03 November 2013

Meditation’s 3 great gifts

For some reason most probably to do with those delightful but mischievous creatures known as computer gremlins, this blog dropped out of the ethers, so I am re-posting. Apologies for any inconvenience to those who have read it already, I think it one of the better ones for those yet to read it!

Why do so many people meditate these days? What is really on offer? Are you missing out? Or are you experiencing meditation’s 3 major benefits?

This week, we go Out on a Limb, go to the heart of meditation and seek to understand why it is so reliable as a stress-free way to manage stress.

Also, more details on the tour of New Zealand that starts with an evening public talk in Auckland on Thursday 14th November and includes workshops and retreats around the country – details CLICK HERE.

Then breaking news with a very important piece of research examining the effects of taking multi-vitamin/mineral supplements on the lifespan of women with breast cancer, but first

Thought for the day:
In meditation the mind keeps wandering.
We keep bringing it back, and it wanders again.
And we bring it back again, and so it goes on,
Maybe for months and years, until at last the mind becomes stabilised . . .
Thoughts go roving around in the head,
But if we bring them down into the heart, that is, the centre of the person,
They come to rest.
Fr Bede Griffiths. River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

Being asked to speak at the Happiness and its Causes conferences in Brisbane and Perth this week on the topic of stress and anxiety set me to think deeply about why meditation is such a reliable and all-encompassing antidote to both. This led to understanding meditation's 3 great gifts.

Now to be clear, when I speak of meditation, I speak of learning to relax deeply in a physical sense, and then to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind into a deeper stillness.

In fact, meditation introduces us, or perhaps just makes abundantly clear, that the mind does have these two aspects; there is the active thinking mind and the still mind.

The thinking mind is the domain of stress – how we perceive things, how we interpret things. Clearly a great deal of stress is to do with how we think. To a large extent it is the thinking mind that determines the stress we may or may not experience.

The still mind is beyond all this. The still mind is calm and clear. The still mind is highly creative, highly productive, but it is the domain of deep, natural peace.

How then to help the thinking mind let go of stress, to become clear and calm, to become stress free?

First an analogy. If we were interested in the true nature of the sky but had never seen it before; and went outside on a cloudy grey day, we could form the view that the sky was this grey fluffy stuff that filled the space above us.

However, those of us who do have a little more familiarity with the sky; we know of course that clouds as we call them are only one part of the sky. There is a second part, a second aspect – that big blue canopy we are so familiar with and that is so evident on a cloud-free day.

Those of us that are more familiar with the sky know that clouds come and go, the blue canopy is always there. So even on the cloudiest, stormiest, wildest of days, sooner or later the clouds do clear and there it is. It was always there of course, that clear blue sky, it is just that sometimes the clouds obscure it from our direct sight.

So, the analogy is good. With our minds, thoughts come and go all the time; they are ever-changing and impermanent. Happy thoughts, stressful thoughts. They come and they go. But sooner or later they will clear, and reveal this deeper stillness, the more fundamental enduring, stable aspect of our mind.

So there is the active and the still mind. Meditation provides a reliable way to go beyond the activity of thinking mind and directly experience the stillness of the more fundamental or true nature of our mind. And in doing so, meditation offers 3 major benefits: Profound Peace, Natural Balance, and the View.

Profound Peace speaks for itself. There is a natural ease, an inner clarity and confidence that comes with meditation that provides a profoundly effective antidote to stress.

But more, this profound peace, coupled with deep physical relaxation brings Natural Balance to our whole being. Physically our body chemistry and physiology regains its natural balance. It is like meditation resets our factory settings and recalibrates the physiological changes we know accompany adverse stress, and over time becomes our default setting.

So this is how meditation diffuses stress and anxiety – with a return to a natural, healthy balance. But there is still more! This natural balance flows on to be experienced as emotional balance, mental balance; there is even a deep sense of connectedness and a natural rise of love, compassion and altruism – a spiritual balance.

And perhaps even more profoundly, meditation offers a new perspective. We begin to see the world, and our life, not just from the perspective of the ever-changing “thinking mind”, but also from a more profound vantage point – that of the still mind, the true nature of our mind.

The View is a word that is used to encapsulate how we view the world, how we interpret our life. What meaning and purpose we experience in this life. Our View is tied up with our values, our ethics, our habits, and our beliefs. How we live our life.

Now, our View of course is radically affected by our perspective. For those whose perspective does happen to lead them to think that all they are is just this body, it is easy to imagine how they “over-identify” with their body image and their physical health and in doing so become highly stress-prone.

For those whose perspective or View is such that they conclude life is all about relationships, and in so doing over-identify with their partner or children, or even their community, it is easy to imagine how the ups and downs of life will make them particularly vulnerable to chronic stress.

For those whose View is that life is all about mental reason, and as a consequence over-identify with the rational, logical, scientific aspects of their mind, it is easy to imagine how the mysteries of life, the unexplainable, the new, the challenging makes them significantly prone to stress.

So, one elegant definition of stress is “over-identification with the wrong part of our self”.

Body, emotions and mind are very important, but they are not who we really are. Over-identifying with them will mean we are bound to be stressed, maybe even full on anxious.

When we change our perspective, everything changes. If we have a problem, as we see it, and we fixate on it, it is like holding an egg to our eye – we can see nothing. It is a big problem and it obscures everything. However, if we hold the egg at arms-length, we recognise it for what it is. It is an egg with loads of possibilities, loads of potential.

So meditation introduces us to who we really are, what is in our heart’s essence. And in doing so, meditation offers three great gifts Profound Peace, Natural Balance and the View.

Truly meditation offers a unique pathway to stress free stress-management.

Meditation in 4 easy steps

Ruth and I will be presenting a range of public talks, workshops and retreats around New Zealand
in November/December.

We start with an evening Public Talk in Auckland on Thursday November 14th (which will be followed up by a weekend in Auckland on November 30th and December 1st), then there are a range of other events.

We are delighted to be including our first meditation retreat in New Zealand (which quite a few Aussies have also booked for already!) - December 2 -8.

Please do let anyone you may know in NZ about the visit -  all the details are on my new public Facebook page: Dr Ian Gawler,    or the website.

An important new study has shown that taking a regular multivitamin and mineral supplement (MVM) significantly reduced mortality for women over 50 with breast cancer.

Given how contentious the supplement issue has been in cancer medicine for years, and how often people tell me that their oncologists have told them MVM will reduce the benefits of treatments and give advice not to take them, this study adds weight to a growing body of research that does support their use.

Here is a short summary of the abstract and the reference for the full article.

This prospective study followed the effects of MVM use on breast cancer mortality in postmenopausal women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. It included 7,728 women aged 50-79 at 40 clinical sites across the United States and followed them for a mean of 7.1 years after breast cancer diagnosis.

In adjusted analyses, breast cancer mortality was 30 % lower in MVM users as compared to non-users (HR = 0.70; 95 % CI 0.55, 0.91). This association was highly robust and persisted after multiple adjustments for potential confounding variables and in propensity score matched analysis (HR = 0.76; 95 % CI 0.60-0.96). 

The results suggest a possible role for daily MVM use in attenuating breast cancer mortality in women with invasive breast cancer but the findings require confirmation.

Wassertheil-Smoller S et al, Breast Cancer Res Treat. Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women's health initiative; 2013 Oct; 141(3):495-505. doi: 10.1007/s10549-013-2712-x. Epub 2013 Oct 9.

For the full reference, CLICK HERE


  1. Thanks for bringing us the three gifts of meditation. Ian, you are the fourth gift: the person who gently encourages us, over and over, to come back to meditation, to our own true nature, to the View. A million thank yous for this and all your other posts, and to your teachers and theirs. I really appreciate being kept up to date too about the multivitamin debate for women after breast cancer. jane mclean

  2. These three gifts really do highlight meditation's benefits and make sense of why I continue to make the effort to get into a regular practice. I am finding the blogs on meditation really helpful to remind me why i keep trying -it is not always easy so far, so thank you Ian and please keep them coming