Spiritual Practice Success Story: "The More I Observe My Thoughts, The More I Realize How Funny They Are"

Thanks to a hunch and a great title, I purchased Sex, Drugs and Meditation on Amazon–and liked it even more than I expected I would. So I wrote the author, Mary-Lou Stephens, to ask if I could interview her for this site and for an upcoming book of mine. She kindly agreed.

Mollie: Do you practice questioning your thoughts in a conscious way with the goal of greater inner peace? When and how did you begin this practice? Does it work?

Mary-Lou: Yes. This is what I refer to as “the witness.” I observe my thoughts and decide whether to engage with them or not. This is a benefit of meditation. In meditation I don’t try to stop my thoughts–impossible! Instead, I watch them as they do their crazy dance. The more I observe my thoughts, the more I realize how funny they are. And to think they used to rule my world. No wonder I was so unhappy. I believed what I was thinking was true when most of it is just reaction and craving. Life is a lot more peaceful now and although peace and happiness might have been my goal when I first started meditating I don’t think about goals at all anymore. So many goals are counter-productive.

Mollie: Can you share the specific techniques that you prefer (i.e., journaling negative and positive thoughts, meditation, etc.)?

Mary-Lou: I used to use specific techniques–journaling, meditating at a set time for a set amount of time–but now acceptance, witnessing my thoughts and meditation are all part of my day. I don’t put them in specific time slots. It’s more like breathing. It just is without me having to do anything.

Mollie: What are a few of your foundational spiritual beliefs? If you are non-spiritual, what are a few of your foundational life philosophies?

Mary-Lou: When I was growing up my parents were heavily involved with the Charismatic Christian movement–lots of speaking in tongues and prophesying, healing and excitement. As a child I was very much wrapped up in that world … a world where God was love but also any negative feelings or misgivings were pushed away and ignored. If you felt bad clearly you weren’t praying hard enough. As a teenager I felt bad all the time and so became increasingly disenchanted with those that were reaching to heaven but ignoring what was going on at their feet.

In 12-step programs I was told I could believe in a God of my own understanding. God could be a color, or the sun or the wind, anything I wanted, just as long as God was a power greater than myself. This was liberating. Slowly, and with a few missteps, I developed a relationship with a God of my own understanding, one that had nothing to do with religion or other people’s beliefs. This God was a God I could rely on, lean on, talk to, be reassured by. I didn’t have to be good for this God to love me, I didn’t have to penance or chant the right prayers, or go to church. This God loved me just as I was, no matter what I did. I’d always tried to be a good girl so that God would love me. In 12-step programs I came to the realization that God would love me no matter what I did but living a life of good thoughts and actions helped me love and live with myself.

These days, God just is. God is in everything, everywhere, a benign, loving presence. This gives me a sense of peace.

To learn more about Stephens and her work, see:

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8 comments

  1. Great interview questions. I enjoy reading other people’s experience with meditation. It’s my favorite subject! This was a great reminder to be the observer of one’s thoughts.

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