A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
by Narissa Doumani
‘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 13: Through Confusion Came Clarity)
The voice soon faded out and left me alone with the music and the waves. Everything fell away—the Fighter’s pain, my mother’s grief, the heaviness of my perpetual discontent. What remained was space, my inner spaciousness, and I welcomed it like the old friend it was.
The thirty minutes flew by, and when the sitar was laid down, the last waves lapped against the shore, and the man congratulated me on making it through the session, I opened my eyes. I stretched out my legs and quietly observed the present moment as it appeared around me. Everything looked the same, only better. The pot plant on the side table was greener than I’d ever seen. A shaft of sunlight streamed in through the window and illuminated a portion of the rug. I’d never before appreciated its rich texture and intricate weave. Dust particles drifting through the shaft of light appeared now as life’s confetti. The whole present moment was a celebration; it always had been; all I needed was fresh eyes to see it.
I decided to continue with the program of meditations for three months and see what effect they had on my life. The guided sessions ranged from thirty minutes to an hour, which is quite a commitment for a meditation newbie—I’ve heard some Buddhist masters encourage beginners to start with as little as five minutes a day and build from there—but on the foundation of my mindfulness practice it didn’t feel like too much.
It was easy to incorporate the meditations in my daily schedule once I’d decided they were important. Sitting practice quickly became the most precious time in my day. Not every sit was as easy as the first. Some days I wrestled with the thoughts tumbling through my brain. I did my best not to let them carry me away, and sometimes I succeeded; other times I was well-ensconced in a juicy daydream before I caught myself and refocused my attention on my breath.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Narissa Doumani author of A Spacious Life.
Hi Narissa, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi, thanks for having me. I’m from Melbourne, Australia, and have been working as a commercial model and presenter while writing my memoir, A Spacious Life. I’ve been learning about and practicing mindfulness and meditation for 11 or so years, and was inspired to share the ways I’ve put them to use in within everyday life. I come from a multi-ethnic family (my first name’s Thai like my mother and my surname’s Lebanese like my paternal grandfather) and so diversity and respecting different paths has always been important to me. I hope that comes through in my work.
What were you like at school?
I was quiet and I wore too much black. I had a handful of close friends and got along with everyone in general, but never quite felt like I fit in anywhere.
Were you good at English?
English was one of my strongest subjects, although I enjoyed the creative writing components much more than literary analysis and essay writing.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To keep writing with heart and to make my work a positive contribution to the world, as far as sharing my point of view may inspire self-reflection in others.
Give us an insight into you, the main character.
Ultimately, my story is about searching for authentic happiness and meaning, not just blindly following the blueprint society had laid out before me. It’s taken me to some exotic places, such as the Thai forest, where I met a cave-dwelling Buddhist yogi, but the real guts of it has played out in the thick of everyday life—finding a sense of peace even in the middle of relationship meltdowns and health crises.
What are you working on at the minute?
Right now I’m savoring the sense of accomplishment (it’s taken around six years to bring my book from conception to publication). And I’m working on my meditation practice.
Which actress would you like to see playing you, if your book was made into a movie?
I used to study acting, so perhaps I could play myself, haha!
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
It’s a hard question to answer, really. What inspires any artist to create? The inspiration comes, and you can choose to give life to it or ignore it. For me, the creative inspiration for this book felt too strong to ignore. So I started writing it just for the love of it, not with publication in mind. That came much later.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
What is this ‘structure’ thing you speak of? I’m not sure I know it… No, seriously, I write in fits and spurts. I hear some people do better with rigid routines, but I had to work around an ever-changing work routine, which meant staying flexible.
Where do your ideas come from?
My life experiences and conversations I’ve had.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Both. I definitely work to an outline, but leave room to deviate from the plan when an idea feels like it wants to go in a different direction. I’ll often follow it for a while and see whether it’s a keeper.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Writing a memoir is intensely personal. You have to get used to the vulnerable feeling of expressing your truth. There’s beauty in that, though; I think it’s obvious to the reader whether or not you’ve written with sincerity.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I grew up reading a lot, but I have to admit that I had less time for reading while I was writing A Spacious Life. I enjoy the work of a diverse range of authors, from Roald Dahl through to Patrick Rothfuss.
For your own reading, do you prefer eBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
There’s nothing like a traditional printed book! I do find eBooks handy for traveling, though.
What are you reading at present?
I just finished The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Most enjoyable.
Tell us about the cover and how it came about.
My cover shoot was done with a wonderful Melbourne photographer, Andrew Raszevski. I’d worked with him before, for my modeling portfolio. We shot this picture in a park near his studio. I love the way he captured the light on the path behind me. A light-filled path is a great symbol for the path of spiritual practice.
Who designed your book cover?
I worked with a professional designer, but the concept was my own.
Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your book?
I haven’t made a trailer, but I do love the idea. Instead, I made a short video about meditation and what is called the ‘monkey mind’ within the Eastern traditions. I thought it would be a light-hearted way to introduce the concept of meditation and why we practice it. It made all my friends laugh, anyway, and it was a lot of fun to put together.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
I see how it could be an effective marketing tool for the right kind of book if used strategically, but in general I think we should be careful about undervaluing the work of creative artists. I feel the arts are so crucial to a well-functioning society, but market trends often don’t reflect that.
What is your favorite quote?
‘Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love. This is an old rule.’ It’s something the Buddha taught. I try my best to live by it.
What is your favorite movie?
There are so many great movies, how does anyone choose just one favorite? I’ve always loved The Blues Brothers, I grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy, The Big Lebowski never fails to make me laugh… How long have you got? I could keep listing movies I love all day.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
On my website, narissadoumani.com. There you’ll find photos from my life (most of which are also scenes from the book), image quotes from A Spacious Life, as well as my blog, On the Path, plus links to my social media pages and a downloadable guided meditation if it’s something you’d like to try.
Any final words?
I’m so excited to be able to share this book. I poured my heart and soul into writing it, and what I hope most of all is that it is a small part of a much larger conversation about how we find a way to live with meaning and happiness within the modern world.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
Thank you, the pleasure was mine!
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
Narissa will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B&N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.
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