27 November 2023

To have and to hold; or maybe not???

See it, want it. How often do you have the experience of seeing something and feeling you just have to have it? That feeling is what we call desire, and Ruth and I are having a big encounter with its consequences right now as we sell our farm and downsize considerably. 

So this week we delve into desire; its nature, its consequences and what to do when it needs an antidote, but first

   Thought for the day

If you ask me what sort of self-control you need 

To do the work of contemplation, 

My answer is, ‘None at all!’ 

In everything else you do, you should practise moderation. 

Avoid extremes when eating, drinking or sleeping. 

Also, protect your body from severe cold or heat, 

Do not pray or read too long 

And do not spend too much time conversing with your friends. 

In all of these things, it is important 

That you do neither too much nor too little. 

But in contemplation, you may throw caution to the wind. 


I hope you will never stop doing this loving work as long as you live.

              The Cloud of Unknowing

We humans are primarily motivated by desire. We want things. We wish for things. So much of our energy and thinking is dedicated to how we can acquire stuff, and then both hold onto it and protect it. Ask the Buddhists, and they characterise human life as being in the “desire realm”.

So just because we like something does that mean we have to have it? 

To obtain it? 

To work for it? 

To purchase it? 

To steal it or gain it by deception?

Ruth and I are in the final stages of selling our delightful farm where we have lived these past 23 years. We are downsizing dramatically; moving into our small flat in the city where we will enjoy a simpler life for a while and await what beckons us into the future. We are bound to move again soon…

So in this process of transition, lots of “stuff” to deal with. The fascinating process of going through all our possessions, every one of them, evaluating them on need and desire, and deciding what to keep, what to give away, what to put in the bin, and what to attempt to sell.

As an aside, have learnt something interesting: 

When you go to sell something, it is always worth less than you thought. 

When you go to buy something, it is always worth more than you thought.

Funny that…

Anyway, back to the “stuff”, and desire. That urge to own things – and experiences – is such a strong one, and it comes with so many challenging attachments. You could say “attachment” is the issue. 

I notice it most strongly having lived on a farm for a good part of my life. 

People say “we own this piece of land”. 

We “own”? 

What does that mean? 

At the least we are short term guests, maybe at best we are caring custodians. 

The land was here long before we arrived; it will be here long after we leave. 


So maybe with land we can get this principle of non-ownership more easily if we live in a peaceful part of the world. Where buying and selling is a civilised process. But it is easy to notice how complicated the notion of ownership becomes in contested areas. “This land is mine. It was my parents, my ancestors, my nation’s land”. When two or more families, tribes, nations hold a similar view, then it is easy to understand how conflict ensues.

And we do not need to reflect for more than a moment or two to appreciate how complex and challenging it can be to resolve such issues. 

Most of us will have been deeply affected by recent conflicts – most notably in the Ukraine and Gaza. 

Many may identify with one side or the other, and feel strong emotions.

So this is the point. 

Here we are not going into any sense of who is right and who is wrong, or indeed if anyone is right or wrong; what we are reflecting on here is the root issue – desire and the feeling of ownership – my land, my car, my job, my wife, my computer that I read this on. 

How do we balance the recognition that we do need to “own” things, to have the right to maintain our ownership, to not be robbed or tricked out of them, but at the same time avoid becoming overly greedy, or overly possessive, right up to the point of going to war over ownership?

I am just going to leave this one here for now… with an invitation to reflect on these deeply personal matters… 

How we manage our desires, and the consequences of those desires, defines how we are as human beings. 

How do we manage acquiring enough stuff to meet our needs and to keep ourselves comfortable in an equitable and fair way? 

How do we balance our desires with the desires of others? 

Maybe even more, how do we become less driven by desire itself???

And remember, the quieter you become, the more you can hear…

11 November 2023

Meditation Special – Finding Peace in Troubling Times

So what is it that is troubling you? 

The war in Ukraine? In Gaza? 

Environmental Armageddon? 

Cost of living pressures? Financial uncertainty? 

Insecurity? Health matters? 

Family pressures? Relationship issues? 

Study demands? Work pressures? 

Multiple choice… 

Some of the above? 

All of the above? Got your own list? 

For me the latest challenge is moving house – from a farm into a small flat; downsizing and then working out were to from there. Most of us will have plenty going on…

Now, some say it is the good things that tend to distract us most easily from regular meditation practice. However, currently I am hearing from many who feel overwhelmed by all the difficult news, all the troubling people and events that disturb their equilibrium and make sitting to meditation quite difficult. It is as if their minds are so full of "noise", settling into meditation has become nigh on impossible.

Sad really, as either way - with positive distractions or amidst troubling times, meditation has the potential firstly to provide some time out, a moment’s peace, and then lead on to a new way of being that makes life easier all around. But if the “noise” is too strong and is making meditation impossible, what to do?

So this week, how to use meditation when the brain is in overdrive, worrying and anxious; how to find peace in troubling times, but first


         Thought for the day

     The body benefits from movement

       And the mind benefits from stillness

                    Sakyong Mipham

When the mind is racing and you are seeking peace, it is no time to be casual.

Sure, if you are well enough practiced and you can simply observe your mind, that is sufficient. If it is possible for you to be like an impartial observer, to sit back a little as it were, and to simply be aware of all those racing thoughts and their attendant emotions; to do all that and remain both undistracted and non-judgemental, well then yes, you are a solid practitioner and more power to you. No more needed…

But here we are talking of when the mind is overwhelming. When the thoughts race so hard, when the stress is so strong, when the anxiety is building and there is just no separating observer, awareness and all that activity of the mind. 

In this state, it is like the mind is so caught up in thinking and emotion, so engaged with it, something quite strong is needed to bring about a transformation.

This is where meditation technique is paramount. This is exactly the type of situation for which meditation techniques have been developed over the centuries.

And there is one, simply and reliable principle of meditation that works every time, in every troublesome situation.

When we are distracted and find our thoughts to be running riot, we need a single object upon which we can focus. By using the principle of concentration, we cut through all the “noise”. We focus. We concentrate. We narrow our thinking down onto one single thing so there is no room for the “noise”. 

Simple principle. 

Rather than have the mind ranging everywhere, give it just one thing to focus upon, and thereby bring it to a point of stillness. 

Like a sense can focus light down to a single point, so too can the mind focus our thoughts.

This is the key. 

When we concentrate on just one thing; when we focus and concentrate fully, there is no room for other thoughts or emotions. Our mind finds its own natural peace.

So how to do this? The principle is simple – concentration. What to concentrate upon is up to you. You could literally use anything as the focus of your concentration. However, here are a few techniques that have stood the test of time. With some you already may have a familiarity – and maybe the reminder is useful; maybe some new ideas with which to experiment.

1. The Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Over the decades, this is the technique we have found most reliable for inducing deep relaxation of body and mind in a wide range of adverse and troubling situations. 

Concentrate particularly on the feeling in the body as you contract and relax the muscle groups from the feet to the head. 

Check it out, listen to it again on the Allevi8 App under the heading of Deep Relaxation in the Managing Stress and the Being Well sections.

2. Guided Imagery

Again, a very reliable technique. This one is particularly good for beginners and children. 

This type of exercise gives the mind something to focus upon, and when the images suggested have deeper sub-conscious metaphorical meaning, the exercise can be both calming and transformative.

On the Allevi8 App, we use 2 well proven Guided Imagery techniques: the Healing Light exercise (sometimes know more simply as the white light exercise) that is found in the Healing Support section, and the Healing Journey in the Managing Stress section.

So the crucial thing is not to be put off by what may seem to be a simple solution to a complex problem. 

Trouble comes in many guises. 

They all affect our mind, and we can learn to take charge of our mind, use suitable techniques, concentrate, find a moment’s peace, practice regularly and work towards a more stable, long-lasting unshakeable peace.

May you find true and sustaining inner peace… 



23 October 2023

Meditation and our way of being

We hear a good deal about the benefits of meditation – for health and wellbeing, for sport, the workplace, relationships and so on. But what about how it really affects us? In how we are? How we experience the world? How we view the world? How we are in the world? Our way of being?

Now some do say even to have an outcome in mind - any outcome - when approaching meditation is to miss the point – see the thought for the day. However, with regular practice many do notice meditation seems to transform their experience of themselves, of those around them and of the world itself. 

So this week, two major benefits of meditation you might like to share with others, but first the contrary notion…

                         Thought for the day
The moment we sit down to do zazen (Zen meditation), 

We are useless; 

What we are doing has no point outside of itself, 

Outside of the moment itself.

Barry Magid, Uselessness: The koan of just sitting

Speaking with a friend recently, we fell to discussing how regular meditation seems almost automatically to transform our lives, and how it could be useful to be able to share this prospect easily with those newer to meditation. Inspiration and motivation…

And sure there are the well-publicised and well researched benefits of meditation; but there is much more. So maybe sharing these two benefits that flow from regular meditation will be helpful…

1. Our View 

Our View is how we experience and understand our world; hence the capital V – our View.

With regular meditation there is every chance we will become more:

i) Spacious 

Stressed, anxious people are tight and narrow minded. Meditators are more relaxed and open in their thinking and their way of being. There comes a natural ease, a natural humour, a light-heartedness

ii) Mindfulness 

Being spacious does not mean regular meditators become spaced out! Rather, they develop the capacity to focus their attention better, while at the same time, becoming less judgemental, less distracted, more present and more capable.

iii) Aware

With spaciousness and mindfulness comes a new-found clarity and calm. Our minds become less cluttered, less distracted; more aware. 

So we notice what is going on in 2 very important ways

Firstly, there is what is best described as raw awareness. We simple notice things as they are – better. We notice the details; the raw details. We notice people’s distress or needs. We notice the opportunities. Having noticed, having become aware, we are better positioned to help. Life seems richer, fuller … 

But secondly, more than just the raw details, we begin to notice the truth of what we are aware of. Three main things:

We notice the truth of how things are changing all the time; that nothing is permanent, and we learn to live informed by this truth.

We notice the truth of how everything, and everyone is inter-dependent. The notion we exist in a vacuum, or can survive on our own is seen to be an unhelpful illusion, and we learn to live informed by this truth.

Finally, we notice the truth of multiplicity – of how things are not just one thing but made up of many parts, and we learn to live informed by this truth.

2. Our Good Heart

Regular meditation does more than transform our state of mind. 

It opens our heart and leads us naturally to find ways to care for self and others. 

But in becoming more open hearted, is there a risk of becoming more vulnerable?

This is where our View has more to offer. 

As well as helping us to be more spacious, mindful and aware, our View helps protect us. 

The calm and clear mind it fosters helps us to develop the capacity for healthy discrimination. 

So we do not overdo helping others and burning out. 

We do not overdo helping self and becoming an ego-centric pain. 

Maybe we do have ups and downs, maybe we do experiment, maybe we do need to learn and adapt, but we make good progress with the heart as well as the mind.

And very significantly, through all of this, we come to know ourselves better, who we really are, what is in our heart’s essence. And with this comes both an inner peace and an inner confidence. The very common feelings so many suffer from of not feeling good enough begin to drop away, our good heart emerges, our mind becomes calm and clear, and life begins to flow more easily.

The value of long-term, regular meditation practice…

Happy Meditating

Early Notice

Next year, 2024, I will present a residential meditation retreat and 2 meditation teacher trainings. Details will be posted on the blog soon…

11 September 2023

A new crisis: cancer in young people

The COVID pandemic has received so much attention, it is amazing these latest and deeply disturbing cancer statistics are not all over the press. 

Between 1990 and 2009 and averaged all across the world, early-onset cancer has increased by an incredible 79.1%. The number of early-onset cancer deaths has increased by 27.7%. 

79% and 27%!!! 

If that is not as significant as a pandemic, it is hard to imagine what is???

So this week, what are the facts, and what are behind them? What the …. is going on amongst our younger people, but first 

   Thought for the day

      Regardless of who we are,

      The main purpose of our life, 

      You could call it the heart of being human, 

       Is to be happy. 

       All of us share the same wish, the same right 

       To seek happiness and avoid suffering.

       If you look closely, 

       You can see there are two kinds of happiness.

       One is based on physical comfort or pleasure of the senses

       The other is based on a deeper mental contentment

                            H.H. the Dalai Lama

Early onset cancer is defined as cancer in adults under 50 years of age – or sometimes as cancers in those 18 to 25. So what this recent major study published in the British Medical Journal of Oncology is saying, is the amount of cancer in the world’s younger people is going up at an unprecedented rate.

Now you might imagine the obvious question would be: “What is causing this?” Yet most of the academic commentary I have read so far is emphasising the need to increase early detection! 

The exclamation mark is an attempt to highlight how odd this seems. Surely the need is to find out what is causing the problem and to correct it, rather than aim to diagnose and treat (given diagnosis and treatment is of course what is needed for people currently afflicted).

To be fair, the actual article did state:

Dietary risk factors (diet high in red meat, low in fruits, high in sodium and low in milk, etc), alcohol consumption and tobacco use are the main risk factors underlying early-onset cancers.

Encouraging a healthy lifestyle could reduce early-onset cancer disease burden.

However, for me there are 2 important observations:

1. Cancer is largely a lifestyle issue and the rates of cancer are going up way too rapidly in younger people. The impact of this as the years go on will be disastrous both for the people involved (as both patients, family, friends and colleagues), and for the medical system attempting to help them (a system and a workforce that seems to be buckling under ever increasing pressures).

2. Lifestyle is the cornerstone for the prevention of cancer and all the other chronic, degenerative diseases that create so much havoc, but are demonstrably preventable. 

So then two questions: 

1. Why are people around the globe drawn so strongly to an unhealthy lifestyle? 

2. And given how much so many of us know about the impact of lifestyle, why is it so many of us are find it easier to follow an unhealthy lifestyle as compared to a heathy lifestyle? 

Consider this… when it comes to exercising, do you find it easier to do some regularly, or to put it off?

When it comes to meditating, do you find it easier to do some regularly, or to put it off?

When it comes to most lifestyle factors, do you find it easier to do some regularly, or to put them off?

Now this is not about shaming or blaming, but we do need to observe there is a real crisis. How do we help ourselves and our communities to be drawn to a healthy lifestyle and sustain that?

So over to you:

It would be wonderful to hear from those of you who do maintain a healthy lifestyle. Whether that has been for a long time and you find it easy, or have gone through personal struggles to turn things around, what works for you and those close to you? 

Given up smoking, cut back on alcohol, change your dietary patterns??? How did you do it? What was easy or difficult? How have those around you reacted?

How are you going maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

Please add your experiences into the Comment section below:

Comments need to be cleared, so they may take a while to appear on the blog, but maybe your own experiences or insights can help someone else… 



Zhao J, Xu L, Sun J, et al   Global trends in incidence, death, burden and risk factors of early-onset cancer from 1990 to 2019. BMJ Oncology 2023;2:e000049. doi: 10.1136/bmjonc-2023-000049

 Lifestyle Medicine Cancer Retreats

Good friends and ex-colleagues Liz Stillwell and Sandy Clinton will be presenting their next 5 day Residential Cancer Retreat later in October this year - 2023

Designed specifically for men and women with a cancer diagnosis this is a research-based integrative medicine lifestyle approach supporting conventional medicine cancer treatments and best cancer outcomes – based on the philosophies and teachings of the Gawler Cancer Foundation, and echoed worldwide in various centres in Canada, US and the UK. 

Liz and Sandy now offer 2 retreats per year at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, (previously The Gawler Cancer Foundation) warmly hosted by Brahma Kumaris.

Next Retreat: 27th – 31st October 2023

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Teaching sessions include Meditation, anti-cancer Nutrition, effective use of the Mind, Imagery, Spirituality and living with Purpose, Healthy Emotions, Exercise and healthy Support.

The daily Programme includes Daily Meditations & Qi gong, walking (and rest time) with fresh delicious whole food plant-based meals – all within a beautiful peaceful natural bushland setting.

Enquiries: please email us - cancerbalanceandwellbeing@gmail.com 

Facilitators: Liz Stilwell & Dr Peter Johnston (see overleaf) 

Retreat Co-ordinator: Sandy Clinton 

Harpist: Michael Johnson

Plus: Recovery stories When diagnosed with cancer, hearing real stories of real people making real recoveries inspires our belief and builds our faith in what is truly possible – and helps hold us to our intentions to maintain a healthy lifestyle focus. This retreat is for people who choose to take an active role in their health and wellbeing

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Liz Stilwell: Retreat Facilitator

Liz has an extensive 35 years in Health – Occupational Therapy in Psychiatry, then counselling, clinical hypnosis and N.L.P in private practice. She trained with The Gawler Cancer Foundation in 2004 leading 12 week Lifestyle change programmes for cancer, Mindfulness meditation courses, and counselled many people with cancer at The Gawler Cancer Foundation City branch - specialising in processes for trauma recovery, anxiety, depression and insomnia - her approach influenced by her meditation practice.

Liz later facilitated monthly Cancer Retreats and co-facilitated MS retreats. And for 5 years, Liz assisted Drs Ian and Ruth Gawler in leading annual Meditation Retreats in the Coromandel Peninsula, NZ. Liz advocates strongly for a life created and directed by the heart believing our physical health is strengthened by emotional wellbeing. She has a deep lifelong interest in spirituality and works as a spiritual carer in palliative care.

Peter Johnston:

Peter is an accredited practising dietitian with a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics and a PhD in Human Genetics. Peter is also a fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine and has completed health coaching training with Well Start Health. He has been exclusively plant-based since 1991 after learning of the health, environmental and ethical benefits. Peter runs a private practice: Perfect Human Food Consulting, offering individual consultations, public speaking, webinars, workplace health programs, and residential reboot programs. Peter is a member of the advisory council for health charity Doctors For Nutrition. He is also a partner with Melbourne Lifestyle Medicine which offers a range of programs including residential retreats. He has expertise in the prevention, treatment and reversal of chronic diseases through the use of whole food plant-based diets and the holistic approach of lifestyle medicine. He enjoys empowering people across all life stages to attain optimal health. Peter has attended and spoken at numerous national and international conferences.

Sandy Clinton:

Sandy joined The Gawler Cancer Foundation in 2006 and has deepened her interest and appreciation for the mind-body connection since then. She has assisted hundreds of people in the Client Services role with TGCF which gave her a unique insight into the challenges people face when diagnosed with a chronic illness and wanting to improve and maintain their wellbeing. This led her to train as an Ageless Grace ® Educator, and she rejoices in delivering this brain health fitness program as often as possible. Sandy takes true joy in supporting the journey of discovery participants experience during retreats.

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Michael Johnson:

A concert performer and composer, Michael has worked for many years in the field of therapeutic support through music. His tranquil harp music has been a significant part of the retreats at the Gawler Foundation for over thirty years. He is a Music & Mindfulness co- ordinator at Delmont psychiatric Hospital and Road Trauma Support services Victoria and leads seminars, workshops and Inservice sessions for businesses for staff professional development. For over 20 years, Michael has been resident composer at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, organising the Harp in the Gardens concerts and Harp Meditations.


04 September 2023

Meditation and Mindfulness to receive medical rebates?

Who will be the first health insurer in Australia to provide medical rebates for the therapeutic application of meditation and mindfulness? Currently, very few providers in the USA or elsewhere provide reimbursement for these widely used treatments. 

Recent research has added to compelling, existing evidence that reinforce the fact it may well be time; mindfulness-based stress reduction has been found to be as effective as a commonly used antidepressant drug for treating anxiety disorders. 

"Our study provides evidence for clinicians, insurers, and healthcare systems to recommend, include and provide reimbursement for mindfulness-based stress reduction as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders,” says Elizabeth Hoge, MD, the lead author. 

So this week we look at this new evidence, and what it means for individuals and the medical system – including medical rebates and Allevi8, but first


   Thought for the day

           Wisdom without compassion 

           Feels no pain

                    Gary Snyder

Significant recent research published this year in JAMA Psychiatry demonstrated guided mindfulness-based stress reduction program was as effective as use of the gold-standard drug - the antidepressant drug escitalopram - for patients with anxiety disorders. 

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found mindfulness-based stress reduction is as effective as a common antidepressant drug for treating anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders can be highly distressing; they include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder and fear of certain places or situations, including crowds and public transportation, all of which can lead to an increased risk for suicide, disability and distress and therefore are commonly treated in psychiatric clinics. 

Drugs that are currently prescribed for the disorders can be very effective, but many patients either have difficulty getting them, do not respond to them, or find the side effects (e.g., nausea, sexual dysfunction and drowsiness) a barrier to consistent treatment. 

Standardized mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), can decrease anxiety, but prior to this study, the interventions had not been studied in comparison to effective anti-anxiety drugs. 

Of note, approximately 15% of the U.S. population tried some form of meditation in 2017.

"A big advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it doesn't require a clinical degree to train someone to become a mindfulness facilitator. Additionally, sessions can be done outside of a medical setting, such as at a school or community center."

For this study, MBSR was offered weekly for eight weeks via two and a half-hour in-person classes, a day-long retreat weekend class during the 5th or 6th week, and 45-minute daily home practice exercises. 

Patients' anxiety symptoms were assessed upon enrollment and again at completion of the intervention at 8 weeks, along with post-treatment assessments at 12 and 24 weeks after enrollment. 

The patients were relatively young, with a mean age of 33 and included 156 women, which comprised 75% of the enrollees, mirroring the disease prevalence in the U.S.

Both the MBSR and the drug treatment groups saw a statistically equivalent reduction in their anxiety symptoms. 

The drop in the severity of their anxiety was significant – around 30%.

The researchers added, "It is important to note that although mindfulness meditation works, not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort to successfully complete all of the necessary sessions and do regular home practice which enhances the effect," 

"Also, virtual delivery via videoconference is likely to be effective, so long as the 'live' components are retained, such as question-and-answer periods and group discussion."

Hoge points out many phone apps do offer guided meditation, but researchers are yet to assess how apps compare with the full in-person, weekly group class experience. However, the researchers did conduct a second phase of the study during the pandemic that involved moving the treatments to an online, videoconference which will be the focus of future analyses. The researchers also hope to explore the effects of MBSR on sleep and depression.


1. This study adds to the evidence base in support of the Allevi8 app being used in therapeutic settings for anxiety disorders. Our app includes live components - direct interaction is available with experienced meditation teachers.

2. The evidence supporting health funds reimbursing meditation and mindfulness programs is now compelling. My guess is it will not be long before companies are adding these rebates as an edge to attract and retain new members. In the process, they are likely to make significant cost savings…


Mindfulness and sleep – more research

Also this year, research been published by Gao and colleagues exploring the benefits mindfulness might offer to those with sleep disorders. 

This study demonstrated a mechanistic link between mindfulness practice and increased emotional nonreactivity, decreased worry, and a reduction in reported sleep disturbances, suggesting that app-based mindfulness training may be a viable option to help individuals who report worry interferes with their sleep.

NOTE The Allevi8 app also features a sleep section


1. Hoge AE et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults with Anxiety Disorders. JAMA Psychiatry, 2023;80(1):13–21. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679

2. Gao M et al. Targeting Anxiety to Improve Sleep Disturbance: A Randomized Clinical Trial of App-Based Mindfulness Training. Psychosomatic Medicine 84(5):p 632-642, June 2022.