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Interview with Myla Stauber

November 22, 2014

11-22-2014 Myla Stauber Interview

Today, we have something a bit different, an interview with Myla Stauber, author, teacher, and meditation expert.

Sean:  I’m in prison, as you know, which can be a violent, stressful, depressing place.  Of course, for the first 7 years I turned to the ways familiar to me for trying to cope with it all, and I must admit I’m not yet completely over them, but I’m trying, still looking for ways to cope.  I’ve turned to writing my poetry, singing my songs and less healthy ways like self abuse, cutting, banging my head against the wall, snorting lines, shooting up heroin, lashing out, fighting.  I’ve found a friend who also writes and practices meditation and we correspond quite frequently.  Here I am going to ask her to share with us about her writing and tell us more about meditation.  Once I learn more about it I may find it to be a useful tool in this arduous endeavor to “fix” myself.

Myla: Meditation practice can help with  addictions in that if you begin a meditation practice, you will release some

Myla Stauber

Myla Stauber

of the stress during your meditation time that gets stored in a cumulative way and drives you to negative addictive behaviors.  Addiction is an attempt at ending suffering, getting some relief from pain.  Meditation is the antidote for suffering and pain.  But, you do have to do it to get the benefits.  Just thinking about meditation is not the same as meditating.

When you meditate, your brain gets a chance to slip down into alpha waves, the same “rest and rejuvenation” brain waves as deep sleep provides, except you’re wide awake.  Sometimes it can feel like your mind is spewing a bunch of stuff out when you meditate, that’s your brain releasing stress.

The time to build up your resistance to negative behaviors is during the “good times.” Daily meditation gives you fortification and new neural pathways to rely on during times of stress and knee jerk reactions to pain.  While you shouldn’t wait to be happy to meditate, know that you won’t remember to do it during times of stress unless you’ve made a habit and a practice out of it.  That’s why I advocate for learning how to build a daily practice.

I hear from people that little three minute meditations or some focused breathing meditations can really help turn a negative situation around.

You may be lacking skills to contact your own wisdom and inner being, but you can add them. The beautiful thing is that you will have moments in meditation where you contact that still, inner peace and know… you are not broken, there is no fixing, there is only the task of liberating yourself from incredible inner stress.  I wish you a beautiful start to this journey.

Sean: When did you begin writing poetry and stories?

Myla: I’ve been writing poetry since the age of 11.  Profusely.  I wrote in that genre from 11 to about 30 and then switched over to fiction. I also write essays at times.   The switch was not done on purpose or with a plan, that’s just what emerged out of me.  I tend to write in the novella format, usually hovering about 40-80 pages in length with the occasional shorter or longer one.  Again, this isn’t a plan, it’s just what comes out of me.  I still write the occasional poem, as well.

One thing that’s always been true for me:  I have not allowed anything or anyone to govern what or how I write except myself.  Even if these lengths or types or styles are not popular or acceptable, that never entered my mind.

Sean: I recall I often had scraps of paper and a pen on me at all times.  That’s because I never really knew when I’d think of something to write.  A word, a line or even a verse.    At one point I even had a routine.  I’d wake up, wash up, drink my coffee and write before breakfast.  And on the first couple of stories I wrote I found the middle of the night inspiring.  Do you have a routine, and what are your favorite times to write?

Myla: Oh boy!  My favorite question!  I am fascinated by artist’s routines.  I seem to have a very definite one myself.  As far as carrying around the scraps of paper..yes!  I have always been and am still like that!  It’s best for me to always have a notebook with me because I will be inspired to add something to a class I’m teaching or a story I’m writing or come up with a title for something.   I have many times had lightning strike in this way.  Entire stories or concepts born in the grocery store or driving down the street.  I pull over (the cart or the car!) and write it down!  Another thing I have learned is that if it is right before bed or something has woken you up in the middle of the night, you’re tired, don’t want to bother writing it down:  never, ever make the mistake of not writing it down!  I have lost things this way, but when I do write it down, it is often something very important, some dialogue or title or idea that really needs to be there.    If it wakes me up in the middle of the night, that is a knock on the door for sure.  Write it down!

One problem I have is that there are not enough pens in the world for me!  I can never find a pen.  Or the pen is out of ink.  Or when I really need one, I don’t have one in my bag.  I laugh at myself constantly about this.  A writer with a pen problem!  I just bought 6 pens at the store yesterday.  We’ll see how long it takes for me to “misplace” them!

Routine:  I am that morning writer as well.  Late night, not so much.  Early mornings to me are like mining for gold and striking gold every time.  No matter what I’m working on:  creation, editing, classes… early morning is the time.  I lack discipline and I have two kids so unfortunately I do not always get to live the dream which would be:  up at 6, meditate half an hour, make the coffee and then write for about the next 4 or 5 hours straight, no interruptions.  Great gig if you can get it!  That’s my ideal.  But any time I can do any part of that, I’m gold.  My favorite days are the days when I know I don’t have to go anywhere and I can do just that…

I’ve heard that most creatives have a similar view of early mornings.  Something about it… before our minds are sullied by the day’s demands.

I’m also big on “free writing,” that is, writing without intent to “produce” something, without expectation of good, bad, or what you thought you should be doing.  Honoring the artist time!  It’s good to put some free writing or free creative time into your life.

Sean: You also practice meditation, right?

Myla: Oh yes!  It’s my other passion besides writing.  I’ve been interested in spirituality for a long time and read a lot of stuff.  I noticed a big difference between reading about it and sitting my butt down to actually meditate!  Life changing!  I mean… unlike any other change that could be conceived of.  It’s been around for over 2,500 years for a reason!

Sean: Can you describe what meditation is in your own words and the goal of meditation?

Myla: Yes, I can, happily.  Meditation is a name given to a collection of methods in which you turn your attention and focus inward with the end goal of liberating yourself from stress and suffering.  You don’t have to “try” to liberate yourself, it happens naturally during the process and practice of meditation.

Sean: Are there different forms of meditation and if so can you explain?

Myla: My mottos iSean:  a thousand paths and even more teachers, yet… the end goal should always be the same.  Does it help you liberate yourself from suffering?  Does it help you in your life, is it useful?  Don’t follow dogma blindly or think there is only one way.

Different forms of meditation resonate with different people for different reasons.

Buddha came from the Hindu/yogic tradition in India and then left that behind when he realized it was not bringing him what he wanted, which was an understanding of and an end to suffering.  He attained what is known as “enlightenment” (liberation from suffering) and then taught abroad.  One of Buddha’s most famous quotes iSean:  “I teach one thing:  suffering and the end of suffering.”

 

His disciples carried his teachings after his death, as well.  So Buddhism went from India into other parts of the Asian world.  Whatever culture was already present when Buddhism arrived greatly flavored how that country interpreted the presentation of Buddhism.  There is only one Dharma (teachings of Buddha) but many cultural flavors in which it can be presented.  You can see this represented in cultural icons, ritual, and pageantry which differs from one country to the next.

I personally follow the Theravada school  of Buddhism which is the oldest form of Buddhism and popular in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. It translates as “Wisdom of the Elders.”    I’m very lucky in Portland to have access to the monastic community of the Pacific Hermitage to meditate with and learn from.  The monks have written many authoritative books on meditation.

I am also deeply interested in the compassionate teachings of many of the great teachers that come from Tibet such as the Dalai Lama. (He’s just the tip of the iceberg!)

 

Zen from Japan, or teachings in Tibetan Buddhism resonate with people for different reasons.  There are fantastic teachers both western and eastern that we can readily partake in the teachings of.  We in the west are very lucky because we have this whole feast before us and within that, can find what speaks to us the most.  Maybe all of it does!

The flowering of Buddhism in the west has allowed for the development of non-denominational meditation and mindfulness practices to really help people alleviate themselves of stress, physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is what it’s all about.

You do not have to be a Buddhist in order to meditate.  There are forms of meditations in many cultures and religions, Islam has its mystical, devotional branch: Sufism, there are contemplative practices in Christianity, and many indigenous people have forms of meditation in their cultures.

To me, there doesn’t need to be an “ism” attached to it in order to have meaning in your life.

Although the roots of what we know as the most popular forms of meditation in the west do come from Hindu yogic and Buddhist roots, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to  use what works in your life here, today.  You don’t need a new religion in order to meditate.

You don’t need to be different than you are, sit in a lotus position, or have esoteric knowledge.  You can meditate today just by bringing your focus from your thoughts to your breath. Best of all:  you do not have to achieve a quiet mind first, in order to practice meditation.

To me, meditation is like the film the Wizard of Oz.  Before Dorothy went to Oz, everything was black and white.  Then, after Oz, it was all in color, opened up before her.  It’s like that.  There are so many practices and types and styles.  I don’t say one is “better” than the other, only what resonates more, or  what people are born into culturally.

Sean:  Have you found that meditation has helped you with your writing, and it what ways?

Myla: Definitely.  It’s not writing specific, it’s that meditation allows you to align with what some call a “soul” or your inner self, your north star, let’s say.  Honing in on the stillness within also hones in on the wisdom. Even if you’re just honing in on the chaos within with the intention to one day be acquainted with your stillness!

 

I teach people that if they want, if they are writers or artists of any kind, a wonderful time to journal, sketch, or write creatively is right after meditation.  It taps into your depths.  It’s because in meditation, you allow yourself to be in the experience of your life, thoughts, and body rather than frantically trying to change them, push them away.  This just happened the other day.  I struggle with my blog and web presence.  After meditating, I was able to make a list of all the problems and how to address them and I felt so clear and on point!  Instead of a struggle, it just felt clear.

One other helpful way meditation has helped my writing is that all of my fears of inadequacy and fears of exposure, rejections, etc. can really block me.  Meditating on releasing fear allows me to exist side by side with fear and not let fear rule my life or “drive the bus.”  I have several methods for meditating with strong emotions like fear, anger or sadness.  I can give these to you if you like!

Sean: Sometimes when I lay down to bed I suddenly discover my thoughts are racing and though I’m ready to sleep it’ll be a while before I am able to.  Sometimes I get caught up in the race, and sometimes I’m able t put these thoughts on the back burner and get to sleep.  Do you think I’d be able to meditate while laying in my bed or is there a certain way to meditate?  Do you have any tips?

Yes, in the case of this racing mind you can very simply have the intention of taking your focus from the thoughts, no matter what they are (disturbing, insistent) to the breath.  Just the natural breath in your body.  You don’t have to count it or do special deep breaths or anything.  However; one very simple and helpful practice in times of mind anxiety like that and to help you stay focused on the breath is to count to “one” as you breath.  One on every inhale, one on every exhale.  You can do this for a few rounds, drop it for a no-counting time, pick it up again when thoughts intrude.  It’s important that nothing feels forced, or that you are “making” yourself do it.

The word “gentleness” is an important attribute of this practice.

When starting a meditation practice, you need to nurture it, not beat yourself up for “not doing it right” (we have enough of that in our lives!)  So however and whenever you can insert meditative tools, great.  But as a general practice it’s suggested to build up to meditating twice a day.  Ideally those times would be early in the morning and in the late afternoon.  There’s a reason for that, they’re not arbitrary times.

We already talked about that early morning time being like “gold.”  So if you can manage to build up a meditation practice early in the morning, you will start to see that it affects your whole day in a positive way.  More responsive rather than reactive is the way it’s been explained to me.  I find it absolutely true.  Imagine meditating for a few minutes, allowing yourself that space, and then going for your creative work.

It’s okay to start really, really small when nurturing a practice.  Even if you start with two minutes.  That’s a big deal!  Gold star for two minutes!  It has meaning and you can grow it from there.  That’s how I started.  When your mind is racing, two minutes seems like a really long time!

 

The afternoon meditation time is because you’ve already done the day, maybe losing focus, getting fatigued, looking for a pick me up that might not be the healthiest choice.  A meditation session provides rest and rejuvenation, it can really reset you for the rest of the day/evening.

In meditation, you are not trying to “gain” anything or be better than you are.  You are allowing your mind to release stress.    I used to have horrible sleep problems.  Racing thoughts that would wake me up, night mares that were so bad they were bordering on night terrors, things that would have me so upset and intensely disturbed they’d affect me for hours, sometimes days.  My sleep disturbance is about 98% gone.  I attribute this entirely to a daily meditation practice.  I don’t meditate in bed or before bed but the fact that I set aside meditation time gives my brain a chance to release stress so I no longer have to do it in the middle of the night.  I’m so relieved.

When starting a practice:  do what works.  If you think that devoting the habit of meditation before bed, then go for it.  It’s not the “suggested” time, but if you find it helps you, then that’s what works for you.

So you’d set aside your time, sit comfortably, allow yourself  to come into noticing your natural breath and then have the intention to make your breath your focus.  Number one thing to know:  it’s okay to have thoughts  while you meditate.  You don’t have to banish them and have a “quiet mind” to meditate.  Every time thoughts intrude, which is often, you return your focus to your breath.  That is the core of the practice.   It’s not a “mystical” happening, but the process of interrupting the constant stream of thoughts allowing us that rest period.  A lot of great things can happen because of this practice.  I’m living proof.   I teach lots and lots of ways to use the breath as a tool to lower anxiety and different types of meditative practices.

Here is a very simple set of meditation instructions to create your own non-denominational practice:

Meditation:  An Essential Part of Self Care

  1. Pick an amount of time and make the intention to stick with it.  Use a timer or watch. It’s okay and recommended to start small.   When your mind bucks and wants to stop, intend to keep focusing on your breath as restlessness arises and passes.  I told myself I could do anything for two minutes, and that’s how I started.
  2. Limit distractions/ noise that’s in your control while allowing for other noise to be in the environment without turning it in to a fight wishing the noise wasn’t there.  You can still meditate even if there’s noise.  I’ve heard that there’s lots of noise in prison.  You have no control over it, but meditate anyhow.
  3. Get in a comfortable and sustainable seated position  remembering it’s okay to move if you need to.  Try not to lay down.  (That tends to turn into sleep or spacing out.)  Here, we’re going for restful awareness.
  4. Work up to meditating daily.  Work up to your goals in increments just like you would with an exercise program, with the ideal being twice a day, once early in the morning and once in the late afternoon, “happy hour.”   It’s okay to start out with one session and set some goals like compass points to follow.
  5. Remember that 2 minutes expands to 5 and to 7.  One session a day expands to twice.  It’s a practice, build up to it.
  6. Prepare for both resistance and breakthroughs/ it comes in layers.
  7. Don’t wait to “feel good” before you meditate, come as you are.  You’ll feel better afterwards.
  8. Remember that you will never have a meditation that you will regret.  You will not feel worse after meditation and you’ll probably feel a whole lot better!  This is a good motivator when resistance is high. Every meditation may not be transcendent or “feel good” but it’s the cumulative effect of a meditation practice that changes your life for the better.
  9. It’s okay if you don’t have a special dedicated place for meditation, you can do it anywhere, sitting up in bed, quiet office, your car, outside, in prison.  But you may want to think about creating a dedicated space in your home or workplace or a corner that seems like a refuge in some way, maybe a habitual spot that sends the message “it’s meditation time.”
  10. You will begin to love it and your meditation time and desire to do it will expand.  You work hard and want rest and renewal and that’s what meditation is, an essential part of self care.  The early morning meditation sets a tone, a new normal for the day.
  11. The late afternoon meditation sets a tone for the upcoming evening, re-energizes from the afternoon lull.   But whatever works for you is a great way to start.
  12. Remember to come out of your meditations slowly and gently, treating yourself as if you’ve had a nap, even if you only meditated for a few minutes
  13. Remember to be kind to yourself as you learn how to do this, that’s a whole practice in and of itself!  A practice means just that:  practice.  Don’t expect perfection.  In fact, part of this practice is seeing there is no judging “good” or “bad” meditation, just:  it is as it is.  This is a learned experience.

A simple practice:

  1. How to sit- sustainability, pain free, do what works for you, lay down only if sick or injured.  Feel free to shift if you’re uncomfortable.
  2. Body relaxation, relaxing through the body, face, shoulders, all the way down.
  3. Heart centered breath- taking some breaths as if your heart were the portal for breath entering and exiting the body, just being with the experience, practicing how to be with your experience without judging it

Silent breath focus, noticing there may  be a lot of thoughts  but having the intention to return your focus to your breath for these moments, letting thoughts, all thoughts be back burnered.  When they interrupt your focus, gentle disengage from them over and over and return to the breath.

There are many breath focus exercises available such as just noticing the breath in your belly or upper chest, or being with the inhale all the way from its inception to its end, same with the exhale.

Come out of meditation slowly, gently when time is up

Journaling or reading a favorite passage is a nice ending if this is your style.

Sean: Where are you on Social Networks?

Myla: Here are the web addresses for my pages. I have a bLog page that I’m working on, not finished.

My Facebook page for writing: Myla Stauber on FB

My website for Portland area meditation classes:  http://www.meditatepdx.com

Me on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=Myla%20Stauber&search-alias=digital-text&sort=relevancerank

Or if it’s easier without all this code, just to type my name in on Amazon and my book page comes up.

Sean: Thanks for being with us. I look forward to trying the meditation techniques you have told us about.

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4 Comments
  1. Sean, this was a very interesting interview. Not only are you a poet but also an interviewer as well! I am glad to read that you found a friend who also writes and that you correspond back and forth. I do think it is nice to have support in your writing. And, I do think meditation can be helpful!

    Like

  2. Thanks for putting all my words up there! That was nice of you. If it ever helps anyone then… purpose served.

    Like

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