08 April 2013

Ian Gawler Blog: Non-meditation; A personal account

Before Easter, Ruth and I led our annual 7 day Meditation in the Forest retreat. It caused me to reflect personally upon the 4 traditional stages of learning and practising meditation, and that ultimate goal where meditation becomes a continuous part of daily life and there is no further need for formal practise – non-meditation.

Also, the Melbourne weekend of workshops is only a few weeks away. So a friendly reminder. Most of the recent events have booked out, so if you, family, friends or colleagues are planning to attend, booking soon may make good sense.

I must say, the new cycle of workshops, focusing on research breakthroughs in the areas of neuroplasticity, epigenetics, telomeres and nutrition, coupled with plenty of time for meditating together and good conversation amidst like-minded people, has been a delight to present and well received.

Finally, powerful research exposes one of the major challenges for modern medicine, Big Pharma, balanced by an extraordinarily moving music video from Eric Whitacre.

So lets “Go out on a Limb” this week and talk about being busy, taking time out, meditation and non-meditation; but first

Thought for the Day
When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change
                                            Max Planck, originator of quantum theory, Nobel Prize in Physics 1918

Fresh back from speaking at the Holistic Cancer Congress in New Zealand, and before heading off to Western Australia to present a series of workshops came our annual Pre-Easter Meditation in the Desert retreat at the Foundation’s delightful Yarra Valley centre.

Even leading a meditation retreat provides some genuine peace amidst a busy life. But it raises the question. If meditation is about learning to be more relaxed, more centred, more at peace, more calm and clear in our thinking and our very life; is there a point where we actually “get it”, and cease to need to formally meditate; where we reach the stage of non-meditation?

I have been meditating fairly continuously and seriously for nearly 40 years. I have had the best of teachers, and the good fortune to introduce and contribute to the teaching of many others.

So this seems like something it would be useful to share; what happens for me in my own meditation practice.

The bottom line is I have meditated around 500 hours each year for many years now. I like to think it is reasonably true that to some degree in my daily life I am “relaxed, centred, at peace, calm and clear in my thinking and my very life”. As a blessing of my teachers and my regular practice, it is probably fair to say that to some degree I have actually “got it”.

But being open, I need regular practice to sustain all that. My life is very busy and often productive. I am often working with people in the midst of the maelstrom of personal crisis as they face life-threatening situations. I have been a public figure for many years and faced the full range of challenges and emotions, so called positive and negative, that such a life entails.

But as the years go on, despite all this, there has been a way through, a way that has left me feeling more content, more fulfilled at a deeper level. Happily, Ruth continues to find me good company.

And how? Regular meditation has been the key. I do my practice these days because I enjoy it, but also because I know it enables my unbalanced back to remain stable and healthy atop its one leg; and I know meditation enables me to remain in a “good” state of mind amidst the ups and downs of everyday life.

So in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition I am familiar with, the 4 stages of learning meditation are

1. Calm abiding: Focusing the mind in a way that leads to a state of calm,  undistracted awareness

2. Clear seeing: realizing the truth of what one is actually aware of. This is somewhat like the marriage of mindfulness and wisdom.

3. One taste: Where there is awareness of the 2 aspects of the mind, the thinking mind and the more essential, true nature of the mind; and both of them are known to be aspects of the same truth.

4. Non-meditation: Where the awareness of truth is simply there throughout the day and night and there is no need to meditate or not to meditate. The job is done. Non-meditation.

So I fantasize about reaching this point of non-meditation, but in the interim, am bloody grateful for my teachers and my own personal kindness (commonly known as personal discipline) that has me meditating every day. And gives me the opportunity to teach others.

1. Melbourne: Weekend workshop; A New Way of Living - only a few weeks away

Saturday May 11th : Meditation and the Power of the Mind
Sunday May 12th : Living Well, Being Well

Bring the family, invite a friend or two, inform your colleagues!
Maybe you know someone living in Melbourne who would benefit/like to attend.

For full details and to book, LINK HERE

2. Blog jumps
Some of you may have noticed that a previous blog post took it upon itself to jump onto the home page. It is a mystery as yet as to how "A New Way of Living" suddenly appeared in front of last week's post on "The 2 best ways to practise mindfulness", but if you missed the mindfulness post, it may be worth scrolling down!

3. Eric Whitacre in Concert and on video.
Eric Whitacre combines ethereal “modern” (as in composed recently by himself) classical music and singing with state of the art new technologies. He is coming to Melbourne and will perform with Ruth’s brother David Berlin, principal cello at the MSO, on Sat, April 13th.

In a moving and madly viral video last year, Eric led a virtual choir of singers from around the world. He talks through the creative challenges of making music powered by YouTube, and unveils the first 2 minutes of his new work, "Sleep," with a video choir of 2,052 on this great TED talk. Well worth a few exalted minutes: Link here.

4. Undue industry influences that distort healthcare research, strategy, expenditure and practice: a review

Here is the Abstract from a major recent research paper that speaks for itself. Normally I would paraphrase research findings, but this one seems best to be reproduced as is.

Expenditure on industry products (mostly drugs and devices) has spiraled over the last 15 years and accounts for substantial part of healthcare expenditure. The enormous financial interests involved in the development and marketing of drugs and devices may have given excessive power to these industries to influence medical research, policy, and practice.

Material and methods
Review of the literature and analysis of the multiple pathways through which the industry has directly or indirectly infiltrated the broader healthcare systems. We present the analysis of the industry influences at the following levels: (i) evidence base production, (ii) evidence synthesis, (iii) understanding of safety and harms issues, (iv) cost-effectiveness evaluation, (v) clinical practice guidelines formation, (vi) healthcare professional education, (vii) healthcare practice, (viii) healthcare consumer's decisions.

We located abundance of consistent evidence demonstrating that the industry has created means to intervene in all steps of the processes that determine healthcare research, strategy, expenditure, practice and education. As a result of these interferences, the benefits of drugs and other products are often exaggerated and their potential harms are downplayed, and clinical guidelines, medical practice, and healthcare expenditure decisions are biased.

To serve its interests, the industry masterfully influences evidence base production, evidence synthesis, understanding of harms issues, cost-effectiveness evaluations, clinical practice guidelines and healthcare professional education and also exerts direct influences on professional decisions and health consumers. There is an urgent need for regulation and other action towards redefining the mission of medicine towards a more objective and patient-, population- and society-benefit direction that is free from conflict of interests.

Stamatakis, E et al, European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 25 MAR 2013
DOI: 10.1111/eci.12074. To link to the reference, click here.

During Meditation in the Desert, ( September 5 to 15) I will be expounding on the 4 stages of meditation discussed above, along with other aspects of practical Buddhist techniques and philosophy.


  1. When I started meditating I was very aware of a large disconnect from the meditative state to when I got up off the cushion. This has grown less over the years. One thing that has helped is the consistent practice of offering the meditation to something (a "good ending") this may be as vague as "world harmony" or quite specific for the welfare of another.

    1. Nice comment and it highlights the benefit of good technique as a means to develop the natural flow of our meditation practice, and then how good technique and regular practise helps to have the benefits of our formal practise flow into our daily life.

  2. A great blog, Ian. You covered some very important ground - your meditation experience & how you still need the formal practice, & the vested-interest problems with current research & its deleterious impact on our lives. Do you mind if I send this to my data-base?

    Greg Fitzgerald.

    1. Please do share the blog Greg. I find the research incriminating Big Pharma quite disconcerting. It is OK for us practitioners to have confirmed by research what we observe, that financial pressures are unduly and unhelpfully influencing modern medicine; but for people in need of healing, it betrays their trust and leaves them quite insecure and unsure what to do. As practitioners we have the possibility of helping those who are vulnerable to move past their uncertainties and fear and to make good health choices.

  3. The irony is that the 2 main criticisms of your healing advice are that it is not evidence-based , which it is. And that it's about making money out of vulnerable people, which it doesn't. Big business is anonymous, overwhelmingly interested in profit, and playing games with "evidence" in it's research publication methods. Big Pharma gets named for it's influence and dominance of the medical marketplace - but what about "Big mammography", "Big radiology", "Big Genetics industry". There are serious problems with all these that get ignored all the time. How much radiation is enough for assessing someone's cancer? How much help is it to be told that you have a blue-print for cancer that your daughters will inherit? Our culture is very linear and narrow in it's thinking and cannot comprehend the level of vested interests in illness.

  4. I love this approach of a balance between really getting in-tune with the body as a way of healing sickness. I never even considered that before, but it's worth a try. Thanks!

  5. The idea of non-meditation puts me in mind of martial arts training; in Karate we used the term "moksu" or no mind. A point were body memory takes over and not only smoothing and making technique more effective but finding you observe more and "be in balance with the moment" a calm meditative state that can be applied in any situation. I have in a way tried this during my very recent diagnosis and radiation treatment and by using meditative calming techniques I feel that due to lowered stress I am coming though treatment well.
    Andrew 42.

  6. The way you describe "no mind" is what many might understand as mastery - that state when something has been practised so often, become so familiar, so natural, that it can be done with a high degree of competence and without the need to actively think about it. This state of mastery looks really easy from the outside to the casual observer, but takes most people a long time to develop. Well worth the effort, that is why we call the on-line meditation program Mindbody Mastery.
    These skills are of huge value on the path to recovery.