14 May 2018


Research has shown that we come back refreshed from a holiday but that on average those benefits disappear within 2 weeks! (Reference link).

So is mindfulness longer lasting? What about meditation and other mind training practices? People do seem happier when they do them, they seem to smile more and are nicer to be around. But what does current research say?

Time for an update; there are some real problems yet this may be a good post to share…, but first,

                 Thought for the day

The odd thing about pleasure
Is that instead of fully enjoying what is here,
Being able to be fully present with it,
We are busy looking for more.

We miss the true depth of pleasure 

By being intoxicated with the possibility of more.

                     Zen Roshi Nancy Mujo Baker

Spoiler alert! If you do read on through this post, it may well be challenging! 

The challenge is that while there is some great new research confirming mindfulness and meditation’s many benefits, there are major problems within the research itself. But first, let us start on the bright side with an update…

Recent meditation research findings in brief

1. Meditation eases stress reactions
A new and rigorously designed mindfulness study showed that hormonal and inflammatory reactions to stress were reduced after meditation training.

Hoge EA et al : The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder Psych Res, Vol 262 April 2018, Pages 328-332

2. Meditation improves quality of life for breast cancer survivors.
Meditation was associated with significant decreases in depression, anxiety, perceived stress, and an increase in quality of life, satisfaction with life, post-traumatic growth and quality of sleep.

Significantly, participants had a high attendance rate in the program, which speaks to the likelihood of the applicability of the meditation program on an outpatient basis.

Yun MR et al : The Effects of Mind Subtraction Meditation on Breast Cancer Survivors' Psychological and Spiritual Well-being and Sleep Quality: A Randomized Controlled Trial in South Korea. Cancer Nurs. 2017 Sep/Oct;40(5):377-385. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000443.

3. Mindfulness may improve cognitive functioning in the elderly
After reviewing the scientific literature, researchers wrote "There is preliminary evidence that meditation can improve cognitive function."

Investigation of 6 Mindfulness Based Interventions in older people based upon MBSR and MBCT suggested positive effects on memory, executive function and processing speed.

However, most reports had a high risk of bias and sample sizes were small.

The only study with low risk of bias, large sample size and active control group reported no significant findings.

The conclusion?

More research is needed, and while meditation and mindfulness may well be useful for the elderly, maybe it is wise to start practicing at an early age!

Berk L et al : Can mindfulness-based interventions influence cognitive functioning in older adults? A review and considerations for future research. Aging Ment Health. 2017 Nov;21(11):1113-1120. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2016.1247423. Epub 2016 Nov 9.

4. Meditation reduces cortisol
Cortisol is popularly known as the stress hormone. Mental states such as worry and rumination over past or future events may prolong cortisol release, which in turn may contribute to pre-disease pathways and adversely affect physical health.

Meditation training has been suggested to increase self-reported mindfulness, which has been linked to reductions in such states. This is the first study to investigate self-reported mindfulness and resting cortisol output.

The results? Good! Meditation did lower the amount of cortisol in the body. The outcome?  Less cortisol, less stress, more capacity for joy.

Jacobs TL et al: Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat.
Health Psychol. 2013 Oct;32(10):1104-9. doi: 10.1037/a0031362. Epub 2013 Mar 25.

5. Mindfulness changes brain activity in just 8 weeks

In a landmark study (included here for its significance), Richard Davidson, Ph.D - seen here with HH the Dalai Lama- , and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, along with Jon Kabat-Zinn, put a group of stressed biotech employees through Kabat-Zinn's eight-week MBSR program.

They found that the employees who completed the program had more activity in the left prefrontal cortex—the happy, calm zone of the brain—than those who did not do the training.

This was the first study to demonstrate brain changes associated with a mindfulness-based practice.

Davidson RJ et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.
Psychosom Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;65(4):564-70.

6. Mindfulness changes brain structure
As well as brain function, it seems mindfulness changes brain structure. In this study higher levels of mindfulness accomplished through practice were associated with decreased grey matter volume in the right amygdala, and decreased grey matter volume in the left caudate.

These are parts of the brain that control anxiety and fear. Less anxiety and fear translates to less stress. Again, less stress means more joy.

Taren AA et al: Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults  PLoS ONE 8(5): e64574. 2013

7. Mindfulness and compassion change brain structure - but differently!
This study used functional MRI scans to investigated the brain changes associated with different types of mind trainings - in this case mindfulness, compassion practices and controls.

In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.

In the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity also decreased in response to positive or neutral images.

But among those who reported practicing compassion meditation most frequently outside of the training sessions, right amygdala activity tended to increase in response to negative images, all of which depicted some form of human suffering.

No significant changes were seen in the control group or in the left amygdala of any study participants.

We think these two forms of meditation cultivate different aspects of mind,” one of the researchers explains.

Since compassion meditation is designed to enhance compassionate feelings, it makes sense that it could increase amygdala response to seeing people suffer. 

Increased amygdala activation was also correlated with decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, which suggests that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself. 

‘Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”

Desbordes G et al : Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state Front Hum Neurosci. 2012; 6: 292.

BUT NOW FOR THE BIG QUESTION - and the challenge

Is it the mindfulness/meditation that is bringing about the changes?

Research shows Mindfulness benefits are similar to non-meditation based intervention

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress reduction Program (MBSR) has become famous and is now widely used based upon the science supporting it; and the positive experiences reported by those who take it up. There is no doubt it is beneficial.

However, a major question needs addressing… Is it the mindfulness itself or other components of the MBSR program that bring about the positive benefits?

This is the first study comparing MBSR to an active control program that was designed to have no mindfulness component, while being structurally equivalent to MBSR and credible to both patients and providers.

The result? MBSR had a extra benefit in reducing pain, but otherwise the two interventions were just as beneficial!

In other words, this study poses the possibility that it may not be the mindfulness on its own but the whole program package that produces the many benefits!

Given these provocative findings the research authors state “although our results do not undermine the substantial evidence supporting the effectiveness of MBSR, they do suggest that the active ingredient of mindfulness in MBSR is no more effective than alternative active ingredients present in the control program for the measures we employed. This conclusion represents an important shift in how we interpret the vast majority of MBSR outcomes in the extant literature”.

This suggests that future studies investigating mindfulness as a specific ingredient in MBSR include control groups designed to address the questions being addressed, and use behavioral or other more objective measures of intervention-specific skill acquisition.

MacCoon DG et al. The Validation of an Active Control Intervention for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Behav Res Ther. 2012 Jan; 50(1): 3–12.

So if Mindfulness is beneficial, how does it stand up to thorough analysis?

Meta-analysis suggests limits to mindfulness benefits
Reviews the findings of 47 trials of the health effects of meditation programs on over 3,500 study participants. After carefully controlling for the placebo effect, the authors found that mindfulness meditation resulted in moderate improvements in anxiety, depression and pain. They also found no evidence or insufficient evidence of an improvement in several other measures of health or well-being, such as mood, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight.

At the same time, no evidence of harm from meditation was found.

Clearly there is wide variability in what are collectively described as “meditative practices” and equally clearly, the research published to date has very often overlooked this.

The collective research on mindfulness and meditation has been presented as if all techniques are the same - a bit like suggesting all antibiotics are the same - an obvious fallacy.

Clearly too, we will all know people who have made major beneficial changes in their lives associated with taking up a meditation type practice.

The authors go on to state
 “Many people use meditation to treat stress and stress-related conditions and to promote general health. Meditation training programs vary in several ways, including the type of mental activity promoted, the amount of training recommended, the use and qualifications of an instructor, and the degree of emphasis on religion or spirituality. Some meditative techniques are integrated into a broader approach that includes dietary and/or movement therapies (eg, ayurveda or yoga).

‘Meditative techniques are categorized as emphasizing mindfulness, concentration, and automatic self-transcendence. Popular techniques, such as transcendental meditation, emphasize the use of a mantra in such a way that it transcends one to an effortless state where focused attention is absent.

Other popular techniques, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, emphasize training in present-focused awareness or mindfulness. Uncertainty remains about what these distinctions mean and the extent to which these distinctions actually influence psychosocial stress outcomes’.

So while this meta-analysis aimed to take these variations into account, it still suffers from major limitations in comparing techniques and amount of practice completed. This is like comparing treatments for pneumonia without stating which drugs are being compared and how much of each was taken. Obviously we are still in early days with meditation research - useful days, but early ones! Now we need more details.

Goyal M et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018

The JAMA article that is cited above and forms the basis of this article was itself based on a more comprehensive report, one in a series of Comparative Effectiveness Reviews  (No. 124 : Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being) prepared for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

This report makes good reading, part of the conclusion having great relevance to the therapeutic application of meditation and something we are bound to hear more of as meditation is used more widely for its healing potential.

And another thing… Maybe the studies need to be conducted over longer time frames…

From the above report
Historically, the general public has not conceptualized meditation as a quick fix toward anything. 

It is a skill or state one learns and practices over time to increase one’s awareness, and through this awareness gain insight and understanding into the various subtleties of one’s existence. 

Training the mind in awareness, non-judgmentalness, and the ability to become completely free of thoughts or other activity are daunting accomplishments. 

While some meditators may feel these tasks are easy, they likely overestimate their own skills due to a lack of awareness of the different degrees to which these tasks can be done or the ability to objectively measure their own progress. 

Since becoming an expert at simple skills such as swimming, reading, or writing (which can be objectively measured by others) takes a considerable amount of time, it follows that meditation would also take a long period of time to master. 

However, many of the studies included in this review were short term (e.g., 2.5 hours a week for 8 weeks), and the participants likely did not achieve a level of expertise needed to improve outcomes that depend on a mastery of mental and emotional processes. The short-term nature of the studies, combined with the lack of an adequate way to measure meditation competency, could have significantly contributed to results.

Lots to contemplate in all of this ……

The current research is interesting and certainly helps win acceptance for mindfulness and meditation. But we need to be clear. This arena for research is still in its infancy and what is needed now is more detailed investigation into the benefits of different techniques, how those techniques interact with the teachers and groups they are taught within, and how much difference the amount of time spent doing the practice makes to the outcome.

This progression in the quality of research is normal and reasonable, but it is time now for the quality to lift.

In the interim, trust your own experience
Meditation is not always easy. It takes time to learn, persevere, develop skills and receive the many benefits on offer. Trust your own experience. Mine tells me this is something worth doing every day. There is no need for external research to confirm that; my own inner experience is confirmation enough! And I know I need support to maintain the practice...

“Do yourself a favour… “

Ruth Gawler's 
next meditation retreat

Meditation - Pure and Simple

. Being more at ease with yourself and your feelings
. The connectedness and clarity of mindfulness
. Profound relaxation into stillness.

Combine deep relaxation techniques and mindfulness meditation to release the stress we carry in our bodies in this busy and complex modern world. Ideal for healing, rejuvenation and opening our awareness.

Ruth’s teaching style is one of openness and authenticity, and there will be plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion. Techniques covered in this retreat will be accessible and engaging for both beginners and more experienced meditators. This retreat is well suited to all Health Professionals.

DATES                                    September - Monday 10th to Friday 14th 2018
VENUE                                   Yarra Valley Living Centre, Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria
ENQUIRIES, BOOKINGS     The Gawler Foundation ClientServices@gawler.org
                                                 and 1300 651 211 - Call Mon-Fri 9-5pm

30 April 2018


A new era is about to dawn
In just a few months, Ruth will be leading her first meditation retreat in her own right - unencumbered by my own good self! In this retreat, Ruth will focus upon two key elements of meditation practice.

This really is a wonderful opportunity and I urge everyone who has felt benefit from my own work, or from attending retreats Ruth and I presented together to consider joining in, supporting Ruth in her new venture and reaping the benefits.

Ruth as many already know has a unique perspective and an amazing capacity to give words to what we all feel and what we all need to give our attention to. So this week, more on what she will be presenting - and how some of the unique features are backed by pivotal research, but first

        Thought for the day

A state of bare, transparent awareness;
Effortless and brilliantly vivid, 

A state of relaxed, rootless wisdom;
Fixation free and crystal clear, 

A state without the slightest reference point;
Spacious empty clarity, 

A state wide open and unconfined; 
The senses unfettered…”

                    Fourteenth century Tibetan 

Calm and clear. Or is it relaxed and clear? The aim of meditation. To be at ease within our selves, to be at ease with this challenging world we live in, and to be clear about how to be and how to act. Calm and clear.

It all starts with relaxation. In Ruth’s words, “once we have mastered the ability to consciously direct and relax the body, we can translate that skill to direct and relax the mind”.

So effective meditation begins with deep relaxation of the body. Now some may say that this is unnecessary; that as we relax the mind, the body naturally follows. However, experience tells us that it is not so easy; and that relaxing the body at will is far easier than relaxing the mind. And experience also tells us that as we relax the body, the mind learns to go with it, to feel the relaxation all through and to rest in deep natural peace.

Once we can relax the body, it becomes a suitable vessel for the mind. By contrast, when the body is tense, it is like it acts as a screen, a barrier between the outside world and the inner one - between our interaction with the material world and the mind. Relaxing the body removes that barrier, uniting body and mind, uniting the material and spiritual into a cohesive whole. Hence the dawning of clarity. No barrier; things become clear.

This is something Ruth knows from long experience.

In her own practice she has returned again and
again to the Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) exercise, recognising its intrinsic merit.

Of interest, research has highlighted the PMR’s value in the specific and challenging field of cancer management.

One study, showed that patients with prostate and breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy treatment can benefit from PMR (and Guided Imagery) sessions to reduce their anxiety and depression.

In a second study, patients taught the PMR we able to better relieve their own pain and reverse fatigue - see references below. Tested and proven in the tough cauldron and cancer relief, the PMR is in my view an imperative for all to learn and practice. Imagine if this were taught in more schools (it is in some) or more hospitals (it is in some).

Of note, when I had my own leg amputated in 1975 and while still in hospital, I experienced some days of excruciating pain. No drugs gave adequate relief, but then a visiting American nurse led me through the PMR. Relaxed and slept soundly… the pain was never as bad again. This is a great skill to learn, and a great lead in, a natural lead in to deeper meditation.

Anyway, Ruth’s other great strength and focus for this next retreat, is her knowledge and experience with the simple stillness, the inner silence of deep meditation. Come along and experience it for your self!

There is some real value in me not being involved directly in Ruth’s retreats as I can speak more openly about what is on offer and what an opportunity Ruth will be presenting. I appreciate, and am grateful that some have expressed sadness at my discontinuing leading retreats myself, but really, you now have this wonderful opportunity to learn from and meditate directly with Ruth. As Mollie Meldrum would say “Do yourself a favour… “

Ruth Gawler's 
next meditation retreat

Meditation - Pure and Simple

. Being more at ease with yourself and your feelings
. The connectedness and clarity of mindfulness
. Profound relaxation into stillness.

Combine deep relaxation techniques and mindfulness meditation to release the stress we carry in our bodies in this busy and complex modern world. Ideal for healing, rejuvenation and opening our awareness.

Ruth’s teaching style is one of openness and authenticity, and there will be plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion. Techniques covered in this retreat will be accessible and engaging for both beginners and more experienced meditators. This retreat is well suited to all Health Professionals.

DATES                                    September - Monday 10th to Friday 14th 2018
VENUE                                   Yarra Valley Living Centre, Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria
ENQUIRIES, BOOKINGS     The Gawler Foundation ClientServices@gawler.org
                                                 and 1300 651 211 - Call Mon-Fri 9-5pm

Details of Ian’s transition from leading groups.

1. PMR, anxiety and depression
Charalambous A et al, A Randomized Controlled Trial for the Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Guided Imagery as Anxiety Reducing Interventions in Breast and Prostate Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 270876.

The findings in this study showed that patients with prostate and breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy treatment can benefit from PMR and GI sessions to reduce their anxiety and depression.

Of significance, this study was designed and implemented with the purpose of providing both psychometric and biological (saliva a-amylase and saliva cortisol biomarkers) evidence on the effectiveness of the program in breast and prostate cancer groups.

In just 3 weeks, the intervention group demonstrated a decrease in its mean depression score of around 50%, while the control group experienced a rise of 25%. A huge and clinically very significant difference.

With anxiety, the intervention group demonstrated a decrease in its mean anxiety score of around 8%, while the controls went up around 10% - another significant difference.

2. PMR, pain and fatigue
Pathak P et al, Progressive Muscle Relaxation: An Adjuvant Therapy for Reducing Pain and Fatigue Among Hospitalized Cancer Patients Receiving Radiotherapy Int J Adv Nurs Stud. 2013;2:58-65

Although many studies have examined a range of management methodologies for pain, few have examined pain and fatigue together and only a handful have studied the use of Progressive Muscle Relaxation - PMR.

In this study involving 100 patients undergoing radiotherapy, after the 4-week intervention, both pain and fatigue scores were significantly reduced in the intervention group. No significant change in pain was evident in the control group; the fatigue scores of these patients increased significantly.

Worsening of fatigue throughout the study period was to be expected as a result of oxidative stress experienced by patients during radiation therapy. However, in the intervention group, PMR not only mitigated, but reversed, the anticipated worsening of fatigue.

It is encouraging that most patients were able to master the technique of PMR fairly quickly and then use the intervention on their own. An intervention that empowers patients to engage on their own in managing these distressing symptoms, so common in cancer patients, is an important adjunct and highly worth considering.

16 April 2018


Do you remember hearing of research from the ‘40s that orphan babies that lacked human contact actually died? What about the study from 2010 that reviewed 148 studies involving 300,000 people over 7 years and discovered that those with strong social relationships had a 50% lower chance of death than those with weak connections.

Now something even more dramatic! Over 3 years, a community based intervention has reduced Emergency Department admissions by around 40%. Nothing has been previously recorded that comes anywhere close to such a huge benefit.

So this week we explore what could be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades - the discovery of the power of community, but first

     Thought for the day

Illness is a part of every human being's experience. 
It enhances our perceptions and reduces self-consciousness. 
It is the great confessional; 
Things are said, truths are blurted out which health conceals.

             Virginia Woolf  

Frome is a pretty Somerset town not far from Bath, notable for being described in 2014 by The Times as the "sixth coolest town" in Britain. But a year before this accolade was issued, something way more remarkable was set in train.

Helen Kingston is a Frome GP who was not content with the norm. Her norm was patient after patient who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives. Helen observed the system almost demanded she treat them as if they were just a bunch of medical symptoms, rather than a real person who had real human problems. The normal style of GP practice was distressing to her, her patients, and her staff.

Helen decided to act.

She launched the Compassionate Frome Project.

First, with the help of the National Health System and the town council, a directory of agencies and community groups was set up.

Gaps were identified, then filled.

Next, new staff called “Health connectors” were employed to help people plan their care, and soon voluntary “community connectors” were trained to help people find the support they needed - handling debt or housing problems, joining a choir or lunch club, locating an exercise group, writing workshop or men’s shed.

The aim was to break a cycle; a cycle of isolation.

So often illness reduces people’s ability to socialise.

And it is well known that social isolation is a major risk factor for many diseases, particularly the chronic degenerative ones.

And clearly, isolation and loneliness make it harder to heal and recover from illness.

The science is well known.
In days long gone, sickness made us vulnerable to attack. So messenger molecules called cytokines are released during illness that function in 2 ways. Firstly cytokines cause inflammation aimed at aiding the healing process; but secondly they bring on an interesting group of feelings.

Cytokines are linked with depression, but interestingly, while they do make us more likely to withdraw from society in general, they also cause us to seek out closer contact with those we love. How remarkable is this body of ours!

So the problem?

None really if you do have close support.

However, in crowded cities there is so
much loneliness and social isolation.

In America, one study found the number of people who say they have no confidant increased three fold in 20 years.

Again, in days gone by, social isolation meant more risk of sickness and attack. So our immune systems evolved to create inflammation when we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us.

Put simply, isolation causes inflammation. Inflammation causes further isolation and depression. Chronic inflammation creates greater health risks and a lowered ability to heal. A vicious cycle.

So is this reversible? 
Well a famous earlier review paper suggested the Frome project could well work. In 2010, examining 148 studies involving 300,000 people revealed those with strong social relationships had a 50% lower chance of death across the average study period (7.5 years) than those with weak connections. The researchers reported “The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking.”

Dozens of subsequent papers reinforce these conclusions. For example, HIV patients with strong social support have lower levels of the virus than those without.

Women have better chances of surviving colorectal cancer if they have strong connections.

Young children who are socially isolated appear more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Most remarkably, older patients with either one or two chronic diseases do not have higher death rates than those who are not suffering from chronic disease – as long as they have high levels of social support.

But how do you CREATE social support? 
How do you counter-act isolation?  What did they do in Frome?

The systems described above that Helen Kingston and her teams were able to establish to support isolated people with health problems were made possible by community groups and volunteers.

And the outcomes?
During the three years of the study, emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% across the whole of Somerset. However, in Frome they fell by a remarkable 17%!

Julian Abel, a consultant physician in palliative care and lead author of the draft paper, remarks: “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.”

This is a landmark study and one every community warrants taking to heart.

So what to do?
The evidence strongly suggests that social contact should be on prescription.

If you are a social activist, become even more involved in creating communities. Set up support groups, volunteer, lobby councils and government.

If you have illness or want long-term good health, become even more involved in community activities. Join a support groups, volunteer, lobby councils and government. Reach out. It could reduce health problems by around 40%!

And as one commentator observed, “the innovative work of the Compassionate Frome project has shown how, by translating impulses of kindness born out of concern for one’s fellow human beings into effectively organised social action, a town can do more than restore a sense of value and purpose in both carers and those in need of care: it can also bring significant practical and financial benefits to the whole community”.

Speaking personally
Building community is one of the things I am now most interested in. Whether it be the on-line community my new meditation app enables (more of this in the next post) or by becoming more involved in local affairs; going to art classes or supporting my own spiritual group and its community, it is not hard but it does take time and resolve. A resolve that soon becomes effortless as the obvious multiple benefits flow for self and others.

Where are the new community opportunities for you?

02 April 2018


We all will have “retired” from many things. Many transitions. In fact, moment-by-moment everything is changing, so we could say we are “transitioning” all the time; even though we may not notice it so obviously.

Certainly, some transitions are way more obvious. How do we name them? Retirement? Moved on? Forced out? Found something new? Left it behind? Joyful change? Divorce? New Beginnings?

What is next???

My own life is in another major transition. Completed the last meditation retreat I will lead last week and am now moving into another phase. So this week, to answer the questions of those who are interested, and at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, a review of past transitions (not past transgressions!) and an outline of what is next, but first

        Thought for the day

The attainment of wholeness 
Requires one to stake one’s whole being.
Nothing less will do. 
There can be
No easier conditions,
No substitutes,
No compromises.
                                 Carl Jung

A list of earlier work related “retirements”…

1975   Retired as an equine veterinarian - having a leg amputated will do that

1984   Retired altogether as a veterinarian - to concentrate upon developing the Foundation, cancer programs and teaching meditation

1990   Took a year off to reflect on the work and planning the residential centre and programs

2009   Retired from full-time job at the Gawler Foundation

2017   Presented last cancer residential program

2018   Presented last residential meditation retreat

             Being sung to at the conclusion of the last retreat... 
          Amazing song; very warm :)

So why the change, and what next? 

The reasons I am stopping leading residential programs and retreats are multiple… For a start, at 68 my energy levels are not what they used to be. If, as in the old days, I was running the Foundation during this last retreat, while at the same time leading non-residential programs and preparing for another residential program in the next week or 2, plus all else I used to do; well frankly, I just cannot manage that level of activity at present.

But moreover, it is time to do more personal study and practice. I have attended so many great retreats as a participant, have so many incredible notes stored away; the time has come to study them and attempt to take them more to heart. And do more practice. Over the years, attempting to teach what I have learnt has been wonderful, but now it is time to go more deeply into all of this.

So the other things still on the go include the meditation platform App - the Meditation Gateway, and my personalised version of that which makes an online meditation program available in my voice - actually called My Meditation app - more of that next blog.

Then there is the writing - I am currently almost finished a new meditation book, and am considering writing on contemplation as it is so useful, and there is little written specifically on this subject that seems really clear and useful.

And the blog will continue - it feels like a good way to keep in connection...

However, on top of these things, there is a major project I have been invited to co-found by Martin Hosking. Martin is founding CEO of Redbubble, a dedicated meditator (has come to many of our retreats) and devoted Christian. Martin is keen to establish a Christian-based, reproducible meditation retreat centre and program that can provide something similar to what the Vipassana program accomplishes - a widely accessible meditation program that is available all around the world and rooted in Christianity rather than Buddhism as is Vipassana.

This project appeals to me greatly as while I do call myself a Buddhist these days, I still hold Christianity dear. Just because one has adopted something new, does not mean one needs to do away with the old. Integration is possible, and in this instance, very welcome. Martin has asked me to take a major role in establishing the program, so this is a big project and one with which I will need to manage my time closely.

Also, I am open to the occasional public speaking event or conference appearance. Considering a day workshop in Melbourne in December with 2 great meditation teachers from Europe, but more on that later.

Amidst all this, Ruth will continue with her own work - still seeing a few people privately and beginning her own new career as meditation retreat leader. She will be terrific at this. Ruth has been very happy supporting me over many recent years and while we have done many programs together, she is now ready to step forward. A big transition for her and one I am keen to support fully.

Interested in numbers?

Seems so far I have attended over 30 retreats as a participant - most around 10 days, longest 3 months. Led around 100 meditation retreats myself, along with around 250 cancer residential programs, 250 public workshops and 30 non-residential meditation groups and around 100 non-residential cancer groups.

You Can Conquer Cancer went into 13 languages and has sold over 350.000 copies. (It is now available as a spoken book on our website). On average books are read by about 4 people, so 1,400,000 people may well have read it. Peace of Mind sold over 100,000 copies, Meditation - Pure and Simple around 50,000 and the Imagery book - now renamed The Mind that Changes Everything, around 40,000. Meditation -an In-depth Guide that was co-authored with Paul Bedson has sold around 15,000; the latest has not sold anything ! - may be released in around 6 months.

On the personal front, it is great to be back at painting classes again and the garden is flourishing.

Also, despite having those 3 considerable areas of work to continue with, there is a clear sense of more time being available for the more personal things including more time with family and friends.

But overall, a greater emphasis on study and practice.

                                                                                Recent work in progress -foreground to complete....

So that is a snap shot.

Clearly not a full retirement, but definitely a major part of my life coming to an end.

I will miss the retreats. This last one was truly wonder full. Great people. Noble company. Noble conversations. And deep meditations together. The Yarra Valley Living Centre such a terrific venue. Great staff. Hard to leave behind but there is this clear inner knowing. As with all the other major transitions in my life, the inner knowing is clear. It is time for this next big transition.

        And throughout,
        the little transitions are constantly flowing.

                    Doors opening. Doors closing.

Life Changes - dealing with the inevitable


Ruth and Ian Gawler's webstore

12 March 2018


Many of us have felt it. We all know it. Stress lowers psychological and physical resilience and in doing so adds a great deal to the health budget - costing us personally and drawing heavily on our Health Funds and Government spending.

Happily, many of us have felt the benefits of Mind-Body interventions (well proven to reduce stress and build resiliency). So the big question… How much can things like relaxation, mindfulness and meditation save us and our community? 

A good deal it would seem!

So this week, we examine one large study and link to a couple of earlier ones - and pose the question again… How long before your Health Fund realizes the benefits to be had and subsidises you to attend your meditation classes or use an effective, supportive App?, but first

           Thought for the day

   There is a bright pearl within me,
   Buried for a long time under dust.
   Today, the dust is gone and the light radiates,
   Shining through all the mountains and rivers.

         Master Yueh - The Golden Age of Zen 

Herbert Benson has been at the forefront of Mind-Body Medicine since publishing his first book The Relaxation Response in 1975. Benson was a contemporary of my first teacher Dr Ainslie Meares (First book - Relief Without Drugs - 1967), and we have much to thank them both for.

Benson was and still is an active Harvard medical academic and cardiologist.

He made the connection between stress and heart disease and realised meditation based upon deep relaxation could reduce blood pressure and actually reverse heart disease.

He has published many scientific studies as well as a few good books - international bestsellers actually!

Benson has been involved in this recent and important study that set out to estimate the effect of mind-body interventions on healthcare utilization Specifically, his team investigated the effect of the Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP), comparing the health costs of 4452 meditators with that of 13,149 controls over a median period of 4.2 years. A good sized study.

At one year, total utilization for the intervention group decreased by 43% [53.5 to 30.5 be/yr]. Clinical encounters decreased by 41.9% [40 to 23.2 be/yr], imaging by 50.3% [11.5 to 5.7 be/yr], lab encounters by 43.5% [9.8 to 5.6], and procedures by 21.4% [2.2 to 1.7 be/yr]. The intervention group's Emergency department (ED) visits decreased from 3.6 to 1.7/year.  and Hospital and Urgent care visits converged with the controls.

Subgroup analysis (identically matched initial utilization rates-Intervention group: high utilizing controls) showed the intervention group significantly reduced utilization relative to the control group by: 18.3% across all functional categories, 24.7% across all site categories and 25.3% across all clinical categories.

Mind body interventions such as 3RP have the potential to substantially reduce healthcare utilization at relatively low cost and thus can serve as key components in any population health and health care delivery system.

Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Effect on Healthcare Resource Utilization. Stahl JE et al, PLoS One. 2015 Oct 13;10(10):e0140212. doi: 10.1371

How long before you are paid to meditate?
In this post from 2012, 2 other major studies showing cost savings of 30% and over 50% during a 5 year period are quoted and examined. Well worth a read!

And just think how much the insurance companies would have saved by now if they had started encouraging their members to meditate 6 years ago? Still, the good news is… Never to late to start…