Joy stimulates the currents of life!

A version of this article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of the fabulous New Dawn magazine.
"We should cultivate those mind activities which stimulate naturally the currents of life in the body. One of these, and a very important one, is joy."

Healing Power of Joy by Charles Fillmore (1939)
This essay can be found in The Essential Charles Fillmore ed. by James Gaither

Charles Fillmore was one of the great metaphysicians. Founder of the Unity Church, Fillmore walked his talk. As well as establishing a spiritual empire which flourishes to this day, Fillmore also lived to a grand old age, despite some serious physical impediments. He was considered a saint by everyone who encountered him. I absolutely advise you to read some of Fillmore's old books and essays (he was a prolific writer). There is much wisdom to be found within them. And though he uses "Christian" language he is interpreting it in the most open and inclusive way imaginable, so don't let that now alien language block you from the good advice that (to use a Fillmore-ism) lies back of it.

The quote above is a characteristic one. Fillmore was a "fake it till you make it" type of fellow, and he genuinely believed that we are capable of consciously cultivating those qualities which best enrich our lives. One of my favourite Louise Hay (an author who has herself been deeply influenced by the New Thought philosophy of Fillmore) affirmations is:

"What is true of me is true of everyone. We are all learning to look within ourselves to find the wisdom to live harmoniously."

Too many of us sit by waiting for this wisdom to be visited upon us. Fillmore taught that we should be actively in search of it.


Like Fillmore, I believe that any quality can be cultivated, even if it may not seem "natural" to our personality. Friendliness, tolerance, calm and joy can all be worked upon. Every day we can seek to express, even just for a moment, each and every one of these qualities and our lives will be richer for the effort. In truth I am, at heart, an anxious, judgemental and reasonably grumpy person, but I am willing to bet that nobody who knows me would use these words to describe me. The reason is that I choose to not give in to the expression of these things. When I do, my life is infinitely sadder and my scope for happiness is reduced. Yes, I might feel them on occasion (quite often) and I am perfectly capable of recognising mentally when they occur, thank you very much. But I choose to cultivate other ways of being. I choose not to feed the flames of those parts of my personality that make me a less-good person.  

Positive Mind Activities

Too often we think that we are biologically determined to behave in a certain way. We might be, but almost every religion provides practical exercises in promoting states of mind that are more valuable, to ourselves and our community. We can seek outward help in improving our states of mind, and we can explore a whole host of practical activities that have been proven to make us happier. Meditation, prayer, chant, counselling, journaling... The list is a long one. It is your responsibility to seek these activities out and seek to apply them systematically. You will be very grateful that you did.  

Currents of Life

There is a series of different currents, of myriad vibrations, that create our own individual experiences of life. It is wise to be sensitive to them and, to an extent, respect them. If we are tired, sick, a little depressed or not very social it is perfectly ok to honour these feelings and carve out some time to be alone. I read Unity's Daily Word magazine every day, and one of the past affirmations was: "I love and accept myself and others." When we - or other people - are feeling delicate, we must learn to value that experience for what it is. But we need to also honour those currents of energy, sociability, enthusiasm, charisma, positivity and joy to which we are subject. These cannot be allowed to pass us by un-noted and un-honoured. 

The Cultivation of Joy - 6 Ideas

There are six methods which I have found to be conducive to the cultivation of joy in my life. They are:

1. Journaling - This works in a variety of ways, but by writing down my joys and my concerns I can become conscious of the things I am complaining about and not doing anything to change, and the the wonderful things in my life I forget to notice. A journal makes us incredibly self-aware. By writing down the things we are dealing with in life we come to a realisation that so many of our problems, and most of the solutions, are based in our own behaviours. Keeping in contact with myself by journaling over many years has helped me realise that I can meet most of the situations that challenge me life with strength, style and love.

2. Meditation - I know everyone says it, but a systematic method of silence and reflection has the most profound impact on lives. And this is scientifically supported.There is a balance in nature - all of the Eastern religions tell us this. But unless we can get quiet enough to find that point of balance within ourselves we can become hoplessly lost in all of the emotion, sensation and drama that this world throws up at us.

3. Blessing - I came to blessing late in my life. But when I began to consciously bless people and things in my life I tapped into an enormous warmth of love and kindness that I hadn't really realised existed. It comes from a very deep place indeed, and the more I bless others, the more I want to do it. When I bless others I recognise their achievements, and it makes me aware of my own. I have never had a blessing refused.

4. Listening - This one doesn't come naturally - it's the perfect example of a quality I have to work on quite self-consciously. I am naturally loquacious, and have always been inclined to talk too much. But when I can bite my tongue and genuinely listen to others I find I grow in wisdom, and also become a source of joy in other people's lives.

5. Leading - Stop waiting for other people to fix/start/provide things. Do it yourself. This is, paradoxically, the fastest path to humility that I know. Through leading I have found myself much less critical and judgemental towards others because I am much more in touch with how they might be feeling and what they might be going through. Life is a lot more complex and difficult than lounge lizards imagine it to be. We are all capable of much greater things than we can even dare to imagine. Sometimes the call to lead awakens us to that greatness - but it also takes us out of comfort and complacency.

6. Being Adventurous - Comfort leads to laziness leads to staleness and inertia. By not being brave and stretching our boundaries, by not risking failure, disappointment and even censure, we actually make ourselves sadder. Life is lived with a much greater thrill when we seek to experience new things, meet new people and say "yes" to all of the incredible possibilities contained in this universe. 

Ten ways to shed your writing skin

Snake skin image by Andrew M. Durso

I have been reading Stephen Harrod Buhner’s exquisite Ensouling Language and glorying in its wisdom, sensitivity and good common sense. I think it is a necessary book for all writers, and urge you to go out and buy it right now. He talks about how many unpublished writers are unwilling to change when the opportunity to move on to the next step of their writing career arises. They have been dreaming all their lives about being published, but when somebody shows some qualified interest they display all the petulant preciousness of a five-year-old and refuse to budge or change.

This is always fatal, and such an attitude is a guarantee that you will stay unpublished and unnoticed. The necessity to be flexible and change was certainly part of my own experience. I had proposed one kind of book, but my publisher came back with a request to write another, very different, kind of book. I leapt at the chance, and this went on to become my first release, Destination Saigon. I was ready to be published, and so I was ready to take the advice and direction of my publisher.

Buhner says:

To become a writer you must shed your skin. The process itself demands it. Those who refuse to do so fail of ever writing something meaningful, perhaps fail of ever being published. It is not a failure of talent but of courage.

To become a successful writer you must move well outside your field of comfort. You must stretch, pull and occasionally tear that self-protective skin that has kept you well and truly in your place all these years. I still see it in my creative writing students, over and over again. They have huge blockages and resistance to things like technology, or new ways of distribution and publishing. Even to proper research and relationship building. “I can’t do that,” they say, or “I have no time for that. This is not what I imagined the writing life to be.”

Shed your skin! You have nothing to lose but your old, blinkered way of seeing your creative life. Here are 10 of the ways I recommend writers slough off their old resistance and emerge as glistening, talented new beings:

1.    Confess something – the quickest way to move out of your comfort zone is to confess in writing something you have never told anyone. It is immensely liberating, it is risky and it is almost always interesting.

2.    Stick to a deadline – there is nothing like the threat of legal action or the disappointed face of a friend or editor to make you start thinking of new ways of expression. You have spent a lifetime taking things easy. Now is the time to work to order. See just how creative you can get at 11.30pm when 2,000 words are due the next day.

3.    Enter a competition – writing competitions rarely fit your own creative parameters exactly. So why not enter something wildly outside your field of usual endeavour? Try entering a poetry competition if you write family history or a sci-fi short story competition if abstract verse is your forte.

4.    Allow yourself to be critiqued...and don’t say a word to defend yourself- admit it, you spend a lot of time avoiding criticism. But professional writers have their work read and commented on by critics all the time. It can be helpful, infuriating and bizarre. Subject yourself to it – ask someone you don’t really know to give you a harsh and true critique of a piece of work. And find out exactly where your weaknesses lie.

5.    Do a workshop and participate fully – I am not giving anything away when I say that most people who attend a writing workshop or course don’t really follow up on the advice and methods they have learned. We rarely take advantage of the opportunities presented. What if you actually went into a workshop with eyes and ears open, determined to do all the homework and follow up on all of the advice you heard from a professional? If you did it your writing life would change radically – I can guarantee you.

6.    Take yourself seriously – I don’t mean in a po-faced manner (there’s already much too much of that), but as in looking at your writing and your writing life as something important, and something worthy of your time, attention and money. Stop being a hobbyist, start producing and start calling yourself a writer. Do it long enough and the people around you will start expecting to see stuff.

7.    Read the 5 classics in your genre – I am constantly surprised by how many people skip this step. Become aware of your own literary heritage. Read hard stuff, old stuff, stuff you think you won’t like. Find out where you fall in the spectrum, and what greater minds have said before you.

8.    Write something and show it to your mother – ok, some of you might have ultra-sweet mums who support everything you do. This is not for you. This is for those people who have mums with a slightly more critical turn of mind. This step works very well when combined with Step 1.

9.    Embrace an electronic platform – blogging, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ - I don’t care what. Just be online, try new stuff, start conversations and make yourself useful. Digital platforms almost always require writing and lots of it. See what you can find out about yourself and the possibilities for your work.

10.    Make a list of the writers you love – may or may not be connected to Step 7. Better if it isn’t. Read outside of your genre and see what new ideas you can garner. And always think about ways you can break out of your self-imposed limitations. Read other writers – all the time and enthusiastically.

I learn to shed my skin by talking to other talented writers and hearing about their techniques and secrets. If you are interested in learning about travel writing from one of Australia’s most innovative practitioners, Claire Scobie is running a travel writing workshop at the NSW Writers' Centre in October. Claire is a constant inspiration, so read more about her here

Walter Mason at Sydney Writers' Festival 2014

Walter Mason outside Tan Dinh church, Saigon

You'll have two opportunities to see me in action at this years Sydney Writers' Festival. Both on the same day, too!

The first event is Thursday morning:

Dark Humour

Panel   |  Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction
    Thursday, May 22 2014         11:30 AM - 12:30 PM         Free, no bookings
    Pier 2/3 Club Stage, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay        
Features:    Simon Kennedy, Mark Lamprell, Jo Case, Walter Mason (facilitator)

Mark Lamprell’s The Full Ridiculous is a portrait of crisis and dysfunctional families. It’s a perplexing world, but it’s not quite hell. In Boomer and Me, Jo Case shares the story of her only son, and why being different isn’t a disability – it just takes a bit of getting used to. Simon Kennedy makes us laugh and cry in his moving story about the tragic death of his mother in 9/11 and the Art of Happiness. Together they speak to Walter Mason about using humour to reveal the resilience of the human spirit.

Details of participants:
Simon Kennedy (Australian)

Simon Kennedy has worked for more than 13 years as a national headline comedian, broadcaster, voice-over artist, radio host, writer and corporate entertainer. He appears weekly on Channel 7’s Morning Show. His book 9/11 and The Art of Happiness: An Australian Story was recently released.   

Mark Lamprell (Australian)

Mark Lamprell has worked in film and television for many years. He co-wrote the film Babe Pig in the City and wrote and directed the award-winning feature My Mother Frank. His most recent project is the movie musical Goddess, which he co-wrote and directed. The Full Ridiculous is his first novel.

Jo Case (Australian)

Jo Case’s first book is Boomer and Me: A Memoir of Motherhood, and Asperger’s. Jo is senior writer/editor at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. She has been books editor of The Big Issue (Australia), deputy editor of Australian Book Review and associate editor of Kill Your Darlings. Her reviews, essays and opinion pieces have appeared in The Age, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Monthly. She has also been published in Sleepers Almanac and Best Australian Stories.

Walter Mason (Australian)

Walter Mason is a writer, blogger currently completing his doctoral thesis on the history of self-help books in Australia. His first book, Destination Saigon was named one of the ten best travel books of 2010 by the Sydney Morning Herald. Walter’s latest book, Destination Cambodia, was released in 2013. Walter runs the Universal Heart Book Club with Stephanie Dowrick, an on-line video book club that concentrates on matters of the spirit.   

PLEASE NOTE - PROGRAM CHANGE!!! Due to personal circumstances Stephanie Dowrick can no longer do this event, and I will be in conversation with travel writer and novelist Claire Scobie about our literary friendship.

And then in the afternoon, come and hear Claire Scobie and I talk about our literary friendship:

Literary Friendships: Claire Scobie and Walter Mason
Type: Conversation   |  Genres: Spirituality / Religion, Fiction
    Thursday, May 22 2014         3:00 PM - 4:00 PM         Free, no bookings
    Pier 2/3 The Loft, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay        
    Claire Scobie, Walter Mason

Walter Mason - Destination Cambodia - 6 May (Concord Library)

Walter Mason in Cambodia

Come and have a fabulous time with me this Tuesday night at Concord Library!

I will be talking about my new book, Destination Cambodia, showing you some great pictures and telling you some of the gossip behind-the-scenes of my book, as well as some fascinating stories about Cambodia's history and culture.

I promise you it's lots of fun, and if you have ever been to Cambodia, or ever wanted to visit, you will be entertained and informed.
It's also a FREE event, so there's absolutely no excuse not to come!

Walter Mason - Destination Cambodia - 6 May (Concord Library)

Join intrepid traveller Walter Mason as he discusses his latest book Destination Cambodia. Discover the charms of Cambodia as Walter recounts memories and experiences from his many journeys to Cambodia.

When: Tuesday, 6 May (6.30pm for 7pm start)
Where: Concord Library
Cost Free (light refreshments provided)

For bookings please contact Concord Library on 9911 6210.

This event is sponsored by the wonderful Your Bookshop, and they will be there selling copies of the book. I would love to sign one for you while I am there.
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