30 September 2013

Ian Gawler Blog: Meditation in the Desert – A photographic essay

It is not just a cliché; a picture IS worth a thousand words. Well sometimes at least…

Truth is, it is hard to convey the atmosphere of the central Australian desert in words, much less what it is like to meditate for a week there and then spend time with senior indigenous leaders from the area.

So this week, just back from Meditation in the Desert, lots of photos and a few words – a glimpse of what this amazing experience really was like.

Then how you can get a significant discount (20%) to attend the Happiness and its Causes Conference I am honoured to be speaking at in Brisbane and Perth, and news of a TV appearance and my last public event in Melbourne this year: Mind-Body medicine in daily life with Dr Nimrod Sheinman. But first

Thought for the day
The more and more you listen,
The more and more you hear.
The more and more you hear,
The deeper and deeper your understanding becomes.
                  Dudjom Rinpoche


We gathered in Alice Springs. From the UK, New Zealand and all around Australia, drawn by the allure of the desert, a traditional place for retreat, and the not so far away Uluru or Ayer’s Rock.

We travelled out the Tanami Track, then wound our way in to settle just North of Simpson’s Gap, looking across to the Western Macdonnell Ranges.

Hamilton Downs is a heritage pioneer station now used for school and other groups. We came under the heading of “Other”!

We were welcomed into the area by Peter Latz who grew up at remote Hermansburg amidst the local indigenous people.

A long time friend of Ruth, Peter was introduced as one who has become a world authority on desert plants and the land management techniques of the aboriginals.

A fascinating, earthy walk and talk ensued as Peter took us from one
food source to another in what might seem to city folk to be a harsh and barren landscape.

Many elected to sleep under the stars in a swag in the nearby sandy river bed.

We met for my talks and to meditate together under a protective canopy.

Our cook turned out to be sensational. A vegetarian himself, Ken made our food from fresh, mostly organic ingredients and the taste was fabulous.

Everyone took turns to help – mindfulness at work – and a welcome opportunity to put some of the theory and sitting practice into action. Integration.

The day started with gentle yoga led by Ruth. Gentle stretching at everyone’s individual pace and a welcome way to prepare for the day.

Walking meditation came in two forms. Slow and short to provide an interlude, a stretch and some integration between meditation sessions.

Longer and a little quicker for more exercise, a different means to integration, and a good way to move the body.

We sat together and shared stories.

Took a group photo to mark the occasion!

Then largely due to Ruth’s long-term connections with Alice Springs and indigenous people from the area, the fact I have been there many times too, and our old friend Peter Yates who has remarkable connections and experience, we were treated to several days with senior local people who offered some authentic insights into their world, their customs, their lives.

Peter Yates with Johnny Possum Japaljarri

The men watched a stick being crafted into a boomerang – an amazing ancient craft.

Then those who felt to were painted up for dancing.

Natural ochres.

Deeply personal.

Headbands made to measure.

Then led by Japaljarri and dancing in front of the women.

Touching something profound inside.

Deeply satisfying.

The women were led with singing and painting as those who chose to prepared to be painted and to dance.

Singing and painting.

Talking and laughing and painting.

Such a sense of community and ritual and touching that same something deep inside.

A profound experience for all.

This was the fifth time Ruth and I have presented Meditation in the Desert. To be frank, it takes a great deal of organizing, but it has to be one of the best things we do. The powerful and multiple effects of connecting people with the desert, meditating together in that incredibly supportive atmosphere and then spending time with authentic aboriginal people is hard to put into words.

In a couple of weeks I will post images from the post-retreat tour where we visited Kings Canyon and the Rock, connecting again with more aboriginal people and culture.

The feedback this year has been so positive, and the requests to keep it going so frequent, plus the fact that we would like to maintain the regularity of the good connections we have with the indigenous people at the retreat and on the post retreat tour, that we have decided to commit to Meditation in the Desert 2014.

Yes, that is correct, we hope to do it again next year!

 We have tentatively booked Hamilton Downs again for September 5 to 14 2014. However, it will take a while to confirm we can get all the pieces together and to be in the position to say it is definitely on (about a month I am guessing). But you may like to keep the dates free for now!

This is a uniquely Australian event that for meditators really can be the experience of a lifetime.

Meditation in the desert – the program and other details

1. Day seminar with Dr Nimrod Sheinman coming soon
Relaxation, meditation and creative imagery for health, business, healing and wellbeing. A healthy lunch is included.  For details and to book CLICK HERE

2. New TV segment screening soon with Dr Francis Macnab
St Michaels Church in Melbourne has a 13 episode programme on Channel 31 called Conversations with Macnab (Dr Francis Macnab that is). They are broadcast at 7:30 am Saturday mornings and there are 11 programmes remaining.

The one on Saturday 5th October will be a conversation between Francis and myself that Francis led during a church service several weeks ago. There is an introduction by Roger Hersey, himself a long-term cancer survivor, then a fairly wide-ranging and punchy interview.

If you are unable to get Channel 31, it will be posted on YouTube.

3. Happiness and its Causes 
One of the World’s very best Mind-Body medicine conferences. Engaging, inspiring , informative – I am speaking and presenting workshops, and you can come with a 20% discount!
The Happiness & Its Causes Roadshow is coming to Brisbane & Perth!        4 & 5 November 2013 
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre 7 & 8 November 2013 
Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre

Be part of the first ever Happiness & Its Causes Roadshow! Join us for one action packed conference day and one day of in-­‐depth workshops. Be dazzled by a faculty of 20+ international, interstate and local speakers – leaders in psychology, science, education, business, spirituality, the arts and more!

> For the Brisbane event: book online using promotion code ECJS
> For the Perth event: book online using promotion code AYDZ

Or call (02) 8719 5118 to register. Workshops are also discounted and can be booked separately.
  • Associate Professor Michael F Steger, USA, coaching psychologist and international authority in the study of meaning and the quality of life
  • Eve Ekman, USA, expert working with emotion and mindfulness to reduce stress and burnout while enhancing 'professional empathy' in the workplace (Perth only)
  • Professor Michael Corballis, New Zealand, outstanding cognitive neuroscientist and science communicator (Brisbane only)
  • Dr Ian Gawler, Australia's most well known cancer survivor and mind-­‐body medicine pioneer
  • Dr Suzy Green, respected researcher and positive education expert
  • Dr Sarah Edelman, acclaimed clinical psychologist and best-­‐selling author of Change Your Thinking
  • Dr Adam Fraser, innovative educator and researcher on human performance
  • Dr Timothy Sharp, leading clinical psychologist and founder of The Happiness Institute
  • Sue Langley, thought leader and trainer in emotional intelligence and neuroleadership
  • Dr Craig Hassed, GP, lecturer and author on holistic paths to wellbeing
  • Maggie Hamilton, researcher, regular media commentator, internationally published author and
    keen observer of social trends ... plus many more!
    www.happinesanditscauses.com.au/roadshow/brisbane www.happinessanditscauses.com.au/roadshow/perth 


  1. As one of the participants of this FANTASTIC Meditation in the Desert that has just been completed I am 'ecstatic' to hear the fabulous news of 2014!....wooo...hooo!!
    It has certainly strengthened my meditation habit, where I now look forward to 'my time' each day instead of thinking...'when can I fit it in'....maybe tomorrow! As a beginner, the 45 minutes sessions were not always 'easy' for me, on the retreat, but I am finding that now I am home I am relishing that amount of time!
    The food was so nutritious and healthy that my taste buds have also changed-salt & sugar are not what they used to be!!...the fact our habits can change in 10 days has been quite a revelation to me...in fact ....I now have to bake my own bread coz I don't like what I used to!!...and it's just ready now to come out of the oven...the smell is beautiful!
    Thankyou again to Ian & Ruth for such a wonderful opportunity to be part of the retreat with so many fabulous like-minded people...roll on 2014!

  2. Thank you for sharing your Meditation in the Desert experience. Just being in that stunning, timeless country - where it is gently real but a breath away from a spiritual dream - is beauty in itself. Deeply connecting with and in the heart of Australia would be the ultimate gift to one's very being. Very tempted to join you next year!

  3. Beautifully told in pictures and words. Thank you for a delightful depiction of your time in the desert.....really enticing and extraordinary.