30 December 2019

The most important thing to understand about our own mind

When it comes to our own mind, what is the most important thing to learn? As a meditation teacher, what is the most important thing to teach?

Important questions given in 2020 Ruth and I will lead a 7 day meditation retreat and two 5 day meditation teacher training programs in the Yarra Valley. Also in 2020 I will turn 70 and it will be my 40th year of teaching.

So after all those years of personal practice and teaching, quite simply the most important thing is this. The mind has 2 aspects. Get that, understand that, live in the light of that knowing, and all else will fall into place. So this week, a short piece on the 2 aspects, then details of the 2020 program of retreats and meditation teacher training for Ruth and myself, but first

        Thought for the day

      I think 99 times and find nothing.

      I stop thinking,
      Swim in silence, 
      And the truth comes to me.

                           Albert Einstein

Our mind has two aspects. How do we know that? What is the big deal?

Well first, these 2 aspects are the Active Mind and the Still Mind.

These 2 aspects can be compared to the blue sky and the clouds.

The clouds act as a metaphor for our active thoughts and emotions that come and go and change all the time.

They can range from beautiful and serene to wild and turbulent.

The blue sky is a metaphor for that aspect of mind beyond all the activity of thoughts and emotions wherein dwells a stillness.

This still aspect of the mind is the natural home of profound peace, clarity, wisdom and compassion.

The key point is that under normal circumstances, most of us function with a life view based upon identifying with the Active Mind. As such, we mistakenly approach life as if we and things around us exist independently of each other, are permanent and are singular.

In reality, in truth, however, if we analyze life we find it to be highly inter-dependent, changing all the time, and multiple in its character.

Now it can take a while to make this analysis – even in theory, It can take longer to really “get it” and to do something radical yet freeing; something that actually ensures long-term happiness. And that is to shift our life view from the Active Mind to that of the Still Mind.

The reason this is so important is that when we function from the perspective of the Still Mind, we natural see how we are all inter-connected and we naturally become very caring for those around us and for our environment. We are all in this together. This perspective quite naturally brings out our good heart. Almost effortlessly we become more loving. Unconditionally loving.

Hence the need for retreats.

Take time away from the business and full on engagement with the Active Mind and all that goes with it, and spend time re-connecting with the Still Mind.

To do this we need the theory and the practice.

We need time to build our understanding.

We need time to establish our practice and our direct experience of the truth of what we are learning.

Now of course, the reality is that with meditation we have the opportunity to get to know both aspects of our mind better. As well as reconnecting with the Still Mind, we can observe what our Active Mind is up to, take more control of it, use it more effectively for good and lighten up on the problems it so often leads us into.

In meditation we get to connect more deeply with our own innate stillness, and in doing so, we connect with what we are actually capable of, our greatest potential, and our inner wisdom.

So for Ruth and myself, this is at the heart of what we teach.

No wonder it is our passion.

Ruth has asked me to help lead her Pre-Easter meditation retreat so I have agreed.

And we have been asked to present the Meditation Teacher Training program at the Foundation for 2020.

This too is a passion, especially as in 2020 as well as providing a pure meditation teacher’s training, we will also present a training around teaching contemplation – another area of great interest and joy for me.

So here are the details…


7 day Residential Meditation Retreat with Ruth and Ian Gawler and Melissa Borich 

Modern culture has taught us to look externally for solutions to feeling better… substances we can take, new and exciting experiences, the acquiring of new ‘things.

However, to regain balance and cultivate reliable, sustainable joy, we learn to go within.

Meditation provides real answers.

And all of this amidst the nurture and beauty of the Yarra Valley Living Centre…

Dates     Friday 3rd to Thursday 9th April (pre-Easter)

Venue   The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria

More details   CLICK HERE

Inquiries and Bookings    Call 1300 651 211   or  www.gawler.org

MEDITATION TEACHER TRAINING   with Drs Ruth and Ian Gawler

Ian and Ruth have been teaching teachers of meditation for decades. This is a unique opportunity to learn from them directly in two 5 day residential trainings – Module 1 on meditation, Module 2 – contemplation. Attending both modules will meet the requirements for provisional membership of the Meditation Association of Australia. Both trainings will be highly experiential and be based upon comprehensive manuals.

Venue     The Yarra Valley Living Centre,  55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria

Dates     Meditation Teacher Training 27 April – 1 May, 2020 ; Full details  : Click here

          Contemplation 7-11 September, 2020  ;  Full details :  Click here

Inquiries  and Bookings   Call 1300 651 211 or www.gawler.org

18 December 2019

Tough relatives? The emotional challenges of Christmas – and a simple solution

So here is the challenge. Honour the celebration of Christmas, honour the gathering of family and friends, cope with people we have difficulty with, and yet honour our own emotional health and wellbeing.

While many simply love Christmas; others find it leaves them feeling stressed out, sad and disappointed.

So this week we go way Out on a Limb to consider the emotional side of Christmas, plus news of a meditation retreat I will contribute to with Ruth and Melissa Borich and meditation teacher training in 2020, but first


              Thought for the day

                          Love is our true destiny.
                          We do not find the meaning of life
                          By ourselves alone
                          - we find it with another.

                                               Thomas Merton

I love Christmas.

I love the metaphor. Christ embodies love. Christmas celebrates His birth. Christmas is a festival celebrating the birth of Christ which metaphorically represents the birth of love within us all. Bring it on!!!

For me Christmas is a time to check in with any forgiveness needed, to be reminded of who to express gratitude towards, how to manage gifts in a world where most people already have too much stuff, and most importantly, consider how I might be more loving now and in the coming year.

Yet Christmas can be difficult for many.

How to manage what can often be complex gatherings of families and friends that include people with whom we may well have complex histories?

Well, many seem to approach such events attempting repression and fearful of unwanted explosions.

So a tip straight out of mindfulness – with a touch from the wisdom teachings.

It is very difficult to manage our own emotions well, let alone manage someone else’s. Particularly when it comes to people we need to see and who have expected patterns of behaviour we do not like, try this.

Leave them be. Given no physical abuse takes place (and that is clearly not OK), try acceptance. If Uncle Roger has been like he is for 40 years, chances of him being different in 2019 are slim. Same with Aunty Flo or whoever else is the worrying one.

If the need is to attend an event where they will be present, accept well in advance what they are like. Expect them to behave in their same old way. And if by chance they have seen the light you would like them to see since last meeting, and they do happen to behave in some miraculously different way, well simply accept that as a bonus.

But given they are as usual, try delighting in what they are like.

Yes, rather than sinking into aversion, try actually delighting.

Be aware, be present, observe how they are and at the same time, do what you can to let go of any judgement and commentary.

Rather than reacting, rather than railing against their behaviour; recognize it, accept it and a bit like a wise old woman watching children play, smile and maybe even laugh a little.

Can you feel the difference in this attitude?

Can you feel into the different atmosphere this approach will create? Instead of fear, dread, maybe loathing, there comes acceptance, humour, maybe even some warmth.

At the end of the day you may well find yourself thinking or saying to someone close, “Did you see old Uncle Roger today. Just like always; it is almost comical the way he behaves.”

And you know what, Christmas would not be the same without him.

And maybe there comes a smile…

This is love in action, mindfulness style. This is love in action using our will to manage our heads – and our hearts.

So may the true spirit of Christmas touch you deeply, and may this awakening of love be felt more strongly in all our lives both now, through the festive season and into and throughout 2020.

                  Happy Christmas!

EVENTS in 2020
Sometimes people appear confused when I turn up working, given I seem to be getting older and have retired from various commitments. Please be clear, I have not retired from everything!

I did retire from my fulltime job at the Foundation 10 years ago this week. I have reduced my public speaking significantly and I have not led any meditation retreats for a couple of years. But 2020 promises to be quite active.

MEDITATION RETREAT  -  pre-Easter - Reclaiming Joy.

Ruth has asked me to join her along with Melissa Borich to co-present her popular pre-Easter retreat.

Details : CLICK HERE.


Ruth and I will present the 2020 meditation teacher training program for the Foundation in two parts.

I must say how pleased I am to be involved in this again in 2020 as I simply love training.

Also delighted as this time, as well as 5 days of residential training specifically on teaching meditation, we will present another 5 day specific training on contemplation.

Little is written on this super useful subject, and I have not heard of any other trainings that do focus upon it.

Details : CLICK HERE

In other arenas, the meditation app I have been involved in developing is being made more specific to assist people to overcome some of the key challenges associated with chronic degenerative disease.

Then there is another major meditation project intended to help younger people learn more about meditation and Perennial Wisdom via a residential program in a beautiful and inspiring natural setting, but more on those things soon…

22 November 2019

Two types of soy receptors and how they affect your cancer risks

Perhaps more than anything else to do with food, people ask me about the cancer risks associated with soy. Is it safe? Is it dangerous? Is it even helpful?

Well, the research gets clearer and clearer, while the social media and some health practitioners seem to get more and more confused. So this week, vital new insights into why soy acts the way it does – and what that means for our health, plus details of Ruth's pre-Easter meditation retreat with Melissa Borich that I will be joining next year - April 3rd - 9th, but first

       Thought for the day   

Meditation enables me to feed myself - the soul 
With spiritual knowledge that gives me 
The experience of peace, purity, wisdom, love and lasting happiness. 

It gradually restores in me the confidence and dignity 
To live in the light of my original nature 
And awakens hope in the self.

                         Sister Jayanti

One thing is certain, oestrogen is not all bad. It is the main female hormone and is closely tied to so many of women’s wonderful qualites. Men produce it too but in much smaller quantities (just as women produce some testosterone). Also, oestrogen does reduce menopausal symptoms, improve bone health, and reduce hip fracture risk.

However, oestrogen clearly also has a dark side. It is associated with increasing blood clots in the heart, brain, and lungs, and more troubling still, with breast cancer.

How oestrogen has its effect is due to the fact various types of cell within our bodies have receptors on their surfaces that respond to oestrogen.

When oestrogen comes in contact with these external receptors, an internal reaction is triggered that in bone tissue is healthy, in breast tissue - unhealthy!

Now the old theory related to breast cancer risks – one I have shared a lot - is that phyto-oestrogens, plant based oestrogens like genestein in soy beans, compete with a woman’s own estrogens, effectively block the natural oestrogens and in doing so inhibit breast cancer growth. In this theory, the oestrogen-blocking ability of phytoestrogens explained their unhelpful effects, yet can we explain their helpful effects on other tissues like bone?

So here is where both the body and plants are so amazing. First the body. Recent research has established there are 2 types of oestrogen receptors. The recently discovered ones are being called estrogen receptor beta…to distinguish them from the ‘classical’ oestrogen receptor alpha”.

As for the plants, soy phytoestrogens preferentially bind to the beta receptors, and you can probably guess… the beta receptors have the positive effects; the alpha receptors the unhelpful effects.

Natural oestrogen from the body tends to bind to the alpha receptors.

What does this all mean in real life? If you say eat a cup of soybeans or its equivalent in natural soy products like tofu, there is very little alpha activation, but lots of beta activation.

By contrast, chemical oestrogen supplements increase the risk of fatal blood clots by causing the liver to release high amounts of clotting factors. And again, you can probably guess – our livers contain only alpha estrogen receptors, not beta receptors. In theory if you ate a huge amount of soy – like 30 cups (as maybe you might in a concentrated supplement) well that could be a problem but at the concentrations associated with normal soy consumption, no problem.

The effects on the uterus also appear to be mediated solely by alpha receptors, which is presumably why no negative impact has been seen with soy. So, while oestrogen-containing drugs may increase the risk of endometrial cancer up to ten-fold, phytoestrogen-containing foods are associated with significantly less endometrial cancer. In fact, protective effects are recorded for these types of gynaecological cancers in general: a study showed women who ate the most soy had 30% less endometrial cancer and appeared to cut their ovarian cancer risk nearly in half.

Soy phytoestrogens do not to have any effect on the lining of the uterus and can still dramatically improve some menopausal symptoms.

In what is probably the most robust study to date, researchers compared the soy phytoestrogen
genistein to a more traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) regimen.

 Over one year, in the spine and hip bones, the placebo group lost bone density, while it was gained in both the soy phytoestrogen and HRT estrogen groups. The “study clearly shows that genistein prevents bone loss…and enhances new bone formation…in turn producing a net gain of bone mass.”

The main reason we care about bone mass is that we want to prevent fractures. Is soy food consumption associated with lower fracture risk? Yes. In fact, a significantly lower risk of bone fracture is associated with just a single serving of soy a day, the equivalent of 5 to 7 grams of soy protein or 20 to 30 milligrams of phytoestrogens, which is about a cup of soymilk or, even better, a serving of a whole soy food like tempeh, edamame, or the beans themselves.

Fracture data has not been determined for soy supplements. “If we seek to derive the types of health benefits we presume Asian populations get from eating whole and traditional soy foods,” maybe we should look to eating those rather than taking unproven protein powders or pills.

Finally, is there anyone who should avoid soy? Yes, if you have a soy allergy. That isn’t very common, though. A national survey found that only about 1 in 2,000 people report a soy allergy, which is 40 times less than the most common allergen, dairy milk, and about 10 times less than all the other common allergens, such as fish, eggs, shellfish, nuts, wheat, or peanuts.

Happy eating


Ruth has asked me to contribute to the meditation retreat she will present with Melissa Borich pre-Easter next year. Not possible to refuse, so looking forward to being involved once again and joining these two extra-ordinary women.

Here is the link to Reclaiming Joy : 3rd – 9th April 2020


Is soy safe – Part 1 

Is soy safe – Part 2

The latest on soy and breast cancer

28 October 2019

Ian Gawler art show

After all these years my own artworks are to be involved in my first ever exhibition! And also for the first time, my pictures will be offered for sale!

There will be an opening night – Friday 15th November, however, most of the pictures can be purchased now via the internet. Some of the paintings are quite special – like those done during my recovery or are of places where meditation retreats have been held. All are in oil on good quality canvas and most are framed – by me.

So this week, a little on each of the pictures plus their images and a little of my art history, plus news of the meditation workshops Ruth and I will present in Queensland over the next few weeks, but first

           Thought for the week

If we could say it we would. 
What wants to be said is unsayable - and unthinkable too. 
That is why we make music, we dance, we paint and write poetry. 

Language and words are for mundane things 
Like shopping and running a country. 

The arts are a way to impart to each other 
The wordless core of experience: 
They are nothing short of stepping stones 
To the heaven hidden here on earth.

                                 Rashid Maxwell

As a teenager, I always wanted to be a veterinarian – and so it was. Yet the arts always held a special place in my heart. I held great admiration for artists and writers and actually yearned to do both.

At school I was fortunate to be accepted into veterinary science at the end of year 12. However, I was very young and at the school I attended, rather than taking gap years, many boys did a second year 12 – or matriculation as we called it.

So in my second year, I took English Literature and Art. What a delight! Probably my favourite year of study ever. In art we had two professional artists as our teachers… the wonderful Ronald Miller and the quiet, unassuming and highly talented Des Norman (of the Daisy Bates series of paintings).

That year provided a framework of both theory and technique and I struggled through to achieve a fabulous basic pass mark! Since then my art has surfaced in fits and starts. It was taken up seriously for a few years following my cancer diagnosis then relapse.

This first picture was painted

from the veranda of the house

I convalesced in near Melton


Next big influence was Larry LeShan, the real founder of psycho-oncology and author of Cancer as a Turning Point. Met Larry at a conference in the USA and became good friends – a delightful, insightful maverick of a man.

Anyway, Larry challenged me… Said if I did not have half a day to put aside for myself each week I was missing something really important. So I came home and enrolled in the art class my sister Sue was attending. This was with Peter Churcher – a great painter of figures, classically trained and a wonderful teacher.

So these next 3 come from those days…

A still life with grapefruit that I really like :


Another still life, simply named STILL LIFE

And a model from the classes : THE MODEL AT REST

In recent years there was quite a lull in painting up until last year when I joined Anne Esposito's weekly art classes; again with my sister. Anne is a great artist in her own right and an excellent teacher while the group includes many highly talented artists. We will all have works on display and for sale at the exhibition.

So this has led to a series from times spent around Alice Springs, including a picture from a perspective above Hamilton Downs where we held 7 Meditation in the Desert retreats :


is of the last of the 2 famous ghost gums
West of Alice Springs that were
a favourite subject for Albert Namatjira.
Sadly, both are now gone...

– such a beautiful part of the world…


And this one from the Eastern Macdonnell Ranges : GHOST GUM

And of course, Uluru – no longer climbable
and here under an amazing sky as it is so often…


(Note: this one is not framed although it says it is on the website)

Finally, a moment of reflection caught in WA
at the aptly named Green’s Pool.
(Note: this one too is not framed
although it says it is on the website)

All the pictures are featured on my art group's website - LINK HERE 

The photos on the website are good indications, but not always true as you might expect… For most of the pictures above the frames do not appear and there are 2 without frames.

Email: theartistsgroup1@gmail.com

If you are local enough and would like to attend the art show, it includes works from the art group I am involved with. There will be an opening on Friday 15th November at 5pm, and then more showing Saturday 16th from 10am to 2pm. For more details of the exhibition, including the venue, or to attend the opening, please email Info@insighthealth.com.au.

If you have questions re any of the works, please do direct those to me via Info@insighthealth.com.au. as well.

Hope to see many of you at the exhibition – this is quite a buzz for me… Something quite different

Plus news of our coming events...

30 September 2019

Go retro – one simple solution to thwart climate change

Are you old enough to remember simpler times? Maybe you have watched films or TV shows from the 50s and 60s. No plastic, less stuff, less people. And yet we all managed quite nicely. These days so much plastic and stuff. So much we can learn from back then, so here is a delightful tale, but first

         Thought for the day

   I was sitting on a hilltop looking 
   At the endlessly expanding horizon under the blue sky …
   A bliss began to permeate my body and mind. 
   I didn’t know that my eyes welled up with tears. 
   I bent down to kiss this earth. 
   This is a magic land, a sacred pureland…

                 Chen Xiaodong
   freelance Buddhist writer based in Shanghai

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring

her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The woman apologized to the young girl and explained,

"We didn't have this 'green thing' back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded,

"That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

The older lady said that she was right our generation did not have the "green thing" in its day. The older lady went on to explain: Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we did not have the "green thing" back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things.

Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But, too bad we did not do the "green thing" back then. We walked up stairs because we did not have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and did not climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We did not have the "green thing" in our day.

Back then we washed the baby's nappies because we did not have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we did not have the "green thing" back in our day. 
Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we did not have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we did not fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.

We exercised by working so we did not need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we did not have the "green thing" back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we did not have the "green thing" back then.

Back then, people took the tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family's $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the "green thing."

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we did not need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But it is sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we did not have the "green thing" back then?

Of course, my older generation poisoned rivers and streams, created havoc with DDT, lead based paints and many other environmental disasters. So while we have made good progress in some areas, and there is much more needed in many, maybe we can learn from going retro in others...