There was a time I never thought I’d make it. The Criminal Investigation Bureau finger printed my apartment and took my sheets away as evidence.
I couldn’t remember what had happened and they assumed the worst. What I could remember, and wasn’t going to tell them, was that I had shot up some heroin that was a lot stronger than I was used to. A friend had found me, hid the needle and taken me to the hospital. After that close call I never thought I’d use again. I was wrong.
I was no stranger to addiction; food, alcohol, drugs, stealing since I was eight years old. It wasn’t until my thirties that I found Twelve Step Programs. Those steps horrified me at first. I’d been brought up in an evangelical household; being slain in the spirit and singing in tongues. God had been called on constantly by my mother and yet I felt alone and abandoned most of the time. “A victim of gross neglect” as one of my many therapists told me.
I was desperate though and so I worked those steps and developed a Higher Power of my own understanding. It was in those steps and through those meetings that I first came to practice meditation. Most of those meditations were little more than a form of guided relaxation but that was all I could cope with back then.
I had studied at acting school and played in bands for most of my life, neither of which set me up for steady employment. Touring and recording was great but when my last band broke up I was in my mid thirties and staring down the barrel of a lifetime of dead end jobs. That’s when someone suggested I’d be great in radio.
After studying at radio school, going out to the country for my first couple of radio gigs, I landed my dream job at a radio station I loved. After less than a year though, that dream job became nightmare thanks to a new boss who was determined to make my working life a misery. Twelve Step programs had taught me that I was powerless over other people, places and things. I knew I couldn’t change my boss or the organisation I worked for who supported him. If I was to keep the job I loved there was only one thing I could change. Myself.
Determined to avoid more therapy and desperate to cope with an increasingly toxic work environment, I signed up for a ten-day meditation retreat that required total silence, endless hours of sitting cross-legged, and a food-as-fuel kind of a diet. For a woman who talks for a living, is rarely still and cooks for comfort, it was never going to be an easy ask. I did it because I was desperate.
But when I was able to keep breathing, to observe the sensations and not react to them, miracles happened.
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. 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.
After some years it became evident that meditation was continuing to improve all areas of my life so I wrote a book about my experience. Sex, Drugs and Meditationtells the story of how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband. It’s a tale for those of us who confuse being busy with being happy; the story of a woman who dared herself to stop talking and start living – and loving.
Find out more at www.maryloustephens.com.au
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