28 September 2015

Why Tibetan Buddhism?

Why at 65 years of age take 3 months out of your life for an extended meditation retreat? Why with only one leg make the effort to travel on your own across the world to France for such a retreat? And why, given all the possible secular and religious retreats on offer, choose Tibetan Buddhism?

Many probably wonder, some have even asked me, so this week we go Out on a Limb once again, explore what Tibetan Buddhism has to offer and why anyone from any secular or religious background stands to benefit from learning a bit more about it, but first





                      Thought for the day

                  
                   What will we have learned, 
                   If at the moment of death 

                  We do not know who we really are?

                    
                                               Sogyal Rinpoche








To quote the Dalai Lama, “Buddhism is all about the quest for truth”. This truth is not only the truth about ourselves, as in who are we really?, but it is about coming to know the truth of reality in the ultimate sense.

We will all be familiar with relative truth. We saw it, therefore it must be true. I heard it, it must be true. I felt it, it must be true. Yet we all will know that often enough, what we took to be the truth at one time in our lives, turned out later to be a false impression, and the real truth was something else.

So in current time we will all have some sense of who we are. This body. These feelings. This mind with its attendant thoughts and emotions.

Maybe some sense of something deeper too; a spiritual aspect - a soul - something more enduring?

But who are we really? This sense we have of self currently is highly likely to be distorted by our own levels of misunderstanding, projection, fixation, habitual thinking and so on.

So who are we really? And what meaning is there in this life? What can we know of an ultimate reality, the truth of what it is to be a human being? And what is this life really all about?

Now we need to pause for a moment and recognize that many people question whether there even is such a thing as an ultimate reality, and even if there is, whether we can actually come to know it. And many have gone looking.

So in in the last hundred years or two, many of the great minds that sought the truth in the Western world have closeted themselves away in laboratories to investigate the workings of the material world in their attempt to unravel the truth of reality.

Somewhat similarly, but over thousands of years, many of the great minds in the East have taken to remote places like caves and deserts where they went into the laboratories of their own minds to investigate the workings of those minds in an attempt to unravel the truth of reality.

Enter the Buddha. A well-documented historical figure, the Buddha began life as an ordinary person, studied and practiced, and attained enlightenment.

Enlightenment? What is that? One useful definition is that enlightenment is the direct perception of ultimate reality.

After his enlightenment, Buddha taught continuously for around 60 years. These teachings were recorded and so Buddhism is based upon what he taught along with what has been added by great teachers down through the centuries.

The focus of Buddhism is recognizing that “it is all in the mind”. The mind holds the final responsibility for what we do, as in the choices we make and how we follow them through.

In the words of John Milton

The mind can make a heaven of hell
Or a hell of heaven.

Master the mind and we master all. Buddhism aims to help us learn how to master our own minds. Given the huge potential of a well trained mind, along with all the stress, anxiety, depression and mental illness in our current society, no wonder Buddhism has so much to offer and has become so popular.

Perhaps what has also helped Buddhism’s popularity is that you do not need to be a Buddhist to benefit from its knowledge. In fact, Buddhism is best thought of on 3 levels – as a Mind Science, a Philosophy and a Religion.

Of course it is true there are many in the world for whom Buddhism is their religion; about 500 million of them. Interesting fact that may surprise you. Which country has the most Buddhists? China! With around 244 million or 18.2% of its total population.

There are 3 main branches of Buddhist practice, the Hinayana, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana, each of which gives emphasis to particular aspects of the Buddha’s teachings. These 3 are somewhat like Catholicism, Uniting Church and Anglicans in Christianity. Tibetan Buddhism is in the domain of the Vajrayana and does encompass aspects of all 3 groups of teachings.

Anyway, many people are not religious but do use Buddhist principles in a secular way.

Happily, drawing directly on the Mind Science that Buddhism has amassed is welcomed by Buddhist leaders as they consider it has the potential to help anyone to become a better human being; better as in kinder, more considerate, more intent on helping their fellow human beings and all of their environment.

A good example of this is mindfulness, that incredibly popular mind technique currently being used widely in education, health, sport, corporate life etc, etc; and yes, mindfulness comes directly from Buddhism.

But then too, there is the Philosophy of Buddhism. This is based on analysis and contemplation; a thorough and logical exploration of the world, our mind, our experience. This aims to lead to a level of understanding that gives us confidence in our world view and moreso, to the development of a level of wisdom that leads to better choices in our lives.

When interested to learn more of Buddhism, there are 3 possibilities, the tantras, the commentaries and the oral instructions.

The tantras are like the root texts; the recorded words of the Buddha that fill 108 volumes. One hundred and eight volumes!? Correct. So if you are a serious scholar, there is plenty to study!



The commentaries have been written in the first instance by the Buddha’s direct students who explained their own understandings or interpretations of what he said. Then there are the many books and articles that have been written since, with many modern commentaries being well pitched for a modern, Western audience.

The oral instructions have been handed down directly from the Buddha to his students, to their
students and so on in long lineages to the current day. Obviously, you can only receive this type of teaching directly from an authentic teacher.

To receive authentic teachings requires 3 things to be in place. 

First one needs an authentic teacher that holds the blessings that come from themselves having been taught authentically. Secondly, the students themselves need authenticity. They need to be open minded, prepared to study and learn, but even more-so, committed to turn their mind inwardly and seek the truth. 

Then finally, there needs to be evidence of the unbroken lineage as already spoken of so that the authenticity of the teacher and the teachings is clearly established and all involved can have confidence.

This then is a brief background to Tibetan Buddhism. What is intended to follow is a series of articles that detail, my own entrée into this field of study and practice along with more detail of its key points, leading up to recounting some of the experience of being on a 3 month retreat following in this tradition.

So next week, how I came from a committed Anglican, Christian background to be engaged with Tibetan Buddhism and what it offers me and those I work with.

RELATED BLOG
Meditation retreats - Why go?

RESOURCES
BOOK The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche. The spiritual classic that has sold around 3.5 million copies, inspired and supported many people along their path.

NOTICEBOARD

Details of all coming programs Ruth and I will be presenting are on our website: www.iangawler.com/events, and here are the next few:

NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT
Meditation Under the Long White Cloud   24 - 30 October 2015

7 day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand



                 Take time out from the busyness of everyday life; spend time with your self
           Slow down, reflect, contemplate – regain perspective, vitality, balance and clarity
      Deepen your understanding and experience of mindfulness, contemplation and meditation

Full details, CLICK HERE


SPECIFIC CANCER RESIDENTIAL PROGRAMS

CANCER and BEYOND     October  2015     Monday 12th to Friday 16th 

Finding peace in the Healing Process

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley


This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Cancer Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers themselves.

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.

FULL DETAILS Click here 

MIND-BODY MEDICINE and CANCER    November  2015    Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th


Five day Residential program in the beautiful surrounds of Wanaka, New Zealand
- an easy drive from Queenstown airport and very accessible for Australians

This program is open to anyone affected by cancer. Health professionals interested to learn more of this work are also welcome to attend.

While the focus of this program is on therapeutic meditation and nutrition, the power of the mind and emotional health, ample time will be given to answering any questions you may have relating to the Gawler program - exercise, positive thinking, healing, balancing medical options, successful ways of dealing with setbacks, sustaining your good intentions and the relevance of finding meaning in life to healing and recovery.

FULL DETAILS Click here




21 September 2015

Alcohol and cancer risk

Is the odd glass of beer likely to give you cancer? What about a couple of glasses of wine regularly over a meal? The research has very clear and possibly disturbing answers on this, so this week we investigate what alcohol is, what it does in our bodies and important questions like does red wine prevent cancer?

Then there is some breaking news on the subject, and my old friend and valued colleague Dr Nimrod Sheinman returns to present around Australia (see the Events Section below) but first,



                           Thought for the day

                  The world is too much with us.
                   Getting and spending,
                     We lay waste our powers.

                                       William Wordsworth




In an earlier blog we examined the alcoholic content of various drinks and their impact on health generally. That blog came with general recommendations for the consumption of alcohol generally and may well be worth revisiting (see the link below), but this time we investigate the specific connections between alcohol, cancer and stress; connections that make for fascinating reading.


What is alcohol ?
Alcohol is actually the common term for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, a chemical produced by the fermentation of sugars and starches by yeast.

We drink it in beer, wine, and liquor, and it is commonly found in medicines, mouthwashes, household products, and essential oils.

What is the evidence that drinking alcohol is a cause of cancer?
The evidence is very strong.

Research shows that heavy or even regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity (excluding the lips), pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), oesophagus, liver, breast, colon, and rectum, while the risk of developing cancer increases the more alcohol a person drinks.


The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen – cause of cancer. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States are alcohol related.

The Million Women Study in the United Kingdom provided a more recent, and slightly higher, estimate of breast cancer risk at low to moderate levels of alcohol consumption: every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day was associated with a 12% increase in the risk of breast cancer.

However, for two cancers – renal cell (kidney) cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) - multiple studies have shown that increased alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. A meta-analysis of the NHL studies found a 15 % lower risk of NHL among alcohol drinkers. The mechanisms by which alcohol consumption would decrease the risks of either renal cell cancer or NHL are not understood.

How does alcohol increase the risk of cancer?
Here are some of the many ways that have been identified

1. The ethanol in alcoholic drinks is metabolised into acetaldehyde, which is a probable human carcinogen that can damage both DNA and proteins.

2. Alcohol generates reactive oxygen molecules that can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids (fats) through oxidation.

3. Alcohol impairs the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that are cancer protective including Vit A, the Vit B complex, Vits C, D and E, folate and carotenoids.

4. Alcohol increases blood levels of oestrogen, the female sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer.

5. Alcoholic drinks may also contain a variety of carcinogenic contaminants that are introduced during fermentation and production, such as nitrosamines, hydrocarbons, phenols and asbestos fibres.

How does the combination of alcohol and tobacco affect cancer risk?


Again the research is clear. Those who use both alcohol and tobacco have a much greater risk of developing cancers than people who use either alcohol or tobacco alone.

In fact, for oral and pharyngeal cancers the risks associated with using both alcohol and tobacco are multiplicative; that is, they are greater than would be expected from adding the individual risks associated with alcohol and tobacco together.


How do a person’s genes affect their risk of alcohol-related cancers?
A person’s risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer is influenced by the genes that encode (and regulate) enzymes involved in metabolizing alcohol.

For example, one way the body metabolizes alcohol is through the activity of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH. Many individuals of Chinese, Korean, and especially Japanese descent carry a version of the gene for ADH that codes for a "superactive" form of the enzyme that speeds the conversion of alcohol to toxic acetaldehyde. As a result, when people who have the superactive enzyme drink alcohol, acetaldehyde builds up and this results in a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Another enzyme, called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), metabolizes toxic acetaldehyde to non-toxic substances. Some people, particularly those of East Asian descent, carry a variant of the gene for ALDH2 that codes for a defective form of the enzyme. In people who have the defective enzyme, acetaldehyde builds up when they drink alcohol.

The accumulation of acetaldehyde has such unpleasant effects (including facial flushing and heart palpitations) that most people who have the ALDH2 variant are unable to drink large amounts of alcohol. Therefore, most people with the defective form of ALDH2 have a low risk of developing alcohol-related cancers.

However, some individuals with the defective form of ALDH2 can become tolerant to the unpleasant effects of acetaldehyde and consume large amounts of alcohol. Epidemiologic studies have shown that such people have a higher risk of alcohol-related cancers.

Can drinking red wine help prevent cancer?
Laboratory research has found that certain substances in red wine, such as resveratrol have anticancer properties. Grapes, raspberries, peanuts, and some other plants also contain resveratrol. However, clinical trials in humans have not provided evidence that resveratrol is effective in preventing or treating cancer.

Breaking news - the latest research findings


Even Modest Drinking Increases Breast Cancer Risk
Having just one drink per day increases breast cancer risk, according to a study just published in the British Medical Journal

For women, having just one alcoholic drink per day increased the risk for alcohol-related cancers (mainly breast cancer) by 13 percent, compared with those who consumed no alcohol. Many previous studies have found moderate alcohol intake increases breast cancer risk.

Among men, colorectal cancer was the principal alcohol-related cancer.  

References:
Cao Y, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Giovannuci EL. Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies. BMJ. 2015;351:h4238.

Scoccianti C, Lauby-Secretan B, Bello PY, Chajes V, Romieu I. Female breast cancer and alcohol consumption: a review of the literature. Am J Prev Med. 2014;46:S16-S25.

What I do
I gave up alcohol when diagnosed with cancer and continued to be an alcohol free zone for around 20 years. Then it seemed I was avoiding alcohol more out of habit than good reason, given that in my view modest amounts occasionally are not problematic and it is often easier in social situations to have a little; and I do like a cold beer on a hot day and an occasional glass of good wine.

The beer I drink at home is the Coopers brand, Birrell’s. It is very low alcohol, tastes great and is bought off the shelf in the Supermarket (due to its 0.5% alcohol content).

When out I usually drink Cooper’s Light as it is low alcohol and naturally brewed and Birrells is not usually sold at restaurants and the like. Artificially brewed beers have a strong association with increased risks of bowel cancer.

So I am not wanting to sound like a wowser, but Ruth and I often share one glass of wine between ourselves when we eat out, and often do not actually finish it all.

Recommendations
Everyone knows moderation makes sense. Alcohol free days are really helpful if you are drinking regularly.

And do remember to drink responsibly :)

Enjoy!

RELATED BLOGS
Alcohol, health and wellbeing

A volatile mix – stress, epigenetics and cancer

NOTICEBOARD

Details of all coming programs Ruth and I will be presenting are on our website: www.iangawler.com/events, and here are the next few:

NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT
Meditation Under the Long White Cloud   24 - 30 October 2015

7 day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand



                 Take time out from the busyness of everyday life; spend time with your self
           Slow down, reflect, contemplate – regain perspective, vitality, balance and clarity
      Deepen your understanding and experience of mindfulness, contemplation and meditation

Full details, CLICK HERE


SPECIFIC CANCER RESIDENTIAL PROGRAMS

CANCER and BEYOND     October  2015     Monday 12th to Friday 16th 

Finding peace in the Healing Process

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley


This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Cancer Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers themselves.

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.

FULL DETAILS Click here 

MIND-BODY MEDICINE and CANCER    November  2015    Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th


Five day Residential program in the beautiful surrounds of Wanaka, New Zealand
- an easy drive from Queenstown airport and very accessible for Australians

This program is open to anyone affected by cancer. Health professionals interested to learn more of this work are also welcome to attend.

While the focus of this program is on therapeutic meditation and nutrition, the power of the mind and emotional health, ample time will be given to answering any questions you may have relating to the Gawler program - exercise, positive thinking, healing, balancing medical options, successful ways of dealing with setbacks, sustaining your good intentions and the relevance of finding meaning in life to healing and recovery.

FULL DETAILS Click here

DR NIMROD SHEINMAN RETURNS TO AUSTRALIA 
for a highly recommended series of presentations

Please help spread the word and help distribute the events

- October 8th, Mindfulness in Education, Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership, Melbourne.

- October 8th, Mindfulness-based Therapy in Paediatric Care, National Institute for Integrative Medicine, Melbourne.

- October 12th, University of Canberra, School of Education

- October 14-15th, Nan Tien Institure (near Sydney)

- October 17th, Mindfulness With Children – Empowering Resilience, Emotional Intelligence
and Wellness, The Relaxation Centre, Brisbane. 



07 September 2015

What sort of death will you have?

Received great news the other day. A lady who has been working hard to overcome a difficult cancer has been found to be cancer free. Great news. But then I thought – she has dodged cancer, but still - what sort of death will she have?

Experience reveals there is much we can do to avert a tough death and much we can do to increase the likelihood of a good one.

Not your average blog post this one. So are you ready to go Out on a Limb once more, pause in your day for a moment and wonder – “What sort of death will I have? And what can I do about it?"

Think it is just random fate - the sort of death you will have? Not me! So let us consider what is possible, but first




                 Thought for the day

     Whatever you get to, you loose it
     Even if you get better, you loose it.

     There are many ways
     But only one common principle,
     An ever-increasing awareness
     Of this

                           Hogan – San, Zen Master





Let us dive into this pretty directly. 

Most of what troubles people in relation to death is to do with fear. Fear of the process. Fear of leaving behind what we know. Fear of what we may or may not be going to.

Fear of the process
People who live well tend to die well. Fact.

Imagine getting to your last breath full of resentment. What sort of death might that be?

Imagine getting to your last breath with gratitude for your life and all who entered into it. What sort of death might that be?

If you come across death suddenly, then there is likely to be a lot of homework to do. And maybe not enough time to do it. All those people to clear your relationships with. To thank. To share your real feelings with. Your own state of mind to address. The fear. The ability to let go (death will do this for us anyway, but can we let go willingly and consciously?).

Then so many practical issues. Stay at home? Be in hospital or hospice? What level of medical intervention? Who to have around? How to prepare in your own mind? And on and on. There is a checklist designed to guide you through all these questions in the new edition of You Can Conquer Cancer (and no, you do NOT need to have cancer to read this book that has so much to do with cancer prevention and living well) and it is highly recommended to write out your own responses and share them with those you are closest to.

To be ready to die well? Lot of homework.

Sad thing I hear sometimes. “Tried all that Lifestyle stuff. Worked for a while; now I am deteriorating, maybe dying. No point now.”

Sad mistake. All this “stuff”, this lifestyle stuff like eating well, attending to relationships, meditating and so on; all this stuff makes dying so much easier – less symptoms, less pain, better relationships, closer spiritual connections. Makes dying a lot easier.

Eating well makes digestion easier. Overcoming fear dramatically reduces pain. Healing relationships brings contentment. Meditation brings inner peace. Everything gets easier.

Fear of  leaving behind what we know
Dying is not to be romanticised too much. The fact is that in many ways it is tough. We will leave behind this world as we know it. People will need to adapt to being without our physical presence. Lots will change. Dramatically. Things will never be the same again for anyone.

How to manage all that?

Consider this.

Life is full of mini deaths.

Everything is changing moment by moment.

This too is just a fact. We can choose to ignore it and attempt to live life as if it is something permanent, as if things will last forever. But then, that is the power of death, it cuts right through that particular notion.

So if in life we learn to deal with the reality of change and impermanence, death may well become easier. Meditation teaches us directly, experientially about impermanence and change. We experience things coming and going, and yet, at the same time, something about us remains the same and endures.

As we become more familiar with that enduring part of ourselves, we have another key to an easier death.

Fear of what we may or may not be going to
Well, who knows for sure. Some may feel they know in advance what we are going to, but one thing we can be confident about is that we will all get to find out one day. Find out what is beyond death.

Strikes me that this is the ultimate adventure. I hope for a conscious death. Would hate to miss it. Actually, while happy to put it off for as long as possible, when the time comes, I am sure it will be fascinating, so actually, I look forward to it.

In the words of Sogyal Rinpoche

Although we have been made to believe that if we let go we will end up with nothing, life itself reveals again and again the opposite: that letting go is the path to real freedom.

Just as when the waves lash at the shore, the rocks suffer no damage but are sculpted and eroded into beautiful shapes, so our characters can be moulded and our rough edges worn smooth by changes. 

Through weathering changes, we can learn how to develop a gentle but unshakable composure. Our confidence in ourselves grows, and becomes so much greater that goodness and compassion begin naturally to radiate out from us and bring joy to others.

That goodness is what survives death, a fundamental goodness that is in each and every one of us. The whole of our life is a teaching of how to uncover that strong goodness, and a training toward realising it.

The mind is like an eagle – the higher it soars, the more it sees. I laugh when I see people so unnecessarily troubled in or by their minds, when that mind is itself the most obvious and powerful ally in their salvation.

What sort of death will you have? My wish is that it be a good one. Worth working towards don’t you think?

Oh, and my friend who recovered from cancer? There is a confidence that with all she has done, she will be alright.

RESOURCES

BOOKS Understanding death, helping the dying - Chapter in You Can Conquer Cancer full of information including a challenging but very useful Preparation for Death check list – all the things that warrant attention as we set ourselves up for the best possible death, and help those around us during that time and after.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. "I have encountered no book on the interplay between life and death that is more comprehensive, practical and wise."
Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions. 

CD or Download Understanding death, helping the dying – a good way to reflect on the issues and possibilities – either personally or with family or friends. Listening to a section, then discussing it has helped many families catalyse a useful conversation.

NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT 
- coming soon in New Zealand

Meditation Under the Long White Cloud   24 - 28 October 2015

7 day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand



         Take time out from the busyness of everyday life; spend time with your self
      Slow down, reflect, contemplate – regain perspective, vitality, balance and clarity
Deepen your understanding and experience of mindfulness, contemplation and meditation.

The special focus of this meditation retreat will be the theory and practise of contemplation

Full details, CLICK HERE



SPECIFIC CANCER RESIDENTIAL PROGRAMS

CANCER and BEYOND     October  2015     Monday 12th to Friday 16th 

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Cancer Foundation in the Yarra Valley


This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Cancer Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers themselves.

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.

FULL DETAILS  Click here 



MIND-BODY MEDICINE and CANCER    November  2015    Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th

         Five day Residential program in the beautiful surrounds of Wanaka, New Zealand
            - an easy drive from Queenstown airport and very accessible for Australians


This program is open to anyone affected by cancer.

While the focus of this program is on therapeutic meditation and nutrition, the power of the mind and emotional health, ample time will be given to answering any questions you may have relating to the Gawler program - exercise, positive thinking, healing, balancing medical options, successful ways of dealing with setbacks, sustaining your good intentions and the relevance of finding meaning in life to healing and recovery.

Health professionals interested to learn more of this work are also welcome to attend.

FULL DETAILS Click here