In 1960, when Muriel Nellis was a young wife and mother, she decided to launch a promising business idea. Even though she had previously worked as a radio writer and producer in Philadelphia and New York, her bank told her she couldn’t get a $150 loan to buy an electric typewriter unless her husband or father signed the papers.
Muriel fought back. She not only convinced the bank president to give her the loan, but went on to create and self-publish an innovative line of children’s educational coloring books that were distributed widely in drugstores throughout the nation and shipped overseas to Army exchange bases. When the Kennedy children fell in love with them, she received a letter from the White House commending her for the project, which introduced kids to different languages and cultures.
From there she became the editor of a music and entertainment fan magazine and the publisher of Ladies Circle, a women’s magazine. Her bold first covers (the Beatles on their first tour of the US for the fan magazine and Jackie Kennedy for Ladies Circle) helped pull both magazines out of bankruptcy and on to years of success.
Muriel’s career in publishing only took off from there. After writing The Female Fix, one of two early books on the problem of women’s addiction, she became involved as a spokesperson for what she believed to be the most important problem for women and children at the time. Soon she was asked to serve with First Lady Rosalind Carter on the President’s Commission on Mental Health, and the NIH contracted her to write a book educating teachers and other professionals about how to recognize the signs of substance abuse in their students and clients. Later, after designing and directing the first national conference on Drugs, Alcohol and Women’s Health, she helped set up the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NCADI).
Around that time a friend’s book was rejected by an agent, and in characteristic fashion, Muriel decided to do it herself. After she successfully sold the manuscript to a major publisher and brokered the contract, she ended up establishing her own agency, Literary and Creative Artists. With a marketing campaign that began with securing a contract with Walt Whitman’s storied publisher (Houghton Mifflin), Literary and Creative Artists became a top-selling agency for the New Age breakout book category. Soon authors originally considered “New Age” went “mainstream,” and over three-dozen other thought-leader writers became clients. Most recently, her agency represented the brilliant film director David Lynch for his book Catching the Big Fish.
Now, more than fifty-seven years after her bank refused to give her a loan, Muriel Nellis looks back on the way that women’s roles and expectations have changed and the timeless tools a woman needs to succeed in today’s world.
Linda Egenes: It seems like you encountered many of the same issues women today struggle with, juggling career and child rearing, home and office.
Nellis: I finally learned that juggling is much easier if you practice Transcendental Meditation. TM was life-saving to me. Like many women today, I have had to fulfill so many roles at once. I had a great many obligations and responsibilities to different worlds of people. I literally had to be my own COO and CEO for my businesses, and my civic life, as well as wife and mother. I was under so much tension and stress trying to manage all these dimensions simultaneously.
Once I started TM, I found I could focus on the specific activity I was engaged in at the moment without the noise of all the other worlds that would crowd in otherwise.
Meditating made my creative journey joyful. It was almost as though TM activated a kind of organizational logic in my brain. It made it possible for me to explore and experience many more opportunities almost simultaneously without feeling that they were competing with each other
Otherwise I’m convinced I could never have accomplished all that I’ve done. I know I couldn’t.
Linda: You’ve been practicing TM for over 45 years. How did you become interested?
Muriel: My son, Adam Pressman, got me interested when he was in high school and asked me to come to an introductory lecture with him. We have always been close. Even when he was a young child, I always enjoyed talking with him about everything. It may explain why he invited my opinion about TM.
After listening to the lecture, I agreed that it sounded like a reasonable idea. So, he learned to meditate, and later became a TM teacher. Within a couple of years Adam and I decided that what he was experiencing would be good for me too.
He was right. We had always shared a belief that all things could be better resolved or remedied by some calm and logic. I think that’s why meditation appealed to me as well. I’m just grateful that Adam asked me to come and take a look. It was so natural to do. And it has become another of life’s wonderful experiences that we share as mother and son.
Linda: With such a busy life, how did you fit it in?
Muriel: It was on and off at first. The first couple of years I wasn’t that well organized. Then I found I could meditate anywhere — even on a train. At work I could excuse myself from a meeting that was going on for too many hours and find a nearby hallway or closet where I could meditate. Everyone else might be wearing down but I’d feel as though I had just had the best nap of my life, no matter where I was or whatever pressures may have surrounded me.
All my life I suffered from migraine headaches, but after starting TM, they became less frequent. Now I no longer have migraines. At this age, there are times when I run out of whatever spark or energy I’ve had. I can feel the tiredness take over. But once I meditate I come out feeling so refreshed, not tired at all.
Linda: You were a trailblazer in so many ways, overcoming barriers for women. Is it easier today?
Muriel: When I sit back and think about how many generational changes I’ve lived through, I’m amazed. In many ways, it’s an entirely different civilization than the one in which I tried to find my way. Yet some things never change.
To overcome the barriers that women still face, each woman must find inner strength, the belief in herself to prevail. You’ve got to believe that all things are possible.
And you have to gather all the tools that can enable you. I think that Transcendental Meditation is one of the major tools for a woman because it imparts the real strength and resilience that comes uniquely from inner calmness, that defies the uncertainty that many women suffer from.
There are enough things happening around the world that might inspire women to feel uncertain, and enough voices reminding women how imperfect they may be. But if
women listen to that noise, it’s only because they don’t trust the dreams of themselves. And that’s one of the reasons TM is so important, because that’s where you find your genius, your strength: inside yourself. To come out of a meditation and suddenly recognize something new, in your own head or in your own heart, you can be amazed at the discovery, and realize I can. Or, Why can’t I? Or maybe I need to find out something that I haven’t asked about before.
What I really gain, every time I meditate, is a whole new sense of myself. When I stepped out of a meeting to meditate, and came back newly alert and focused, I knew that I’d just gotten in touch with a source of energy and coherent strength always within me. It’s a profound tool that every woman owns, and it’s all inside. It’s uniquely yours.
You may latch on to someone else or something else for strength every so often, but you can’t always sustain it. You can sustain your own peaceful power inside of you. And you can take it anywhere.
Linda: I understand that you’re now 86 and still acquiring manuscripts for your agency. What’s your secret to staying active as you age
Muriel: After starting TM, I felt much more alive and stimulated by everything instead of feeling pressured. I learned that there could be any number of different pathways that I was more open to exploring. There are so many levels of parallel worlds that I’ve occupied for one or another reason but I’ve always stayed open. I’m always questioning, investigating more than I know.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been left to stay here on earth even now. I have more questions than answers. I’m always curious. I love the business of sluicing out new information and then maybe a new creative opportunity to put that into action. There’s so much. If I lived two lifetimes here, I still wouldn’t get to know enough about all the people who inspire me, to touch and feel and smell all the things that fascinate me.
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.