit and refused to leave.

An acquaintance of mine had breast cancer. She had both breasts removed. Completely. She proudly lifted her shirt and showed me the scar. It wrapped around her rib cage. She loved being free of her breasts. She felt liberated. I twanged with jealousy. How I wished to be rid of these things I lug around with me constantly. Perhaps I could get breast cancer too. Or, as in the case of Angeline Jolie, just have the threat of breast cancer. That was enough for her to toss her breasts in the bin.

I’ve researched breast reduction surgery and know someone who’s had it done. Another woman who proudly lifted her shirt to show me her scars. Her only regret was she didn’t do it sooner. While some women bemoan the fact that their breasts are like poached eggs sitting flat on their chests and others pay for silicone and saline to be stitched under their skin, I sigh at the marks my bra leaves on my shoulders. Dents imprinted in my flesh from hauling the weight of my breasts around.

So why haven’t I had the surgery? Sure it’s expensive but I’ve been told it’s worth it. I haven’t had the surgery because I live in hope and belief. Hope that one day I will be able to forgive my body and myself. Belief that one day I will stop judging by body and my breasts. I would like any decision I make about my body to come from a place of love, especially a decision that involves a scalpel. It might take a while because I’ve been my body’s harshest critic since I was eight. My default position is dismay and dislike. Until I can swing that position around to one of acceptance, forgiveness and love I am loath to let anyone, no matter how skilled a surgeon, take a knife to my chest. Perhaps I already have more self esteem than I realise. Perhaps I’m already on the path to believing that I am loved and lovely as I am and that I and my breasts are beautiful.

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