13 January 2014

Meditation in the Forest

Ever wondered why people make the effort to go on a meditation retreat? Well there is the outcome and then there is the experience!

A meditation retreat provides the environment, the leadership, the like-minded company, and most importantly, the time and space to take time out, to unwind, to regain balance, to heal, to refresh, to re-evaluate, and so on. But then there is the experience; the opportunity, the ideal circumstances in which to deepen your experience of meditation.

So this week let us investigate what these deeper experiences of meditation are like (do not miss reading this wonderful, personal account), and how a meditation retreat like Meditation in the Forest that Ruth and I will present again Pre-Easter in the Yarra Valley can help us to actual “get it”.

The reason for writing of this is that at the last meditation retreat Ruth and I ran, Meditation Under the Long White Cloud in New Zealand, so many who came did have particularly good experiences and as a result went home really keen to keep meditating.

It seems these meditation retreats are a wonderful way in which we can directly help other people, so to be blunt, I would like to enthuse everyone who can to consider doing at least one retreat a year – either with us, or with someone else.

But first,

Thought for the day
Meditation provides a direct and reliable means 
to go beyond the activity of the ordinary thinking mind
enter into the deeper stillness of our mind
and to directly experience the truth of who we really are; 
what is in our heart’s essence.

Think about this. Are you meditating for the outcome or for the experience? 

The outcomes of meditation are well known: Resilience, relaxation, clarity of mind, increased vitality, performance, engagement, all the proven health and healing benefits. All very useful. All very reliable.

But then there is the experience of meditation: Deep, natural peace. The bliss and the inner contentment. What a relief! What a joy!

Again, a meditation retreat provides a unique opportunity to breakthrough into a deeper, more profound experience. Just the effort required to temporarily leave the busyness of daily life, to leave our home, our work, our friends, maybe even our family; all this preparation sets us up for something special to happen.

Traditionally, deserts, mountains and remote forests were the preferred locations for a meditation retreat.
A beautiful landscape can inspire us. A remote location reduces the distractions and helps to focus the mind.

Then there is the company. A good teacher and what traditionally is referred to as “Noble Company” – like-minded people who are also committed to the path of meditation, all add to the atmosphere that makes a deeper experience during a meditation retreat more likely.

Then there is what we bring to a retreat. Maybe the most important thing of all – ourselves! We bring our own good intentions and our own pure nature.

Sure we may have health issues – physically or psychologically; and sure, there is good reason to go on a meditation retreat for all the obvious health benefits. But to gain those benefits we need to practise, and the more we practise, the more the benefits.

However, I hear from so many people who find their practice of meditation to be somewhat difficult or disappointing. So they make the effort to meditate in the hope that their health, their life will get better. And often it does. But then when things are better, or when they start to feel as if the outcome seems unattainable, the meditation stops.

Now clearly, the best meditation practice is a life-long meditation practice! Meditation helps in so many ways, yet if we do not enjoy doing it, we are highly likely to lapse.

Hence the value of attending a meditation retreat. Take time out, make the time, create the

circumstances, go to a suitable place with suitable people and away you go. 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 at the same time there was quite an apprehension. It was like being on the edge of a cliff, a cliff with a huge drop and an almost fathomless dark emptiness below it. 

"The apprehension moved into what was almost like a mortal dread; I felt as if I really could die if I was to go over the edge. But perhaps because I have been quite diligent with my meditation practice for so long, perhaps because so often it has been difficult, perhaps because I did persevere these last few years because I really wanted the outcomes - I was almost desperate for the benefits I knew meditation could bring for my health; perhaps because of all this, now I was determined to stay with the fear, to stay with the experience.

“As I did so, my fear intensified, but I remembered the instructions. "Let go". "Jump!" 

"It was very visual, very sensory. It was like I was really doing this. I jumped. My heart was in my mouth. I felt as if I was falling. Tumbling. Spinning. And then everything dissolved into light. At first it was an intense ball of light, then it grew and grew until it was 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. Actually, it is still with me. I see things differently now. Life seems so unbelievably precious, I see the good in everybody and all fear of death has gone. I smile and laugh at just about everything these days, and in every way my health has never been better. I know I will never be the same again”.

The fact is that these experiences are real. They can come in different forms. The account above, from a couple of years back, followed a particular pattern. For others it can unfold in different ways. Yet 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. Then the experience comes. Then the experience can 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 : April 11 – 17, 2014

The regular Pre-Easter meditation retreat Ruth and I present is on in the Yarra Valley again in 2014. This retreat is specifically designed to assist you into the deeper experience of meditation so that you can go home confident of what meditation is really like and enthused to enjoy your own regular, on-going meditation practice.

This meditation retreat is usually fully booked, so it  may be wise to register soon.

This year there will also be a particular focus on the theory, practise and experience of contemplation. For details CLICK HERE

Learning contemplation

Retreat and go forwards

Meditation in the Desert

Being on retreat myself, there will be no new blog for 2 weeks.

06 January 2014

Less body - same person

On January 8th it will be 39 years since my right leg was amputated through the hip. For many years I noted the anniversary with a day of fasting and reflection but more recently just go about life as it unfolds.

However, this year it may be useful to go Out on a Limb in a more literal sense and share a profound insight that came courtesy of the surgery.

This is a personal experience I have not recounted so often, but it came into a conversation exploring the theme “Who am I really” during the recent meditation retreat Meditation Under the Long White Cloud in New Zealand. It seemed helpful at the time, so here it is, but first

Thought for the Day
Wherever a pain is, that is where the cure goes;
Wherever poverty is that is where provision goes.
Wherever a difficult question is that is where the answer goes;

Do not seek the water but increase your thirst,
So water may gush forth from above and below. 

Every story has a prelude. This one begins in a room that had the unmistakable feeling of a basement. No windows. Dark. A sense of confinement. A difficult place to escape from.

It slowly became apparent that this room was the Intensive Care Unit of St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Melbourne. Amidst the wires and dials and flashing lights and the sounds of the machinery of survival; all simultaneously reassuring and disconcerting, there rose and fell the gentle sounds of life ebbing away from the man in the bed next to my own.

Severe pain does funny things to one’s thinking. As the sounds from the adjacent bed softened and ceased, the best I could do at the time was use it as motivation to survive myself. I never did find out what he died from.

But then amidst all this, the insight. It was so clear, so self evident. An insight born of an unmistakably direct, personal and undeniable experience.

I was coming back into consciousness in the ICU after being treated for an osteogenic sarcoma, a bone cancer in my mid thigh.

I had gone into the surgery being a 24 year-old veterinarian who loved working with horses and doing surgery on any animal that needed it.

I had gone into the surgery a very fit, active young man. In all probability I would have represented my State of Victoria again that year in my chosen athletic event of the decathlon.

As enough of the anaesthetic wore off from my surgery to enable me to recognise where I was and what had happened, I tentatively reached down with my right hand and felt.

Nothing. Just bandages. And pain.

But then, so quickly, the insight. It was as if in that first moment I knew how much my life had changed. No more horse work. No more decathlon. No more ease of movement as I had known it. Everything was different. Physically.

But not in its essence.

The insight?

I still felt like the same person.

Less body – same person.

It was transparently clear. I was not just my body. Sure I had identified with my body very strongly in the past. And already I sensed how I would need to come to identify with it in a different way in the days and weeks and years ahead. But unmistakably there was a part of me, the essence of who I really was and continued to be, that remained the same.

Less body – same person.

This insight helped me in so many ways as I began to construct a new life in a new body. It was clear the life I was leading was intricately tied with my body, just as everyone else’s is. But for me, it was now obvious that life had more to do with the bit that had stayed the same, rather than the bit that had changed.

It was the dawning of awareness.

Why the Dalai Lama thinks you are so special

Meditation in the Forest : April 11 – 17, 2014
The regular Pre-Easter retreat Ruth and I present is on in the Yarra Valley again. This year as well as providing the opportunity to learn more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and to deepen your experience of same, the particular focus of the retreat will be on contemplation.
For details CLICK HERE


Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray have completed 366 consecutive marathons!

Ruth and I were there amidst the crowd that welcomed them back into Melbourne’s Federation Square.

One of the all time great endurance feats – a world record for consecutive marathons and all on a raw food, vegan diet. Wow!

They were also raising money for 4 charities including the Gawler Foundation.

View Channel 10’s news report: CLICK HERE

Link to the Running Raw Facebook page: CLICK HERE