Maria McKenzie decided to write an autobiography when it dawned on her that if she helped even one person through similar challenging territory, it would be worth it. On it’s face More is the story of a husband and wife regaining intimacy after infidelity and of a woman overcoming debilitating PTSD derived from childhood trauma. The journey takes the couple on a year long “Love & Ecstasy” training, where they discover sacred sexuality can be a doorway not only to physical and emotional intimacy but also to the divine mystery of life. As our Author of the Day, McKenzie tells us all about it.
Please give us a short introduction to what More is about.
Have you ever wanted More?
Not more stuff . . . or success . . . or fame . . . but more intimacy, more connection, more mystery, more awe. When Mariah McKenzie finds her husband and best friend in bed together, she is launched on a forbidding and transcendent journey.
Reeling from a life turned upside down, Mariah and her husband, Jake, resolve to search together for a deeper connection–for more. They decide to participate in Margot Anand’s Year-Long Love and Ecstasy (aka “Tantra”) Training. As they delve into sacred sexuality together, they learn sex is a doorway not only to physical and emotional intimacy, but also to the divine mystery of life. Mariah glimpses a different reality, which includes wildly mystical moments replete with astounding visions and prophetic dreams. The awakening, however, also releases repressed memories of childhood trauma. As Jake helps her navigate these experiences, they open more fully to one another and rekindle their trust.
Mariah begins to see life from a deeper perspective. Mariah’s inner journey becomes a kind of striptease, at first exposing fear, anxiety and victim identity, but ultimately revealing a woman, who revels in saying, “yes” to Life with its sacred as well as profane moments.
More is a love story, a healing story, a spiritual adventure.
What inspired you to write this book?
More is a story that I lived for twenty years before deciding to write about it. I was moved to write about it, when it dawned on me that if I helped even one person through similar challenging territory, it would be worth it. Writing the story was also a healing journey for me–a shamanic recapitulation of the events, if you will, allowing me to both share the story and be free from it as well.
In which way is More a spiritual adventure?
My husband and I have been on many physical adventures: hiking 450 miles up the coast, driving from Washington State to the Yucatan peninsula in an old pick-up truck with a wooden canopy, rock climbing big walls, scuba diving deep reefs, traveling on a shoestring to distant lands, but the journey that is the subject of More was something else altogether and in some ways significantly more daunting, requiring each of us to dive deep into our inner world, to wrestle with mental demons and to investigate what was really going on—to discern what our direct experience of the Truth was. Along the way, we had to face our fears and let go of conditioned ideas and cherished beliefs, opening to the mystery of the unknown. A spiritual adventure like this at first blush feels like standing naked on a cliff and leaning forward intending only to discover for yourself if there is an unseen force other than gravity that will break your fall.
How difficult was it to share such intimate details from your life with others?
At first it was tricky. I would shy away from the details of various experiences, feeling shame, but my writing coach kept encouraging me to be as authentic as possible. When I did, I discovered a vibrancy to the storytelling that was missing before and it helped me embrace the final piece to my own healing and a final piece of the story: our lives are not something to be ashamed of, not something to hide, rather the grist in the mill that helps reveal something more—a finer essence. And, when we share authentically, we open our true selves to others. I like to think of it as moving from a feeling of being naked to naked being, which is one of the underlying messages of More.
In which way has meditation changed your life?
On a normal, daily basis, we barely notice the conditioned thoughts that stream through and clog up our head and propel us this way and that. Before learning to meditate, I thought I was my thoughts. I began to see I was something more than my thoughts because I could watch them come and go. Meditation became a science experiment, affording me the opportunity to dissect what was happening in my mind. I discovered I could witness thoughts and didn’t have to be controlled by them.
I found that the opening that arises from watching thoughts (not trying to control them or attempting to shoo them away) is profoundly relaxing and alive and immediate.
Meditation is a tool for uncovering the truth. Meditation is the mill, separating wheat from chaf. Meditation actually helps the brain to rewire itself, so for someone like me suffering from PTSD, it means I have a method for overcoming the debilitating anxiety or “fight or flight” response to certain triggers. I no longer feel like a button constantly on the verge of being pushed.
These days, I think of meditation as mental hygiene. Like dental hygiene, I endeavor to do it daily, and life is simply better and hurts less as a result.
Besides writing, which other secret skills do you have?
I love cooking and storytelling, painting, rock climbing and sex, but I think my greatest secret skill is in saying YES! to life, in loving life and in knowing that Life is “goodness through and through.”
In which ways have your journey brought you and Jake closer together?
The journey gave us the tools for intimacy. It also gave us techniques for better sex, better communicating, and clarity of mind. The journey also gave us a common goal—together we became intrigued with the possibility of transforming our lives from broken to connected, from the realm of the mundane to the realm of the mystical. We saw within our very ordinary suburban life the potential of embracing together the extraordinary mystery of Life.
Move was well received and won an award. What was the experience like?
More covers some challenging and non-traditional territory. I worried that it might not be appreciated. When it won SILVER in the 2016 Living Now Awards in the category of Sexuality and Femininity, I relaxed, feeling that someone had read and received the message I hoped it would deliver: that life can be challenging and confusing and can throw curve balls at us and that nevertheless can be a fertile ground for experiencing so much more than we fear—for experiencing deep intimacy, connection, mystery and awe—if only we are willing to do self-inquiry, to investigate what is true and to trust that “more” is being revealed all the time.
How important was it for you to find inner peace in order to connect with Jake better?
It was important to discover that inner peace is not dependent on the condition of my life, so much as the willingness to be present to what is going on in any given moment, right now. Inner peace happens not as a result of the journey but in the gap between thoughts where gratitude, acceptance and presence always live.
Why did you decide to write this autobiography now?
Since we were first married, I thought I would write a book one day. Previously, I had written and published articles as a freelance travel writer and personal essayist. When we were catapulted on this journey, I stopped writing for others, writing only in my journals for almost twenty years because I felt I had nothing to say—no “expertise”—I was floundering in the dark. Gradually, I began to appreciate that the process of floundering in the dark was a story unto itself. When the company I worked for went bankrupt, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. Jake encouraged me to write my story—our story—then held my feet to the fire, asking daily, “Did you write today?” Simply put, it was time.
Tell us more about the title… why the “sacred and the profane”?
Titles are a mini book synopsis in a way. I wanted the title to hint at the fact that it was about a spiritual journey and that spiritual journeys are not typically playful romps in a field of flowers and butterflies leading directly to blissful inner peace, but rather courageous, dangerous, adventurous travels to a raging internal battlefield, requiring deep courage to look into the most challenging, perhaps shameful, moments of our lives—to re-live the unmentionable, and to challenge cherished beliefs.
We tend to think of spiritual and sacred together, I wanted to give credit to the profane grist that gets us there.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What does an average writing day look like for you?
For me writing is a process that includes much more than putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Writing requires me to pay attention to the details of life. I do a lot of background writing work that includes unstructured time when I allow an idea to simmer—to run into other ideas and meld. I find that ideas need time to brew, which requires undistracted, but also unstructured time, where I am neither focusing on something else, nor directly thinking about the idea itself, but rather am gently musing on it, rolling it around, letting it be in my awareness without confronting and controlling it. Often then the idea begins to take shape on its own so that when I sit down to write, the first draft comes out pretty easily.
I also, however, appreciate the discipline of putting pen to paper and writing—no matter what—of it being okay to write a crappy draft, just for the sake of writing something. I greatly appreciate the power of making commitments, so while I allow myself unstructured time, I also commit to a writing schedule if my unstructured musings have not brought me to the point of a easy flowing first draft. I still have to sit down and write—to meet my self-imposed schedule. These schedules differ depending on what is going on in my life. While writing the book, I wrote everyday, but at other times, my commitment might be as little as once every two weeks. I learned long ago when committing to meditate everyday, that it was not nearly as important how long I sat, as that I sat for the time I committed, which might only be for five minutes a day. I treat writing similarly.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on a series of articles, generally with a theme of mindfulness, juiciness and exploring the nature of intimacy. My next article is called “On Being Naked and Naked Being.” I also periodically teach workshops and lead writing groups and am active in the memoir community of San Diego. I do have another book in mind, potentially called Less—a kind of sequel to More. It is simmering in the background, bumping into other ideas and melding.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can find me on my website: www.sacredjourneytomore.com
You can also find me on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004298085734
And on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14968219.Mariah_McKenzie
I’d love to engage in conversation and if anyone feels moved to reach me directly, they can do so at Mariah@mariah-mckenzie.com