Can’t Meditate? Try Joyful Resting.

MadisonpicBy now I think we’ve got the message. Meditation is good for us and we really should do it. Everyone from Russell Brand to Rupert Murdoch is espousing its benefits.

But do we really need another “should” in our lives? And besides, who’s got the time to sit and contemplate their navels for 20 minutes a day? Between the kids, the job, the rush for the bus, the lunch eaten at the desk, the unread emails, the never ending to-do list and that little sliver of time that we have to ourselves where all we want to do is read one of the books on that ever-growing pile or catch the latest TV show that everyone’s been raving about, who on earth has time to meditate?

We might start off with good intentions and create a small space in our homes and lives to sit and breathe for 20 minutes a day, but as time goes on and life remains hectic that meditation time is the first thing to go. And fair enough, especially if we’ve turned it into just another dot point on our “must do because it’s good for me” list.

Or maybe we’ve tried to sit and meditate but our thought are so wild and crazy that we’ve given up and labelled ourselves as hopeless because we really don’t get this “still the mind” stuff.

Here’s something radical. Don’t meditate. Don’t even try. Give up on it entirely. Let go of the whole meditation schtick. Elle MacPherson might be really good at it, but you’re never going to look like her by meditating anyway, so it’s time to give something else a go.

Renate Ogilvie is a Buddhist psychotherapist who’s taught at Buddhist centers around the world for over 20 years. You think she’d be pretty good at meditation. Wrong. She confesses to not meditating regularly and really relates to those who find it hard to find time to do it. She knows it’s a crazy busy world we live in. Instead she suggests a kind of non-meditation. She calls it “joyful resting.” In joyful resting, we’re not after results. We’re not chasing after anything or any feeling. All we’re doing is resting. “It’s like dancing,” she says. “You don’t do it to arrive anywhere.” You do it because you enjoy it and who doesn’t enjoy resting even for just five minutes. And that’s the other thing. Joyful resting is to be done for only five to 10 minutes, no more. It’s never a chore. Never a time suck.

So how do you do this joyful resting thing? You can sit or lie down, have your eyes open or closed. Observe how your body feels but don’t judge it. It is what it is, that’s all. Observe what comes up in your mind. If you have a recurring thought allow it to be a recurring thought. There’s no need to change anything. Just relax. We are not responsible for the thoughts arising in our minds, we are not anger, resentment, fear. However we are responsible for what we do with them. In joyful resting we are not doing anything so let those thoughts and feelings fade and be replaced by joy. We are resting, we are doing nothing. Hooray! How wonderful. No expectation, no judging. What a luxury. Who wouldn’t want to do that at least once a day. And as it’s only for five to 10 minutes you can do it anywhere, anytime. You could even do it in a board meeting. You might enjoy the meeting more.

And what about those wild and crazy thoughts, the thoughts that make us think we can’t meditate? In joyful resting it’s like we’re on a warm and sunny beach. The ocean might be turbulent, the surf might be huge but we are safe on the beach enjoying the sunshine. We can observe that wild and crazy ocean but we don’t have to do anything about it. We can just relax. However if we decide to stop that joyful resting, walk towards the surf and jump in, well that’s a whole other story.

Mary-Lou Stephens’ meditation memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, is the true story of how meditation helped changed her life, save her job and find a husband. You can buy it here.

This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

by Rebecca A Rose for the ABC.

When Mary-Louise Stephens embarked on her first 10 day meditation retreat, colleagues were taking bets about how long she would last.

Now that she has just completed her 7th – and published a book on how it has changed her life – they are not so quick to scoff.

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Above: Mary-Lou at an OB with Annette Hughes

The ABC Coast Presenter is a renowned chatterbox and not even she can believe how much she enjoys staying quiet for so long.

“To be silent – it was a relief!” she laughed.

“When I was forced to be silent I realised how worried I am of the impression I am making, by what I say, by my level of knowledge and interest and humour – how much I want to impress people and want them to like me.

“A lot of (what we) talk is about that.”

Her life has changed so much that she decided to write a book about the experience in the vein of ‘if I can do it, anyone can!’ Her memoir will be launched at Ariel Books in Paddington tomorrow night.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is the story of how Mary-Lou went from heroin addict with a string of failed relationships behind her to happily married and serene, at one with her troubled past and optimistic about the future.

Meditating in silence for 11 hours a day over ten days, Mary-Lou had some amazing revelations about herself.

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Above: Mary-Lou in her band.

Practitioners of mindful meditation focus on being present in the moment – by concentrating on their breathing they hone in on their emotions.

“The difficulty is breaking down the walls between the conscious and subconscious.

“When you get into that state, all of the stuff that really drives you – not the stuff you think drives you, but the internal stuff – comes to the surface.”

The theory that we are the creators of our own misery rang true.

“What I was doing before this was to blame everyone else for my misery. I was blaming my boss, management, old boyfriends. If I had nothing to be miserable about I would make stuff up.”

It is not just the silence, but the physical constraints of trying to stay still and the emotional turmoil of turning the spotlight on yourself so intensely that make meditation retreats such a hardcore experience.

But that doesn’t mean that every thought is on a higher plane.

“Sometimes I let my mind have a holiday and do what it wants to do – I had bought a lotto ticket and was thinking about how I would spend the money,” she said.

“Or I would worry about the house burning down because i had left the iron on!

Mary-Lou’s book covers some hair-raising days from her youth, including an unhappy childhood and drug addiction. It has taken her many years to write as she struggled to be as honest as she had to about how far she has come.

“It is hard because people are going to know all these things about me. Yes, I used to take heroin and I used to steal. I am concerned in some ways – what will people here think of me?”

In the end, her transformation is the story and according to Mary-Lou that was the reason it had to be told.

She has taken ten weeks off to promote the book as well as write the follow up, which will explain the nitty gritty behind the ‘happily ever after’ ending of Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Buddhism for Pets

When I sat my first 10 day Vipassana meditation course I wasn’t expecting the amount of theory that was dished out every night in the teacher’s discourses. The Introduction to the Technique, required reading before sitting the course, stated that Vipassana had nothing to do with organised religion or sectarianism. But what was taught in those evening sessions was clearly Buddhist doctrine; the Eightfold Noble Path, the Four Noble Truths, the Three Stages of Wisdom, the Four Elements, the Six Senses, the Four Aggregates of the Mind. I couldn’t keep up with it all. Fortunately the teacher told us it wasn’t necessary to. We were to experience the technique for ourselves, give it a try and see if it worked for us. Then perhaps later, if it did, we could delve more into its depths.

As part of delving into those depths, a few months later I visited The Chenrezig Institute in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Established in 1974 Chenrezig  was one of the first TibetanStupaBuddhist centres in the Western World. It’s home to a Tibetan Lama and a community of monks and nuns.

After experiencing the Vipassana centre where there’s not so much as a stick of incense, no candles, no banners, no statues – nothing, Chenrezig was a shock with all its colour, prayer wheels and flags. When I went into the temple and was confronted with brightly painted devas, lotuses galore and prostrated monks I was astounded. From the ‘no distraction’ edict of Vipassana meditation to the garish busyness of Tibetan Buddhism, it was like visiting another dimension. All I could think was Buddhist monks must get really bored to have to invent all this stuff.

My next visit to Chenrezig was to interview a nun for my radio series Soul Train, in which I investigate different religions and faith-based organisations on the Sunshine Coast. I spent a wonderful hour talking with her, sitting in the shadow of an ornate stupa. She had been studying Buddhism for over twenty years yet she told me she had only scratched the surface of all the theory.

“It gets increasingly complicated,” she said.

Bored monks, I thought to myself again. Bored and making stuff up.

For my third and recent visit to Chenrezig I took my 13 year-old niece, her friend and my husband with me so they could experience it for themselves. The 13 year-olds took many photos and loved the fibre optic lotuses and the many faced statues. The Hubby, like myself, found the theory a needless distraction. But our opinions divided inside the stupa.

Stupas are the oldest forms of Buddhist architecture and they hold Buddhist relics and holy objects. Inside the big stupas are smaller stupas which people can buy to hold theirphoto-12loved one’s ashes. I was delighted to find little stupas in memory of not only people but their pets. There were cats and dogs mixed in with their owners and sometimes with a little stupa all to themselves. The Hubby left, retreating from the heady incense, piped music and Buddhist knickknacks, while I stayed, fascinated by these memorials to beloved animals. When I found a little stupa dedicated to two Belgian Shepherds I was sold.

We adopted our Belgian Shepherd from the RSPCA. She was six years old and had been abandoned. In the eighteen months since she became part of our family, we have discovered why she was abandoned. Anti-social, anxious and prone to biting other dogs. She loves us but no one else. We manage her behaviour, keeping her away from dogs and other people. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in her hyper-sensitive mind and whether she will ever find peace. Perhaps, years in the future, after she’s died from old age, I can put her ashes in a stupa and there, at last, she will be at rest.