Enrich your life with the power of mindfulness

by Marisa Garau

A demanding family life, a domineering boss, a cold relationship or a grim financial situation: when we are convinced that others or external circumstances cause us stress and struggle, we condemn ourselves to naming and blaming and moaning and groaning.

What we don’t realise is that it is our own inner judgements and expectations that make life difficult and grey. Life is not to blame, our thinking is. And that, actually, is the good news!

Now, by paying attention to the present moment, we can step out of our tired thinking process and create fresh, sensible responses to pain from the past and fear of the future.

Mindfulness offers a helping hand in tough times and transforms our worries into exciting and meaningful life experiences.

WHAT THIS BOOK DOESN’T OFFER 

  • Peace, happiness and prosperity in just three days 

  • Trivial tests like what-kind-of-personality-do-you-have? 

  • Instant analyses: you-must-have-this-kind-of personality! 

  • Sympathy for cheap excuses and weak behaviour 

WHAT THIS BOOK DOES PROVIDE 

  • An insight into the system of automatic reactions 

  • The distinction between who you are and what you think 

  • A new view on old behaviour 

  • Practical exercises

Whether you’re a hard-working professional, a creative soul, a multi-tasking mum or an ambitious entrepreneur, if you’re done with stress and you’d rather evolve than erode, this practical book is the power tool you have been looking for!

From Stress to Strength
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Marisa’s international bestseller on mindfulness: the straightforward, no-nonsense way. A paperback of 238 pages. Ships immediately from New Zealand.

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1. From Stress To Strength 

• • • 

In the final year of my life as an independent and outwardly successful advertising copywriter I experienced a painful crash into a wall of emotional limitations. I was insecure, restless and uninspired to say the least, but it went deeper than that. Plagued by sleepless nights, and beset by severe phobias of almost everything as well as endless worrying about the future, I suffered both acutely and chronically from negative perceptions about myself and the world around me; I no longer considered myself a person worth knowing. 

‘Why?’ you ask. It came down to a total lack of control: over my thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs and my behaviour. I’d allowed myself to become a victim of circumstances and my emotional reactions. If I received a pleasant phone call, I was happy and had a splendid day. But when something went wrong, my world collapsed and I found myself buried under the heavy debris of failure and disappointment. Although I felt I was always doing my best, I dreaded each morning: what new disasters did the day hold in store? To the outside world it looked like I was able to handle difficult situations in a professional way. Inside, however, I was eaten up with anxiety, guilt and a suffocating insecurity about my personality. I now know I’m not the only one – and nor are you. 

In everyday life we all encounter situations which we personally find stressful: 

  • A run-in with a parent

  • A terse exchange with your partner

  • Health issues

  • A colleague being less than truthful

  • An angry client threatening to leave

  • Going to a party

  • Venturing out into a public space

  • A spider in the bathroom – ordering a pastry at the bakery

Whether your private dread is of a nuclear catastrophe or a black cat, it doesn’t make any difference. What does make a difference in a potentially stressful situation is your response and your attitude. If you feel you are being dominated by circumstances and you have too little say in your own thoughts, feelings and behaviour, this book will give you an insight into the reasons why. You will come to recognise the dullness of the autopilot, the inappropriateness of many learnt responses, and the passiveness of reacting rather than seizing the initiative; but conversely you will discover the thrill of being acutely alive and aware in this very moment and the healing power for your thoughts and feelings of sensible self-observation.

This book goes beyond analysing though. Understanding the theory of how we function is good, but not good enough. If you want to become a better and happier person – calm, balanced, open, honest, gentle, warm, colourful, strong and authentic – then you’ll need tools to help you grow and make the necessary changes. My book offers these essential tools. But bear in mind that the book is not an instant makeover kit for your personal problems; this is more like a workout programme for your mind. It will only live up to your expectations when you are committed to working with those new tools, which you will learn to master within this self-training process. 

What this book doesn’t offer

  • Peace, happiness and prosperity in just three days

  • Trivial tests like what-kind-of-personality-do-you-have?

  • Instant analyses: you-must-have-this-kind-of personality!

  • Sympathy for cheap excuses and weak behaviour

What this book does provide

  • An insight into the system of automatic reactions

  • The distinction between who you are and what you think

  • A new view on old behaviour

  • A fresh attitude towards musty problems

  • Practical exercises

  • My unconditional encouragement

Are you fed up with your painful thoughts, restless feelings and passive behaviour? Then it’s about time to take a stand and give your life the energy boost it deserves! 

 

2. Why You Should Read My Book  

• • • 

You need to be aware that this book is not a magic pill which requires you merely to swallow. It does not promise everlasting happiness or a wonderful new life without any problems or sadness. Furthermore there are no guarantees. For one thing I don’t have a medical background, nor have I had experiences with therapies or any kind of find-yourself workshops. My experience comes from having practised, adapted and personalised a mindfulness programme, which teaches how to live life while paying full attention to everything along the way. Mindfulness calmed down my restless thoughts and feelings and created the necessary space for new insights into my rusty thinking and automatic reactions. I should say insights that were new to me, because in the process of writing this book I discovered that many of these insights are universal and have already been described and explained in other books. 

So why should you bother reading my book? Well, let me tell you. Most books on this subject have been written by professional experts, usually physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists. While the content is undoubtedly well researched, the results are frequently driven by the author’s career ambitions, whether the academic ‘publish or perish’ imperative or the popular thirst for their fifteen minutes of talkshow fame. The product is too often glib, safely formulaic, over-correct and full of theoretical gobbledegook, abstract concepts and a mindboggling idiom. I don’t take issue with the accuracy of the information in these books. My point is that they don’t afford the average, intelligent reader easy access to even the theoretical grounding they need, particularly when that reader may be going through something of an emotional crisis already and has other things on their mind. 

Then there’s the all-important practicality aspect. In my opinion most of the books currently available are not particularly practical, with the exception of those that deal specifically with time management and which help you handle stress at work. Packed with practical tips, these books can be very worthwhile. However, I’m talking here about the books that promise to solve issues which go beyond the relationship with your to-do list and which so often offer advice along the lines of ‘Don’t let negative thoughts take over’, ‘Try to soothe your mind’, ‘Don’t fall into worrying because it doesn’t offer any solution’, and so on. 

Excusez-moi, but I don’t think that’s very helpful. What we all want to know is: How can we stop worrying? How can we move on from a sorrowful event? How can we prevent ourselves from feeling miserable after receiving a negative remark from someone who might be important in our lives? 

Using mindfulness as a tool in the course of my own personal research I have developed practical strategies that answer these questions and which have made my life more colourful as a result. I want to share these with you. Nothing more, nothing less. My methods may not work for everyone, but it’s my aim that as many readers as possible will get some benefit. I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself and I don’t have an expensive reputation to be ruined. This book is dedicated to people like me, people who suffer from sorrow, stress, fear, pain, grief and anger and who are willing to change their attitude. Don’t expect a psychological lecture on how your mind functions and how that affects your behaviour. If that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend you read those books written by medical professionals. In this book I simply offer my own experiences and insights. No intellectual essays, but practical advice and tips for everyday life.

 

3. Of Mice And Mind 

• • • 

Imagine a mouse in a laboratory. She lives her life in a plastic box and keeps busy minding her own business. Her life revolves around building a nest, washing, sleeping, some running around on the treadmill, drinking and eating. In this laboratory there’s also a researcher who observes the mouse. When the mouse discovers some nuts under the sawdust and starts nibbling on them, the researcher watches and writes down her responses and actions. The mouse’s life is confined by the four walls of the box; for her, there’s no life beyond it. However, as you and I are well aware, there is life outside the box. There’s the laboratory with all its equipment and computers. The people who work there and all the other mice that live there. Then there’s life outside the lab: the street, the town, the country. And there’s life outside the country: the continents, the seas, the whole world in all its magnificent beauty. The mouse doesn’t have a clue about all this. But the researcher does. 

While reading this, have you already identified with the researcher, the smart guy who’s on top of every move the mouse makes and who knows about life outside the lab? 

I’m sure you have! But I have news for you: right now you’re not the researcher – you’re the mouse. Take a close look at yourself. You are the one scratching about in your personal plastic box, totally occupied with your relationships, your children, your neighbours, your work, your hobbies, your health, sleeping and eating and eating and sleeping. Every day is taken up with routine chores such as washing, ironing, shopping, bringing the kids to school, reading files, getting stuck in traffic jams, meetings, phone calls, reports and e-mails. And so your personal treadmill grinds round and round inside your plastic box. Then, when you discover a problem beneath the sawdust, you dig it up right away and instinctively start gnawing on it just like the mouse. But in your case it might be for hours, for days, for months or half a lifetime. 

The researcher knows that your stream of problems is endless: a demanding mother, an unhappy marriage, a nasty boss, a jealous colleague, a ruined holiday, bad weather, noisy neighbours, exhausting restructurings of jobs, health problems, and so on. In your role of being busy in your box you don’t wonder where all these problems come from. You don’t even bother to take a closer look at the problem: what shape it has and if it’s tasty or not. Each and every problem is mindlessly dug up from the sawdust and, before you know it, you’re compulsively gnawing at it. That’s what you do, because that’s what you’re used to doing. 

It’s not because you’re an ignorant mouse. on the contrary, you’re rather smart. You’re so smart that you think you can solve problems by putting your brain to work on them. You think that if you just give your problems some thought, they will dissolve like the darkness at dawn. 

In the meantime, however, you are effectively spending years of your life solving all kinds of problems. No matter how much thought you give it, no matter how much energy you put into it, your problems are here to stay. It gets even worse as more problems appear. Day in and day out. Sometimes big ones, sometimes small ones. Every new problem is pounced on and voila! You are chewing at it before you know it, right in the middle of all your everyday tasks.

The point is: you don’t know it. Because you’re busy being busy. So busy that you never even stop to think how these problems get into your box in the first place. You are not even aware that you are living in a box, let alone that there is life outside the box. Just like that mouse, you’re so preoccupied living habitually and reactively with what’s underneath the sawdust that you don’t think about looking up . . . to see the researcher’s face interestedly observing you encountering a new problem.

 

4. There’s Life Outside The Box  

• • • 

What a sad story this is, isn’t it? That poor little mouse and that passive researcher who just watches the mouse becoming overwhelmed by problems. But I have good news for you: you’re not just the mouse; you’re the researcher as well. He is actually part of you, although you may not recognise this yet. But you’ll get to know him, don’t worry.  

Let’s take a closer look at this researcher. He’s a real professional, though he doesn’t actually do that much. He simply observes the mouse’s behaviour. Watching her work her way around her problems and daily tasks, he writes down those impulses to which the mouse responds as well as noticing if the mouse acts happy or sad. The researcher has an excellent overview from his position. Not only does he know everything about the mouse, he is also aware of the box, the lab, the street, the town and everything else around it. The researcher’s life is not as limited as that of the mouse; the space that serves his life is endless. He is neutral in that, when the mouse is happy or sad, the researcher records that information without making any judgements. But he’s not without feeling though. In fact he takes excellent care of the mouse. If she gets cold, he turns on a warming light; when the mouse is hungry, he gives her a juicy piece of apple. But he makes sure he does not get involved with the mouse’s happiness or her grief. He understands that that won’t help her at all. 

This researcher is in fact quite a good guy. He doesn’t offer silly chatter, he doesn’t give well-meant but inappropriate advice, nor does he put any pressure on the mouse or try to manipulate her in any way. He simply values the mouse the way she is, expecting nothing, but totally accepting and respecting her, patiently and trustily. 

And every day he offers the mouse a chance: a chance to climb out of the box. Because that’s what the researcher secretly hopes for. He knows all about the good things life has to offer. And there’s nothing more dear to him than giving the poor busy mouse a chance to step off the treadmill and experience more of life, that rich life outside the box where she’ll find so much space, so much freedom, endless choices, beautiful experiences, colours, fragrances and tastes. But the researcher knows only too well that the mouse has to do it herself. She must open up her smart, beady eyes, look up and see she’s living in a box. And then she has to go for it. All by herself.

 

5. A View Over The Edge  

• • • 

Now let’s take a look at the meaning of this story: learning how to climb out of that box filled with its problems and automatic reactions. Life in the box has severe limitations while life outside the box has many advantages. 

Life in the box is

  • predictable

  • colourless

  • dependent on circumstances

  • confusing

  • difficult

  • busy

In the box you’re always

  • running out of time

  • distrustful

  • insecure

  • anxious or angry or both

  • dependent on the opinion of others

Life outside the box is

  • surprising

  • colourful

  • independent of circumstances

  • clear

  • uncomplicated

  • quiet

Outside the box you are

  • calm

  • full of faith and trust

  • confident

  • balanced and friendly

  • independent of others’ opinions

Climbing out of the box through the practical mindfulness exercises in this book is a powerful way to enter life in all its abundance and to fully enjoy it. It requires a conscious choice – an active decision rather than simply a passive revelation. If you choose to hold on to your stress, your resistance, your grief, your complaints and other negative baggage, then you won’t even make it to the first step – opening your eyes and looking up – let alone starting the climb to the top. You must see it for yourself. You must do it yourself. You must feel it yourself. And you must hold on yourself.

But the good news is that, if you really want to change and you are willing to work on it, you will discover the peaceful person who lives inside you. And then you can realise fully the beautiful self who until now has been crowded out and has failed to flourish.

 

6. Operating On Autopilot  

• • • 

During the final year in my mouse box I often felt like a zombie. Every morning I would do what I’d done for the past 10 years: get into my car, drive to the office, have a cup of coffee with my business partner, go through the projects and then do the work that had to be done. Halfway through the afternoon I often caught myself counting the minutes. I didn’t feel committed anymore and as a result much of the information that was coming my way didn’t actually get through to me. It felt like I was living in a thick, impenetrable cloud. The more I tried to be consciously aware of events and remember them, the more I forgot. Memorising data and even dates was getting harder and harder and I started to worry about my mental capacities. 

This phenomenon, where you feel like a zombie and spend your days half asleep, has a name: it is called the autopilot. My autopilot was a clever old witch who cut me off from everything that happened around me. By deploying fearful thoughts she made sure I was closed off from breathing freely, sealed as if in a suffocating bell-jar. In this vacuum I could hardly see, feel or experience anything anymore. The witch was holding me firmly in her grasp. 

Many of us function in this autopilot mode. We perform many actions without thinking, like a mouse on a treadmill. Let’s face it: how often have you walked out the door, locked it as always and only when you are fastening your seatbelt thought ‘Did I lock the door?’? It’s as if we aren’t available mentally, as if we’re sleep-walking. This happens because there are so many actions we perform repeatedly that they are no longer of any interest to our brain. When well-known actions are not a challenge anymore your brain decides to go for a walk. So while you’re shopping, your brain is thinking about a conversation with your boss; while you’re in a meeting, your brain is busy planning next week’s party. 

When you closely observe your thoughts you’ll notice that only rarely will you do something and really be aware of that very same action at the same time. How often does it happen that while you’re peeling potatoes you are really concentrating on the action of peeling potatoes? When was the last time you focused on your hands performing this familiar act, thinking of the texture of the potato skin, the number of vitamins contained in a potato? In other words, how often do you give yourself some space to actually experience the peeling of a potato? 

The autopilot is the opposite of awareness. When you operate on autopilot, unaware of all kinds of experiences and moving from one superficial moment to the other, life turns grey, lacking any flair and flavour. But as soon as you turn the switch and experience everyday life with awareness, you instantly put an end to the gloomy grind, and life will blossom as never before, offering its original colours, fragrances and tastes. Be aware and fully conscious in everything you do, from sitting in meetings to suffering the flu; from shopping to showering. Awareness of what you’re doing while you’re doing it is the essence of living life with full attention for the experience of this very moment.

From the minute you grasp this concept, you can open your mouse eyes and your life will be more interesting than ever before. 

• • •

From Stress to Strength
16.00 24.00
Quantity:
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HUGH NORRISS, MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION NEW ZEALAND

Marisa Garau writes warmly and with a personal touch and invites us to try various mindfulness techniques that she has used over the years to escape from her own previous chronically stressful approach to life.

Her work is potentially life-changing for some people who are caught on a daily stress and anxiety treadmill and who are introduced to a more liberating way of living and inspired by Marisa’s example of personal change. For those who are already on the path to more mindful living, her book provides a very readable, fresh and personal perspective on mindfulness that will be a boost to daily practice."

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BRUNO CAYOUN, MINDFULNESS INSTITUTE TASMANIA

I particularly like the conversational style and authenticity with which Marisa writes. It is as if she is right beside me, having a chat about her experience, to which I relate very well as a practitioner. This friendly and intimate style will certainly appeal to her clients and I have no doubt will be beneficial to them too."

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MARIJKE BATENBURG, SENIOR CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST

It is good to see someone who has really taken this process into her life and has integrated it with all she does. Marisa’s writing style is easy to follow and the anecdotes and exercises, that she finds have been of value, are very real."

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STEPHEN ARCHER, WELLNESS SOLUTIONS NEW ZEALAND

"With a growing interest among New Zealanders in the benefits of mindfulness training, Marisa’s work is a timely resource. Her style is refreshingly alive and accessible as she shares her own experience and understanding. I recommend her book for anyone seeking to develop mindfulness as a tool for well-being."