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


  1. Such an inspiring couple, Janette and Alan.

    Out on a Limb today: thanks Ian, that was just what I needed today.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story Ian. I'm in the middle of the hardest move of my life ever, and my body is certainly letting me know it's not happy, but your words gave me such insight I feel inspired and the chatter just fell away as I read your words :-) My whole outlook on the move has also changed and suddenly I feel excited and sense the opportunities ahead ! No more whinging!!