Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating interviews author, counselor and awakening mentor, Mary O’Malley. In this heartfelt interview, you’ll hear how Mary learned to transform her life by dropping into her heart and embracing her traumatic childhood, eating disorder and eventually several suicide attempts. In Mary’s words “As you heal the war inside of you, the war of struggle that brings so much suffering, you become a part of the healing of our planet.”
Marc: Welcome, everybody. I’m Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Here we are back again in the Future of Healing Online Conference. I am here with a wonderful friend, colleague, thought leader, Mary O’Malley. Welcome, Mary.
Mary: I’m so glad to be here, Marc.
Marc: Same here. Let me say a few words about you before we launch in. Mary O’Malley is an author, counselor and awakening mentor in Kirkland, Washington state. In the early 1970s a powerful awakening led Mary to begin changing her relationship with her challenges, freeing her from a lifelong struggle with darkness. Mary’s new book What’s In the Way Is the Way provides a revolutionary approach for healing our fears, anxieties, shame and confusion so we can live from a place of ease and wellbeing.
I just want to say that I came across your work I can’t even remember. Your first book The Gift of Our Compulsions magically appeared somehow in my office. I read it and it blew my mind because I hadn’t seen anything else like it. Since that time, when did that book come out?
Marc: I had it right at the beginning. Automatically made it required reading for any one of my students. Before we dive into your work I’ve been such a big fan of yours. To me, you have such a clear voice around transformation and a very wonderful way of languaging the journey. How did you get into this work yourself? What sort of led you on your personal journey?
Mary: Well, I’m not being facetious when I say that I was given the gift of a lot of challenges. I had the kind of childhood you would not wish on any child and I kept on tumbling further and further down into darkness. In my early 20s I had been dieting and throwing up and starving and fasting and then binging. Then when I was 23 I gained 97 pounds in a year, all control just left.
When that didn’t work to numb myself, that’s why I was eating, was to numb. I didn’t know how to deal, how to be with the pain that I had experienced for most of my life at that time. The next year I tried to kill myself three times.
There was a moment the last time I tried to kill myself where I asked my first openended question. That’s a question where you ask life a question and you let it go and you don’t look for the answer. I didn’t know that I was doing that at that time but out of desperation I said, “If I can’t get out of this, what is this all about?”
Just a short time later one of the grandfathers of yoga here in the United States came up from California. I did a weekend workshop with him, the first of a number of them. What I got out of his work was in the seeing is the movement. It was such a novel concept for me. I had tried to fix myself, I had tried to control my compulsions. My family had sent me to psychiatrists and psychologists and all I heard was, “There’s something wrong with me because everybody’s trying to fix me and I can’t control my compulsions.”
Well, the US surgeon general shows in their statistics that nobody really can. If you control one another one will come. That was a whole new world for me, this idea that there’s nothing that needed to be fixed, but bring your curiosity to it.
Then I was gifted a number of years later to spend time with a man called Stephen Levine, who wrote many books on death and dying. Really, truly he wrote on how to be fully alive. He said, “My teachers are a couple of Tibetan lamas and tens of thousands of people on their deathbed.” He had a 24hour hotline in his home for years.
He was the human being that invited me back into my heart. It was when after I started spending time with him, that was the first time I started getting curious about this overeater. Yes, I had been addicted to drugs, I had been addicted to alcohol. Those faded away on their own. The eater was still very much a part of my life.
I could remember once I wished that I would get a horrible disease so I could no longer eat the things that I was eating. Thankfully that didn’t happen. I began to become curious about this whole process of turning away from myself when I was compulsive.
The more I began to listen the more I began to see that my compulsion was not the enemy. It wasn’t something that was bad and wrong about me, it wasn’t something I needed to fix or control. For heaven’s sakes, I’m a Taurus. I tried to control it. I once went a whole month without food and then, of course, I just binged after that.
That’s when I began to become curious and I began to realize that this eater inside of me was a highly crafted survival system that was taking care of all the parts of me. All the pain that I had experienced that I didn’t know how to be with. I knew how to try to fix it. I didn’t know how to be with it.
When I selfpublished before my publisher picked it up I called it Healing and Being Healed by Our Compulsions. I love that title. They shortened it to The Gift of Our Compulsions but truly as you create a different, a new, an interested, a curious relationship with your compulsions they literally will become your guide back to the peace and the joy that you long for.
Marc: Isn’t it fascinating how the last place we often look to go to to heal our compulsions is to stop fixing them and kind of listen and invite them in and hear their message? It feels like that’s so last on the list.
Mary: It is, it is because we’ve never been trained to do it. What I offer people is I say if you’re having a bad day and you go to a friend and that friend does with you what you do with your compulsions and she gets disgusted with you, she commiserates with you, she ignores you, she just walks out of the room, how does that feel? If that friend listens attentively, openly, doesn’t even need to say a word and you share where you are all of a sudden you start feeling better. Why does that happen? Attention heals.
We’ve always used our mind. This exquisite tool we’ve been given to fix, to change, to rearrange, to rise above, to get rid of, to understand. We’re only now beginning to learn the phenomenal power of our own attention.
We need to understand that we left ourselves a long time ago. Most of us were raised by unconscious giants. We stash this part of ourselves and that part of ourselves and we learn how to hold our breath and we ran away to this very busy, controlling, fearbased mind.
This says, “I can’t be with what I’m experiencing, I will die.” It goes to that level. That’s the child’s view. It was true when we were young, when we communed with our goldfish. Every night they turned the lights out and there was just one light in our bedroom and we literally communed with that goldfish. Then we wake up one morning
and the goldfish is dead. We’re just bereft and our parents say, “It’s only a goldfish, we’ll get you another one. Stop being a sissy.”
What happens with this deep grief? You stuff it inside. This system says, “I must keep that stuffed inside because if it arises and takes me over then I’m going to be in deep trouble.” The truth is we’re not children anymore. The truth is that as we learn how in a very safe and slow way, slow way to bring our attention to our experience.
In fact, when I selfpublished it I had the story of the tortoise and the hare in there three times. Of course, when the publisher edited they took it out all except one. It really is, this is not the quick fix. As far as I can experience and I’ve worked with people for 30 years, it’s in my own experience the art of turning towards rather than turning away is where deep and lasting healing happens.
Marc: I’m so glad you referenced the quick fix versus the slow fix. Slow seems so unsexy these days because we value speed. We want fast internet connections, we want fast cars, we want things to move fast. Yet it seems a bit paradoxical because most people who are going for the quick fix methods for their eating challenges, for any kind of compulsions or unwanted habits, there’s so many attempts at quick fix that you could be doing that for a lifetime.
Mary: A lifetime. People do do it for a lifetime, Marc. It’s ten pounds in ten days but we live that long enough that we see that that actually fuels our compulsions. The US surgeon general’s report is that 98% of every pound that is lost in America is gained back plus some. That’s the important place. Plus some within a year and a half. What we try to control controls us.
Curiosity, and curiosity hooked with your heart, there’s no control there. There’s just curiosity. That isn’t about fixing. It’s just phenomenally powerful. Just like it was when your friend finally listened to you. You felt better and you didn’t even know why you feel better. It’s because you were listened to.
This eater, I keep a chocolate bar. A really fine, European, bittersweet chocolate bar in my house all the time. Now, when I was younger I would have laughed if you would have told me that I kept chocolate in my house and I didn’t inhale it all in one foul swoop. In fact, I had been known to sneak my children’s Halloween candy when they were younger. It’s that ahahah thing.
Now I keep it there for two reasons. Number one, to let this overeater inside of me know that I respect it and that if it does need a little bit of comfort it has it. If I want to eat more than just one little piece and melt it in my mouth then that is a signal that there’s something going on inside of me that needs me.
What we can learn how to do is take care of what the compulsive one has been taking care of, whether it’s eating or shopping or drugs or alcohol or just busyness. We can learn how to take care of what it has been taking care of and the compulsion fades away. We don’t need to get rid of it, it just is not necessary anymore.
At times, I have a very, very close family member whose cancer has come back. The chocolate bar has been more interesting lately, but it’s my signal to come in here, just close my eyes for a minute or two. Or if I have time close my eyes and come in and really explore what’s going on inside, what is it that this system doesn’t want to experience and can I bring my attention to it in a way that it opens that energy back up again and then the compulsion is no longer necessary.
Marc: You’re speaking about having compassion for self and landing back in your heart, in our own hearts. Yet again it seems like we get conditioned to believe that if I’m moving and being and living from my heart that’s a dangerous neighborhood somehow, don’t go there.
Mary: Really, isn’t it? Part of that is we do not understand what is meant by the heart. I was interviewed for a very interesting book called MBraining, the letter M which means multiple, multiple brains. They took 600 of the leading edge studies around the world about how we do have three brains. We have this brain, we have the heart brain and we have the abdominal brain.
Studies have all shown that the main brain is the heart. It’s very interesting to look at the difference between these two brains. This brain is dualistic in nature. I like this, I don’t like that, this is good, that is bad, this is right, that is wrong. That’s what we use as a guide for our life. It’s really insane.
This thing says, “I’m going to have a bowl of ice cream. No, no, I’m going to have the carton of ice cream.” Then five minutes into it it says, “You shouldn’t have done that.” This heart brain, which at the HeartMath Institute they did many studies, amazing,
amazing stuff about how the heart always responds first. They hooked up people to body sensors, heart sensors and mind sensors. They put them in front of a computer that randomly chose pictures. Either horrific or beautiful pictures.
Always the heart brain responded first. This is an intelligent brain. Don’t think of it as this mushy thing. This is an intelligent brain that is inclusive. It’s not against anything. Then it sends the information to the brain and then finally to the body.
The interesting thing is for many people, this is on the movie The Living Matrix, I had to rewind it a number of times to see did I hear this right? For many people the heart responded to the picture six to eight seconds before the computer had even chosen it. Why? This is connected to everything. This brain is a tool for maneuvering through reality but when we think of it as our reality we’re at war with ourselves and with life.
I think it was Joseph Chilton Pearce that said, “The longest 18 inches in the world are from the mind to the heart.” This is our home. As you begin to come back, when I was taught is the movement, I still struggled with that. I wasn’t doing it good enough or right enough. It wasn’t until I met Stephen Levine and began to have a safe place where this brain could open back up again. That’s when you realize this is your home and this is where we can bring our compulsions and truly bring them right into this healing of our own heart.
Marc: It’s so fascinating to me how the different brains you’re speaking of have very different languages and very different ways of seeing the world. The heart interprets things completely different than the brain does. The brain says, “My compulsion is bad, it’s no good and it’s the enemy.” The heart says, as you’ve been saying, “Let’s listen, let’s invite this in.” Two different messages. Who do you want to obey?
Mary: Look at my life. I started sneaking candy when I was ten years old. I had a little thing that had a skirt around it and I can remember sitting there and just eating handfuls and handfuls of candy. I can remember when I was 12 coming home and doing a conveyor belt toast, two more pieces of toast, butter that, two more pieces of toast, eat the toast that’s buttered while you’re buttering the other toast.
Then I gained and lost, gained and lost. Diet after diet and throwing up and everything. Then I’m 23, I gained 97 pounds in a year from hospital scale to hospital scale. Now
I’m very natural around food. How did I get there? It wasn’t through trying to control. It wasn’t. I was an absolute failure at control and now I’m so grateful that I was.
Marc: Since you’ve written The Gift of Our Compulsions obviously your work evolves and goes in different directions or just kind of embellishes on itself. Tell me how your thinking is these days and what your new book is about and maybe some of the core principles that we might want to know about.
Mary: My new book, which I selfpublished, I didn’t even go to my publisher. I wasn’t interested in all of that rigmarole. Now Sounds True has picked it up and it’s so exciting. They just so believe in this book. Its title is What’s In the Way Is the Way. To this brain what’s in the way is something that has to be gotten rid of. We’ve done that long enough that we can see that that doesn’t work. We can even muscle one compulsion to the ground and another one will take over. Remember, it’s a finely crafted survival system that is taking care of what you haven’t yet discovered how to take care of yourself.
As The Gift of Our Compulsions went out there and I began to work with more and more people I began to see that this works with all the challenges of our lives. Not just our compulsions. It’s with our relationship challenges, it’s with our financial challenges, it’s with our health challenges. It’s with the challenges that come from dying.
This book is an expansion of those principles that I used to heal my compulsions. I think the best way, the quickest way to give an overview of this book is the metaphor that it begins with. I absolutely love this metaphor and it’s called the meadow metaphor. Imagine a beautiful meadow. I live here in the northwest. I love hiking up on Mount Rainier. These meadows, oh my God, they’re just so colorful and marmots everywhere and there’s the gorgeous white mountain and noble fir trees and bees and hummingbirds and all of this.
The meadow represents life and it represents this creative flow that is life. Everything flows in the meadow. Day flows into night, winter into spring, life into death, death into life. The fir tree doesn’t wish it was a maple tree. The marmot mommy doesn’t keep her babies underground because it’s afraid that the hawk will come. Everything is the flow and everything is open to the flow.
All of us lived in and as that meadow when we were very young. There was a time there were no thoughts in our head. I know that’s kind of amazing to think of because we now have 65,000 thoughts a day and most of them are repeats from the day before. We lived in that. Most of us were raised by unconscious giants that had left themselves a long time ago. They gave us the sacred wounds of invasion and abandonment.
We began to learn how to tighten our body and hold our breath and try to get away from what we are experiencing by going into our head. I oftentimes say that we move from human being to human doing. Imagine that the clouds in the sky, they lowered and they began to whirl and swirl around you and permeate your head. That’s what I call the cloud bank of struggle.
I said this in The Gift of Our Compulsions. Our core compulsion is to struggle. All the other compulsions are an attempt to numb out from this struggle. This book is about how to heal that core compulsion which is to struggle. One of the most important things about this metaphor is you’ve never left the meadow. You just think you have.
I say somewhere in that chapter just imagine an alien coming and landing right on Earth, right beside this meadow and it sees you just running around this meadow trying to get to what you want and get rid of what you don’t want and you have all these clouds around you. He’s just very perplexed because he sees that everything you long for is already right here.
We don’t know how to come home. This book is about seeing through our addiction to struggle ourself. It’s like what we talked about earlier. Good, bad, right, wrong, oh my God, we struggle with the length of the stoplight, we struggle with how our hair looks on any given day, we struggle with bigger things also. That struggle cuts us off from this joy of being fully here and fully alive.
Marc: It seems as if it’s an interesting setup, being alive as a human being on planet Earth. Just popping out of the womb by its very nature ain’t easy. It’s a struggle. They just give you a little, tiny tunnel to move down.
Mary: With great forces.
Marc: Right. It’s not like the red carpet opens up and there’s music playing. How do we kind of context that, yes, we get hooked on struggle but at the same time it’s almost the setup for us coming into the world.
Mary: Exactly. This came all in one foul swoop when I was writing What’s In the Way. Life is set up to bring up what has been bound up so it can open up to be freed up so we can show up for life. Let’s just take a step back.
The yin and yang symbol to me, Marc, is one of the most powerful symbols on this planet. This dance that we find ourselves in is a dance of duality. There is dark and light. There is day and night. There is male and female. Every single atom has a positive and negative charge. In the yin and yang symbol the dark and light are not on opposite sides of a line. They are actually nestled together and in the dark is a point of light and in the light is a point of dark.
One of the most startling realizations that happens on this journey back to your authentic self and back to life is you begin to realize that the challenges of your life are not here because you have done something wrong, God is punishing you, they did something wrong. Your challenges are here to help you see more clearly this conditionseparate self that you have taken on.
I call it look to unhook. The more you can begin to see fear, oh my God I lived in so much fear. I lived in dread and I tried to eat it away, drink it away, smoke it away, busy it away, kill myself it away. It wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t until I learned how to turn and be curious, to actually begin to explore the experience of dread. I had to do it in my body first before I could do it in the story in my head. As I did, it began to lose its power over me.
Our challenges are tailor made. We so often are a victim to our challenges so we don’t gather the gifts that are there. We so often feel that we have to fight with our challenges so we don’t gather the gifts that are there. If we can begin to change our relationship in that way, to understand that our challenges are here in order to show us something, all of a sudden we get very curious and we begin to explore. That’s who we naturally are.
We are naturally curious and our curiosity has gotten caught in this world of struggle out here. This work is about freeing it up so you can show up for your life and unhook
from what tightens you so that you can come back. It seems to me that this is a school room and our challenges are our teachers.
Marc: On the one hand what you’re saying seems so simple. I mean, simple in its elegance.
On the other hand it’s so difficult.
Mary: Yes, because we’ve been conditioned completely to struggle. In this book I did a tenweek at the end of each chapter is an invitation to begin to strengthen your ability to be curious about what is going on and your ability to be spacious. That’s the heart. We start with just a few minutes a day, if that calls to you. If people have been doing it for longer they can do it more.
We need to learn how to develop this exquisite tool of this brain using it to pay attention to what is rather than fix, change and rearrange. We need to open this brain again that had to, the heart brain, that had to be shut down when we were young. It was not safe to have this alive, aware innocence open and available to life. We had to shut it down.
I can’t tell you how many people have said not only does this work make sense but also that they feel like they come home when they come home to the heart. It’s like learning a language. That’s why I did this at the end of each chapter, a tenweek series, so slowly you can develop that so you can show up for your life rather than always struggling with your life.
Marc: Something, Mary, that’s coming up for me as you’re speaking is I’ll often meet people, not just in their teens or 20s who are dealing with the kinds of challenges we’re speaking of, but people in their 60s and 70s who are still repeating the same negative thinking, struggles, compulsions over and over. It feels to me, I’ve notice that it’s never too late.
Mary: Never, ever, ever too late. Once a person asked Stephen Levine, “How long does this take?” Do this and get done with it. He said, “It’s the work of a lifetime.” What I add to it, to hear this message. Really what we’re talking about is the language of consciousness. What we have been living in is the language of unconsciousness. It’s based on fear, it’s glued together with judgment and it’s always trying to get rid of what it doesn’t like and get to what it does like. This never brings us the peace we long for.
This is the language of consciousness, the ability to be curious about what is going on, the ability to not go to war with it so that we open up and begin to receive all the gifts. For heaven’s sakes, in all the great myths of the world when the hero or the heroine is going to get the magic wand or the Holy Grail, they have to go to the difficult places.
They have to go to the mountain and in the cave where the wild boar lives that has killed everybody that has ever gone there. You have to get three hairs from the tail of the board and then bring them to the white witch of the north and she makes a potion and that opens up the doorway to where the magic wand is.
We’re learning how to become conscious, which we thought it was about rising above. I did. When I started waking up in the ‘60s I was going for unending, orgasmic bliss.
Thankfully that didn’t work. It’s learning how to be here. This is what we long for more than anything, is to learn how to show up for reality rather than always trying to create or fix reality. This is coming home.
In fact, Joseph Campbell, the wonderful author and professor at Sarah Lawrence, that created many books on myth. He was our most beloved teacher on mythology. At the beginning of my first book I put a quote from the beginning of The Power of Myth, the quote that he put there. This is what he says. “People say that what we’re searching for is the meaning to life. I don’t think that’s what we’re searching for at all. We’re searching for the experience of being alive so that our experiences on the physical plain resonate in our very innermost being and we again know the rapture of being alive.”
I believe this so strongly that in my world our world will be healed one person at a time. The last chapter is called The Song of the Heart. You look at our world and you see that there is so much suffering on our planet because we are living through a phase where we’re addicted to suffering. Slowly and surely we’re beginning to open up into the place beyond struggle.
One person at a time, when you begin to heal the war inside of you and believe you me, compulsion will be your teacher on that and that war doesn’t work, you become a healing presence in the world. As you go to the grocery store or you drive down the freeway you are with life in a way that heals it and that makes a difference.
Marc: You’re reminding me how I think human beings, when we don’t know our power, when we don’t know the power of our hearts, when we don’t know the power of our soul, our
spirit, we feel powerless. We’re clueless as to what’s possible in our own selfexpression and how we show up.
Mary: I don’t call it becoming powerful. I call it becoming empowered. You become whole. A whole person is not a perfect person. Remember, every single atom is made out of positive and negative charge. We are all a dance of dark and light. We’ve gotten into this strange idea that if we can just get ourselves together and be perfect then everything will be okay. That never happens.
There’s a quote that I put in Belonging to Life at the end of it, a Zen quote I absolutely love, “Freedom comes when we’re without anxiety about nonperfection.” Wow.
Compulsions will help you integrate all of these parts that you thought were unacceptable. They come into the wholeness that you are. Then your energy, literally if you walk into a room and you don’t even say anything to anybody you make a difference. The field of your energy is present and flowing. Remember the meadow again.
We come back into the flow of life. We are the flow of life. Life flows through us. Oh my God, I’m not smart enough to write all my books. I’m really not. My greatest strength is I know I’m not smart enough so I just let go. It just pours through me. People say, “You’re an author,” and I say really I’m more of a scribe actually. That’s what happens the more you integrate all these parts. Compulsions and how we’ve dealt with them is about trying to get rid of parts and that is just endless heartache.
Let’s incorporate, let’s include, let’s become whole so that we become a part of the healing of our planet.
Marc: Which is something that it seems like we must do. As you were quoting Joseph Campbell, this is a life’s work. To me that’s a powerful way to context it because what do you mean a lifetime? In a way the learning never stops. That takes it out of the quick fix mentality and lets us be this beautiful work in progress.
Mary: Fascinated, absolutely fascinated. There’s something I want to add here that I think is very important. I had the good grace to spend a lot of time with Brian Swimme. He’s a mathematician and just, oh my goodness, just one of the most aware, intelligent, beautiful hearts on this planet. With Thomas Berry, he did something. They were both in Seattle I think in the early ‘90s. They took like 10 or 12 of the major evolutionary
shifts that have happened on this planet and they showed how as the old is dying and the new is being born the old is very chaotic as the winds of the new come in.
We are in that time. We are in the time of moving from the Cenozoic to the Echozoic era. We are living in the time of a shift of eras. The whole fearbased mind that has become addicted to struggle now its time is passing. It rises up just like a star expands before it collapses into a black hole. We look on this planet and we go, “Oh my God, Isis and Ebola and cancer and all of this.”
I have a couple of armchairs on the moon and I just invite people to come and sit with me and look at this whole thing from a broader perspective. You will see that the old is dying but something new, something very alive, something that is from this main brain or heart is being born. I see it everywhere. Of course, I hang out with people that are interested in this.
Those people are going out and they’re seeding the world. I really, truly have a great vision. It may not happen in my lifetime but something is happening and it is a healing on our planet the likes of which we have longed for for a long time.
I say in this last chapter, The Song of the Heart, that you are a part of this healing. As you heal the war inside of you, and compulsions will show you war doesn’t heal anything whether you’re warring with your compulsions or you’re warring with a neighboring country. As you heal the war inside of you, the war of struggle that brings so much suffering, you become a part of the healing of our planet.
Marc: That is a beautiful statement and a beautiful prayer and a beautiful affirmation. May it be so for each one of us and for all of us. I feel like we’ve just begun.
Mary: Yes, that is true. That is happening.
Marc: When I say we I’m talking about me and you. It feels like we’ve scratched the surface of what you have to say. I would just love for you, Mary, to share with viewers and listeners how we can stay in touch with you and your world and what we should know about.
Mary: They can to go MaryOMalley.com. MALLEY, no apostrophe. I do retreats. My next retreat is going to be in Denmark this summer. Then back in Hawaii, which is such a
fantastic place to life yourself up out of your everyday world and come to such an exquisite place that invites you into what Joseph Campbell is talking about, the rapture of being alive. We explore in these retreats how you can look to unhook from your story of struggle.
I also do phone groups and phone counseling all over the world. Then there is a new website that we have created for the new book. It’s just What’s In the Way Is the Way. It is getting just so amazing the endorsements that this book is getting. It’s very easy if you’re inclined to purchase the book to go to that website. Besides seeing all of the wonderful people that are saying yes to this book.
If your listeners would like I invite them to email me at awaken@MaryOMalley.com. There’s three cards that we can send them. One is a question mark which reminds you to be curious. One is a heart which reminds you to respond with your heart. One says, “Soft belly,” that reminds you to relax out of the world of struggle. Take a big, deep breath and show up for what life is showing you.
Marc: Mary, thank you so much. Thank you for being such an inspiration and such a wise woman. I so appreciate you.
Mary: Thank you, it’s been a joy.
Marc: It’s been great to speak with you and I’m so appreciating how you deliver such a beautiful message. May it get out there more and more.
Mary: Thank you, Marc. Thanks.
Marc: Thank you. Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David on behalf of The Future of Healing online conference. I’ve been with Mary O’Malley and there’s lots more to come, my friends. Take care.