Today I’m joined by Narissa Doumani is the student of a reclusive Thai yogi, and a dedicated practitioner of mindfulness, meditation, and the Buddhist path.
We talk about life, finding your true path and her new book…
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved writing, but I’d be lying if I said there was a particular point at which I knew definitively I wanted to be a writer. I felt more that I’d been on a journey I wanted to share with others, and the creative impulse to do so was strong enough to see me through the long and arduous process of turning that into a book.
Tell me about your journey as an author… where did it start?
Ten or eleven years ago I attempted to start a book about cross-cultural communication. Having grown up in a multi-ethnic family, it was a topic that fascinated me. But I could never quite work out just what I wanted to say about it, or how I could add a unique point of view to the intelligent conversation already happening around the issue. Eventually, after a little research and much frustration, I dropped the idea. I got on with my life, writing a bit here and there for the love of it, until several years later the inspiration for A Spacious Life struck. Even then I was hesitant about calling it a ‘book’ I was working on. I started writing small vignettes, trying to distil a story arc out of a jumble of personal experiences, and it slowly took shape from there.
Can you tell us what your book is about?
It’s a memoir about using meditation and mindfulness within my everyday circumstances to uncover greater peace and happiness within. An inner sense of space, or ‘spaciousness’, is what is revealed to me through these practices, and is in stark contrast with the suffocating feeling of being crowded in by my own thoughts and emotions (a state of being I was quite familiar with!) when life got stressful. Along the way I’ve fallen in and out of love, felt my whole world was about to fall apart when I was ill, and worked in all sorts of jobs such as a model for commercial advertising campaigns and as an English teacher in Thailand. I’ve used all of those circumstances to strengthen my inner stability and try to glean a little insight into life’s bigger picture. That’s it in a nutshell.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
From my everyday life and the people I encounter. There are beautiful and interesting things happening all around; all you have to do is pay attention. I wrote one chapter about using mindfulness within my experiences at work—running a promotion in a shopping mall, in this instance—and I described how my mindfulness practice really opened me up to the different individuals around me. It allowed me to see them with fresh eyes and appreciate them more fully, instead of being preoccupied with my own stresses and dissatisfactions. The characters I describe—the elderly gentleman wearing barefoot running shoes, the beautiful cleaner with missing teeth—they were all real people I’d observed in my day to day.
What motivated you to write this particular story/ genre?
Conversations with various people who wanted to know how I was able to find my balance amid some pretty stressful life events at the time. They didn’t think it would be possible for them if our roles were reversed, and they had all struggled to cope with various emotional issues at different points. Regardless of how different our respective lives may look, I think these emotional struggles and the search for meaning amid the chaos of the world, strike to the very core of what it means to be human. It’s not to say I have all the answers, but in my experience there is meaning to be found in our hardships, and peace and happiness can exist, too, right here in this moment, even when it feels like a painful moment. I thought that was worth writing about.
What were the main challenges in writing it?
The biggest one was probably overcoming the fear of judgment. I wrote with the intention to bare my soul as much as possible; I generally don’t find memoirs compelling unless the author is willing to expose their vulnerable, flawed, human self with as much transparency as they can muster. It’s the vulnerability that’s beautiful, but also a little scary! Now it’s done, though, and it’s time for me to let it go. The work will take on its own life and I will keep going with my meditation and mindfulness practices, and hopefully use the whole experience as an opportunity to develop even more inner stability…
If you could give your lead character one piece of advice, what would it be?
Hmmm… as it’s a memoir, the lead character is none other than yours truly. If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t worry, you’re doing great! Things will make more sense in good time, you just need to trust you have what it takes.
Would you be able to provide us with a short preview/ extract?
Read on my friends ….
Where can readers go to find out more about you?
They can visit my website narissadoumani.com and check out my blog, On The Path. I write about issues and events in my life and how I tackle with them. There’s also a free downloadable guided meditation that I produced, photos which are also scenes from the book, and some other goodies. Oh, and you’ll find me on Facebook, Google+ and (learning to use) Pinterest too.
Guest Bio and Links:
Narissa Doumani is the student of a reclusive Thai yogi, and a dedicated practitioner of mindfulness, meditation, and the Buddhist path. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne, Narissa spent nearly a decade working as a model and presenter in the world of commercial advertising, using the circumstances of her everyday life to cultivate clarity and peace of mind. Born into a Thai-Lebanese-Australia family, she is a strong advocate for diversity, tolerance, and finding one’s own authentic path. Her debut memoir, A Spacious Life, invites us all to do just that, and to live with meaning beyond the material.
Author Website: http://narissadoumani.com
About the Book
‘Meditation and mindfulness are tools for working with the mind, but where they have led me is to a blossoming of the heart…’
What does a spiritual seeker look like? Could you pick one in a lineup? If you said yes, chances are you weren’t imagining this meditating model. Born in Sydney, Australia, Narissa Doumani grew up well loved, well educated, and (reasonably) well dressed, but for years grappled with what she admits is ‘the ultimate first world problem’: how to be truly, deeply happy in any lasting way. In this intimate memoir, she explores the creative process, traverses the heights of romantic love and the despair of self-doubt, and comes face to face with her own fragile mortality. But it’s in a cave in a Thai forest, where she meets the Buddhist yogi who will become her spiritual guide, that she learns to unravel the messy states of mind and heart that had kept her from living a spacious life—and thereby begins to uncover the happiness, meaning, and connection for which she always yearned.
A Spacious Life is a heart-warming, honest, and at times surprisingly humorous look into the quest for meaning beyond materialism—and its relevance as an essential condition for well-being and fulfilment within modern-day life.
(From Chapter 9: The Model Life)
Now and again, I worked with challenging personalities, such as the German photographer who wanted to tape my ears to the sides of my head. She was six foot tall and cut an imposing figure. The prospect of standing in front of her lens was intimidating.
I pulled myself together and walked onto set with the steeliness of a seasoned warrior. My armour was a shoulder-padded polyester blend, my war paint MAC Studio Fix C2. But when the German took a test shot of me and barked, ‘Those ears. They are sticking out too much. Can you all see that?’ her words hit me like a well-timed jab-right cross combo. My confidence, along with my ego, was sent reeling.
I was supposed to look like a corporate worker, so the hair-and-makeup artist had slicked my hair into a low bun, and the tips of my ears were protruding, pixie-like, in a way she obviously found less than perfect.
‘Can’t we do something? Bring some gaffer tape!’ she shouted.
I started shrinking. I couldn’t afford to shrink. The client was counting on me to get a good shot. I also couldn’t retaliate. It never pays to antagonise the creative team whose job it is to make you look good. So I took a silent, mindful moment and came back to my breath. In and out, in and out, it connected me to the present.
I considered my ears, two small, moulded lumps of flesh on the sides of my head. Ears were instruments for hearing. Mine worked very well indeed. Why should I be ashamed of them? They weren’t particularly beautiful, but were any ears truly beautiful?