20 December 2010

Ian Gawler Blog – Love and its Conditions

Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ quite literally represents the embodiment of pure love, unconditional love.

Now there are many forms of love in this world of ours. There is love for a parent, for a child, for a lover, an animal, a thing, a cause etc.

These worldly loves often have an element of the relative about them. Relative in the sense that there are conditions: I will love you if… (you love me back, make me laugh, look after me...etc). I will love you when… ( you have a better job, loose some weight, do not get so angry…etc). I will love you if…etc, etc.

It is easy to observe many people are confused by these different aspects of love. This was often apparent after people came to any of the Foundation programs, particularly the residential ones.
The fact is that these programs reliably bring out the best in people. Participants quickly come to really care for each other. The staff consistently put their own issues aside and really care for the participants, People begin to feel something of that unconditional love.

As an aside, it is my sense that it is just this, the experience of unconditional love, that often explains the wonderful, positive and often profound transformations that occur during the programs in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing of participants.

But then, as these people  head home, often they experience the confusion that many others feel independently of attending such a program. If pure love is unconditional, and I want to love all, how do I manage the difficult people in my life?

The key resides in understanding the difference between relative and absolute. This is one of the great gifts of examining our minds. When we do so, we realise there is relative and there is absolute. On the absolute level we all have an intrinsic goodness, an intrinsic purity. In Christianity we say we are made in God’s image. Cannot get much purer than that. In Buddhism we say that in their essence, everyone has Buddha nature – again that notion of fundamental goodness and purity.

Yet on the relative, worldly level it is clear peoples’ actions, emotions and thoughts can be complex and often problematic. The fact is some relationships can be very difficult, even quite toxic and there may well be a need to discriminate about whom we hang out with!

Now it is true that difficult relationships can teach us so much about ourselves, about patience, tolerance, compassion etc. And enduring some relationships can lead to healthy outcomes for all. However, in some situations it can be clear that to remain in a relationship will only create more problems and it may well be the loving thing to avoid such a relationship.

Personal awareness requires discrimination. It is not about suffering endlessly, it is not about neglecting the treatment of illness or the working on difficulties. It is about right action. Working as much as possible from a position of unconditional love, recognising the fundamental goodness in all and so having a deep respect and real compassion for all, while at the same time recognising the limitations of others and ourselves. Doing the best we can and making every effort to continue to learn and to be a better person. To be increasingly comfortable with our own capacities and those of others.

Christmas then is a perfect time to contemplate the place of love in your life. To consider when for you love is unconditional, when it is more like a deal with its conditions, and when it is better avoided. Christmas often brings families together in a way that these issues are brought to the fore, so be gentle on yourself and others, take time to contemplate and meditate and may you experience something of the true meaning of Christmas – unconditional love.

Next Blog: I had pre-empted writing something about 2011 for this post, but love just took over! So there will be a short break until the New Year and then, all being well, some thoughts on the year to come.

May you have a joyful Christmas and a meaningful 2011.
  

13 December 2010

Ian Gawler Blog – 2010 in Review

Many will know I retired from the Gawler Foundation at the end of 2009.The intention was to stand back from the work I had been immersed in for the last 30 yrs., to reconsider how I could be useful, and at the same time, allow TGF to function independently.
So this week a more personal blog. Happily TGF is flourishing while I have had a good break, attended some great retreats, rewritten a book, thought deeply about the future, spent a bit more time with family and friends, revamped the garden and explored cyberspace.
The year started with my nephew and Godson, who lives in Copenhagen, marrying a delightful Danish woman.
Then the first of the year’s retreats with Sogyal Rinpoche’s annual teachings at Myall Lakes. The opportunity to be with a genuine teacher who provides authentic teachings is very precious. The Tibetans have been studying the mind for centuries and Rinpoche knows Westerners well. His wisdom and clarity continue to inform all that I write and do and I will share some of the key points in future blogs.
March and April were for completing workshops committed to before retirement. It was particularly poignant to present at Lionel Fifield’s Brisbane Relaxation Centre. Lionel invited me to present my first ever public workshops there in 1984 and I have spoken there every year since. So it was fitting and moving to give the last workshops in this cycle of my public life at the new, relocated Relaxation Centre.
On return, the rather curious experience of Ruth going off to work at TGF, and me being very definitely at home.
Now some will know my first 60yrs were spent personally avoiding computers. Not many people these days retire from an office based job never having had a computer on their desk. I did! While TGF is fully computerised and I engaged in planning and developing their use, my aversion was pretty strong. For one thing, I love the tactile and creative energy that flows when writing with a fountain pen.
Anyway, this time away was motivated by an urge to rethink my work and how I could be most useful in the future, as well as to explore new possibilities. So actually it has been a treat learning to type and to use a computer, to set up a personal website and to start this blog. Then aided by conversations and guidance from our youngest son, friends who are seriously into IT, and others who have offered to help, there has been the chance to learn about and explore emerging technologies. Lots of mind-blowing possibilities that I continue to contemplate.
During July/August, Ruth and I were fortunate indeed to travel to retreats with Rinpoche at his Irish centre Dzoghen Beara and the French centre Lerab Ling. Also, we spent time on the mystical and peaceful Christian meditation space known as the island of Iona, as well as at Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village. On return we stopped in Bangalore, India where two good friends looked after us particularly well and escorted us to visit Sai Baba in his Puttaparthi ashram.
This was an extraordinary trip; even moreso because Ruth’s back had been becoming increasingly painful and incapacitating. Back home, tests revealed a prolapsed disc, surgery ensued, followed by a rapid and complete recovery. What a blessing! Surgery is fabulous when it works, which is pretty often.
People often ask if I miss my old Veterinary days. I remember them well; loved working as a Vet, but what I do miss is the surgery. My oldest daughter has just finished second year Vet and it is great fun talking with her about her course and to see her being so successful in her studies.
Next week, some of the insights from the retreats and contemplation time; as well as some possibilities for 2011 and beyond.
Also, on a practical note, we are changing to a more automated database and in the process the email advice for the last two week’s blog posts may not have reached everyone. Therefore there may be some reading to catch up on if you are interested.

06 December 2010

Ian Gawler Blog - MINDFULNESS REVISITED

This week we have two guest contributors – Dr Craig Hassed and Paul Bedson. Both are friends and colleagues; Craig lectures at Monash Medical School and has regularly presented at Gawler Foundation cancer programs for around 10yrs. Paul and I worked together for many years and co-authored "Meditation an In-depth Guide". Both are experienced authorities on mindfulness and meditation and have responded to my blog: “Go with the flow or intervene”(see the blog below of 16/11/10), where I suggested there was potential confusion in the way mindfulness was being currently defined and used as a word.

But first some practicalities. Next week we are upgrading the database for my blog and website so it becomes easier for you and more efficient for us. You will receive email notification of this. If you choose to be removed from the database do nothing. However, importantly, if you choose to continue to be on it, you will need to confirm by simply clicking on the link provided.

Here then is Dr Craig Hassed on mindfulness and meditation:

"In regard to the question and answer, there is a lot in what you say but it would be my view that you have not accurately portrayed mindfulness and have drawn a false distinction. The reason for saying that is because all of what you say about discernment and getting to know our minds ('selves') better is exactly what mindfulness teaches us.
The short and apparently one dimensional definition from Jon that keeps getting cited does not provide a full account of all that mindfulness offers. That is probably why Jon's books on the subject are 500 pages long and not just one line.
Mindfulness meditation is the cornerstone in how to live mindfully - i.e. consciously and with discernment. It is exactly because it teaches us much about ourselves that it helps so much with conditions like depression, and fosters things like emotional regulation and self-awareness.
To say that mindfulness is just paying attention is true on one level - like saying that an elephant is a big animal with four legs and a trunk. It doesn't tell us anything about its functions - i.e. what the elephant can do.
The'non-judgmental' attitude, I believe, nearly always gets misrepresented. The judgments of the ego - e.g. deeply personal, biased and reactive - and seeing the dream-world we tend to live in within our own imaginations, are just the kinds of thought processes that one begins to see more clearly and objectively through the practice of mindfulness meditation. The judgment of inner wisdom, which is impersonal, objective and arises from equanimity, and which we could call discernment (or buddhi in Sanskrit),
and the capacity to be more in touch with the reality of the present moment, are strengthened and stabilised through mindfulness meditation and mindful living. One cannot make rational decisions without it.
The point you make about cocooning oneself from major challenges that one is not yet strong enough to deal with is a valid point. Like weight lifting, leave the heavy weights alone until you are trained to lift them.
So, sorry Ian, I can't really agree with the main theme of your blog. There are, I believe, similar false distinctions made between 'mindfulness meditation' and 'stillness meditation' - as if mindfulness does not help to bring one to stillness - which I have often heard mentioned by various people."

And here is what Paul Bedson has to say:

"In places I have some different emphasis to you:
I don't distinguish mindfulness from meditation, after all we have written a book on meditation using mindfulness. Nor do I distinguish meditation from living in the world ("coming out of the cocoon").
Mindfulness into Stillness meditation connects us with the inner cocoon of awareness, stillness and spaciousness that are our true nature. Connecting with this cocoon actually liberates the mind from some of the distinctions between self and other, inner and outer. The inner cocoon then opens us to the outer world, it travels with us to remind us that we are not separate, it provides us with resources of wisdom and compassion to be in the world.
Formal meditation helps to reconnect us with the inner cocoon which opens into life. The distinction between inner and outer is misleading and can be healed through meditation .
When you say "meditation is a way of getting to know the mind" it sounds a bit like a cognitive process.....I think of meditation as a way of abiding in our true nature. Out of that abiding insight comes as some illusions start to dissolve (healing comes out of the abiding as well). The Masters did not need to learn the wisdom teachings, or to learn discrimination. Their teachings are tools to guide us to the experience of our true nature (not tools for understanding)".

The issue for me remains as one of definition. Words are used to convey concepts. There is no doubt that the word for mindfulness, the concept of mindfulness, falls short of the experience. The best way to know mindfulness, as with meditation, is to practice it. Yet words are important and as linguists know, they change with time and usage. Linguists know that if a word is used incorrectly long enough its new and inaccurate meaning becomes correct through usage.
There is nothing wrong with this; this is how language progresses. The point again is that it does seem to me that mindfulness is being used increasingly as a generic word to cover a whole lot of things that its traditional definition and the commonly quoted one of Jon Kabat-Zinn does not include.
What more traditionally was called meditation, these days is commonly being called mindfulness. While this may be politically useful in arenas where mindfulness is a more acceptable word than meditation, in my view it creates more than just a language problem; it helps to foster a misguided conception of what mindfulness is, and potentially generates confusion in beginners and the experienced alike.
Because words do have power, I believe there may be the need to come up with a new modern definition of mindfulness, or else a new word to describe all this other stuff that goes with it.

Your comments are most welcome.

Next week, some personal reflections on the year as 2010 draw to a close, and some thoughts and plans for 2011.

.



29 November 2010

Big Mac or a salad?

Is it better to eat a Big Mac and enjoy it, or a garden fresh salad and loath it? Is what you eat more important or the state of mind you eat it in? Is it better to do what is good for you regardless of whether you enjoy it or not; or is it better to do what you enjoy whether it is good for you or not?

Have you read Yogananda’s mind-blowing “Autobiography of a Yogi”? It recounts his years as a young spiritual seeker searching through mystical India for his teacher, his guru. In ancient times, before the days of calling cards and websites, spiritual leaders needed to demonstrate their prowess to validate their capacities and to attract followers. There were different ways to do this, but commonly they developed siddhis or signs of spiritual accomplishment. Yogananda describes many amazing feats he witnessed including “the poison eating saint”. This fellow’s demonstration was to eat poison and broken glass and remain unaffected; that is, as the story goes, until he repeated his siddhi on a day when he was in an agitated state of mind and unceremoniously died.

My experience of these matters is that there is a spectrum like in most things. Some people do have strong minds and strong constitutions and can manage on a wider range and quality of foods. However, it is a high level of accomplishment to be able to eat any old rubbish and be unaffected by it – especially long term.

For most of us mere mortals our health and our capacity to heal is dramatically affected by what we eat. Unhealthy eating is linked to six of the ten major things that kill people, as well as MS and rheumatoid arthritis. Healthy eating leads to long term good health and assists recovery from illness powerfully.

The trick with food therefore is twofold. How are you sure of what is good for you, and how do you enjoy eating it so you keep on eating it?!

Easy. You need good information and the right state of mind.

Everything starts with the mind. It is our mind that decides what food to buy, how to store and prepare it, how much to eat and what state of mind we are in when we eat it.

How then to use the mind to good effect? We need to use our mind, our wits, to gather good information; then we need to train our mind to serve us – to follow through on our good choices and lead the way in deciding what we eat and how much we enjoy eating it.

Here is the kicker. Here is the real secret so many people I met in the past were not aware of, but who on learning of it changed their lives dramatically for the better. Here is the secret to enjoying what the theory says is good for us:

Anything you do often enough you get used to. Nothing is difficult once you get used to it. Anything you choose to, you can put your mind to and enjoy doing it. It is not such a great accomplishment to decide upon the state of mind you will do something in. With just a modicum of willpower, most people can do it.

So use your intelligence. Choose the salad and choose to enjoy it!

Happy, enjoyable, healthy eating.


COMMENT OR A QUESTION?

Click on "Comments" below


RESOURCES:

Previous Blogs:


Mind Training 2 CD set by Ian

Cancer nutritional information from Ian:


MS:


Lifestyle-based programs and counselling for cancer, MS disease prevention and wellbeing:

22 November 2010

It only has to be done once


This weeks blog is written in two parts. The first part is my weekly blog and the second is an article that I wrote and was published in Australian Doctor this week that is referred to in the blog.


Part A



There has been some discussion recently in the medical press regarding my case history; its accuracy and its relevance to others with cancer. It seemed to me that the matters raised had been satisfactorily answered but then Linda Calabresi, medical editor for Australian Doctor (the journal that goes weekly to all Australian GPs) suggested the record needed to be set straight, so my response has been published in AusDoc and is reproduced below.

The issues of contention revolved around the timelines for my illness and the dates on photos taken of my cancer, as reported my Dr Ainslie Meares way back in 1978, and the 30 year follow-up of my case in 2008; as well as me being described as having followed a vegan diet during my recovery.

The reality is that I was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma in January 1975, had metastases confirmed in December 1975 and was found to be cancer free in June 1978. What happened in between was quite complex. I tried most things you could think of and probably a few you would not!

When I recovered Ainslie Meares, who had introduced me to meditation, reported my case in the Medical Journal of Australia. While he acknowledged many of the things I had done, he felt the most significant factor may well have been intense meditation.

It is true he reported I had more severe disease when we first met than I did, however, he had not shown me his article before submitting it and this error seemed to me to be of no material significance. If a woman has a pregnancy confirmed, but the dates are wrong; unless there is major intervention, she will still have a baby. I certainly had a very poor prognosis when I went to Dr Meares; if there had been no major intervention, all the experts were sure I would have died within a few months. As it was, I did recover and I too felt the meditation was crucial.

The main photo in contention was of the rather large mass of cancer on my chest that was enlarged many years ago and then mis-labelled as being taken in July 1977. In fact it was taken before I began chemotherapy in October 1976. This again seemed of minor importance but I do have the complete series of photos taken once each month from then until the chest had cleared completely towards the end of 1977.

Because my history is so complex, when it came to having it told in book form, I decided not to do it myself as an autobiography, but to agree to a journalist, Guy Allenby writing it. Guy had full access to my medical records, the meticulous diaries I kept, and he interviewed my medical staff, family, friends and colleagues. In my opinion, the timelines in The Dragon’s Blessing are accurate, so anyone interested will find them there.

Regarding what I ate during my recovery, it was mostly vegan. If you eat meat once a week, you are not strictly a vegetarian but you certainly are not a rabid carnivore. It is hard to characterise diets in a few words, and anyway, I do not recommend people do exactly what I did. What I do recommend has been readily available since “You Can Conquer Cancer” first came out in 1984. Anyone really interested could come to the residential or non-residential programs I established, come to a workshop or listen to my CDs on food. I have also written some blogs on food and will do more soon, particularly on why it makes good sense to avoid dairy and adopt a relatively low protein diet.

The good thing about all this discussion is that it has provided another opportunity to present the merits of a therapeutic lifestyle for people with cancer in a medical forum.

Cancer is a lifestyle disease and the value of a therapeutic lifestyle needs to be discussed early for people diagnosed with cancer just as it is for people when they are first diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes.

If we really want to treat cancer best, we need to prevent it and the soundest way to prevent it is through a healthy lifestyle.


Part B - Taken from Australian Doctor 17th Nov, 2010



The case for lifestyle

Well-known cancer survivor Dr Ian Gawler presents his side of the story.


One of the good things about being described as a high profile alternative treatment story is that you are alive to engage in the discussion.

In referring to my recovery from metastatic osteogenic sarcoma and my work over 30 years with lifestyle-based self-help programs, Linda Calabresi’s editorial [i] “Providing hope comes with a duty of truth” (27 October) suggests “the record be set straight”.

First then, the term “alternative”, as used in some reports of the case, is misleading. Cancer management falls into three broad categories: conventional medicine, complementary and alternative medicine, and lifestyle medicine. My personal recovery involved all three, while my work focuses on lifestyle.

The facts of my case were thoroughly documented in 2008 by Guy Allenby [ii] in “The Dragon’s Blessing”. So while back in 1978 (psychiatrist) Dr Ainslie Meares [iii] reported that I had more severe disease when I first saw him than I actually did, and these timeline errors were carried over into the 2008 follow-up [iv], this has little material relevance to the important facts. On meeting Dr Meares, I did have metastatic disease. I did have a prognosis of 3 to 6 months. I am alive more than 30 years later.

My personal story has direct relevance to people with osteogenic sarcoma. It changes the landscape of that disease. The fact is at least one person has survived metastatic disease for over 30 years. It only has to be done once to show that it is possible, so my story offers real hope.

However, it is my work that has the most relevance to the wider body of people affected by cancer. The lifestyle I teach now goes well beyond what I did 35 years ago. Research and experience leads to ongoing development. While my story may inspire, I have never recommended others do exactly as I did. This was clearly documented in my book “You Can Conquer Cancer”[v],first published in 1984.

The evidence for lifestyle factors enhancing quality of life and cancer outcomes is growing steadily. Compelling examples are Dean Ornish et al’s [vi] randomised lifestyle intervention for prostate cancer and the evidence suggesting regular exercise halves the risk of dying for women with primary breast cancer [vii]

And consider that spontaneous remissions - improvement or recovery without clear medical cause [viii] - are thought to occur once in every 60,000 to 100,000 people [ix]

During a period when 8,400 cancer patients attended Gawler Foundation’s lifestyle programs, 43 people who fit the description of “spontaneous remissions”[x][xi] have been recorded. This equates to one in 195, which is 300 times more than the average.

While this data may be crude, it points to why the public is so interested in lifestyle programs, and surely warrants more research.

Lowenthal [xii] says “the speciality of psycho-oncology and the more recent development of 'integrative oncology' arose to some extent out of the work of Gawler and his followers.”

The next step is lifestyle medicine needs to have the same prominence for cancer as it does for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Gawler OAM, BVSc, MCounsHS is retired founder of the Gawler Foundation.

References:

  1. Calabresi L. Providing hope comes with a duty of truth. Aust Doct 2010: Oct 27:
  2. Allenby G. Ian Gawler - The dragon’s blessing. Melbourne: Allen & Unwin, 2008.
  3. Meares A. Regression of osteogenic sarcoma metastases associated with intensive meditation. Med J Aust 1978; 2:43.
  4. Jelinek GA, Gawler RH. Thirty-year follow-up at pneumonectomy of a 58-year-old survivor of disseminated osteosarcoma. Med J Aust 2008; 189: 663-665.
  5. Gawler IJ. You can conquer cancer. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1984. Revised edition: Melbourne: Michelle Anderson 2001.
  6. Ornish D, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. J Urol 2005; 174:1065-70
  7. Irwin ML, et al. Influence of pre- and post-diagnosis physical activity on mortality in breast cancer survivors: the health, eating, activity and lifestyle study. J Clin Oncol 2008: 26(24): 3958-64.
  8. Bakal. DA Minding the body: clinical uses of somatic awareness. New York: Guilford 2001.
  9. Jerry LM, Challis EB. Oncology. In Rakel ED (Ed) Textbook of Family Practice, (3rd ed., 1061-1081). Philadelphia: Saunders 1984.
  10. Gawler IJ ( Ed). Inspiring people – stories of remarkable  recovery and hope from the Gawler Foundation. Melbourne: The Gawler Foundation, 1995.
  11. Kraus P. Surviving cancer – inspiring stories of hope and healing. Melbourne: Michelle Anderson Publishing 2008
  12. Lowenthal RM. Snake oil, coffee enemas and other famous nostrums for cancer – a recent history of cancer quackery in Australia. Cancer Forum 2005; 29: Issue 3.

16 November 2010

Ian Gawler Blog: Go with the Flow or Intervene?

As meditators are we being asked to learn to go with the flow in our lives, to allow whatever happens around us to happen, to not react and to make the best of it; or do we intervene, make choices and discriminate?

Aine was afflicted with difficult Multiple Sclerosis symptoms and a poor prognosis 15yrs ago. We met as she was embarking on the Gawler Foundation’s lifestyle program and she has been well for many years now. Meditation became a mainstay of her recovery and her life.

Through a Comment on my Blog: The Brain, The Mind and Relationships, Aine raised this great question that I imagine many meditators will relate to and I summarise as “go with the flow or intervene?” Aine was asking specifically are we wise to cocoon ourselves from some things and some people, or if we really have “got it”, do we open ourselves to all and sundry, and expect to be able to transform even the most challenging situations into peaceful bliss?

This question has certainly caused me a great deal of reflection in years gone. A need for some insight was prompted further through giving a talk recently for ATMA (The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association) on the topic: “What is all this about mindfulness?”

Let me go “Out on a Limb” and offer the insight that came. It will be useful if this provokes some reflection and comment as this to me is an important life issue.
The confusion in what to do; the uncertainty I believe is actually the product of how two words are used and the concepts they convey; the solution rests with clarifying the definition of those two words. Mindfulness and meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines Mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”. Taken literally, mindfulness is non-reactive, non-discriminatory. It is a way of training your mind into a way of noticing, a way of being aware of what is going on around you, a way that takes the reactive stress out of things.

Mindfulness is how to be with the given, how to be with what is. It is non-judgemental. Mindfulness prescribes how to observe what is going on, not what to do about it. Without doubt it is a wonderful practice as it does bring our attention to the present moment, cuts through the reactive anxiety we call stress, and leads to a peaceful way of being. Mindfulness is easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to research. It has a lot going for it. A big part of its appeal is its simplicity. It has a standard answer for everything – be mindful!

However, of itself and in its pure form, mindfulness has nothing to say about wisdom, particularly the wisdom of discernment, the wisdom that helps us sort out what to do. This fact is covered in all the great traditions because mindfulness is taught within a context of other teachings that add the wisdom component.

In my understanding, mindfulness as a word is being used increasingly loosely and in a way that implies or covers all the other teachings. This is OK, but it can lead to confusion. If in modern times we fixate on the literal definition of mindfulness, and aim to only apply that way of training our minds, we may miss a vital point.

In our book “Meditation – an In-depth Guide”, Paul Bedson and I included an appendix of definitions of meditation from all traditions. We spent years with great colleagues working on our own modern definition:

 “Meditation in its simplest and most general sense is a mental discipline involving attention regulation. More specifically, the broad act of meditation can be sub-classified according to the processes it involves or the outcomes it leads to.”

Check out the book if you want all the details!

From this definition, meditation is a process and a state. It is something you do, and something you experience.

So what do you do, and what do you experience? You start by learning to relax your body and settle your mind; arriving at a state of inner peace. With this peace, you have the experience of your mind clearing. You begin to see more clearly what is going on around you and within you.

The most common Tibetan word for meditation is “gom”. This translates as “getting used to”. To what? Getting used to your own mind. Getting to know what its contents are, how it works, what it is capable of, how to use it and what its true nature is really like.

Here then is the key difference. Mindfulness is a way of using the mind. Meditation is a way of getting to know the mind. And for many of us, this “getting to know” is not necessarily plain sailing! The mind can be a pretty tricky beast – good, bad and indifferent. And the aim in meditation is to tame it. By definition, meditation is an intervention.

Meditation leads to clear seeing and with this clear seeing comes the natural wisdom of discernment. It becomes increasingly obvious that the task is to get to know ourselves. Wisdom suggests we get to know who we are, acknowledge where we are at, become comfortable with our limitations and capacities, and act accordingly. Yes, act!

So as a beginner on the meditation path it can make great sense to develop mindful awareness. To learn to be present, attentive and non-judgemental. But to do even this we may need to intervene, use some common sense (or is that wisdom?) and select what we expose ourselves to; what we do and who we hang out with.

As beginners, even for the more advanced, there are bound to be some people, some situations, some thoughts, even some feelings that we find so difficult, so challenging that we need to intervene and cocoon ourselves away from them. It is perfectly sensible to accept that some things require this active intervention and prompt us to find the best way to protect, avoid, change or maybe even transform.

Many of us will have heard of the great Tibetan practitioners who spent years being tortured in Chinese prisons. On release they smile, thank their persecutors for teaching them about compassion, demonstrate no post traumatic stress and calmly go about their lives of service.

Chogyam Trungpa had something to say along these lines: “The general idea is that you open yourself to what the given situation is, then you see its completely naked quality. You don’t have to put up a defence mechanism anymore, because you see through it and you know exactly what to do. You just deal with things rather than defending yourself.”

This is no casual accomplishment! The great practitioners may make it look easy, as if it is just a matter of going with the flow; but what they are really demonstrating is the fruit of serious intervention –a great deal of very deliberate and well thought out mind training.

Progressing from being a beginner to an accomplished practitioner is quite a piece of work. It can be arduous, demanding, confusing, delightful, joyous, frustrating, wonderful and nearly always challenging. Once you awaken to how precious life is and how short it is, then there is little choice but to plunge on in and make the best progress you can.

As clear seeing and the wisdom of discernment do begin to dawn, what they lead to is flexibility. There are bound to be situations in life where accepting things as they are makes sense; others where putting huge effort into intervening makes sense.

The answer then is not to mindlessly go with the flow, the answer is to go with the flow accompanied by the wisdom of discernment. The wisdom that comes from getting to know yourself, and particularly your mind, through meditation.

RESOURCES:
Mindfulness:
Meditation:
Practice CDs:

MEDITATION OPPORTUNITIES:

08 November 2010

IAN GAWLER BLOG: MEDITATION – HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

Meditation is perhaps the best self-help technique there is. Not only does it have so many immediate benefits, but with the clarity of mind it produces, you are likely to make good choices in all aspects of your life.

Its one drawback? You have to do it. It requires a personal discipline. Now while the discipline we speak of here is the discipline of kindness; you are being kind to yourself when you meditate, there is still the question, how much is enough?

In workshops all around the world, I have asked thousands of meditators if they are doing as much meditation as they would like to be doing. The answer – way over 95% say no!

What then is a realistic expectation? Firstly the evidence, and then particular situations.

While meditation has been practised in all cultures for thousands of years, it is only in the last 30-40 years that science has begun to study it. There is still a glaring omission in that field of study. There is no reliable way of calibrating the quantity and depth of meditation that is reported in the literature, and there have been almost no studies quantifying how much meditation is ideal.

Therefore to answer “how much?” we need to consider what comes from the accumulated experience of those meditators who have meditated for particular reasons, and in particular situations.

1. For general health, disease prevention and wellbeing
It seems clear that what works best for this purpose is to establish a regular formal practice that succeeds in impacting on your daily life. Meditation aims to help you to become more calm, more clear and more content. The best way to assess this type of meditation is to ask your friends. If they find you nicer to be around, it is working! If they notice you going back to being more irritable, then do more!

In practical terms, some practice daily is the aim- even 5 -10 minutes is a good start. What the research does show consistently is 10-20mins once or twice daily prevents and/or treats a vast array of physical and psychological health problems.

2. Treating illness
Yes I did say treating, not just managing…. Over 4000 research studies support the notion of “treatment” and while it is true that meditation has the capacity to improve the management of any illness and lead to enhanced quality of life.

What is important to realise is that based on my 30 years of experience teaching others to meditate, once people do meditate more intensively, they get an inner knowing of whether more is better, or less is enough.

In the cancer field most people who do this come to the conclusion that intensive meditation is best and this means 3 long sessions per day of 40-60 mins each.

3. The Spiritual Path
Here different traditions vary in what they recommend. What is common is the understanding that retreats are of great benefit. A retreat is where you take yourself away from the busyness of everyday life, have good instruction from an authentic teacher and immerse yourself in meditation for a while.

With the pace of modern life, I recommend at least one retreat each year as being the minimum to maintain perspective and equilibrium.

WHAT I DID AND DO
I heard about meditation at an early age, was deeply curious, but put off doing it until I was diagnosed with cancer in January 1975. During that year I meditated about 20mins daily following what advice I had picked up from Chogyam Trungpa’s “Meditation in Action”.

When the cancer reappeared late in 1975, I went to Ainslie Meares and began intensive meditation along the lines he set out in “Relief Without Drugs”. While I stopped consulting with him personally about 2 month later, I continued to do 5 hrs per day for some months and then most days I did 3 long sessions, still in the Meares’ manner, of about an hour each until I recovered.

Since then, my main teacher has been the great Tibetan Dzogchen master Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

In a year now I do about 500hrs of formal meditation practice. This includes retreat times and the fact I very rarely miss a day.

Perhaps more importantly, I feel like the meditation has become a part of my life. While the formal practice reinforces it, and helps me to relax, be balanced and at peace; more and more the distinction between meditation and life is seamless. There is a deep inner contentment that is present all the time.

I have been blessed to have great teachers, to have had an illness that provoked me to practise and established me in the habit, and to have Ruth who meditates with me and supports our joint interest in living and working with meditation.

RESOURCES:   See the blog: Meditation and Satisfaction 5th October.
NEXT BLOG:   GO WITH THE FLOW OR INTERVENE?
See Aine’s great question in Comments - as one meditates more, how is it best to respond to life?

01 November 2010

Ian Gawler Blog: THE BRAIN, THE MIND AND RELATIONSHIPS

The Brain, The Mind and Relationships: Why Presence and Mindfulness is Good for all Three!

Dan Siegel is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author. His internationally acclaimed bestseller The Developing Mind has been used by educational programs all around the world. He also wrote the highly recommended The Mindful Brain and co-authored the exceptional parenting manual Parenting from the Inside Out.

So what was this illustrious neuroscientist recently doing up a tree in a Melbourne park? Well of course he was speaking to hundreds of people, mostly health professionals about his favourite subject Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB). The Hotel we had been in caught fire; 1500 people were evacuated and Dan shinned up a huge Moreton Bay fig to make the most of the circumstances.

IPNB is the term Dan uses to bring together a wide range of factors to do with relationships and biological systems. He links them through the use of concilliance. Concilliance is the capacity to find the commonality from within a wide range of different disciplines.

This is akin to the traditional story of the blind people who were all asked to investigate an elephant and report. One swears to have found a leg, another a tail, then a big stomach and even a huge stomach and a trunk. All true, but not the full story. Concilliance is taking all the pieces and developing a unifying framework or paradigm. It is seeing the whole elephant rather than each of the separate parts.

This principle is directly relevant to holistic or Integrative Medicine which has the aim of considering the health, the healing and the wellbeing of a person’s body, emotions, mind and spirit; and works in a co-operative, interdisciplinary field.

Dan Siegel spent many years applying these same principles to the study of attachment and resilience in children. His work has shown that the best predictor of how children will end up, is their relationships. And when it comes to developmental trauma that impairs a child’s development, relationships have more impact than physical realities.

Scientist Dan said that relationships involve sharing energy flow and information. (Now there is a sentence worth contemplating! Really. Sit down and dwell on it; it says a lot).

He then went on to question the audience, most of whom were mental health professionals. Like over 90,000 others he has asked, 95% of our audience admitted that in all their training, whether as psychiatrists, counsellors, psychologists, nurses etc, they had had not one lecture on “the mind.” They all studied it for years. Yet, no one even defined it for them. So what is it?

In 1992, Dan began a 4 and a half year discussion group with 40 scientists from a wide range of disciplines, Their aim? To define the mind. Nearly 20 years later, Dan still regards his definition as a work in progress. But with all he has asked over the years, no one has improved upon this:

THE MIND IS DEFINED AS an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information.

With this definition, the mind is a verb; not a noun. (Now contemplate that one). Also, Dan like most other neuroscientists these days, is firmly of the view that the mind is not confined to the brain, but involves the whole body.

He then explained that in broad terms, the mind experiences three states: Chaos, Integration and Rigidity. In his fairly logical view, mental health involves a mind that is integrated. Integration is the heart of health. Whatever leaves you feeling or acting in a more integrated way is good for you, it is healing.

What happens when integration is impaired? There is the opportunity for healing the chaos or the rigidity through utilising the brain, the mind and relationships.

Dan explained the principles of neuroplasticity, that exciting new field of neuroscience that validates how our brain changes its structure and function according to how we use it. The key point? Neurones that fire together, wire together. The more we do something, the more it develops our “mind’s muscles” and the better we become at doing it the next time.

In the mind, integration is best facilitated by focussing our attention. To be more specific, according to recent research, mindfulness seems to lead to integration better than most.

So for a parent, a teacher, a therapist, a friend, a lover, a therapist; the most useful thing you can do in this sense is to give your full attention. Attention is the mechanism that drives the energy flow that carries information via the neurones to stimulate activity and growth, and in so doing, leads to integration.

Attention, used in this context, is another word for presence, and presence promotes integration. So how to develop presence? Mindfulness is one reliable way of becoming more present with one’s self. With that comes the heightened possibility of being more present with others.

The practice of mindfulness may well be a way of integrating the functions of the brain and the mind, along with enhancing relationships.

RESOURCES:
  1. Dan Siegel’s excellent website:  www.drdansiegel.com
  2. The Miracle of Mindfulness: Thich Nhat Hanh.  Practical, profound yet accessible guide to mindfulness practice.
  3. Wherever You Go, There You Are (link to Borders online store): Jon Kabat-Zinn. One of Jon’s excellent books on mindfulness.
  4. Meditation - An In-Depth Guide: Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson – our guide to Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation. Has accompanying CDs to support your practice.
  5. Residential and non-residential mindfulness and meditation programs : The Gawler Foundation: www.gawler.org

THANKS to all who have been commenting on the blogs. Remember to click on comments if you have experiences to share, questions or observations.

NEXT BLOG:
Meditation- how much is enough? And what meditation I did during my recovery, what I do know and what experience says is recommended for others at different times in your life.

25 October 2010

Eating for recovery

“Now that you have cancer, what you eat will make no difference to the outcome.”This is the all-too-frequent and disturbing advice many people have told me was given to them by their well-meaning doctors.

Clearly, if you reflect on it, the advice is inane. Does that mean you can eat poison now and it will not matter? Does anyone really think that if you are on chemo and have a really bad junk food diet, that switching to a good diet will not help? And what of the recent research showing that what you eat actually can be therapeutic and improve outcomes for people with cancer?

THE BIG ISSUES
Faced with cancer there are basically three food choices – do nothing different, eat sensibly, or eat therapeutically.


1. Do Nothing
Just continue to eat what ever you did in the past leading up to the diagnosis.
  • Benefits: No stress, no fuss, business as usual, easy for everyone.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Since the 1970’s and the work of Doll and Peto, we have known that at least one third of all cancers are directly dietary related. Food is the major cause of cancer according to leading authorities. So, if you have a disease why keep doing what is causing it?
    • By doing nothing, you could miss out on the real benefits.
  • How to do it? Convince yourself food is unimportant or what you are doing is okay.

2. Eat Sensibly
Eat things that are known to be good for you, and avoid those that are not. This is like the Wellness (or Maintenance) Diet, as set out in my book You Can Conquer Cancer (YCCC).
  • Benefits:
    • Provides sound nutrition that will support treatment and healing.
    • Avoids dietary factors that could make the situation worse.
    • This approach is relatively easy to do and if followed by other members of the family, will do their long term health a power of good.
  • Disadvantages: Unless you were eating really well before the diagnosis; you and those around you will need to change somewhat; you will have to learn new ways and adapt your habits.
  • How to do it?  Follow the Wellness Diet Guidelines in YCCC.

3. Eat therapeutically
Eating for Recovery goes further and aims to use food as a solution; it aims to increase the chances of survival.
  • Benefits:
    • Based on 30 years of clinical experience, almost all the people that I have worked with who have had medically unexpected, long term recoveries claim that food was one of the things that helped them most.
    • Taking control of your diet gives a sense of control generally and it might just be very helpful!
    • Changing your diet is not so easy but by doing so, it is like you make a huge affirmation that you want to live. This truth and its impact are often overlooked.
    • Done well, this focus on food can provide a common goal, a point of coming together for family and friends. What is needed is the clarity of conviction. Then enthusiasm for it, even delight in change flows easily.
  • Disadvantages:
    • If done badly, with the wrong attitudes, dietary change can cause stress for everyone.
    • Obtaining good professional support is challenging. Most medical courses provide little training in nutrition and hence many doctors do not value it. In my experience many dieticians seem to have a very conservative view regarding the potential for food to be therapeutic. Nutritionists and naturopaths are often more accepting of the possibilities and knowledgeable, but generally many health practitioners focus their “nutritional advice” on supplements and overlook the main event – the food you eat and what you drink.
  • How to do it?  Refer back to last weeks Blog – Food 101 as a starting point to review the decision making process and to be reminded of the choices. You could consider one of the following:
  • Follow a specific healing program or therapist’s advice.
    For example, the Healing Diet as outlined in YCCC and detailed in my CD “Eating for Recovery”, is based on 30 years experience helping people with cancer who took their nutrition seriously. Like me they studied, they experimented and they reached conclusions that were common to many of them. Those conclusions form the Healing Diet and are a good starting point for many who have been recently diagnosed and choose to be serious about their diet.
  • Personalise your Healing Diet.
    This requires a concerted effort but in my view provides the best long term outcomes. The steps are:
  1. Begin with an intense period.
    Take your food seriously. Ideally do a detox program, maybe a monodiet as in YCCC. Eliminate toxins, purify your system. Rebalance your metabolism and enhance your sensitivity to what is good for you. Revisit the blog: Food 101.
     
  2. Over time, use your own sensibilities to modify the Healing Diet to match your own situation and metabolism. This is a little challenging as it requires some confidence in your own ability to work out what is good for you. But remember, life is not static. Everything is constantly changing and so while the main things you eat may remain fairly constant, some details will change. When you have developed the capacity and the confidence to respond to you own dietary needs, you have a secret for long-term good health.

WHAT I DID
Before diagnosis: I ate the average Western diet with a lot of meat. Many people, including me, thought I ate pretty well.

After diagnosis: Began to take more interest in what I was eating, but changed little.

After secondaries: Had an “ah! ha!” experience. Food is important, it could help me to heal.
Began with about 3 months on the Gerson Diet: No meat except some liver juices (true!), no fish, only occasional cottage cheese, lots of veggies and juices along with specific Gerson supplements (from Dec ’75). Fortunately survived all this too!

While it was great for detoxing, rebalancing the system and increasing my sensitivity, I was unable to obtain organic grains at the time so struggled with weightloss. Also, as my disease was well advanced, cachexia, or weightloss related to the cancer itself was probably a real issue (I will write more on this important issue another time). So I began to modify Gerson by experimenting with a wider range of foods. Stayed off meat and found hen’s eggs and dairy products disagreed with me. Continued to have juices while healing, towards the end ate fish once every week or two.

Once well: Settled into the Wellness Diet. Now eat what is best described as  vegaquarian – basically (but obviously not strictly) vegetarian/vegan with seafood occasionally (about once a week). This could also be described in broad terms as a wholefood, plant based diet. Often I eat a couple of eggs a week and every now and again some cheese or an ice cream (for years while healing I did not, which may have been my greatest discipline).

DOSE RELATED EFFECT
It may well be that the more attention you give to your nutrition, the better the effect.

Prof. Dean Ornish published research showing that men who made modest lifestyle changes, including to their diets, stabilised early prostate cancer. Those who made major changes, improved their situation significantly.

With Multiple Sclerosis, Swank’s long term research showed the same effect even more dramatically. In his study, people who improved their diets to quite a large extent often got little benefit. It was only when they were more thorough that their MS stabilised and when really thorough, actually reversed – like we have documented at the Foundation’s MS program.

Again, based on my years of experience, I believe that to obtain cancer related, therapeutic benefits from nutrition may require a really good diet, not just pretty good. And while it may well be true that when you are well, what you eat mostly is important, (what you eat occasionally does not matter so much in this situation), when you are Eating for Recovery, what you eat all the time is likely to be important. So eating therapeutically may well require being consistently thorough, sticking to what is good for you.

How sad it is that research in this field is so neglected. I have seen so many people do remarkable things when they combine good nutrition with the right state of mind and regular, intense meditation.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
All of this is an essentualised summary intended as an indication of what is possible while giving some inspiration and direction. Remember to get professional advice if you are making major changes.

As always, let me know your experiences, questions, feedback bellow by clicking on the word "Comments".

RESOURCES:
1. My book 'You Can Conquer Cancer' has three chapters on food, eating theraputically and maintaining a healthy diet.

2. My CDs:
Eating Well, Being Well: All the main points about food – the Wellness Diet.
Eating for Recovery:  Building on the first CD, the specifics of the anti-cancer diet: the Healing Diet.

3. Gerson’s book 'A Cancer Therapy'. While I do not recommend this at home because it is so hard to do, the book is full of explanations and recommendations that more recent research continues to support. For example, Gerson said in the ‘40s Flaxseed oil was the only oil to use and not to heat it.

4. Programs and counselling: The Gawler Foundation; www.gawler.org

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG:
What was Prof Dan Siegel, Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and world authority on the brain, the mind and relationships doing literally “Out on a Limb” up a tree in a Melbourne park? All will be revealed as I tell you about the meeting Ruth and I had with him this week and about his fascinating and extremely important research and experience.

18 October 2010

Food 101: What fuel goes into your tank?

Food is directly linked to six of the ten most common causes of death. Some people live for their next gourmet food experience. Some eat to fill an emotional hole and become the size of a whale. Some just hope they will get something, any old thing to eat today. And some base their health and their healing around food.

One recent, very hot summer’s day, I pulled in to a garage for petrol. Beside me, a hot, sweaty, overweight and grumpy man approached a nearby pump for his fuel. He had three choices – low, medium and high octane, and he seemed clear on which to choose.

Seeing his foul mood, the mischievous part of me thought to suggest he take out his grumpiness on his van and put the wrong fuel in it. The sane part rapidly decided this was not such a good idea! Not to be outdone, the mischievous part rose up with: “ tell him to do a really good job of it and fill up with diesel instead of petrol”. No came the response, you will get hit for sure if you say that!

So I held my tongue and watched. Very attentively this man put the right petrol into his simple combustion engine van. Then he went into the shop, bought all sorts of junk and proceeded to put absolute rubbish into his own highly sophisticated, super complex combustion engine ie his body? My guess is that this fellow was like the rest of us and regularly attends to his vehicle’s service timelines.

Why the disconnect with the body? Surely it is common sense that food builds our bodies and is the mainstay of running and repairing them.

If you want a junk body, eat junk food. Want a healthy body? Eat healthy food. Just think each time you are putting fuel into your vehicle, what sort of fuel am I asking my body to run on today?

THIS BLOG then will be the start of a series to examine three crucial questions:
  1. What is healthy food? - for those who are basically well, and those seeking healing.
  2. How is it best to handle food? – selection, storage, preparation, eating.
  3. Once you have confidence in what to do – how do you actually get into the habit of eating well and sustaining it?

WHAT TO DO?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was one dietary regime we could confidently recommend for everyone! Problem is, people are different – physically, metabolically, psychologically, every which way. How, therefore do we work out what is best for us?

FIRST STEP:
Sort out what value you place on food, ie how important is it to you? How much attention will you give it?
In my opinion, it is very important – for our health, for healing and for wellbeing. But you may prefer to eat, drink, and be merry!

SECOND STEP:
Decide who decides.
Given the complexity of this subject, you may choose to seek out the best health professional available, and follow their advice. Perhaps you will prefer to follow someone else’s established formula - such as the guidelines set out in my Wellness diet outlined in “You Can Conquer Cancer”(YCCC) which suit the needs of most people. Or you may decide to take the time to develop your own, personalised program.

INDIVIDUALISING YOUR DIET:

Based on nearly 30 years of learning about nutrition, and clinical experience helping people attending to their food seriously, I have come to realise there are two steps that reliably sort this out.

  1. Establish Healthy Boundaries:
    By this is meant, in broad terms establish what is good for you and what is not. This leads to the sort of list most nutritional experts will agree with – things to eat, things to avoid. Too long for a blog, my own list is set out in YCCC or on my CD “Eating Well, Being Well”
    The essence of this approach is a whole food, plant based diet.
  2. Individualise Your Food:
    Again, this can be achieved by following the advice of an external, trusted expert, or by turning yourself into the expert. How? By developing your responsiveness to your food. By building your own sense of what is good for you and what is not, and your capacity to respond to this knowing.

This later approach requires a concerted effort but is rewarding in the sense of achievement and confidence you will feel, and the results that follow.

A Short Summary of How to Do It:
  1. MEDITATE:
    Meditation heightens mindfulness and awareness. You notice the effects of what you do. You become more responsive to, and appreciative of your food.
  2. PHYSICALLY:
    Let your body be your guide. Help your body to become more responsive.
    • Detoxify: Like servicing the car, use a detox to refresh and purify your system. TIP: Just eliminating sugar and salt quickly enhances your body’s capacity to discriminate between foods that agree with you and those that do not.
    • Balance Your System: Supplements may be useful for a while but food is the main event. Remember, good supplements will never make up for poor food.
    • Observe your reactions and adjust accordingly.
  3. EMOTIONALLY:
    Treat any negative emotions. Quite a lot to say in a few words, but many people’s dietary habits are driven by their emotions.
  4. MENTALLY:
    Learn! Take an interest. Read. Go to groups and seminars. Visit the experts. Ask questions and discriminate.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Remember, whenever considering nutrition it is wise to seek professional help. This is essential if you have had bowel surgery, or if anything untoward or unexpected happens.


RESOURCES:

  1. BOOKS:
    You Can Conquer Cancer - Dr. Ian Gawler: Three chapters on food; as much for prevention of cancer and for the healthy as it is for those dealing with the disease.

    The Miracle of Mindfulness- Thich Nhat Hanh: How to develop your awareness and so your responsiveness to food.
  2. IAN’S CDs:
    Eating Well, Being Well: The healthy boundaries explained – a sound, enjoyable basic diet. Suitable for many people.

    Eating For Recovery: The healing diet for cancer. Note: If you are dealing with cancer, you need both CDs as the first explains the foundations and the second the details.

    Emotional Health: Particularly useful for resolving “racket”, or habitual emotions that can override our common sense when it comes to what to eat.
  3. PROGRAMS:
    The Gawler Foundation provides residential and non-residential programs, as well as counselling and a great resource centre.

NEXT BLOG:
I will go “Out on a Limb” recounting what I did eat to get well, what I eat now and discuss food in relation to cancer – its role as a cause, how it supports other treatments, and the possibilities it holds as a cure.

FEEDBACK
Pardon the poor pun but I am very interested in what is working for people and any difficulties or questions you may have. Just click on Comments and let me know.

11 October 2010

A Survivor's Bemusement

It is rather bemusing to be a long term cancer survivor and to have so many people claiming to be responsible for curing you and to have their own version of what you did.

During the thirty plus years since my recovery from disseminated osteosarcoma, I am personally aware of hearing the following people lay claim to my cure: one psychiatrist who taught meditation therapeutically, one chemotherapist, one naturopath, several shamanic healers, one rabid nutritionist, one Indian avatar (actually he did not make any claim, but some of his disciples did), and one ex wife.

Those who claim to have assisted significantly in the recovery include a surgeon, radiotherapist, counsellor, yoga teacher, one GP heavily into supplementation, several other GPs, diagnosticians and natural therapists, family members and friends!

Things that I took or did that others have claimed were what really cured me include food, juices, supplements, developing strong willpower, benefitting from good support, using meditation, imagery, yoga, exercise, spiritual healing, prayer, chemotherapy, taking injections of mistletoe and TB vaccines and taking various other herbs, elixirs and potions.

ARE YOU CONFUSED?
The fact is I did a lot and many of the above were really helpful. Perhaps it is no wonder that when my story has been retold by others, while the main points have usually been accurately presented, there have often been minor errors in the detail – usually to do with time lines.

My biography “The Dragon’s Blessing” was compiled by an independent journalist who had access to meticulous diaries I kept through my illness, my detailed medical records and to all the key people involved, including family, friends, healers and doctors. I believe it to be an accurate account of what really did happen during my life leading up to the diagnosis, my long and complex recovery and my life and work since.

One of the most common questions I have been asked over the years is “What did it? How come you survived when others did not? Were you just lucky? What made the difference?” Well in my view, the challenging reality is that there was not any single thing that “did it”. Most of the above were helpful. I attribute my recovery to a combined approach.

So was I just lucky? I do not think so. While it would be fair to say that I was a little bit lucky - I am still alive after all; in my view, the key points, the key points that usually have been accurately portrayed when my story has been retold, are these: the two things that helped me the most were my lifestyle generally, and my state of mind specifically.

My state of mind was aided greatly by the sustained practice of meditation. It enabled me to remain free of anxiety in the face of an extreme health crisis. My mind became clearer, more stable and better focused. As a consequence, I was able to think clearly, make good decisions and have the confidence, commitment and perseverance to gain the best outcomes from all that I did.

For the last thirty years I have helped others to take up a similar therapeutic lifestyle to the one I used and continue to follow personally. This approach is well documented in my book “You Can Conquer Cancer” which was first published in 1984 and has been updated since.

LIFESTYLE IS THERAPEUTIC
Based on my extensive clinical experience, and supported by the burgeoning amount of positive research in this field, I am of the view that a lifestyle program warrants implementation at the time of first diagnosis of cancer, just as it does for heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and MS. There is no doubt in my view that lifestyle factors can do more than just improve the quality of life for people affected by cancer; A therapeutic lifestyle can improve survival times.

While it is relatively easy to instruct people in the technical aspects of how to meditate, and what constitutes healthy food, drink and exercise, it is far more challenging to address implementation of such a lifestyle based program, as well as the emotional, mental and spiritual needs they experience.

Again, based on my clinical experience, this is where group instruction and therapy is so important. Inspiration, hope, safety, emotional expression, the search for meaning, the capacity to endure, cope with setbacks, failures and triumphs; all these and so much more is possible when self help, peer groups meet around a common theme with a well trained and skilled facilitator.

SO WHAT IS NEEDED?
  1. Doctors to recommend a lifestyle program for all people at first diagnosis of cancer (just like they do for heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes)
  2. More research is needed on the therapeutic benefits of lifestyle specifically and long term survivors generally. Also, specific research is long overdue to investigate the effects of meditation on cancer survival.
  3. Increase public awareness so people know what a therapeutic lifestyle is, what its benefits are, where to learn about it and where to receive the support they need to implement it.
  4. Ensure access to suitable lifestyle based self–help programs led by well trained and authentic group leaders supported by sufficient ancillary staff and services. The Gawler Foundation, from which I am now retired, continues to provide what in my view is the world’s best practice model for this type of service.

NEXT WEEK’S POST

NUTRITION: What constitutes a healthy diet for the average person and for those looking to recover from major illness? What I actually did eat through my own recovery - and what I eat now that helps me to be really well and happy!

05 October 2010

MEDITATION AND SATISFACTION

“Meditation is the greatest gift you can give to yourself or to another” - Sogyal Rinpoche

Why would someone who has grown up and been trained in a culture that is immersed in meditation say that it is the greatest? In my view, in my experience, it is simple. The regular practice of meditation brings out the best in all aspects of what it is to be a human being.

My guess is that many of you who are reading this will have done some meditation already. Maybe you have been practising for a long time. However, despite this, maybe you are in a similar boat to many people I have questioned at workshops presented over many years who say they are somewhat dissatisfied. So many people feel they should be spending more time meditating, and they are dissatisfied with the quality of their practice. This is despite the coexisting fact that these same people tell me how much benefit meditation has brought to their lives – in so many ways.

So this then will be the immediate aim of the next few meditation blogs – to prompt you to reflect a little, to help you to establish realistic expectations and to gain genuine satisfaction from your knowledge and practise of meditation

MOTIVATION
Everything we do starts with our motivation. Why then do we want to meditate? Maybe you began to meditate, or currently are considering doing so due to some burning issue. A health crisis, personal trauma, a feeling of being out of balance, stress, anxiety; maybe a realisation there is more to life, an urge to get to know yourself, to experience the truth of who you really are.

The reality is that meditation offers benefits to all aspects of life. The practice of meditation has 7000 years of written history to draw upon. Over 4000 research studies have been published in scientific journals all around the world attesting to the wide ranging physical and psychological benefits. Meditation brings out the best in us. As a consequence we can be at our best for others and be most useful in our lives.

The key point here is to remember your motivation. Maybe you did begin to meditate with a passion burning to address a particular issue. As time goes on, without reminders, without stimulus, passion can wain. Other things come to take precedence. You can slip into “I don’t have time now, I will meditate tomorrow”.

The antidote is to develop the habit of reminding yourself of your motivation each time you begin your meditation. In the spiritual traditions this was often done using prayer, but it can be done just as effectively with a secular affirmation.

This requires taking a little time to develop a short, positive statement that encapsulates why you are motivated to meditate. Write it out. Learn it. Make the commitment to yourself to say it each time before you meditate. And when you do say it, aim to say it freshly, with meaning; each time reconsidering it and remembering its meaning.

Many people I know have transformed their meditation through this process. Give it a go. Then maybe you would like to give some feedback. What works for you? Have you a prayer, an affirmation you want to share? And what other meditation questions do you have?
In the next meditation blog, I will address the old and the new – some amazing facts about meditations ancient history and some of the mind blowing new research that has been published recently.

USEFUL RESOURCES
  1. Free access to research on meditation is available via biblio.noetic.org
  2. Sogyal Rinpoche’s book is: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
  3. My most recent book on meditation: Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson: Meditation - An In-Depth Guide
  4. DVD to learn meditation: Meditation Live by Ian Gawler
  5. CD for learning and practice: Meditation - A Complete Guide by Ian Gawler
  6. Meditation Courses and Retreats (and leaders who may be in your area and who have been trained by Ian and Paul) : The Gawler Foundation: www.gawler.org

04 October 2010

IN THE BEGINNING ....

"It’s a great feeling to have recovered from cancer – to have been through it all and to be living a full, happy life again. I have done it. I have seen others do it and I know many more will repeat the process in the future"
This is how I began “You Can Conquer Cancer” when I first wrote it in 1984. Those lines encapsulated the elation I felt coming out the other end of a very difficult illness, the realisation that what had helped me to recover was already helping others and the promise of things to come.

First diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma and leg amputated in 1975, my cancer recurred later that year. Then given 2 weeks to live in early 1976 and yet almost miraculously, declared cancer free in July 1978.
Apart from being elated, was I just lucky? Or was there something repeatable in what had helped me?
I was convinced that it was the things I was able to learn and do for myself that had made the difference. This is not to minimise the terrific support I received during my recovery, but I felt a compulsion to attempt to help others with the key things I believed had the potential to make the difference between life and death. The key things that people can learn to do for themselves.
These key factors are best described as lifestyle factors. They are the things that we can do in the course of our daily lives that have so much influence on our health, our capacity to heal and our wellbeing. What we eat and drink, how much we exercise, whether we smoke or not. How we manage our relationships, our work, our emotional health, what we know of the workings of our mind and how we use its potential; and how our spiritual values and practices inform our lives; these are lifestyle factors. These are things we can learn about, study and practice. These are things which are within our own control and have the capacity to radically transform our lives for the better.
My work in this field had begun rather tentatively in 1981. Perhaps what had helped me might help others. In those early days there was an incredible amount to learn. And I asked questions. Many questions - of many people. In fact, most of the questions were directed at the large numbers of people who attended the groups I ran. What works? What works to make the groups function better? What works at home that you learn at the groups? What do we need to give more attention to? What is irrelevant? What is useful?
Many people reported many benefits and the groups flourished, You Can Conquer Cancer was written, an organisation grew to support the work. As the positive results became more obvious, we moved into preventative health as well as adding to the cancer programs with specific Multiple Sclerosis programs. We expended into the field of wellbeing – how is sustainable happiness to be found.
When I retired from The Gawler Foundation at the end of 2009 there were around 50 staff and many volunteers providing a wide range of services that focus on the capacity for lifestyle factors to positively influence health, healing and wellbeing. Happily the organisation has continued to flourish since I have stepped back.
It was a tough thing to retire. I am only 60 and there are so many people needing help. But as well as feeling the need for a break (which I could have accomplished with a sabbatical) and the need to allow the Foundation to fully mature and to establish its bona fides independently of myself; I recognise the value of stepping outside of what you are immersed in, to reassess and refocus. Being so committed to this work for so many years, it would be nice to think I had become a little better at what I was doing as the years passed by.
But being so involved, it is hard to think really freely, really creatively. My work has always valued innovation and creativity. Curiously, the core of the programs is very similar now to what they were in the early 80s. The value of good food, and what it is, the value of regular meditation and how to do it; these are the constants.
But is there a better way that I could be assisting people? It may be helpful to say that it felt to me to be a huge responsibility to step out of something that clearly was, and continues to be, so helpful to so many people, to step into the unknown and to explore new unchartered possibilities. Let’s hope something useful emerges.
Why then a blog? Well, firstly, I pretty thoroughly avoided computers for the first 60 years of my life! We had plenty of them at work and while enjoying learning about what they could do and being involved in developing good systems to use them, I never had one myself or used one personally. I love the feel and the flow of writing with a fountain pen.
However, one of the areas that I am bound to give my attention to in future blogs is the exciting new discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity – how the brain changes its structure and function depending upon how we use it. It adds good science to the old adage “use it or lose it.”
Personally therefore, I am choosing to stretch and work my brain by delving into what for me are new fields of IT and the web.
In the broader terms of what I have to offer, and how I might be helpful, a blog seems like a great medium to explore. Just like when I first started Australia’s first lifestyle based cancer self-help groups back in 1981, now I am interested in how new technologies can be useful – not just for people with cancer, but also those interested in the wider scope of lifestyle factors – that cover health, healing and wellbeing.
So, the current intention is to begin with weekly posts covering a range of topics. Please feel free to comment. Those early cancer groups were dramatically shaped by the feedback of their participants and as a consequence they rapidly grew into something useful. Maybe we can do the same thing here and use this medium to develop something that is really relevant and helpful.
Maybe the blog will be useful in its own right and will warrant development. Maybe it will lead to something else in IT land. Maybe my energies will be better directed into the garden?!
This then has been an introduction and a beginning. The first focussed blog is posted now too – on meditation. So, read on. Give feedback if you feel to. Unsubscribe if you prefer and lets see what happens.