Category Archives: Mindful Zone

Time is Peppery – or So it Seems

We have a row of planter pots positioned along the side of the carport so the herbs in them get maximum sunlight each day.

On our way out recently, my beloved remarked, ‘Time is peppery.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘it certainly is, and what a wonderful metaphor.’

‘You can use it in so many dishes,’  Beloved continued, preoccupied with clearing away some twiggy and leafy debris.Thyme_1_23313_IMG_9701Peppery

The penny dropped, eventually, and thyme was the actual word, representing the herb whose homophonic alliance suggested a change in perception, at least for a blink or two.

Well, on consideration, time is peppery, after all. It must be one of the most peppery entities, concepts and actual events in existence.

Think about it: it’s all we have, really it is, and you can’t even see it, hold it, or box it up, but you can donate it, sell it, barter it, and measure it. Yippee.

On the other hand, that’s rather aggravating, and inflammatory on so many levels. Sort of grinds you down, doesn’t it? Until you realise just how Carlos Castaneda, Timothy Leary trippy it really is – in that fighting a cloud with a sword kind of way.

And time is elastic, as Einstein so craftily pointed out.

It’s so elastic that each and every one of us who breathes on this strange little world, has an entirely different experience of it from each and every one else.  But we enjoy or endure a similar enough experience of time to take generally attentive notice of clocks, and solar movements, and other astral indicators so as to make it to work, play, and the next episode on time, if you will.

Peppery time: sneezy, sniffly, bitey, hot, irritating, flavoursome, and multi-coloured.

There’s no other such unit of time, either, than this very moment in which I type this letter and this letter, and this very moment as you read this word.  But it’s hard not to stay with the old continuum – remembering the past, imagining the future, and avoiding the present even as we wish we could do so much more with it, pesky little thing.

Which reminds me: I’m off to pluck some thyme for the stir fry – just give me a minute.


Gappy New Year – if you make it so, Grasshopper

Candle party

If you find reflection difficult, make friends with a candle.

At the beginning of the year – so  long ago now – and for some time afterwards, a lot of my text messages began with ‘Happy New Year.’ But one such message began, ‘Gappy New Year.’ It was a hot day, letters swirled and jumbled and before I knew it I had a reason for a little article about giving yourself permission to take time out this year to smell the roses, or the Tanqueray, or to have a magnificent Mad Men boxed set weekend.  And by now, you’ve forgotten your New Year’s Resolutions, so try this instead, because…

Here’s the thing: gaps are good, gaps are you being generous towards the most important entity in your life: you. Think about it – without you – functional, healthy, purposeful or purposeless, charming you – where are you? Hmm? Answer me that, grasshopper. And no, it isn’t selfish to practise self care. It’s essential.

So enjoy a Gappy New Year with some of these self care activities:

.Meditation – 5 minutes twice a day at a time and place of your choosing, although if you have a house full of small people, or furry animals, or highly attentive (read high maintenance) spouses, you may have to be a bit sneaky. Get up just a little earlier, sit quietly somewhere and focus on your breath; drive to the station 5 minutes sooner and sit in the car – breathe; get an mp3 player, save some whalesong onto it and listen to it while travelling on your public transport limo, whatever it may be. When intrusive thoughts arise, or even timid ones, say hi to them and then let them drift off like Grandma on the ice floe, as you refocus on your breathing and those darling Southern Rights. You know the drill.

  • Meditate and create a little gap of quiet spaciousness.

. Gratitude – some people I know keep a gratitude journal in which they write down a few things they’re thankful for from the day just spent before they retire for the night. They’re not elaborate, but rather simple acknowledgements of positive experiences or valuable relationships. I don’t keep a gratitude journal but I try to remember on most days how lucky I am to live in a democracy, for instance, where blue skies are the norm rather than the exception, and where I can smell freshly mown grass most days of the week, listen to beautiful music whenever I choose to, and enjoy the company and love of my most beloved partner every day.  Also, I have the fixings for chicken enchiladas in my freezer and pantry, right here, right now.  Oh, frabjous day.

  • Be grateful for the things that count and create a cheerful gap of warm and fuzzy facts.

. Reflection – what I said about meditation, only add deliberate thought about specific subjects instead of letting said thoughts drift off on the mental ice floe with Granny. This is a way to consider what you’re doing and what you’re planning to do – perhaps we should name the forward reflection, projection. In both cases, you’re creating a little gap where you get to contemplate important issues and, with any luck, make worthy decisions about them, or defer decisions until a more fortuitous moment.

  • Do some reflection and create a gap of thoughtful, unhurried clarity. 

.  Distance – sometimes it’s best to simply get away from whatever it is that annoys, frustrates, irritates or otherwise aggravates you. Go for a walk, a run, a beer, a musical interlude, a dinner or breakfast, a visit to the art gallery, the museum, join a bank robbery in progress (if that’s what turns your widget, but keep your head down), the beach, a seat on the back steps where you can sip your tea or tequila and nibble your raisin toast, without the benefit of digital technology.

  • Keep your distance and create a gap of literal and/or metaphorical breaks in which to lose and calm yourself.

. Read – something new, or re-read a faithful old friend. I return to several books every couple of years to rediscover their gems. I’m never disappointed and I always find something new to consider. Here are a few I highly recommend: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Reaching Tin River by Thea Astley (an absolute disgrace to Australian publishing that so many of her titles are out of print or hard to source, or even sauce); The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (come on, Anne, you can do it – just one more for the Tyler Trippers, pleeeeeese).

  • Read up a paper chase and create a narrative gap, or three.

So, grasshopper, how do you practice self care? Whatever you do, do it mindfully and with sincerity: the sense of calmness alone is a worthy reward.

Feeling Cactus? Put the Bloom Back on the Rose Today, Grasshopper

A couple of weeks ago on my morning walk, I saw a cactus flower in full bloom. It was large, white, luscious and lifting its face to the sun. Full of energy.

My partner suggested we return with our cameras to capture the event. But after we arrived home and had breakfast, somehow the cactus flower left the to-do today agenda for the nether regions of tomorrowland.

Tomorrow arrived and the cactus flower was off the bloom, spent, exhausted from the effort of its beauty. Yes, it was cactus.

So the first picture with this post is the lesson for the day which, by now, you’ve probably guessed.

Cactus Flower

Cactus cactus flower

Don’t delay. Act. Whatever it is, do it now if it’s at all possible.

When opportunity arrives, grab it by the double p and shake it vigorously.

A personal case in point – yes, yet another instance of procrastination peeving a person. I wrote a short story about a time in the early 1980s – coming soon to an e-publishing platform near you – and I used a house I lived in then as a location.

As is the way of things, I thought an image of the house may serve as part of the cover design. The house is on the other side of town and it’s years since I was in that neighborhood. I’d been toying with the notion of a photo safari to shoot all the places I’ve lived in since I adopted Brisbane as my de facto hometown. So…

We drove there one day recently and discovered four townhouses where my old rental once graced the long gone grassy slope. They took up the block next door, too, spready little buggers.

Gone. Forever. No wretched image except for the one in my wretched mind’s eye.

I was so distraught that we resorted to cheeseburgers at the rebuilt, refurbished, totally over-sized yellow M take-away opposite so I could re-ground myself in the reality of grease and slamming ventricles – better that than a smack in the face with a dead cactus flower, anyway. Maybe.

You can see, then, that while we discovered another cactus flower actually in bloom, and had the good sense to photograph it before it was too late (again), my old house is eternally lost because I didn’t act in the now that has become then.

So sad. Too bad.

For what it’s worth and this is what all the mindfulness books, essays and blogs will tell you time and again: Act. Do it now.

You can’t always tell the difference between what may give you a re-run and what will disappear.

Do not fertilise regret, grasshopper.

Capture the cactus flower with its head raised in wondrous, sunny splendour, and rejoice in your immediacy.

Blooming cactus flower

Blooming Cactus Flower

Two for the Price of One: Mindful Meditation & Memoir


Sculpture by Ron Mueck – Drift, 2009

I’ve realised that sometimes you can effectively do two things at once and succeed at both

Research is increasingly revealing that multi-tasking isn’t necessarily the way to go, but here’s something that can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and apologies to the birds – who would ever think to do such a thing?  Not us grasshoppers.

The two things allow you to calm down, meditate on specific things, and create memoir if you choose to do so.

A Few More Blinks

An Adventure in the Mindless Zone and How Habit can Become Your Enemy or Your Faithful Friend


These 2 gadgets are so alike, they’re almost twins, right?  Right?

This morning, fellow grasshoppers – and in my defence I must point out that it was before breakfast – I single-handedly engineered the briefest of entertainments from the Mindless Zone.  And I’m betting that, like me, you do something similar quite regularly, too.  Can we learn something from it?  Only future moments will tell.

The Mindless Habit Scenario.  Lola and I go for a walk most mornings, and I’ve developed the habit of slinging my camera in its bag over my shoulder and taking it with me, after once spectacularly failing to capture some fabulous shots of ducks (a mother and her duckling – irresistible, n’est pas?) under my favourite tree in the park.  Annie Leibowitz would not have missed these shots.

During today’s morning walk, Lola snapped off a few shots with her compact and, in the end, I didn’t use my camera at all.

Later.  The Mindless Habit – Exposed.  After breakfast every day, I do an exercise routine and use my mobile phone’s timer to count down the sets.  This morning, I couldn’t find the phone in its usual spot on the table in the back room, so I went to the kitchen.  No phone.  Back to the usual spot. No phone.

Unusual spots.  You guess it – nada.  Phone missing, no visible signs of burglary by felons unknown, or lip-smacking consumption by felines known to the household.  I can’t call the phone because it’s turned off.

Next.  Worry for a while and wonder about grey matter turning into blanc mange.  Worry further and fling papers about, re-check all suspect places.

Note presence of camera on table in back room where phone normally lives.  Developing sense of panic interrupted by slow realisation.

The Mindless Zone Strikes.

How did my camera remove itself from its bag – left on the kitchen bench after our walk – and travel from there to the study?  Poltergeist?  Pack cat? Our Dotty always looks suspicious, but no, she has no interest in gadget theft, only food.  Pack rat?  None we know of, and surely they prefer real chips not digital ones.

I step lively to the kitchen, grab my camera bag and find the answer.  The camera never left the house.  The phone nestles inside where I placed it this morning as I proceeded to gather myself together for our walk.

I don’t remember a thing about the event itself – the bagging of the phone and not the camera – because I was travelling in the vague territory that is the Mindless Zone, where phones and cameras sitting close together appear indistinguishable from each other, and because the Mindless Zone creates Mindless Eyes, and Mindless Eyes might as well be wearing a blindfold.  The Mindless Zone also creates Mindless Hands, and Mindless Hands might as well be wearing Antarctic gloves for all the sensitivity they contain.

Habit can be efficient and useful, and it can be mindless and ridiculous.  the results depend, of course, on whether we’re travelling in the Mindless or the Mindful Zone.

A Mindful, Habitual Answer

The third time I locked my keys in the car because I was zooming along in the Mindless Zone, I taught myself the new habit  of taking those keys out of the ignition with Mindful Hands and looking at them with Mindful Eyes before exiting the car and locking the door in the Mindful Zone.  (I haven’t called the auto club since).

I’ll try that with my camera and phone.  Of course, travelling at my own pace and getting ready the night before has much to recommend it, too.

Which one do you prefer?  Why not do both – with a belt and braces you can’t go wrong, and you’ll be living in the now where the only and the very best memoir happens.

Remember: Memoir = Life = Now


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Which Words Will Inspire You in 2011



This is a detail from a work by Rosalie Gascoigne called Lamp Lit (1989)

Which words, attitudes and approaches will you take with you into 2011?  Will they be useful or will they cause difficulties as you go about your mindful moments?  Here are a few that I want to use more often, in no particular order:














Why not add your own to the list?  Think about each one for a few minutes and how you can make it a part of your life.  Make a mindmap, or simply write down connections that apply in your life to each word or idea – people, events, situations in which these words, attitudes and approaches may be most helpful.

You can see where we’re going with this, can’t you?

It’s all about the quality of the light in our lives.

While we’re at it, how about a few pithy quotations to guide and help us.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives – it is the one that is most adaptable to change – Charles Darwin

It always seems impossible until its done – Nelson Mandela

Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace – Amelia Earhart

The way to heal myself of almost anything is to be alone long enough – Kate Llewellyn, author

Less is more – Jan McKemmish, author, friend and mentor

Enjoy your Mindful Zone, Grasshoppers.

Resolution? Isn’t that something to with your Computer Screen?



Resolutions are like snowstorms in the northern hemisphere and floods in the southern at the moment – they’re everywhere.  And like snowstorms and floods, they’re treacherous, dangerous and indiscriminate about who they harm and how they do it.

Resolutions are, to a resolve, to be viewed with caution while holding a sturdy club of some kind behind your back.

Which brings us to:

Tip Number 1:

Always be ready to defend yourself against a resolutionary guerilla attack, especially at this time of year.

A Case in Point, Part 1: I had the best of intentions yesterday regarding my resolutions.  And the day before yesterday as it happens.  Two very significant days for those of us who take such things seriously: the last day of the old year and the first of the new.

I definitely had resolutions on the boil.  I was caught up in the hustle of the moment but I wasn’t in the moment.  As a result, I fell out of the Mindful Zone, a victim of the resolution guerillas, who point us towards …

Tip Number 2:

Do not project yourself into the future, but rather remain here in the present moment.  Take a deep breath, hold for a count of three – one, two, three – exhale, and then, boil the kettle and make a beverage of your choice.  Sit quietly with the beverage, breathe, and sip in the Mindful Zone.

A Case in Point, Part 2:

Mindmaps, vision boards, brainstorming, inspiration  from people with clearly superior resolve, exhortations from every media source ever invented – I had them all and then … then, my beloved PC, Nostromo, began a menacing beep on startup, and I suspected then that he might not make it to the new year.

There had been warnings, of course, there often are in the leadup to potential disaster: frozen screens, shivering and occasionally frozen mice, blank screens, and blank looks (these mostly from my cat, Dotty), unaccountable shutdowns (rather like those fly-by-cyber-night online fraudsters), a pervasive sulkiness, and a resentful reluctance to load pages.

For a happy few delusional hours, I thought Nostromo would make it with me into the new year and beyond, but … we arrived instead at:

Tip Number 3: No amount of planning can protect you from the unpredictable, so when change arrives, scare the pants off it by embracing, rather than avoiding it.

A Case in Point, Part 3: Before Nostromo sailed into the heart of digital darkness forever, I returned to the Mindful Zone and applied the mindmaps, vision boards, brainstorming, inspiration and exhortations to finding a new PC at a reasonable price from a reputable seller.

His name is Julius (the PC, not the seller – that’s Nick), and, after a small altercation with a pesky DirectX control (okay – so I didn’t read the fine print on the Sony PMB installation disc), he sits upon my desktop behaving like a – well, a perfect desktop PC. 

Nostromo booted up one more time on New Year’s day to allow transfers of precious files and bookmarks – thank you, Nostromo, for years of mostly loyal and occasionally narky service.

Between them, Nostromo and Julius nobbled the resolutionary guerillas and stopped them in their temporal tracks.  They brought me back to the moment.  Which is why The Memoir Detective’s next post will be all about how to remain resolute in 2011: Our Year in the Magical Mindful Zone.  I hope you’ll join me.

Happy New Year, Grasshoppers

PS  Julius, my new PC, is named after Professor Julius Sumner Miller, a scientist who presented a program on Australian TV when I was a kid.  The show was called “Why is it So?”  Professor Miller stood in front of a blackboard and demonstrated the glorious wonders of physics and maths and other amazing scientific-y subjects.  I had little aptitude for science but many of us watched because Professor Miller was so entertaining and full of passion for his subject.  He’s a hero of my childhood.  Nostromo was named after the spaceship in the movie, “Alien,” which in turn was named after the actual marine vessel Nostromo in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.  Considering Nostromo’s recent demise, enough said.


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How to Keep Faith with your New Year’s Resolutions with One Powerful Technique



Here at the tail-end of the Western calendar year, countless numbers of people with good intentions make New Year’s Resolutions, and countless numbers of us fail to keep them, usually after day 1, New Year’s Day.

So today, several days before THE DAY, I want to share with you one very powerful technique that will keep you on the road to RH (Resolution Heaven).

But first, a little history that most of us probably share.

Day 1, New Year’s Day.  Sometimes, RF (Resolution Failure) happens on the day itself, by about 3 in the afternoon, when your energy is down and your ability to focus is lower than my cat, Dotty’s interest in having her own gym membership.

Just one teensy little puff at the – you guessed it – tail-end of a phenomenally draining day laden with so much portent, intent, and latent anxiety.

Week 1.  Sometimes, it happens within a few days or a week – you begin with all kinds of jittery, energetic motivation for your resolutions, but you can’t keep it up because these new activities, these new approaches to old problems bear little, or worse, no resemblance to anything you’ve experienced before.

You don’t even have habit to fall back on.  How could you when you haven’t been doing this new thing for even as long as Dory’s short-term memory.

So you fall back, all right, on old habits, old, bad, comforting habits … aaahhh … just the one slice of vintage Cracker Barrel, darling; a single, weeny cube of caramello (attached to the rest of the Family Block); it’s about to rain – we’ll walk tomorrow, Scarlett.

Perhaps you join the gym and attend several sessions in succession (try saying that when you’re full of muesli and soy milk), and by Thursday you’re buggered and you’ve gained weight (it’s the pesky muscles that weigh more than fat, apparently – I didn’t stick around long enough for the trainer to explain 20 years ago).

You get the picture, don’t you, grasshopper.  After a while, maybe a week or two, or even a month for the holdouts, the energy and focus dissipate and drain away.  The hour is lost, or rather, that day, THE DAY on which we were going to change forever, is lost – again, for another year at least and, miserably, we return to our usual form, with regret and a truckload of disappointment.

We’ve managed to snatch cheesy, chocolaty, sedentary RF defeat from the well-toned, perfectly-aligned jaws of RH victory.

However.  (There’s always a however).

The solution to all this clutter and chaos of perceived failure, is The Mindful Zone.

How?  In The Mindful Zone, New Year’s Day, THE DAY, doesn’t matter, because every day is THE DAY, every moment is THE MOMENT.

Too often, we place incredible pressure on ourselves to begin anew at a special time, and too often this is an imposition from without rather than from within.  It may work for some of us, but for most of us, its meaning is superficial, and therefore, short-lived.

You can change at any moment by deliberately changing your thoughts and actions, your habits and routines, by being mindful of the moments that make up your life, and by making a commitment to those moments.  It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.

And it’s flexible as well – every moment is a new moment, ready and willing to help us here and now.  Forget about New Year’s Day, begin now, get ahead of everyone and you’ll be developing a new habit by the time THE DAY dawns.

Try this if you want to make walking (or running) a more frequent part of your healthy life: when you wake up in the morning (shiftworkers adjust accordingly), enjoy those moments of returning to this level of consciousness by taking a deep breath and stretching your entire body and, as you do so, slowly rise to a sitting position – you’re up.

Commit yourself to do this every day for just one week, because once you’re up, you’re up for anything, including walking, running, meditating, writing, reading, cooking, anything as you breathe in and breathe out in The Mindful Zone.

After just one week, take a moment to commit to another week, and find yourself in the orbit of Resolution Heaven.

Remember, Grasshopper – any day can be THE DAY: the day of the week on which

  • you were born
  • you discovered the brilliance of Anne Tyler’s novels
  • you took a perfect photo of a rain droplet (this morning, actually)
  • you knew you could do without red meat until the 12th of forever
  • the sun rises and sets
  • you declutter your life, discover your truth, and create your legacy as The Memoir Detective

The Mindful Zone is the only place to Be

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