I am proud to come from New Zealand, the first self-governing country in the world in which women gained the right to vote in 1893. More recently, New Zealand was also the first democracy to have all key Government roles fulfilled by women, e.g. Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Governor General. I also come from a long tradition of strong women and I feel I owe it to my courageous and heroic forebears to do all that I can to stand tall and true in my own life.
So, on International Women's Day (IWD) 2016, this amazing and inspiring celebration of women worldwide that has been observed for over 100 years, I want to let other women know about how mindfulness has transformed my life over the past thirty years, and how it can transform their lives as well, which is why I decided to write 'Mindfulness for Women'.
As I worked on the book I realised that for me personally, many of the themes stemmed from pride in my NZ heritage as a woman. I also came to see it as a tribute to all the wonderful and gutsy women who have populated my life, from my grandmother, my numerous leggy and confident aunts, my mother and my three amazing sisters; to the key friendships formed in my all-girls high school and the women's Buddhist communities that I have been involved with for decades. Many of these friendships are still going strong today.
I have met women who have achieved incredible things. I am not just talking about careers or outward achievements, but women who in very difficult circumstances - whether illness, pain or other life situations - have managed to create a satisfying and joyful life for themselves through practising mindfulness and the associated qualities of kindness and compassion. This is why I am deeply passionate about women being able to use mindfulness to fulfil their potential.
At school in New Zealand in the seventies, girls were encouraged to dream big and to understand that obstacles were there to be overcome. At that time I was super-fit. I adored the mountains and wilderness and my dream was to be a wildlife ranger. But there was a hitch. The New Zealand Wildlife Service didn't employ women but I wasn't going to be deterred. At 15 years old I went to see a Director at their Head Office and asked what I would have to do to convince him to employ me. He told me to get a very good qualification, which was when I decided to become a veterinary surgeon in the knowledge that this would be the ideal skill to have when working with the magnificent creatures I would be living amongst in the mountains and the sea.
You may know my story and how this wasn't to be as I seriously injured my spine when I was 16. It was devastating to lose that particular dream. But the conditioning of being told "you can do anything as a woman" had a huge impact on me and gave me the courage and confidence to found Breathworks - an international mindfulness organisation - many years later.
I was happy to co-write Mindfulness for Women with a journalist, Claire Irvin, a dynamic magazine editor with her finger on the pulse of many of the issues facing modern women. Claire's experience will also resonate with many readers: like many younger women she juggles a full-on career with bringing up her two small children. She has to balance countless demands and organise her life with military precision.
To Claire, mindfulness and meditation were initially just more things to add to the never-ending 'to-do' list. But, as we worked together, Claire became increasingly curious about mindfulness and decided to keep a practice diary. This has become an integral part of the book and I am sure many women will relate to Claire's experience of initial resistance followed by genuine excitement as she began to reap the fruits of taking time each day to stop and get to know her own mind and heart. Also essential to this book are our moving and gritty case studies of women who have found mindfulness, sometimes in the most harrowing of circumstances.
My wish is for women from all walks of life to read the book and discover that inner peace is only a breath away. To find self-belief and to stand tall as they go about their lives. Most of all, my wish is that we recognise how we are continually shaping the world with our thoughts and actions and that, with the help of mindfulness, we can become positive agents of change and transformation in the world. This is what IWD is all about: women believing in themselves and other women and campaigning to make the world a better place for women living today as well as future generations.
To purchase, read more about 'Mindfulness for Women' and access the guided meditations in the book visit www.mindfulness4women.com
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