Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 24, 2005

Special to The Times

Not all parents can say they have learned from their child.

Max and Julie Bailey are among the exceptions.

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Mary Bailey Whittle, now living in Maryland, last month published her first book, Soaring in Life. The insights, examples and guidance in the book were designed to help readers move toward a world of meaning, hope and freedom.

“The intention behind the book was to bring (readers) peace, joy and make them happier,” explained Whittle. “I wrote it for them. If they can take that away, even for a short period of time, then my job will be done.”

Until Whittle asked her mom to help proofread the book, neither Bailey knew she was writing one. They had suspicions that something was going on. Whenever they would visit, Whittle would make excuses to run errands that would take far longer than they should have. She escaped to write on her laptop.

And Julie Bailey noticed a gradual change in her daughter, especially in her interaction with her sons Nathan and Shaun, now 11 and 12 years old.

In fact, it was what Whittle saw in her children – and didn’t like — that gave rise to the basic concepts in her book. “Children provide perfect little reflections of the adults that they are around, and when I saw some of these mirror images bounding back at me through their behavior, I was…well, appalled.

My little reflections were sending back some nasty images. Something had to change.”

And so began her search. Through a long period of study and practice she developed the concepts explained in “Soaring in Life.”

Her two boys became her first pupils, although Whittle was quick to explain that she “never sat down and formally taught them.” She waited until something happened that could be used to demonstrate the ideas, especially in conflict resolutions beginning when they were 3 and 4 years old.

As a result, said Julie Bailey, she has “seen a maturity in them that is unusual for their age.”

Mrs. Bailey is trying to put into practice what her daughter writes about. “I have applied some of it,” she said, although she’s taking is slowly. “It’s something I want to incorporate in my life,” but gradually.

What impressed Max Bailey was “looking at the everyday things and finding beauty and spirituality when we usually don’t even see them.”

He also likes the concept concisely put as “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“She has helped me to look for the beauty in everybody,” said Julie Bailey.

And, added her husband, “We communicate a lot about a lot more things and more in depth” than ever before.”

Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Whittle admits to being very well behaved, a child who “conformed very readily to her parents’ expectations.”

“I do remember questioning a lot of values around me,” but Whittle said she didn’t talk about them much.

Her career path became firm when, in the ninth grade, she took a career assessment and scored high in philosophy, writing and psychology.

And then something interesting happened. “I had my path decided and was plodding down it, which meant at the time that I was working part-time as a psychotherapist in my own private practice, part-time as an assistant in a law office and going to school full-time in order to get ‘officially certified’ as a psychotherapist.

From there, I was going to become a full-time psychotherapist with a very successful private practice of course. This was about the time that the ‘something interesting’ happened.”

That’s when it hit her that she should write a book.

“It was something like a hard bang, followed by internal fireworks.” The idea of writing a book wasn’t a welcome one, but the urge couldn’t be ignored. “I did it because I felt I should. It was a calling. I would never have not done it.”

To explain her ideas more readily, Whittle calls on the images set forth in the 1970 Richard Bach best-seller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story.

She explained that while searching for a metaphor for her concepts, she was driving around and saw a flock of seagulls in a field, a sight she has never seen again.

Feedback from the first agents and publishers was not so promising, however. They told her to take out the reference to the independent seagull of Bach’s book. “I didn’t want to take it out. It had to be there,” she said.

Through an acquaintance of her husband John, she began working with PublishAmerica, and the book officially came out January 15.

At the beginning of the book is a poem Whittle wrote that ties together all of her ideas. She uses verses of the poem to lead into each chapter.

The need for the poem came as she was proofreading the book in the galley form sent by the publisher. “I reread the book in a way I hadn’t seen. I felt torn because I knew it could be better,” she said. “I needed something to sort of summarize it.”

The first stanza of the poem “came to mind and wouldn’t go away. It felt like dictation; it just kind of came.” She said the poem took about 30 minutes to write, and she didn’t changed a word of it.

One of the major concepts of the book is aligning oneself with the Sacred and with the Soul. Whittle “deliberately left those terms undefined.” She wanted to reach a wide audience with her book and to let each reader determine for himself what is sacred.

She believes the Sacred is the underlying essence of everything. “It could be called by some to be God,” she said, but once a person tries to name it, the Sacred becomes defined, limited.

During the time she was trying to get the book published, Whittle started developing a course to teach her ideas. The book had not been available to use with the course. Now that it is, she will be able to redo the course and expand it more.

Always scared of standing in front of an audience, Whittle found herself being very controlled. Much to her surprise, she discovered she enjoyed teaching. With each class – she’s given four so far – she has become more fluid and flexible and more comfortable with her students.

The course, too, has evolved. “Every time I do it, I revamp it.” The full course consists of eight weekly two-hour sessions.

Now Whittle is marketing her book, primarily in the area around her home in Maryland. She plans on visiting her parents in Demopolis this summer and hopes to have book-signings while she is here.

She also said she is developing a one-day class to cover the highlights of the concepts in her book. If there is enough interest, she could teach the course while in Demopolis. Anyone interested in taking the class can contact by email at

Soaring in Life is available on-line from Books-a-Million, Barnes and Noble and Amazon as well as through the PublishAmerica web site. Her parents also have copies of the book.

“There is nothing in the book that comes from me,” she said. “If there’s any wisdom in the book, it didn’t come from me.”