Take Today For a Joyride – Here’s How.

IMG_5264Some lessons in life come from the most unexpected of places. When it comes to mindfulness you’d assume those lessons would come from Eastern philosophies or Western psychology. Mindfulness has become increasingly popular and there are many reasons why. It’s been shown to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, relieve drug and alcohol dependence, and help with many types of illness including auto-immune diseases. Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. Not worrying about the future, not dwelling on the past. Being here, now, moment by moment. Simple. But not easy.

There’s a theory that there are only two motivating forces in life; love and fear. Love is desirable. Fear can really do some damage. So how can mindfulness help? A while ago I was telling a wiser person than myself about all my fears and how they were running my life. She asked me, “What is there for you to be fearful of? Right here, right now in this moment?”

My answer surprised me as much as her question. “Nothing.”

If I keep my thoughts to the present moment what do I have to fear? Absolutely nothing. Simple concept. Hard to achieve. But apparently not if you’re a psychopath.

Kevin Dutton is a research psychologist. He wrote a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success. Kevin visited Broadmoor, the best-known high-security psychiatric hospital in England, to interview the inmates. What he found is surprising.

One of his interview subjects told him, “The thing about fear, or the way I understand fear, I suppose–because, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it–is that most of the time it’s completely unwarranted anyway. What is it they say? Ninety-nine percent of the things people worry about never happen. So what’s the point? I think the problem is that people spend so much time worrying about what might happen, what might go wrong, that they completely lose sight of the present. They completely overlook the fact that, actually, right now, everything’s perfectly fine. So the trick, whenever possible, I propose, is to stop your brain from running on ahead of you.”

Kevin writes: “This pragmatic endorsement of the principles and practices of what might otherwise be described as mindfulness is typical of the psychopath. A psychopath’s rapacious proclivity to live in the moment, to “give tomorrow the slip and take today on a joyride” (as another inmate rather whimsically, puts it), is well documented–and at times can be stupendously beneficial.”

A lesson in mindfulness from the most unlikely of sources. Perhaps it’s time to let our inner-psychopaths off the leash just a little. Maybe not with ‘rapacious proclivity’ but a little less fear and a little more joyriding is bound to improve our quality of life. And to avoid ending up in Broadmoor it would be wise to add a lot of awareness and a big dollop of balance into the mix.

Get your free copy of Mary-Lou’s Seven Tips For Your Best Relationship Ever

Win a Copy of Sex, Drugs and Meditation

 

Sexdrugsmeditation-pile 2

The sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation is being released in a couple of weeks. How to Stay Married is the truth about the happy ending.

To celebrate I’m giving away a signed copy of Sex, Drugs and Meditation.  Hooray!

All you need to do is sign up for my Newsletter. The sign up form is on my website over on the right hand side.  I’ll pick  a winner at random in the next week and a signed copy of Sex, Drugs and Meditation will be on its way to you.

Good luck.

x

Mary-Lou

How I Became a Blogger for The Huffington Post

huffpostHere I am, a woman from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, a long, long way from New York City where The Huffington Post is based. So how did I become a blogger for HuffPost?

To tell you the truth it was totally unexpected.

I knew Arianna Huffington was a huge fan of meditation and I just happen to have written a book about how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband. I thought perhaps she might like to read my book,  and if she enjoyed it she might tell her friends about it.

I tracked down her email address, it wasn’t hard, and after she had finished her holiday digital detox I sent her an email. This is what it said:

Hi Arianna

Welcome back to the plugged-in world.
 
I’d love to send you a copy of my meditation memoir. I think you might enjoy it. It’s about how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband. Plus I’m told it’s very funny.  It’s published in Australia by Pan Macmillan.
 
“Bracingly honest, funny and rewarding, this is a book you can’t put down.” Sydney Morning Herald.
 
It is available as an e-book but I’d like to give you a book made out of paper – it is recycled paper 🙂
 
What’s the best address to send it to?
 
Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.
 
Warm regards
Mary-Lou Stephens
Did I expect to hear back from her? Not really. She’s a very busy woman with way too many emails to read I’m sure. But I hoped someone might get back to me with an address.
To my great surprise and delight, less than 2 weeks later this email appeared in my Inbox.

Mary-Lou, many thanks for thinking of us. We would love to feature your voice on HuffPost about your meditation memoir. I’m ccing our Third Metric editor Carolyn Gregoire as well as our Books editor Zoe to follow up. All the best, Arianna

Very quickly afterwards this email chimed in:

Thanks so much for reaching out, Mary-Lou. We’d be thrilled to feature your voice on the page. All we need to get started is a first blog (typically 500-1,000 words), along with a headshot and a bio, all in one email. Please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to send a copy of the book to the below address. Best, Carolyn

So I did as requested, emailed my bio, headshot and a sample blog.  Within a day I was accepted into the fold at The Huffington Post, set up with my blogger’s toolkit, and my first blog was up on their site shortly afterwards.
The whole experience was miraculous, unexpected, joyful and welcoming. I was amazed at the warmth and promptness of their responses. But I guess when you have the boss suggesting that something should happen, it happens.
So there you have it, I wasn’t looking to become a blogger for The Huffington Post but here I am. And I’m thrilled. Thank you Arianna, thank you Caroline, thank you everyone at HuffPost for making miracles happen.

 

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

 

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.

 

The 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.

————————————————————————————————-

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

 

How I Learnt to Swim in the Mainstream

Main Stream

How can we swim in the mainstream and still frolic in the areas that we love, those deep and mysterious rock pools where the mainstream doesn’t flow? By playing the game. Why not? It’s just a game after all. The beauty of the mainstream is that everyone knows the rules. The trick is to colour between the lines while using your own palette.

When my book was picked up by a mainstream publisher they wanted to change the title.Sex, Drugs and Meditation was too confrontational. Sex was okay. Drugs was not. They came up with a pleasant, inoffensive title and a pretty pastel cover. Trouble was neither the cover or the name was indicative of the truth inside. Fortunately, with a little persuasion, they agreed do go back to the drawing board. Literally. A new designer was commissioned. Her work was bold and edgy. I loved her cover concepts with a passion. But what would my publisher think?

I’ve always been on the edge creatively. I played in indie bands, wrote alt-country songs, before the phrase alt-country was even invented, and went to the alternative acting school, the one which fostered independent self-created work instead of slim blonde movie star smiles.

Money was not my goal nor was it the result. I learnt to live on very little. It was a great space in which to live and play but when my last band broke up I knew it was time to move on. When working in radio became an option I grabbed it with both hands, even though it meant diving into the mainstream. Commercial radio. Not my first choice but I worked hard, learnt a lot and eventually moved on to where I’d always wanted to be. The ABC. By then I had the skills that commercial radio demands and that the ABC wants. Now I get to swim in some interesting places indeed. For example in my series Modalities I explore the many ways of healing the body and soul that are available and interview the practitioners who facilitate them. Fascinating.

Writing books grew from writing columns for a newspaper. A weekly discipline that I loved. Although it was mainstream media I was given the freedom to be creative. Years of writing and rewriting have finally seen my book on the shelves. Despite diving into some very deep and mysterious waters the mainstream world has embraced it. You might see my meditation memoir in your local bookstore with my original title and a fabulous cover. How did that happen? Why did the publisher change their mind? The clever designer managed to swim in the mainstream but still remain edgy. A perfect balance. The best of both worlds. She played the game and we all won.

Personal or Personally? You chose.

It’s the little things. The little things that make a day gloomy. The little things that brighten it again. The rainbow in the grey and drizzly clouds. Clean sheets to slide into after a tiring day. The dog leaning in for a pat, eyes full of love, even though you know she’s just dug up the silver beet. Again.

Many little annoying things throughout the day can make it seem as though the world isSmiley coffeeagainst us. One annoying incident can be ignored. Two and we might become irritable. Three and that’s it, we know that everyone and everything is out to get us. The best advice I’ve been given in these situations is not to take it personally. Because it’s not personal. It just is. Once we take something personally though, everything becomes loaded with meaning, with emotion, and with blame and resentment. Don’t you feel tired just thinking about it? Nurture your mind, reclaim your energy and your smile by not taking stuff personally. No one’s out to get you, and even if they are, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do them. So no matter what’s happened, it’s not personal.

Instead of fretting about those little things that don’t mean anything anyway, why not spend some time getting personal? If you stop taking things personally you’ll have more time to spend with yourself and with other people. Take some time out to breathe, to stretch, to skip, to smile. One of the quickest ways to get personal with yourself is with meditation. If you want to find out what you’re really thinking, try to stop thinking! But all the experts agree as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference to all kinds of health and emotional issues. Nurture your soul with a little meditation.

There are some who think that the answer to all of life’s problems is a nice cup of tea. Whether it’s the extended process of brewing up a spicy chai on a cool winter’s night, or simply boiling the kettle for a quick and simple green tea, the whole process is imbued with anticipation and delight. And the end result is a sip, a sigh, a smack of the lips. The little things that add up to an experience. A small experience that’s true, just a little thing, and the easiest way to nurture body, mind and soul.

 

Ten Insights into Sex Drugs and Meditation

From an interview with Beauty and Lace

You have had quite a varied career Mary-Lou, what made you want to write a book?Sex, Drugs and Meditation  Mary-Lou Stephens

When I traveled overseas some years ago people asked to see my photographs when I got back. I had only taken twelve and they were on a disposable camera. A friend pointed out that photography clearly wasn’t my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead. I did. That resulted in being asked to write a weekly column for the local newspaper which in turn led to writing short stories and a novel. The instigation for this memoir came from reading self-help books. I always loved the case studies where people transformed their lives. I realised my life was one big case study and that people might like to read about it.

Can you tell us a little about ‘Sex, Drugs & Meditation’?

I didn’t go to a ten day silent meditation retreat because I was happy. I went because my life needed to change. Sex, Drugs and Meditation is told within the framework of that ten day meditation retreat. During those ten days I confronted the demons of my past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion…. and the demons in my mind; paranoia, self-loathing, fear and rage. I relived my time spent in Twelve Step programs, my years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of my former life as a musician and the journey that led me to work in radio.

For ten days and nights I battled with my memories, mistakes and fantasies. The long hours spent meditating resulted in excruciating physical pain.

Facing the pain, accepting it and overcoming it enabled me to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.

When I left the meditation centre I knew I had changed. What surprised me was that within 2 weeks something so wonderful and completely unexpected showed up in my life that even I, the great doubter, had to believe again in life and in love.

What would you say was the catalyst for changing your life?

I’ve had many changes in my life. The catalyst for giving up drugs was the death of my father when I was in my twenties. I realised for the first time that I wasn’t immortal and as I was going to die anyway, why rush into it.
The catalyst for doing the meditation retreat that changed my life was my work. My dream job had become a nightmare. My new boss made my working life hell. I knew he wouldn’t change. I knew the company I worked for wouldn’t change. If I was to keep the job I loved, there was only one thing I could change. Myself.

What was the most enlightening lesson you took from your 10 day meditation retreat?

I had many realisations at the retreat; why I’d always had trouble with relationships, why I’d always resented my bosses, and why I’d always felt like a victim. But the biggest realisation was that I create my own misery by the way I choose to think – always churning over the past, always worrying about the future, and if there’s nothing to worry about I invent things to worry about! I make myself miserable for no good reason. I learnt how to stop creating misery in my life and let the joy in instead.

Music, Radio, Writing – how closely do you think the three are related?

I love radio. It combines all my skills into one. When I played in bands I used to play music and talk in between. When I first started in radio I used to play music and talk in between. Perfect. These days I work in a talk radio format and there’s a lot of writing involved. I love to write introductions and teases that will interest people and hook our listeners.mary-lou stephens

I wrote songs for years and sometimes I would marvel as to where they came from. It was as if a muse had delivered them to me.

Writing prose can be like that too. And then there are other songs and writing that take endless rewrites and much changing around until they are ready for the world. But all three – music, radio and writing are best when they connect to the heart of the listener or reader. To me that’s what it is all about – connection.

Different readers will take different things from your book, but if you had to pick just one thing what would you want readers to take away from Sex, Drugs & Meditation?

That we create our own misery and that meditation can help us realise that and change it.

How does your life to date compare to what you had planned for it as an adolescent?

My life as an adolescent was not a happy one. I pretended all the time to be someone I wasn’t. The only time I was happy was when I was acting in school plays or singing in the choir but I never thought they could be career options. I did at one stage want to be an archeologist which is amusing in hindsight given that with this memoir I am, in a very different way, digging up the past.

What’s been the most satisfying stop on your career journey up until now?

My journey into working in radio was truly amazing. After many years of banging my head against walls as a singer/songwriter, once I decided to get into radio all the doors opened. It was incredible. I describe those events in my memoir.
And I must say, landing a publishing deal after years of writing was a real gift.

What’s next for Mary-Lou Stephens?Mary-Lou Stephens, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, Courier Mail

I continue to work full-time in radio and when I’m not at work I am writing the sequel to this memoir. Sex, Drugs and Meditation has a happy ending. My next book is the truth about the happily-ever-after.

What does being a woman mean to you?

I have worked in mostly male dominated areas, the music industry and radio. I had an epiphany when I was 36. For once I wasn’t wearing jeans and for some reason was painting my toe nails. I was suddenly struck by the thought that I was a woman. I realised that I had been living my life as if I were a seventeen year old boy; no responsibilities, playing and living all over the county, shooting the breeze with the blokes, going to the footy.
It made me take stock of what was important to me – being a token bloke or being the real me, a 36 year old woman. I stopped trying to impress the men and started exploring what was important to me. Being a woman means being equal but different. Taking pride in those differences instead of trying to deny them.

Thanks for your time Mary-Lou.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – A journey to Self!

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – A journey to Self!.

A wonderful review from Cauldrons and Cupcakes. Check out Nicole’s blog if you haven’t already. It’s mighty.

“Sex, Drugs and Meditation had me engaged from the very first, and through its pages I found myself smiling, crying, and at times laughing out loud! It’s raw, honest, authentic, vulnerable and terribly brave.”

“Bravo, Mary-Lou Stephens! Your book is uplifting and wise, and gives hope to us all that we can find a place of peace and forgiveness within us, accept and love ourselves, and open up to the love and goodness available to us here in our ordinary lives.”

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – Australian Women’s Weekly Review

Sex, Drugs and Meditation

Friday, April 26, 2013
Sex, Drugs and Meditation by Mary-Lou Stephens, Pan MacMillan Australia, $32.99.Sexdrugsmeditation-20

Anyone who read Eat Pray Love should be forgiven for never wanting to read another self-discovery book, especially not by a woman. That book was nauseating.

Yes, of course, like everyone else, I inhaled it, and even gave copies to friends.

It was so much fun to read, when everyone else was reading it. Only now do I think, hang on, what did that woman (the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert) actually have to complain about?

She starts the book on her knees in the bathroom, desperate not to be married anymore.

Gilbert hadn’t been married all that long. She had no children. There weren’t likely to be any terrible consequences if she just called the whole thing off.

And what happened when she called it quits, anyway? Gilbert immediately landed a lucrative book deal, enabling her to take a year off to travel to Italy (to eat spaghetti and gelato), India (to pray or, to be more accurate, meditate) and finally to Indonesia (the island paradise of Bali, actually, to fall in love with a handsome Brazilian man who is now her husband).

No wonder so many women feel bad about once liking that book (most will now say they always hated parts of it, and the movie with Julia Roberts even more).

All of which brings me to a new book by the ABC host, Mary-Lou Stephens. It’s the perfect antidote to Eat Pray Love, in that it’s written by an earthy, Australian woman with a proper set of problems in her background.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is Mary-Lou’s quest to revisit, and to understand, her past, so she might stride into a better future.

She’s in her 40s, and although she’s already quit smoking and drinking and drugs, there’s still quite a bit weighing her down, namely guilt, and bad memories.

Mary-Lou grew up in an evangelical home with a mother who raised her hands and jiggled them at the ceiling, while wailing in tongues. She was made to fall on the floor during church rallies while the evil spirits in her were slayed.

Mary-Lou’s response to the strangeness of her childhood won’t surprise anyone: she started stealing money from her father’s coat pockets, and spending it on forbidden chocolate.

She took up binge-eating, secret eating, compulsive eating. Later, she became a shop-lifter, a drug taker, a drinker. She’d betrayed friends by sleeping with their boyfriends (she’d been so drunk she couldn’t even remember doing it). She knew loneliness, neediness, a broken heart, and bad relationships.

Then came bullying at work.

The basis of the book is Mary-Lou’s decision to sign up for 10-day retreat that required total silence … and reflection upon the life we’ve lived. The things we’ve done to others, and those that others have done to us.

The retreat that Mary-Lou chooses is not glamorous. It’s got simple, wooden beds, blankets that aren’t warm enough, and the food is simple, often raw, and served in small quantities.

There are moments when she wants to stop. As she says in the book (and on the back cover): “I could get up and walk out the door right now. No one could stop me. But then nothing would change. And everything has to change.”

It would give away too much to say how it ends. Suffice to say that Mary-Lou discovers, as so many women do, the pointlessness of living an unexamined life.

Her memories, her guilt, were chains hanging over her emotional development. They had physical weight. It’s fascinating to watch her lift them.