26 September 2011

Clearing unpleasant emotions

How best to deal with an emotion that is recurring, unpleasant or maybe quite painful? Some use drugs or alcohol. Some use crazy and really traumatic behaviour to mask the pain and distract themselves. There are several more effective and intelligent ways to approach this common dilemma, and here is one of the best: Mindfulness of Emotions.

The basic approach is quite simple. What you do is use your willpower to selectively drop any thinking about “the story” and instead go into “the emotion”.

Why does this work? When we feel a difficult emotion, the natural tendency is to keep going over the story. He did that… I said this… What if that had happened? Why didn’t I try that? What if she did ....??  And on, and on, and on. Over and over and over.

Inevitably the story will go on forever, like a classic, long-running soap opera with a few key players who manage to recycle a never-ending list of problems. The more we dwell on the story, the more we fuel the emotions.

Hence this solution. Let go of the story and focus on the emotion. We do this by feeling the emotions in our body.

Often, before our awareness is brought to this and we train ourselves a little, emotions in general are felt as some vague pleasant or unpleasant feeling that we recognised as an emotion, but we have difficulty really knowing what it is, or where it is. In this way, emotions can remain rather abstract, vague and more in our head than our body. In our head, emotions tend to become stuck, linked to their story and gone over again and again with no resolution. Left in our head, it is not surprising that difficult emotions may well be painful and chronic and, as such, either suppressed or left uncontrolled and unpredictable.

The solution is simple. We turn our attention to our body and investigate the feeling in our body that goes with the emotion. If you have not done this before it is easy. It can be done in meditation posture, sitting casually or lying down. Probably easier with the eyes closed, we simply bring to mind the emotion, then notice where in the body we actually feel the sensation in the body, and we acknowledge it to ourselves.

Most emotions register in our central core – abdomen, solar plexus region, chest; maybe up into the throat region or down into the pelvis; but mostly in the chest and abdomen.

If you have a strong emotion, you can try this straight away. If you want to experiment with this technique you can recall one of your emotional stories for a moment, just long enough to generate the emotion, then drop the story, bring your attention into that central core area of your body, and go into the bodily felt sense of the emotion.

There are three crucial points with this technique:

Simply dwell on the feeling in your body.
Avoid the temptation to think the feeling in your body needs to change or you need to fix something. Your awareness will take care of it automatically. By holding your awareness on the feeling, it will slowly, steadily and reliably dissolve.


Hold the physical feeling in your awareness non-judgementally.
This is very important. Let go of any tendency to be critical or to analyse. Simply be interested to notice the feeling. That is all. Just notice it free of any judgement; free of any commentary or internal discussion.

To do this is the discipline, the personal kindness you need for the technique to be effective. So whenever you notice yourself becoming judgemental, simply drop the commentary and go back into the feeling.

Remain undistracted. 
Whenever you become aware that your mind has wandered or you have gone back to dwelling on the story, recognise this, be gentle with yourself (do not beat yourself up!), and return to the bodily-felt sense.


If you find emotion welling up, maybe tears flowing or other emotions becoming quite strong, aim to remain undistracted and stay with the feeling in your body.

This technique is well described as Mindfulness of Emotions and is a powerful way to actually become comfortable with, and then release, destructive and painful emotions.

Give it a go and if you have feedback, add it to the comment section below.

Smile and enjoy!

NEWS


I am very excited by the invitation to speak at the 2012 Happiness and its Causes Conference.  I have been requested to co-present a one day, pre conference workshop with Sogyal Rinpoche and to present a Key Note address to the main conference. As Rinpoche has been my main teacher for over 25yrs this is a daunting but wonderful prospect. The Conference regularly has had 2-3,000 people attend and is one of the great Mind-Body-Spirit Conferences held anywhere in the world. It is well worth considering attending, I recommend it highly. Follow the link above for the program.

RESOURCES


BOOKS


Meditation An In-depth Guide: Ian Gawler and Paul Benson contains a large section on managing emotions.

CDs


Emotional Health: Ian Gawler

RELATED BLOGS


Love and its conditions


Orgasm, healing and wellbeing

19 September 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Food for life – what to eat when

One useful way to decide what is the best eating pattern for us to follow, is to consider what phase of life we are in.

When we were developing as a foetus inside our mother’s abdomen, both of us had very specific nutritional requirements. As a child and adolescent, we needed about 25% more food on a weight for weight basis to take account of our growth rate. Some parents would say, for teenage boys it is way higher! Certainly if we are engaged in physically demanding sport or work, we need significantly more than someone who sits behind a desk all day.

When we are basically well, it is what we eat mostly that is important. The fact is that as human beings, our bodies are reasonably adaptable. If you eat well at home through the week and then go out on the weekend and play up a little, there is little likelihood of harm. If you play up every night, then the risks begin to build fairly rapidly.

So again, when we are well, what we eat mostly is important. However, when we are dealing with major illness, what we eat all the time is important.

This statement is made based on my years of clinical experience, and is reinforced by the one randomised, lifestyle-based cancer trial published to date. Dean Ornish first won acclaim back in the nineties for publishing data that demonstrated how it is possible to reverse coronary artery disease using a basically vegan diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, emotional healing and group therapy – a program very similar to the one I helped to develop at the Gawler Foundation.

Ornish then went on to investigate the same program with men diagnosed with early prostate cancer (in what essentially in those days was called the “watchful waiting phase”). The results were compelling. Not surprisingly, the cancer advanced for virtually all the men in the control group; their PSA’s (a blood marked of prostate cancer activity) went up, the aggressiveness of their cancers went up and several required major medical treatments.

Those men who made modest lifestyle changes stabilised their condition, a significant benefit in its own right. However, those who made major lifestyle changes and diligently maintained them were able to reduce their PSA’s, reduce the aggressiveness of their cancers and after one year, none had required medical intervention. After three years, the benefits were still highly beneficial in a way that was statistically very significant, although a small number of the diligent men had required more medical treatment.

In nearly all areas of life, how we apply ourselves will make a difference. Do nothing and the natural course of events is likely to follow. Do nothing in response to cancer and it is highly likely to progress. Intervene; use your own resources, and remarkable outcomes become possible.

So when faced with active cancer, the recommendation is to take what you eat seriously. It can really help. But if you think “I will eat well long enough to get well, and then go back to junk food”, you are missing the point.

The first thing when faced with cancer is to recover. Then we aim for a long, happy and healthy life. What we eat provides the raw ingredients for healing as well as a healthy old age.

For everyone, what we eat will make a huge difference to our life, both immediately and for the future.
Perhaps the secret to a good life is as simple as "eat good food and meditate".

RELATED BLOGS     Big Mac or a Salad


                                Eating for Recovery


                                What Fuel Goes into your Tank?


RESOURCES

BOOKS:  You Can Conquer Cancer; Ian Gawler- contains nutritional details and the basis of how to eat well for those who are well and aim to stay that way; as well as those seeking to recover from cancer

CDs: Eating Well, Being Well; Ian Gawler – a thorough introduction to the Wellness Diet which is suitable for most people and families
                
Eating for Recovery; Ian Gawler – details the Healing Diet recommended for those dealing with cancer (and which builds on the previous CD, eg people with cancer are recommended to obtain both CDs)

PROGRAMS and COUNSELLING on food matters: The Gawler Foundation

12 September 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: 9/11,Transformation, and mindfulness of people.

Ruth and I had the good fortune to receive an award at a recent Inter-faith function where the aim was to mobilise the energy around the extraordinary events of 9/11 to promote Inter-faith understanding and cooperation.

The awards are an annual event inaugurated last year in the best spirit of Australian multi-culturalism. Swami Shankarananda, a Jewish New Yorker intellectual, met Muktananda, the then head of Siddha Yoga in his early days and is now teaching Hindu philosophy and practices to a wide audience in outer suburban Melbourne. Along with his wife Devi Ma, Swamiji runs a very vibrant centre in Mt Eliza with a strong emphasis on meditation, chanting and finding joy in the spiritual path.

The award night was a real delight, bringing together local leaders from all the major faith traditions. We had a Jewish cantor singing prayers, an operatic quality rendition of Ave Maria and Hindu chanting, along with silent meditation.

Where were you when you first heard of the twin tower attacks?

Ruth and I were coming home from a wonderful evening where Paul Kraus’ fabulous book ‘Surviving Cancer” had been launched by the Gawler Foundation. Along with a group of long term cancer survivors whose stories are featured in the book, Prof Chris O’Brien had spoken in glowing and eloquent terms of drawing on the Foundation's inspiration and knowledge to mobilise his own efforts; using meditation and other lifestyle factors in his efforts to recover from his own very difficult cancer.

That evening had been one of the most uplifting in the Gawler Foundation’s history, and then, on the radio, complete incredulity. Could this be real? Then on the TV. Was it an Orsen Wells like black-hearted trick to be playing these images? And then, the realisation the towers had really fallen, so many people had died, and all our lives were in the process of changing.

So 10yrs later, what has happened? According to The Age, Australia is estimated to have spent $30 billion fighting terrorism; the USA $4 trillion! Prof Mark Stewart, a Newcastle academic puts the risk for an Australian actually being killed by a terrorist attack at 1 in 7 million per year, about the same risk as being killed by lightning.

Of course, for anyone who was directly affected by 9/11, the Bali bombings or any other act of terrorism, the consequences have been severe and probably ongoing.

But for the population at large, do we need to keep spending such huge amounts on anti-terrorist activities, including fighting in countries not our own? Maybe it is time to give more time and resources to reducing fear and bringing people together in peace and understanding.

One of the challenges is to not sound clich├ęd in this arena. At the award night, a remarkable young Buddhist monk managed this very well. Thubten Gyaltsen was acknowledged and awarded for his Inter-faith work amongst young people. He recounted the day he heard Osama Bin-Laden was killed by US forces. The TV was replete with images of young Americans dancing and chanting in the streets, claiming to be young Christians and deliriously happy with the death of this man.

Then he went to an evening function in the Muslim community where the keynote speaker’s first name was also Osama. This man spoke with fervour and passion about the need to be of service throughout the local community, to make alliances with all the faiths, to bring understanding and peace to their own people and their new home country.

The challenge must be to go beyond stereotypes, to transform fear and to build cross-cultural and Inter-faith relationships. One simple way I have found to work on this is what I call:

Mindfulness of people

This is a simple exercise. You smile warmly at everyone you meet, whether on introduction from a trusted friend, whether at a business meeting or as you pass them casually in the street. The easy mindfulness bit is to give them your full attention for the few moments the smile takes; the tricky part is to notice your mind as you offer the smile. You aim to notice what response you have to smiling at everyone, regardless of their size, shape, age, gender, colour race, creed etc

When you can genuinely say the feeling that goes with smiling at everyone is the same, you have achieved something quite difficult I would suggest, but something incredibly worthwhile. The advanced practice is to remain unaffected by whatever judgements you get the impression the other person is making of you!

Like all exercises such as this one, it takes effort and practice; and any progress you make is valuable.

As for the award, it acknowledged the contribution Ruth and I have made through teaching and popularising meditation. In Swami Shankarananda’s words:

“We give awards each year for interfaith activity. It started when I decided to reverse the significance of September 11 by thinking of it as, instead of a dark day for interreligious relationships, a day for the celebration of interreligious dialogue.

“Last year we gave the "Sanatana Dharma Award" to Father John Dupuche in recognition of all his work in the field. This year we would like to give the award jointly to both of you.

“Sanatana Dharma is translated as "the eternal religion". It refers to the kernel of oneness that is behind all the different religions. In my mind, meditation is the highest expression of Sanatana Dharma because it comes under no trademark, is the private property of no single religion and is equally beneficial, like sleep, to Hindus, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and even atheists.”

NEWS

1. Weekend workshop in Melbourne: 17 & 18 September
     Bookings through the Gawler Foundation

2.  Healing Meditation Retreat and Training for health professionals – with monks from Thich Nhat Hahn’s tradition
     Bookings through the Gawler Foundation

RESOURCES


BOOKS

1. Meditation – An In-depth Guide: Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

2. The Miracle of Mindfulness: Thich Nhat Hahn

CDs

1. Deepening your meditation (for mindfulness exercises): Ian Gawler

2. A Woman’s Voice: Ruth Gawler leading mindfulness and meditation exercises

RELATED BLOGS

1. Go with the flow or intervene

2. The brain, the mind and relationships

05 September 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Mindfulness in daily life.

We notice whenever someone is present; when they give us their full attention. This is mindfulness. What a wonderful present to give to another human being, our full attention, our mindfulness!

To learn to become more mindful, we can begin by practising what we call focussed mindfulness. This is as simple as formally paying attention to the sounds around about us, to our breath, our body; whatever we choose to focus upon with our attention, while at the same time, we remain like a non-judgemental observer, free of judgement, free of internal commentary.

There is a natural peace in simply being mindful. We practise and begin to appreciate this. With our minds open, curious, aware; we notice whatever it is that we have chosen to focus upon. No need to force anything, or deny anything. Open. Aware. Free of judgement. Mindful. So easy.

Of course, when we aim to be mindful, our mind can wander; we can become distracted or simply “space out”. Again, we benefit from noticing this. Whenever necessary, we bring our mind back to the focus of our mindfulness.

Remember too the benefits of relaxation. Everything is easier in a relaxed body. So as we practise mindfulness, we will benefit from consciously relaxing our bodies.

Open mindfulness is the next step. This is as simple as being fully aware of whatever comes into our awareness at this particular moment. And this particular moment. And this... and this... and so on.

No more, no less. Rather than choosing to focus on something in particular as we do with focussed mindfulness, now we simply notice whatever it is that comes to our attention. This is open mindfulness.

Experiment with open mindfulness in the course of your normal day. To begin with, it may help to notice when you are being mindless! This is when you are doing something and your mind is elsewhere; dwelling on the past or fantasising about the future. Know this to be normal. Know this is why we train to be more mindful. Smile, be gentle with yourself and come back to this present moment. Pay attention; give your full attention to whatever it is that you are doing.

Notice too, that there is no stress in the present moment. No anxiety either. For stress or anxiety you need to think about, and be affected by, the past or the future. In the present there is only peace.

As we practise and learn to be more mindful, we learn to give more attention to the present moment. Of course, memories from the past are still useful, and planning for the future makes good sense. But now we do not dwell on them. We remember the past with an increasing fondness. We do all we can towards an ideal future, and we learn to combine this with going with the flow.

The formal practice of mindfulness translates directly into daily life. The more we learn to give our full attention to what ever or who ever we are engaged with, the better everything flows. This is why mindfulness is such a good practice to learn and develop in formal sessions, and then to take with you into daily life.

Of course, mindfulness is one of the four key steps that lead into meditation. Remember this? Preparation, Relaxation, Mindfulness, Stillness:

Being well prepared to begin meditation we naturally feel more relaxed. As we become more relaxed, we become more aware. We become more mindful. Mindfulness naturally leads into the deeper stillness of meditation.

So many good reasons to develop mindfulness.

NEWS:

1. I am currently updating "You Can Conquer Cancer". If anyone has any comments or suggestions, I would love to hear from you via info@insighthealth.com.au.

2. Two weeks to the Melbourne weekend workshops, where for the first time in years I will spend one full day focussing on nutrition and eating well. It will be a pleasure to present what I believe and why I believe in when it comes to food. The day will be fun and the food can be easy and delicious! Should be good for anyone interested in healthy and healing food - whether for the average person, family or for those with specific needs for healing.

RELATED BLOGS

1. Go with the flow or intervene

2. Meditation in four easy steps

RESOURCES


1. BOOKS: Meditation an In-depth Guide; Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

               The Miracle of Mindfulness; Thich Nhat Hahn

2. CDs:       Meditation - a complete guide; Ian Gawler

               Deepening your meditation; Ian Gawler, complete with the amazing backing of world renowned didgeridoo player, Marshall Whyler.

3PROGRAMS and the Melbourne Workshops: The Gawler Foundation