Interview with Whitney Stewart, author of 'Give Me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation

Whitney Stewart began writing young adult biographies and meditating after she met and interviewed the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, the subject of two of her books, and lived with a Tibetan family in India. For her next biographies, she trekked with Sir Edmund Hillary in Nepal, interviewed Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in her Rangoon home, and climbed along China’s Great Wall to research the lives of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong. In 2004, Stewart published a picture book about the Buddha, which contains a foreword and a meditation suggestion from the 14th Dalai Lama. In addition to nonfiction books, Stewart has published three middle-grade novels. In August 2005, Stewart was trapped in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and evacuated by helicopter from a rooftop. She returned home and volunteered as a creative writing teacher in the public schools. She discovered that her students suffered from post-Katrina stress. Using meditation, improvisation, and word play, Stewart taught her students to write about their lives.

Her latest book is Give Me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation.

You can find more about Whitney Stewart at her website at http://www.whitneystewart.com. Follow her at Twitter at www.twitter.com/mindfulneworlns and www.twitter.com/whitneystewart2 and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/New.Orleans.Kids.Author.

About Give Me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation

Whitney Stewart’s straightforward, non-denominational guide makes meditation simple. It covers the basics in a concise thirty-three pages: Why meditation is good for you, how to sit, how to let your mind rest, even what to do if you feel weird or uncomfortable during meditation. Most important, it provides sixteen accessible, useful meditations you can easily learn at home. Age ten to adult.

Stewart’s top reasons to meditate:

*To focus inwardly

*To slow down internally

*To develop awareness

*To understand your mind

*To increase tolerance

*To experience “BIG MIND”

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Whitney. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Give me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation.

In fourth grade, I collected a set of poems along with a set from my best friend, Suzy, and we “published” them as a book. I think that is the point when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I still have that hand-made book. In tenth-grade I began submitting stories to children’s book publishers (none were accepted), and I studied children’s literature and child language acquisition at Brown University, with a plan to become a children’s book writer. In 1986, my mother and I took a trip around the world, the highlight of which was a trek through Tibet and up into the Everest region of Nepal. During that trip, I became fascinated with Tibetan Buddhist culture and with the story of the 14th Dalai Lama. I went home and read everything I could on this Buddhist leader, and I wrote to people who knew him, including famed Austrian Heinrich Harrer who became the Dalai Lama’s tutor in Tibet after WWII. He told me that if I wanted to understand Tibetan culture I had to go to Dharamsala, India, the current home of the Dalai Lama. I did that and ended up living in the home of a Tibetan family. This led to four interviews of the Dalai Lama, the publication of my two children’s books about him, and my initiation into Buddhism and meditation. I have been practicing meditation for twenty-five years, and I have incorporated meditation in my author programs at schools and libraries around the world. After Hurricane Katrina, I volunteered as a creative writing teacher at a public school in New Orleans. I discovered that my students were so stressed and unable to focus that I decided to try non-denominational meditation techniques to help my students settle their bodies and relax their busy minds. Most of my students loved the techniques, so I decided to put them into a simple meditation guide that anyone, from any background, could use.

Q: I love your title. Can you tell us why you chose it?

Ah yes, my title—that came when one of my students yelled “Give me a break!” at a classmate. I decided to give all the students a break with meditation. And the “No-Fuss” part of the title needs no explanation. With my simple guide, you don’t need to go anywhere or do anything special in order to meditate.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

After I published a picture book about the life of the Buddha, and I incorporated a simple meditation technique that the Dalai Lama suggested, readers asked me for more meditation ideas. There are many books about meditation, but I wanted to publish a very simple, inexpensive one that gave readers easy tools without detailed commentary.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

My publisher has set up a Facebook book page for me, plugged my ebook online, and connected me with PR people. I have set up a special Twitter account through which to discuss meditation, mindfulness and health. You can find me there at @mindfulneworlns. I also post talk about meditation on my personal Facebook page, my children’s book writer Twitter account (@whitneystewart2), and I use simple meditational techniques, when appropriate, in my public talks.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

I have not found a non-denominational meditational ebook exactly like mine, one that includes a short explanation of meditation and seating posture and then goes straight to meditational practices. However, I love Susan Piver’s book Quiet Mind that includes six simple practices by leading Buddhist teachers. Two other great titles are Meditation for Dummies by Stephen Bodian, and Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. My ebook is a short and simple starter book, which could lead a reader to finding more detailed books on meditation or to finding a meditation teacher.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

On page 12, I discuss the reaction some of my students experienced when they first tried meditation. They told me they felt “weird.” This weird feeling came from a sense of self-consciousness and from the body’s discomfort when seated in an unfamiliar posture. In my book, I explain ways of following your discomfort or self-consciousness as it is expressed in the body, and then breathing into those sensations to allow them to dissipate.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

I am always writing. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t writing—except, say, right after the birth of my child or when I’ve been sick. I usually don’t write when I travel, but those trips always inspire new books. I just finished revising a middle-grade novel set in New Orleans. I look forward to the publication of that book, and I want to return to a young adult novel I started writing last spring. My next picture book entitled Creating Calm, which is a companion book to Becoming Buddha, will be illustrated by Australian artist Sally Rippin and published by Windy Hollow in Australia in 2013.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Whitney. Do you have any final words?

Thank you for your interest in my meditation ebook: Give Me A Break: No-Fuss Meditation. I wrote it to communicate simple meditation exercises to anyone who wants to reduce stress, improve health, develop inner wisdom, lead a happier life, and experience a natural state of mind.

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