Guest Post: Mary-Rose MacColl on Swimming, Meditation and calming the Monkey Mind

November 10, 2015

Mary-Rose MacColl Picture

Today I welcome bestselling author Mary-Rose MacColl to LOVEthatBOOK to share her thoughts on swimming as a type of writerly meditation. Her latest novel, Swimming Home was published on September 23rd.

You can read my review of Swimming Home here.

Mary-Rose MacColl

As a writer, I have to be able to find a way to still my monkey mind and get to the place stories live. Perhaps other writers find this easy. I do not. I have read that meditation is a helpful tool, but I am not very good at meditating. I have a monkey mind the size of Montana which always finds something else to do when I am supposed to be meditating. In fact, I am terrible at meditating. I have repeat-failed Meditation 101 and would be expelled from the meditation academy if there were one.

I swim, sometimes in a pool, sometimes in the dam near our home, and until I saw a shark, in the sea. I swim and it’s the best way I know to still my mind. In winter, I go before dawn to the university pool near where I live. When the conditions are just right, steam comes off the water as the sun rises. It’s a beautiful time of day, the water warmer than the air outside the pool, that soft winter light. And until they chopped the gum trees down, I could pick up leaves as I swam and carry them to the end and throw them up onto the deck.

I have other pools, at least half a dozen, to empty my monkey mind into. The advantage of pool-swimming is that notwithstanding the gum leaves, an occasional toad or rogue noodle, it’s mostly just you and a black line. Your mind wanders but you bring it back, to your arms up and over, your breathing, your self. I have all my best ideas in the pool.

To me, this process is the opposite of surfing the internet, and I should know as I am an excellent internet surfer. Frankly, I wish it was called something else, for surfing is far too dignified a term for such a thing. Perhaps stodging or staunching or blecking the internet, a word that might describe a hopelessly egobound, moribund process that leads only to small shots of relief in a sea of unhappiness. The trouble for writers might be that the internet is both our tool and our trasher but you have to find a way around the problem. The internet helps us to history, place and people. But it also feeds our egos, which don’t know any good stories. It helps us avoid the page.

One of my writer friends walks. This is her way of moving the stories from her head to the page. Another cycles – she’s prolific on the page and buys faster and faster bicyles to keep up with herself. I think less sitting at a desk and more moving, especially in the natural world, would see us write more books.

In the dam where I swim, my only wild water swim since I saw a shark in the ocean (and that’s another story), I see ducklings, waterbirds, and listen as sulphur-crested cockatoos wheel overhead and screech to greet the day. I am often the only person there. Imagine that, in the world as it is now. What a gift.


Swimming Home is Mary-Rose’s fifth novel. She is an internationally bestselling author with her novel In Falling Snow, which was published in 2012. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and son and is an ordinary swimmer.

You can find out more about Mary-Rose and read more fascinating insights into her novels at her website

© 2015 Melissa Sargent