For those of you who couldn’t make it and for some who were there and would like to hear it again. Parts of the In Conversation I did with John Stokes plus a solo performance of Nature Girl – an angry and bitter song that, for some strange reason, everybody loves.
I knew my writing was good when my friend told me he read it in the toilet.
This post is by guest blogger Mary-Lou Stephens. Moo (as she’s affectionately known around the studios) is a radio broadcaster with ABC Sunshine Coast. Her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month.
I didn’t mean to become a writer.
Not of books anyway.
I always dreamed of becoming a famous songwriter. I played in bands, put out CDs and did the endless gigs that being an independent musician requires.
It was a fun journey but eventually led nowhere. The doors remained closed.
Writing prose came later and quite by accident. I returned home from a trip overseas with only twelve photos taken on a disposable camera.
A friend pointed out that photography was clearly not my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead.
I did, imaginatively calling it “My Holiday”. My friend enjoyed it so much he kept it in the toilet and read it on his regular visits there.
He told me this was high praise indeed. Higher praise came when he recommended my work to a journalist who was looking for a new columnist for the local paper.
A door began to open. But first there was an ordeal of fire. The journalist asked me for some sample columns.
“Don’t be surprised if I tell you can’t write,” he growled. “Most people can’t.”
I sent him three sample columns and waited nervously.
He rang back that very afternoon. “You can actually write,” he said. The surprise in his voice was obvious.
I wrote a column every week for four and a half years.
Much encouraged and with a lot of words under my belt, I moved on to short stories, a novel and a memoir.
For years now I’ve been writing never knowing if anyone, besides my writing group, would ever read the result.
A publishing deal is the prize is it not?
Maybe, maybe not.
My memoir has just been published and I am grateful, thrilled that the reviews have been favourable and amazed that people I’ve never met are reading it.
But caught up in the heady spin of publicity I find myself growing anxious.
Am I enough?
Am I doing enough?
There is so much involved with getting a book out into the world, what else can I do to make it happen? A publishing deal is not a full stop, it is an ongoing commitment to do my best for those who have invested in my words.
It is not until I pause, find the space to clear away the clutter of my endless To Do list, and immerse myself in the writing that I find peace and a true excitement. It is a joy that comes from my soul.
This is where the doors swing wide open and angels sing.
I am connected at last, not lost but found, in the words and in the journey.
This is a gift, the true prize. Writing in itself is enough.
And if the toilet is the only place it’s read, that’s enough too.
Mary-Lou Stephens’ memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month through Pan Macmillan.
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.
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.
This time, after the teaching of metta, as the teacher and his wife go singing off into the distance, I smile. No yearning, no bittersweet melancholy. Only happiness. Yes, they are going where I can’t follow, but I am on my own path – it’s under my feet, meandering into the distance, shaded with overhanging trees. It’s solid, welcoming, real. I sense the wonders, awe, troubles and joy ahead. I am on the path. My path. And they are on theirs as their voices grow fainter and fade away until one of the assistant teachers finally switches off the CD.
The assistant teachers sit for a moment longer then make their way from the meditation hall. The new students eagerly head for the door. I know they will be greeted by a sign, in its own frame, hung from the post directly outside. It will tell them that Noble Silence is lifted. After nine and a half days they are free to talk again. I continue to sit in meditation. Smiling. I am in no hurry. I am not in pain. Love, compassion, goodwill to all beings.
When I finally leave the hall the new students, like little birds, have scattered to chirp excitedly to each other, bursting with stories of pain and triumph, hell and freedom. I walk silently to my room. I’m not ready to speak and know the dangers of speaking too much, too soon. Outside my window two old students greet each other. They talk of anxieties, fears, endless running minds, heads aflame with thoughts. They talk of wanting to leave, of not sleeping, of only wanting to sleep, of good days and bad.
And as for me? What will I say when I finally let my voice take flight? Yes, I had pain. Yes, I did endless head miles. Yes, I felt as though there was a tangle of fat pythons inside my head, squirming and pushing against my skull. But in the end, the meditation took over. Eventually my busy, exhausting mind tired of it’s own stories. It would flick through the choices available, like DVDs on a shelf, and realise it had seen them all before, too many times. Then it would slow, let go, and finally, finally, let me do the work I was here to do. Observe the breath, observe sensations, remember the truth of impermanence. Awareness and equanimity. One step on the path and then another, sometimes shuffling, sometimes skipping, and sometimes doing an about-face when the pain bit back.
The teacher’s words still ring in my head; Liberate yourself from the bondages of craving, aversion, delusion, illusion and enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness. But now, finally, it’s time to hear words from my own lips. This time I choose the path leading to the dining hall and lunch, to join the other voices; gliding, swooping, diving and soaring.