18 May 2024

A Tribute to My Wife

An unusual topic for a blog, but Ruth’s story of recent years is one of overcoming severe adversity and going on to flourish. Her timing was impeccable as I have been severely ill myself lately, and while providing me with exceptional care, Ruth also led the recent Meditation Teacher Training for which I was incapacitated. 

So this week, another great story of transforming obstacles and suffering into strength and service, but first

         Thought for the Day

   So I encourage you - bow eagerly to love. 

   Follow its humble stirrings in your heart. 

   Let it guide you in this life 

   And it will bring you safely to eternal bliss in the next. 

   Love is the essence of all goodness. 

   Without it, no kind work is ever begun or finished. 

   Simply put, love is a good will in harmony with God.

                            The Cloud of Unknowing



Many of you will have read Ruth’s blog posts recounting her extreme health issues over the past 3 years. (links below) First severe chronic back pain, then totally debilitating long COVID. It is important to recount the long COVID not only depleted all her energy and created multiple tough physical symptoms, it also induced what is called organic brain syndrome. It was like the virus created an autoimmune reaction which meant her body attacked itself, and even worse, her mind attacked itself.

This left Ruth extremely anxious, hyper-reactive, fearful of everything; feeling paranoid and remote from all around her – including me much of the time. To make matters even more difficult, being trained in psychological medicine and a dedicated student of the mind all her life, Ruth was aware of these changes in her mind, but remained unable to override or significantly change them.

The long COVID lasted well over a year, and not surprisingly took a toll. While for me it was actually a pleasure to be able to care for Ruth and help her to stay out of institutionalised care – as was recommended to her by 3 different psychiatrists, unfortunately some others around her found the mental illness challenging.

Here we need to observe the difference between how our community tends to relate to physical illness or injury, compared to mental illness. 

When someone breaks a leg for example, pretty well everyone finds it easy to accept the injury.

We take it on face value and treat the person affected with compassion.



Mental illness can be tough. 

Often there is the sense the person affected is “weak”; if not their mind would be working OK. 

People with mental illness can behave and say things that can be outright confronting, yet often we fail to see through their words or actions and instead of responding to the person with the compassion and consideration they warrant, we take what they say or do both seriously and personally.

For me, while some people were exceptionally caring and supportive, the reactions of some around Ruth during this time were quite disappointing, and it happened again as she went through another turbulent time coming off the medication taken during the latter stages of her illness. 

Anyway, Ruth is now medication free, and really well both physically and mentally. What a delight. 

My turn! 

Early this April we both developed COVID for the second time while staying on the NSW Central Coast. Ruth had a very minor episode; I was completely flattened and slept for two days. Soon after we needed to travel home by car back from which further debilitated me and triggered a weird functional bowel obstruction. Acutely ill, from April 16th, the next 16 days were spent in hospital. Did not eat or drink for around 10 days; sustained on a drip. Lost a lot of weight, totally debilitated and generally danced close to the edge once again.

Now amidst all this, Ruth and I, along with our dear colleague Murray Paterson, were scheduled to lead the first of our scheduled Meditation Teacher Training programs for this year from May 6th – 10th; a couple of weeks away. 

I had spent many months previously compiling a comprehensive, 180 page new manual for this program, but as it was just completed, was yet to share it with Ruth and Murray. 

So we needed to decide. 

Cancel the program and disappoint those booked, or rely on Ruth and Murray to learn and deliver the program in short time. 

Ruth did not hesitate, and Murray was keen. So we advised those planning to come off the changes and the training went ahead with one drop out and one new person joining. Ruth was confident with her regained energy and newfound inner strength and confidence, she and Murray could do it.

And so they did! 

Remarkably, and as a tribute to their previous study and practice, the two of them delivered the program and received rave reviews from all those participating. Ruth and Murray’s capacity to accomplish this with such a short lead time, was very heartening to the course participants. Quite amazing really. Happily, the detail in the manual made it possible for them to understand, learn and deliver the material to a high level in a short space of time. The trainees found this very encouraging for their own aspirations to teach.                        

                                                                                           Participants practicing guiding meditation 

We will be presenting Module 2 of this year’s Meditation Teacher Training in November when the focus will be on teaching a Meditation and Contemplation course. I may even be fit to help by then :). Also, the plan is to repeat the basic Meditation Teacher Training next year, as well as delivering another module where the focus will be on Meditation and Guided Imagery - see the website for details.

But now for a bit more context. I was released from hospital the day before this recent training began at our old Yarra Valley Living Centre. So I was still severely debilitated and barely able to get out of bed. Great place for convalescing, and the Brahma Kumaris who are now running the Centre were very kind and attentive to me, but Ruth carried the bulk of my care, along with presenting the program. How amazing was that!

I did manage to put in a cameo appearance on the last day but was still deeply exhausted by the time we made it home. Now, happily, a week later, steady but slow progress is being made and this is the first day without a real down time.

So this recent illness has been very tough, but so heartening to be with Ruth as she comes fully back into herself; in fact, quite clearly she has emerged from her own tough times with a new strength and inner confidence. 

What a delight! 

What a joy! 

The power of love in action…

 




RELATED BLOGS

1.     The Gawler Meditation Teacher training – May and November 2024

2.     Ruth’s Back Pain, Long COVID and Recovery – Part 1 – Back Pain

3.     Ruth’s Back Pain, Long COVID and Recovery – Part 2 Long COVID begins

4.     Ruth’s Back Pain, Long COVID and Recovery – Part 3 – The Nightmare and the Recovery


WEBSITE:  LINK 

 


15 April 2024

Minor Blog Changes

 Greetings all, this is a brief post simply to advise you the host that forwards this blog to you has been changed and so you may notice a small variation in the formatting. Rest assured all else is the same and we are maintaining the same strict care with your email details and confidentiality as before.

A new blog post is just around the corner

With love

Ian

04 March 2024

Mindfulness and Awareness – the differences and why they matter

We hear a lot these days about mindfulness and awareness; especially in meditation circles. Confused about what each one really means? Knowing the difference, and knowing how to apply each of them, can significantly inform our meditation and our lives for the better? So this is a post to clarify the differences along with an appeal for more consistent and clear usage, plus details of the coming Meditation Teacher Training, and Meditation Retreat, but first

     Thought for the Day

The realization of pure Presence and spontaneous luminosity 

May take many forms. 

A simple one is something like this: 

You might be looking at a mountain, 

And you have relaxed into the effortlessness 

Of your own present awareness, 

And then suddenly the mountain is all, you are nothing. 

Your separate-self sense is suddenly and totally gone, 

And there is simply everything that is arising moment to moment. 

You are perfectly aware, perfectly conscious, 

Everything seems completely normal, 

Except you are nowhere to be found. 

You are not on this side of your face looking at the mountain, 

You are the sky, you are the clouds, 

You are everything that is arising moment to moment, 

Very simply, very clearly, 

Just so. 

                   Ken Wilbur

My favourite secular definition of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn and his team: mindfulness is paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally. Yet look up Google and the often quoted version is mindfulness is awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. Mindfulness is awareness??? So are they the same? Now I love Jon and his work, but you would have to say this is a bit confusing…

You do not need to read much meditation related literature – whether academic, secular or traditional, to realise the words mindfulness and awareness are used almost interchangeably. Most of the time, the reader is being asked to apply context and sort out what is being meant when.

So mindfulness first. Mindfulness is a function of the mind. It is something the mind does. 

Wherever you are right now, simply look away from your screen and focus your attention upon the adjacent photo. 

That is concentration – holding your attention deliberately on one thing. 

Now notice how your mind tends to react quite quickly to a chosen object like you are watching, and engage in judgement and commentary. 

What is going on here? Is that guy crazy?… 

I really do not like this, or maybe I do???

So now, continue to hold your attention on the object and drop the judgement and any commentary. That is mindfulness. To be clear, mindfulness is a particular type of concentration. Mindfulness is paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally.

If you take a moment, you may be able to notice how in mindfulness, it is almost like your mind goes out to the object, fixes upon it and engages with it. 

Now awareness. Whereas mindfulness involves the mind going out to the world, awareness involves the world coming to the mind. Awareness is passive. 

This is like being at a movie theatre. 

When you first sit in a movie theatre, you are aware you are in the theatre with a screen in front of you. 

Then the movie begins, and it is like your attention goes up and into the movie. 

Your mindfulness is in the movie, and it is easy for it to get “lost” in the movie. 

You forget you are in a theatre watching a movie; it is like you are a part of the movie; lost in its projections. 

You tend to lose much of your awareness when you are lost in the movie. 


Fuller awareness comes when you snap out of it as it were, and remember you are observing a movie.

There is another important difference between mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness is a function of the mind; therefore it has no knowledge or wisdom; it is something the mind can do – be mindful. Awareness on the other hand can hold both knowledge and wisdom. 

So how does this difference apply to our meditation practice, and our lives?
Almost all meditation techniques benefit from three primary ingredients – mindfulness, awareness and spaciousness.

The mindfulness helps to focus our mind and prevent it from becoming distracted. This helps the mind to settle, to become clear – with all the benefits that will bring.

Awareness is necessary because without it we would not know whether we were paying attention, being mindful, or not.

Spaciousness is also necessary so we do not concentrate too hard and give ourselves a headache, not relax or become so indifferent we go to sleep.

So when we begin our meditation, and commonly at that point our mind is likely to be somewhat wild; we need a good deal of mindfulness and awareness to settle the mind – we need to pay attention. As the mind does settle, we can relax more, and steadily move towards being like an impartial observer; to rest in open awareness like an impartial observer; to rest in a state that will be approaching what the essence of meditation is really like.

In our daily life, mindfulness helps us to hold our attention on whatever we chose. But more, it enables us to be open, curious, in the present moment. Why? Or how? Because we have let go of judgement and commentary and can react to things and people with a fresh, open and curious mind. Maybe even with compassion flowing through.

Awareness is just taking this further. Imagine an old person watching a child play. They know the games, there is a gentle humour about it, they are vigilant in an easy, caring sort of way; life seems good.

Finally, you might like to reflect on what this means for your practice and for your life:


You cannot have mindfulness without awareness, but you can have awareness without mindfulness. 

Enjoy…

If you are interested to delve into this more deeply – and clearly there is more to it and it warrants discussion; two residential opportunities are coming soon where topics like this will be explored and where we can practice related techniques:

MEDITATION TEACHER TRAINING - Mindfulness-based Stillness Meditation

With myself, Ruth and Murray Paterson

TIMES: 11am Monday 6th to 3.30pm Friday 10th May, 2024

VENUE: The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria, Australia

FULL DETAILS: Iangawler.com or Sandy@insighthealth.com.au

MEDITATION RETREAT – Meditation in the Forest

Relaxation, mindfulness, stillness and awareness. 

With myself, Ruth and Melissa Borich.

Relax. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Yarra Valley with its big trees, fresh air, beautiful grounds, the Little Yarra River, and sublime meditation sanctuary.

You can simply let go, and let be…

TIMES: Saturday 22nd June starting at 11am to 2pm Friday 28th June (after lunch) 2024

VENUE: The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria, Australia

DETAILS and BOOKINGS: Iangawler.com or Sandy@insighthealth.com.au

 


12 February 2024

Why is Donald Trump so popular?

Love him or hate him, there is no doubting Trump is extremely popular with many. Speaking personally, this is something I have struggled to understand. Trump is subject to 91 criminal charges, has consistently displayed erratic behaviour (is that a polite way of putting it?) and most recently has advocated for the Russians to attack more European countries.

Finally, an insight that makes sense, courtesy of Guardian columnist George Monbiot. It has to do with extrinsics and intrinsics. Never before have I posted a blog featuring just one quoted article, however, I found this one so insightful, not just in explaining Trump but many other seemingly weird relationships, that here it is, plus details of the coming meditation retreat and meditation teacher trainings, but first

 
   Thought for the day

        There is someone smarter than any of us 

        And that is all of us.  

            Michael Nolan



Guardian columnist George Monbiot has explored the psychology of Trump’s seeming unbendable appeal to a large section of the American electorate. Below is an edited extract. 

The Guardian depends on the generosity of readers like you to fund their fearless, independent journalism. If you can, please do support them : The Guardian 

Many explanations are proposed for the continued rise of Donald Trump, and the steadfastness of his support, even as the outrages and criminal charges pile up. 

Some of these explanations are powerful. 

But there is one I have seen mentioned nowhere, which could, I believe, be the most important: Trump is king of the extrinsics. 


Some psychologists believe our values tend to cluster around certain poles, described as “intrinsic” and “extrinsic”. 

People with a strong set of intrinsic values are inclined towards empathy, intimacy and self-acceptance. 

They tend to be open to challenge and change, interested in universal rights and equality, and protective of other people and the living world. 


People at the extrinsic end of the spectrum are more attracted to prestige, status, image, fame, power and wealth. 

They are strongly motivated by the prospect of individual reward and praise. 

They are more likely to objectify and exploit other people, to behave rudely and aggressively and to dismiss social and environmental impacts. 

They have little interest in co-operation or community. 

People with a strong set of extrinsic values are more likely to suffer from frustration, dissatisfaction, stress, anxiety, anger and compulsive behaviour. 
Trump exemplifies extrinsic values. From the tower bearing his name in gold letters to his gross overstatements of his wealth; from his endless ranting about “winners” and “losers” to his reported habit of cheating at golf. Trump, perhaps more than any other public figure in recent history, is a walking, talking monument to extrinsic values. 


We are not born with our values. They are shaped by the cues and responses we receive from other people and the prevailing mores of our society. They are also moulded by the political environment we inhabit. If people live under a cruel and grasping political system, they tend to normalise and internalise it. This, in turn, permits an even crueller and more grasping political system to develop. 


If, by contrast, people live in a country in which no one becomes destitute, in which social norms are characterised by kindness, empathy, community and freedom from want and fear, their values are likely to shift towards the intrinsic end. 

This process is known as policy feedback, or the “values ratchet”. 

The values ratchet operates at the societal and the individual level: a strong set of extrinsic values often develops as a result of insecurity and unfulfilled needs. 

These extrinsic values then generate further insecurity and unfulfilled needs.

This goes deeper than politics. 

For well over a century, the US, more than most nations, has worshipped extrinsic values: the American dream is a dream of acquiring wealth, spending it conspicuously and escaping the constraints of other people’s needs and demands. It is accompanied, in politics and in popular culture, by toxic myths about failure and success: wealth is the goal, regardless of how it is acquired. The ubiquity of advertising, the commercialisation of society and the rise of consumerism, alongside the media’s obsession with fame and fashion, reinforce this story. 


We talk about society’s rightward journey. 

We talk about polarisation and division. 

We talk about isolation and the mental health crisis. 

But what underlies these trends is a shift in values. 

This is the cause of many of our dysfunctions; the rest are symptoms. 


When a society valorises status, money, power and dominance, it is bound to generate frustration. It is mathematically impossible for everyone to be number one. The more the economic elites grab, the more everyone else must lose. Someone must be blamed for the ensuing disappointment. 

In a culture that worships winners, it can’t be them. 

It must be those evil people pursuing a kinder world, in which wealth is distributed, no one is forgotten and communities and the living planet are protected. 

Those who have developed a strong set of extrinsic values will vote for the person who represents them, the person who has what they want. Trump. 

And where the US goes, the rest of us follow. 


Trump might well win again – God help us if he does. 


If so, his victory will be due not only to the racial resentment of ageing white men, or to his weaponisation of culture wars or to algorithms and echo chambers, important as these factors are. It will also be the result of values embedded so deeply that we forget they are there. 

COMING EVENTS

Meditation Teacher Training

Module 1: Mindfulness-based Stillness Meditation

11am Monday 6th to 3.30pm Friday 10th May, 2024

Module 2: Contemplation

11am Saturday 2nd to 3.30pm Wednesday 6th November, 2024 (inc Melbourne Cup holiday on the 5th for Victorians)

Full details: Iangawler.com or Sandy@insighthealth.com.au

Meditation Retreat – Meditation in the Forest

Relaxation, mindfulness, stillness and awareness. 

Relax. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Yarra Valley with its big trees, fresh air, beautiful grounds, the Little Yarra River, and sublime meditation sanctuary.

You can simply let go, and let be…

TIMES: Saturday 22nd June starting at 11am to 2pm Friday 28th June (after lunch) 2024

VENUE: The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria, Australia

DETAILS and BOOKINGS: Iangawler.com or Sandy@insighthealth.com.au

 

 

02 February 2024

Gawler Meditation Retreat 2024 - Meditation in the Forest

Now this will be fun. And profound. And all those other wonderful things a meditation retreat can be! Meditation in the Forest had been an annual event for many years prior to COVID; now it is back – June 22 to 28. 

Ruth and I will be joined by our wonderful colleague from Queensland, Melissa Borich, and yes, it will be amidst the wonderful trees and natural beauty of the Upper Yarra, at the Yarra Valley Living Centre.

So in this post, the important differences between the experiences of meditation and the outcomes, plus a suggestion to reserve a place soon as accommodation is more limited than it used to be, but first

                Thought for the day

   Meditation provides a direct and reliable means 

   To go beyond the activity of the ordinary thinking mind

   And enter into a direct experience of our still mind.

   By doing so, we come to know

   The truth of who we really are; 

   What is in our heart’s essence.

                                       Ian Gawler

Consider this… 

What is it that helps you to meditate regularly? 

Is it in hope of a particular outcome? Resilience, relaxation, clarity of mind, increased vitality, performance, healing, wellbeing, awareness… All very useful. All very reliable meditation outcomes.

Or do you meditate regularly because you like; dare I say, even love the practice itself? Deep, natural peace. The bliss. The clarity. The inner contentment. What a relief! What a joy! 

Or is it?
 So many I speak with are not entirely satisfied with the experience of their practice. 

For some, meditation feels more like a chore; something I “have to do”; another thing to squeeze into a busy day. 

Something that gets bumped to tomorrow when the pressure ramps up. 

And that is just when you need it most.

Others make the effort to meditate in hope their health, their life will get better. 

And often it does. 

But then when the immediate outcome has been accomplished, or conversely, when they start to feel as if their desired outcome seems unattainable, the meditation stops.

Meditation helps in so many ways, yet if we do not enjoy doing it, we are highly likely to lapse. 

So how to enhance the experience of the practice itself?

Ever wondered about what really motivates many people to go on a meditation retreat? 

It is the experience! 

A meditation retreat can provide the environment, the leadership, the like-minded company, and most importantly, the time and space to deepen your experience of meditation. 

And then that experience can inform and inspire our ongoing practice. 

It can bring the joy to the practice!


So maybe it is time, time to take some time out, to make the time, create the circumstances, go to a suitable place with suitable people, and meditate a little more deeply. 

On retreat you can relax. Let go. Allow the dust to settle. Allow daily concerns to drop by the way. Allow yourself to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind and enter into the deeper experiences of meditation.

“I felt as if a hood had been taken off my head and I saw, really saw for the first time in my life. 

“As all this began, I could feel the anticipation that something extraordinary was unfolding, yet my fear was also mounting. Perhaps because I have been quite diligent with my meditation practice these last 3 years, perhaps because so often it has been difficult, perhaps because I did persevere these last few years because I really wanted the outcomes, perhaps because of all this, now I was determined to stay with the fear, stay with the experience.

“As I did so, it was as if my fear dissolved into light. At first it was massive swirls of light, then just all-consuming light. It was as if the light was all through me. I was the light and the light was me. 

“ It is almost impossible to describe the feeling adequately. It was rapturous. More; I was ecstatic, and the feeling lasted for days”.

The fact is that these experiences are real. 

Yet there is a bit of a trick to all this. 

The secret is to focus on the process, not the outcome. 

If the experience becomes another outcome to seek, then it may prove very elusive. 

The wise thing to do is to enter into an environment where one can have the confidence, support and guidance to let go. 

Completely. Let go. Relax. Let go. Deeply. Let go. 

Then the experience comes. 

And once it does, that experience will be ever with you. Then the experience will be something you can come back to. Then you will be keen to meditate for the sake of the meditation itself; for the experience, not just the outcome.

Meditation in the Forest, 11am Saturday 22nd to 2pm Friday 28th June, 2024 

Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt Yarra Junction, Vic 3797

Drs Ian and Ruth Gawler, with Melissa Borich

Details and Bookings LINK HERE