25 July 2022

Prevention or Cure? Latest official figures point to a life-changing choice

Almost half of us have one or more chronic health conditions and these conditions make up our leading cause of death. 

Would you prefer to read about statistics – or become one? 

Challenging question maybe, but when it comes to our health, it is clear that collectively Australians are not doing too well. In this post, a summary of the bi-annual report on our national health issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW); and then the choice…

Become a statistic, or read about them, and if you prefer reading, details of the one thing most likely to assist you to avoid becoming that statistic, but first, one of my own quotes seems relevant for this topic:


    Thought for the day

        To change your habits - the way you function

        First change your beliefs - the way you think

                     Ian Gawler





Almost half of all Australians have one or more chronic health conditions and these conditions make up our leading cause of death. 

While the cause or causes of any one individual’s health condition is likely to be complex, and having had what is well described as a major chronic degenerative disease myself; this post is not about blaming or shaming those who do have such conditions, but is all about encouraging those who are basically well to truly appreciate their current good health and realise there is plenty you can do to maintain that good health.

Here are 2 simple facts:


1. The major identifiable causes of chronic degenerative disease are lifestyle related

2. Lifestyle changes are known to significantly aid in recovery from chronic degenerative disease.

Here is a simple choice:


1. Get in early, adopt a heathy lifestyle and do all possible to not only avoid developing a chronic degenerative disease, but to experience chronic good health

2. Ignore the connection between lifestyle and health, hope for the best, and if the worst does turn up and a chronic disease ensues, then take up a healthy lifestyle to compensate.

Why is this choice so important? 

A staggering number of people alive today are dealing with major physical and mental health issues.


Every 2 years, the AIHW publishes its analysis of our collective health

 It makes for tough reading – and drove the writing of this post… 

Key points:

Almost half of all Australians have one or more chronic health conditions

        •      Chronic conditions are the nation's leading cause of illness, disability and death

Coronary heart disease and dementia are the leading causes of death overall

For young Australians, accidents and suicide are the leading causes of death

        •      Over one third of Australia's "disease burden" is due to preventable risk factors, such as smoking, physical inactivity and poor nutrition

Two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese

Three in 10 adults do not get enough physical activity

Less than one in 10 adults consume the recommended amount of vegetables

        •      Some good news - smoking rates have fallen to a record low of just 11 per cent

        •      One in two Australian adults experience a mental health disorder during their lifetime

        •      Average levels of psychological distress were higher in 2020, 2021 and early 2022, especially in younger people, and there was also an increase in self-harm and suicidal ideation presentations to emergency departments

In 2020, an average of nine people died every day by suicide

        •      More than half of all deaths by suicide were among people aged 30-59, and males were three to four times as likely as females to take their own life

$202.5 billion was spent on health in 2019-20, about $7,900 per person

Children born in 2020 can expect to live to 83 

AIHW: Australia's Health 2022

About the only statistic listed I would be happy to be associated with is the one where so few people are smoking these days (not that I ever did fortunately).

The rest of these statistics do strike me as something of an inditement against our culture. Almost half of us have a chronic disease. Around half experience mental health disorders during their life! $202.5 billion spent on health on one year. Something is not working…

What to do?      While there is obviously no simple fix, consider this… 

1.     What decides what you eat, and how much of it?

Not who – we know who that is, at least primarily, that would be you. No not who, what decides? 

2.     What decides what you drink, and how much of it?

Is it “just” a
habit? Or a craving? If so, where does that habit or craving reside???

3.     What decides how much you exercise?


Clearly for all these crucial lifestyle factors, it is our mind that decides. And if our mind is confused, mis-informed, agitated, stressed, anxious, depressed, angry, jealous and so on; clearly that mind will not function at its best and is highly likely to make choices that will prove difficult either in the short term, or long term.

Is there a simple answer?

 No. But there is a guaranteed sensible starting point – work on your mind. The more we have inner peace, clarity and contentment, the more likely we are to notice what impact our lifestyle choices have on us and those around us, and the more we are likely to make good lifestyle choices.

Having worked in Lifestyle Medicine for nearly 50 years, I am convinced the best self- help technique, the best act of kindness we can offer to ourselves, is to learn to meditate and then maintain a regular (as in daily) practice.

Hence my commitment to teaching meditation. 

Hence my commitment to developing and making accessible the Allevi8 meditation App. 

Hence my tendency to get carried away as an advocate for meditation! 

But this bit is simple...

Regular meditation does bring mental clarity, inner peace and contentment, and while these 3 are worthwhile in their own right, the more you experience them in your own life, the better choices you are likely to make concerning that life. Good health, as well as healing, starts in the mind...

Happy Meditating!!! 

 

 


11 July 2022

The challenge of a daily meditation practice – and 7 top tips that make it happen

Pardon the big gap in blog posts – did the COVID dance (all OK now), then busy with a round of meditation teaching events. Will be in Adelaide Wednesday for an evening of meditation ...

From recent questions and discussion comes the reminder – the most important thing with mindfulness or meditation; more important than any aspect of the practice itself, is actually to develop and sustain a regular practice. Regular as in daily…

So this week, insights from the talks combined with years of feedback. 

Establishing and maintaining regular practice may not be easy, however, it is doable. 

Follow these 7 tips and enjoy your practice, but first



Thought for the day

Start by doing what is necessary;

Then do what is possible; 

And suddenly you are doing the impossible.

St Francis of Assisi

 




Seven top tips to help you establish a daily meditation practice 

1. Motivation

When your motivation is really strong, you just do it. 

If a meditation beginner, take time to consider – what is my motivation? Speaking personally, I had planned to take up meditation for many years, however, it was not until I developed cancer that I began; and with the sense my life was on the line, regular practice became easy. 

Hopefully your situation is not so dire, but you get the message…

If you are one of the many long-term meditators who bounce in and out of regular practice, this is where to start – reflect deeply on the why; gain clarity around your motivation and then the how becomes much easier.

2. Intention

Intention is all about making a clear plan. Experience tells us beginning with a modest plan seems to work better for most people. Rather than set high expectations for yourself and falling short, better to start slowly and build – build your practice time, your confidence and your meditation habit.

The key thing is to aim for a little each day. 

So what feels doable? 

Listen to one recording on an app each day? 

Do 10 minutes a day? 

Twenty minutes? 

Some can go straight into longer sessions twice daily, even 3 times if the need is strong. 

Reflect on your motivation, your need. 

Start conservatively and aim to build to what you imagine as ideal for you.

3. Commitment

Yep, just do it! What else is there to say? Except it is not always that easy. 

When I first started teaching meditation, many of the people I was helping had major health or other personal issues with which to contend. They understood the theoretical benefits of meditation and were keen to practice, yet it amazed me how many found it difficult to establish a regular practice. 

By contrast, I remember many who became what is best described as uncompromising. One long-term meditator described his daily practice as “non-negotiable”! He said there were things he would do often, things he would do when he could or when the mood moved him, but he was so clear how important his meditation practice was to his good health and his wellbeing, it was a non-negotiable – both for him and for others. Nothing came in the way of this daily practice. It was an absolute commitment to himself.

So if the commitment is strong – easy. But if the commitment waivers, there is still hope! 

To strengthen your commitment, maybe share it with those close to you. 

One good way to lapse is to avoid accountability. Tell no one and it is easy to slide. Tell the world and it feels awkward to slip. 

Some find going public like in social media, announcing your intention, seeking support, providing progress reports and so on; some find this very helpful, others not. It is a personal choice, but many do find seeking help with accountability very useful.  

And four more tips to come :)

4. Establish a routine

Lock your meditation practice into the normal rhythm of your day.

Some accomplish this by making a regular time commitment – 7am or 6pm or whatever time reliably you can make to practice.


Many others find it better still to estabish their practice between pre-existing habits. 

So if in the habit of shower and breakfast in the morning, make it shower, meditation, breakfast. 

Then on weekends or when other events affect your timing, you still have a reliable routine to support your practice.

Your adopted routine is another aspect of your practice that will be beneficial to share with the people close to you, especially if you live together. 

That way they can support you, both with gentle – or firm reminders (as you request and agree), and give you the space when you need it.

5. Be prepared

Aim to do most of your meditation practice in the same place and leave it ready to go again next time. 

What works best for you? A cushion or chair? A shawl or blanket? A shrine? Incense? Need matches? Maybe a notebook and pen in case the need to record an insight arises?
Also, be clear about what practice you intend to do. Make sure you have access to whatever app or recording you may use to support your practice.

Be prepared so when you go to your place of meditation, you can relax into it and simply begin… 

6. Reward Yourself

Of course the practice is its own reward. Of course. 

But we are talking here of getting something done reliably! So the next tip, especially for beginners, is to consider treats that reward a block of practice.

Is it as simple as regarding a post-practice cuppa a reward?


Is it going to a movie or a special night out after a month of daily practice?


What about committing to a retreat after 3 or 6 months of regular practice?


Consider what might work for you – how much practice results in what reward?

7. Track your progress

For many, this can be a big one. Keeping a record of what practice you have done increases your sense of accountability. There is something very appealing, and very effective about this.

You could use a calendar or go high tech and use one of the many new tracking apps that are available. Our Allevi8 app has this function built in.

Do aim to focus upon what you have achieved and celebrate that; and do aim to avoid beating yourself up when you miss a session. Use the gap to strengthen your resolve.

Establishing a new daily habit is a process

May these tips help you accomplish just that, and may you find joy in the practice itself…

MEDITATION EVENING IN ADELAIDE - Wednesday 13th July 7 - 9pm

To Book : CLICK HERE 



30 May 2022

Daydreaming – Mindlessness or something really useful?

Reflections based upon the official opening of the Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies (M3CS).

We all know the benefits of mindfulness. So does that mean daydreaming, or wakeful mind wandering, is a waste of time and something we aim to avoid?

Last week, Ruth and I attended the official opening of the M3CS. Inspiring, memorable and significant! And followed by a forum featuring discussion of the relative merits of mindfulness and mind wandering – very stimulating. 
So this week, an exploration of daydreaming and more on the new Centre, but first

      

    Thought for the day

          Everyone is a genius.

           But if you judge a fish

            On its ability to climb a tree,

              It will live its whole life

                Believing that it is stupid

                              Albert Einstein





The Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies has been functioning and teaching students since early in 2022. It is enabling unprecedented collaboration between the disciplines of philosophy, neuroscience, medicine, psychology, education and interfaith dialogue, while contributing to exciting new research, educational and community engagement initiatives. 

One manifestation of the new M3CS is how it brings together like-minded authorities in their fields with somewhat different perspectives, thus enabling a wider dialogue and deeper, more fulsome enquiry.

Evidence of this was demonstrated very clearly in a forum after the official opening where once again, Prof Craig Hassed a doyen of mindfulness – and wonderful colleague and friend - waxed on again about the joys of mindfulness. No problem there. However, by implication, we might think to be mindless, to daydream or in more technical language, to allow or mind to indulge in wakeful mind wandering, could be a waste of time. 

Enter Craig’s colleague at the new Centre Dr Jennifer Windt – an advocate of the virtues of letting the mind wander. 

Dr Windt is a senior research fellow whose research lies at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive science. 

Jennifer seeks to understand what our minds do when left to their own devices, for example when we fall asleep and dream, or when our thoughts and attention wander away from ongoing tasks and activities in the here and now. 

Her current research on spontaneous experience in waking and sleep is funded by the Australian Government and she is the author of Dreaming (MIT, 2015). 

Here is Jennifer’s proposition : our stream of consciousness is subject to constant change. Conscious experience changes in response to major life events and minor day-to-day and even moment-to-moment occurrences. We can alter our consciousness using psychedelic drugs or certain meditation techniques. And these alterations can be large or subtle, long or short lasting. 

Even when our minds are left to their own devices, as they are during sleep, our stream of consciousness is in constant flux. This is also true in waking when our minds wander, our attention drifts away from the here and now, and we daydream, Strikingly, in sleep, our stream of consciousness itself can stop and restart, as we slip from dreaming into unconscious sleep and back again into consciousness. Spontaneous experiences, such as dreaming and waking mind wandering, show that transformation is not just a reaction to external events or the result of deliberate attempts at changing our minds, but part of the very fabric of our conscious mental lives. 


Maybe our minds actually do need this “time out” when we daydream? 

Maybe as our minds wander, important things actually are occurring? 

Maybe these are times when things loosen up somewhat, when there is both time for regeneration, re-calibration and even time for integration?


What we can be sure about is the new M3CS is bringing people like Craig and Jennifer together in a way that collaboratively, and very positively provokes them and others they work with to go even deeper into their fields of knowledge, expertise and research. 

The fact that the University and its senior staff headed by the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor are supporting the emergence of the new Centre so strongly is deeply heartening. The atmosphere amongst the new staff is one of excitement; full of possibility and hope for a better future. May it be so…


16 May 2022

Meditation and Blue Sky Mind

Your mind has two aspects. There is the familiar active, thinking mind with all its attendant emotions, and then there is the still mind, renowned for its innate inner peace and clarity, loving kindness and wisdom.

While meditation and my most recent meditation book, Blue Sky Mind do focus upon getting to know both aspects of your mind better, more particularly they provide a reliable way to become familiar with the still mind.

Meditation enables us to focus our attention, to move past distractions and the pre-occupations we often have with our thoughts and emotions, and introduces us to our still mind with direct certainty. It then helps us to function with confidence from the perspective of that still mind wherein all the qualities we aspire to as good people are to be found.

So this week, more of an introduction to meditation, Blue Sky Mind and its genesis, but first

        Thought for the day

The aim is to experience 
Meditation practice and life as one.
 

The aim is to continue 
The mindfulness, the awareness 
And the View
Of the meditation into daily life.


As we practise 
And these qualities 
Begin to become a reality for us, 
We begin to see more clearly 
The way to do things 
In a connected, effective and caring way.

                                          Ian Gawler


Blue Sky Mind is intended to be a highly accessible introductory book to meditation; something that everyone will find informative and useful for establishing and deepening their own meditation practice.



The inspiration and starting point for this current book was Peace of Mind, my first meditation book published in Australia in 1987 and one of the first books to be published on meditation in that country. It has sold over 100,000 copies.

This earlier book provided instruction on how to relax deeply and enter the simple stillness of deeper meditation as well as a comprehensive introduction to the use of contemplation and guided imagery.







Peace of Mind was followed in 1996 by Meditation - Pure and Simple.

This book was written in response to many requests that flowed out of Peace of Mind regarding what to do with an active mind and the many distractions and frustrations an untrained or unskilled active mind can bring into meditation. This book highlighted skilful ways of moving past those very common intruding thoughts.







Then followed a more complete expose on guided imagery - The Creative Power of Imagery in 1997.








In 2010 there came the more explicit and extensive book on the techniques of meditation, contemplation and guided imagery - Meditation - an In-Depth Guide co-authored with colleague Paul Bedson. 




The Creative Power of Imagery led into and was replaced by The Mind that Changes Everything in 2010. In this book, there are around 50 Guided Imagery exercises that can be applied to many life situations, including achieving any set goal, sport, work , relationships and healing.








So then in 2019, to reinvigorate the “beginner’s book”, the best of Peace of Mind and Meditation - Pure and Simple were combined with a good deal of original material into one fresh new book, Blue Sky Mind.

My wife Ruth played a major role in developing this work and has brought her love, care, sensitivity, experience, wisdom and insight to all facets of the book’s writing and production.

The understanding of meditation reflected in this book has grown through my personal contact with many people and books. There has been great good fortune in being able to learn directly from many great masters of meditation. The two most significant are Dr Ainslie Meares and Sogyal Rinpoche.





Dr Meares was the true pioneer of therapeutic meditation in the Western world.

His first book on meditation, Relief Without Drugs was published in 1967, translated into many languages and sold over one million copies around the world. That book is out of print but well worth taking down on the used market.

Dr Meares insights were pivotal, informed my own work and are as relevant to current times as they were to the sixties.



Since 1985, the Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and master of Dzogchen meditation has been my main teacher.

Rinpoche has helped deepen my understanding and experience of meditation by his presence, kindness, knowledge and patience.

The TBLD as it is commonly known is a classic with over 3.5 million copies sold. It held the record for some time apparently as the most shop-lifted book in Australia :) Not sure what that says... Anyway, a great read.


Also, gratitude is offered to Zen Master Hogan-San for his knowledge and insight. And what a blessing to have known and learnt from that extraordinary Christian mystic and scholar Father Bede Griffiths along with many others who have shared the experiences of Christian Meditation.

But then Blue Sky Mind was also the product of many years working with great staff as we helped so many people learn to meditate. There is a debt owed to them all - the staff and those who learnt with us - for their shared experiences, responses, feedback, failures and successes. It is a privilege to have been able to work in this way.

And while all these wonderful people and books have helped a great deal, in meditation the real answers lie within. There is a profound appreciation and gratitude for the experiences and the knowing that comes from listening and waiting in silence for the still voice within.

May you encounter meditation, recognise its inner value and maintain a regular practice.

Enjoy :)



02 May 2022

Meditation and wisdom

In older times people grew up in cultures based upon wisdom. All the great spiritual traditions provided an ethical and moral framework, plus a world view on the meaning of life.

In modern times we have moved progressively towards a more secular culture. During the transition, many drew on the fumes of the old traditions and exhibited some semblance of wisdom; but now as we become increasingly secular, many of our youth are wondering what is missing; and where to fill the gap.

In the domain of meditation, this trend has been exacerbated by popularist teachers and especially Apps, cherry-picking the great traditions for their techniques which they share widely, while they leave out or minimalize their wisdom teachings.

So this week, a dip into where wisdom is to be found, plus how to nurture and develop it; but first

   Thought for the day


       God is that which is so complete in itself 

       That even if a whole is removed from it 

       Or indeed added to it

       It still remains the same whole.

                                       Sanskrit hymn

From where do you derive your wisdom? 

Seems to me there are 4 most likely possibilities 

1. One of the great spiritual – and wisdom – traditions

2. A spiritual friend – this could be a teacher from outside one of the great traditions, or a person close to you – a parental type figure (or grandparent or … )

3. Books and podcasts from which you draw together your own conclusions/values

4. You experience a void because neither of the other 3 apply.

This post is simply a prompt; an encouragement to recognise the value of the search for wisdom, and an encouragement to make a commitment and do the study and practice required to develop, and even better, to embody wisdom.


With this in mind, here is a quote from Ken Wilbur that might inspire…

And in the pursuit of wisdom, be prepared for ups and downs, and the need to persevere…

Never give up!



It is important to understand we all meditate within a Tradition and all traditions belong to one great Tradition of Humanity. All our Traditions we could say are connected. They have a root Tradition. But that root Tradition is held in a pre-historical silence, in a very primeval awakening to our human meaning and purpose. 

Translative religion which is by far the most prevalent, widespread, and widely shared function of religion ... acts as a way of creating ‘meaning’ for the separate self: it offers myths and stories and tales and narratives and rituals that, taken together, help the separate self make sense of, and endure, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. 

This function of religion does not usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness in a person; it does not deliver radical transformation. 

Nor does it deliver a shattering liberation from the separate self altogether. Rather, it consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the self. As long as the separate self believes the myths, performs the rituals, mouths the prayers, or embraces the dogma, then the self, it is fervently believed, will be “saved” - either now in the glory of being God-saved or God-favoured, or in an after-life that ensures eternal wonderment. 

Transformative religion in a usually very, very small minority - serves the function of radical transformation and liberation. This function of religion does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it - not consolation but devastation, not entrenchment but emptiness, not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution - in short, not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.

… at some point in our maturation process, translation itself, no matter how adequate or confident, simply ceases to console. No new beliefs, no new paradigm, no new myths, no new ideas, will staunch the encroaching anguish. Not new belief for the self, but the transcendence of the self altogether, is the only path that avails.

 .... For those few individuals who are ready - that is, sick with the suffering of the separate self, and no longer able to embrace the translative [exoteric] worldview - then a transformative [esoteric] opening to true authenticity, true enlightenment, true liberation, calls more and more insistently. 

And depending upon your capacity for suffering, you will sooner or later answer the call of authenticity, of transformation, of liberation. 

Ken Wilbur - One Taste