05 May 2014

Surgery without anaesthesia? A well trained mind, or just plain crazy?

Like to be able to manage pain more easily? Wondered what might be possible?  Dr Ainslie Meares, the founder of therapeutic meditation and my own mentor and initial teacher, had a hernia corrected without anaesthetic. True. I know the surgeon who performed that particular operation.

How is this possible? Can you and I learn from this and change our response to pain?

Ainslie also had well documented, major dental surgery without anaesthetic. A senior Tibetan monk had a significant skin lesion removed without anaesthetic, although by accident not deliberate choice.

Speaking personally, from having a severe aversion to the dentist as a youngster, I have had major dental work performed without anaesthetic while using meditation-based mind techniques learnt from Dr Meares.

So this week we go Out on a Limb once more, share some remarkable stories and point to ways to train the mind to manage pain, but first

Thought for the day
I'm a wonderful housekeeper.
Every time I get a divorce,
I keep the house.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 
Exponent of laughter is the best medicine

So this is what happened to the Tibetan. Renowned as a master of his own mind, this elderly man was hospitalized to remove a skin lesion, in theory courtesy of a local anaesthetic.

He was readied for the procedure, but in one of those unfortunate combination of events, the surgeon arrived before the anaesthetist. The surgeon was rather taken by the gentle smile of the Tibetan and his calm demeanor, and thinking his patient had been readied, the surgeon took up his scalpel and cut deeply into his skin on his way to removing the affected area.

In a while he noticed that some of the muscles deeper in his patient’s tissues were twitching. Knowing that this would not have been the case if adequate local anaesthesia was in place, he inquired of the Tibetan who just smiled at him. Then he questioned his assistant more thoroughly and it was uncovered that no anaesthetic had been given!

What would you have done?

One suspects that the reaction of the untrained mind is likely to be fairly swift and dramatic. If it did get so far as the scalpel actually slicing the fully awake skin, shrieks of pain would almost certainly be followed by howls of protest.

One could easily imagine sensations of significant pain, agitation, maybe even fainting or hyper-ventilating. And the ramifications for the staff and hospital could be quite difficult with threats or retribution, lawyers and reputations damaged. A reasonably unpleasant experience for all.

So pause to think. In this unlikely scenario, is there another way?

Maybe as a starter we can explore the idea of someone who is really into the notion of training their mind and developing major pain management skills. Maybe this person has already experimented and found it possible to be at ease undergoing dental work with out anaesthetic.

They may well have done this by first believing it to be possible, then determining to develop this personally invaluable skill of advanced pain management. So perhaps they spent weeks or even months doing inner rehearsal. Imagining in their mind going to the dentist, being relaxed in the waiting room knowing they would decline anaesthetic.

Then rehearsing more, imagining being relaxed in the dentist’s chair, knowing they would decline anaesthetic. Imagining the procedure of having a filling repaired being relaxed, at ease and pain free.

Maybe they also rehearsed being able to relax deeply as the treatment was proceeding, observing the
any sensations accompanying the treatment with full mindfulness, knowing there was the ever present refuge of the stillness of meditation to be safe within.

Then imagining and rehearsing the great feeling of leaving the dental surgery knowing there was no lingering after effect of the anaesthetic and knowing they had achieved something significant.

And then maybe they did it. Went on the appointed day, relaxed in the waiting room, relaxed on the chair, relaxed deeply declining any local anaesthetic and relaxed deeply through the filling. Left feeling great!

Then, with this background and knowing they needed skin surgery, maybe they took an extremely adventurous view and decided to attempt it without anaesthetic. And maybe they could find a surgeon willing to go along with it. Maybe. Then all the inner rehearsal, the conscious relaxation, the mind control. Maybe it is possible. Maybe.

So what did the Tibetan do?

Well it seems that right from when our senior Tibetan was first hospitalized, the common experience amongst the hospital staff was of how happy they felt around him. He seemed so at ease, so happy, so grateful to everyone for their assistance that he made them all feel good.

When it came time for his procedure, he smiled
and was happy to go along with whatever directions
he was given; again, full of courtesy and gratitude.

When his surgeon arrived, he greeted him with a smile and looked on with interest as the necessary instruments were assembled.

From all accounts as the scalpel cut deeply into his skin, he seemed to do no more than smile a little deeper. However, when the surgeon questioned if he had been given an anaesthetic, he went to great pains (pardon the pun) to say that everything was fine and politely requested the surgeon to continue.

As it became clear that the anaesthetist had been delayed and the surgery begun without any anaesthetic, the Tibetan’s main concern was for no one to get into trouble. He insisted the surgeon continue, assuring him and re-assuring him that the experience was good for his practice and gave him the opportunity to deepen his meditation!

What would you do? Ever considered making time to train your mind and change your experience of pain? For me, that time was so well spent – it has changed my relationship with pain these last 40 years. Well worth the effort. Liberating in fact.

The pain management exercises are well set out in the following books and CD/Download. The meditation exercises and specific pain relief exercises that many have found almost miraculously helpful in relieving pain – both acute and chronic – are led by me on the CD/Download

BOOKS : You Can Conquer Cancer

Meditation- An In-depth Guide

CD / Download : Effective Pain Management

Had a great weekend in Victoria's West Coast. Stayed at beautiful Pt Fairy and then presented the first workshop for the year on Health, Healing and the Mind in Warrnambool - actually at a local hall in Crossley. The venue was particularly wonderful as it had been saved for public use by a major community push.

The workshop itself was well received. Importantly for me it provided to "test drive" the workshops planned in a few months up the East Coast. Learnt it will be even better to make more time for practicing mindfulness and meditation through the day, but felt the presentation on how the mind works and how to use it to greater effect went well and was enthusiastically received.

Also met a man who came to the cancer groups 25 years ago with a 4 year cancer prognosis who was very much alive and well - very heartening!

1. Cancer, Healing and Wellbeing 
Only 3 weeks to go before this 8 day cancer residential Ruth and I will present personally in Auckland and spaces are still available to join us.

We will cover the full range of Integrative Medicine options, – therapeutic nutrition, exercise and meditation, emotional health, positive psychology, pain management, the search for meaning and so on.

I will personally present the majority of the content but along with Ruth, participants will have the additional support and experience of Liz Maluschnig and Stew Burt; two very experienced and committed New Zealanders.

For details on this and the other cancer related residential programs for 2014 CLICK HERE 


This is to personally recommend two events I have just been informed of for Sydneysiders coming up very, very soon – Cammeray on Monday 5th May and Rozelle on Tuesday 6th May
Jason Shon-Bennett is a world leader in the health and wellbeing arena with life-changing messages delivered in an engaging, humorous and compelling way.  Jason will be delivering a fresh new seminar based around the ‘Eat Less, Live Long’ message in his new book including the benefits of eating less, what we can learn from the longest-lived healthiest people and the benefits of Regular Intelligent Fasting (which Jason has been practicing for 25 years).  
Bookings are being taken by the lovely folk at About Life click here to make a booking. 


  1. Not sure about a Hernia operation but since I started meditating have avoided anaesthetic for minor dentist stuff (fillings). Mainly because I dislike the feeling after more than I dislike the pain. Not sure I would treat a major dental procedure the same way.

  2. I actually underwent a pretty significant oral procedure using only the techniques I had learned through your Effective Pain Management CD which I ordered from The Gawler Foundation in 2010.

    Under general anaesthetic, I had my jaw broken in four places to avoid cutting a nerve which was threatening facial paralysis. I chose to undergo the recovery phase without painkillers.

    When I returned to have the devices holding my jaw together removed, I explained to my surgeon that I wanted to have the procedure without anaesthetic. He was concerned but open minded and eventually agreed to do the procedure without anaesthetic. I think his words post op were "remarkable... I have never seen anything like this"

    Here is an excerpt from my journal at the time:

    "I didn’t like the way the heavy, narcotic painkillers were making me feel both mentally (foggy and unclear) and physically (itchy and lethargic) so here was a great opportunity. I had heard about people that didn’t experience pain in the common way (able to have root-canal and other surgery without anaesthetic) because they had learned to control their physical pain with meditation.

    With the help of the Effective Pain Management CD by Ian Gawler, I set about to discover if it was indeed possible.

    I listened to a few of the short talks on how to transform pain and I instantly felt relaxed. The sound of Ian’s voice which took me straight back to a lecture of his that I attended…Anyone who has been led in a meditation by Ian Gawler will know what I mean when I say:

    “ …effortlessly…e f f o r t l e s s l y…”

    Anxious to give it a go, I turned the CD off before I even got to the guided meditations. I set my motivation and then while concentrating on the area of pain (which was quite intense at the time) I thought:

    “I am going to experience this pain as a simple physical sensation…I am going to experience it as pain without hurt”

    That was it, hey presto, it worked, instantly. The pain disappeared into a hollow numbness, I knew it was there, but it didn’t hurt at all. Then my untrained mind started to get the better of me…

    “Pain is important, it is there as a warning, what if I’m bleeding or something is going wrong right now, I won’t know”

    I stumbled to the mirror and saw (other than the obvious effects of surgery)…nothing. I had only been meditating on the pain for a few minutes before I let my mind get the better of me, even though there was nothing to indicate that there was something wrong.

    So, I found myself able to control my pain but not my mind."

  3. How long after Umbilical Hernia Surgery under General Anesthesia can I go back to donating Plasma .. discover this info here