06 April 2015

Meditation and the experience of stillness

“Stillness is elusive but brilliant when experienced.” 

This week, inspiring and informative insights offered through quotes from participants who attended the annual Pre-Easter meditation retreat Ruth and I presented recently in the Yarra Valley. Excellent pointers to what the experience of meditation is like, and how to get there, but first

Thought for the day

   Just as a writer learns the spontaneous freedom of expression 
   Only after years of often gruelling study, 
   And just as the simple grace of a dancer 
   Is achieved only with enormous, patient effort, 
   So when you begin to understand where meditation will lead you, 
   You will approach it as the greatest endeavour of your life, 
   One that demands of you the deepest perseverance, 
   Enthusiasm, intelligence, and discipline

                                      Sogyal Rinpoche

Strange really. Meditation is about being still, deeply still. One could imagine being still would be quite easy, yet we meditators know that may not necessarily be so. For many, meditation can seem to require so much effort. The delight of going on a meditation retreat is that you give yourself time to stand back from daily life and to delve into what meditation really is.

When I was very focussed, I found myself falling into stillness, but wasn’t quite sure what it was. It was vivid and I had a sense of literally falling. When I was “trying” to get to stillness, it wasn’t as effective. In fact I felt a lot of resistance to “letting go” and it actually became quite emotional. 

So it was the focussed effort that took me into stillness, without the expectation of it. It just happened accidentally and was intensely vivid.

Meditation is about letting go of the busyness of daily life, it is about letting go of the busyness of our thinking mind and entering into the experience of that deeper, more fundamental aspect of our mind, our own inner stillness.

Coming on retreat forced me to leave the busyness of my life behind. I was able to focus on myself and the task in hand in a deep and meaningful way.

In this stillness of meditation we create the inner conditions that free us from stress. In stillness we open the doors to creativity. We enable our thoughts to settle, our mind to become calm and to think clearly. In stillness we connect with the truth of who we really are.

I was a fledgling beginner when I arrived who didn’t realise how stressed and tense and controlling I was. Now I feel like a competent meditator with the tools I need to develop further. I also now have a plan to manage my stress etc on a daily basis.

Stillness is to be experienced beyond relaxation. Beyond concentration. Beyond mindfulness.

Relaxation can help lead us into stillness.

Relaxation, relaxation, relaxation – that has been a profound discovery. It has made the biggest difference in my meditating. Prior to this week I always thought of relaxation as a desirable end point rather than the beginning of it all.

Concentration can help lead us into stillness. Mindfulness can help lead us into stillness.

The open mindfulness was very helpful – learning to accept without judgement – particularly the “annoying” sounds per se.

Relaxation, concentration and mindfulness are all techniques, very useful techniques, but techniques never-the-less.

Another delight of being on retreat is to have enough time to spend learning and experiencing these techniques to a degree that we can take them home. There they can have their own direct benefits when applied in our daily lives, but more, they also can serve as a prelude, an introduction, a gateway into meditation.

Clearly stillness dwells in the territory that dwells beyond all technique. Meditation begins, stillness begins to be experienced, when all the techniques have been let go of.

I have got to the point where I can “see’ it, and almost feel its presence. I think that once I get to that point, I’m so keen to get there that I start trying too hard and then loose that closeness.

Many of us experience moments of peace, moments of calm during our daily life. But there is more to this stillness of which we speak.

I’ve experienced stillness in two ways, but have more experience of one than the other. The first way of experiencing stillness is rather mundane – mostly sitting still and reduced thinking. This has been an important experience for me. Taking time out from a busy life full of thinking and needing to be places and doing things. This has been a great pleasure.

The other more profound stillness has been fleeting and limited. I have had moments when I felt aware and had let thoughts, feelings, movement etc go. I would like more of this and will work towards it.

So there is a sense of relief that can come with all this.

In my mind I have a picture of the cells saying to each other “Thank goodness she has slowed and stopped”. 


The retreat helps me to realise what is possible. It is and always has been a mental refuge for me.


I feel at home – as if I’ve come home.

And then something deeply reassuring.

The stillness was just that deep stillness – aware only of my presence – and a deep feeling of peace.

But then it comes time to leave the retreat and return to daily life.

The stillness lasts beyond the meditation. It feels to be a lasting stillness. It feels like it’s through my mind and body.

And so, with gratitude for all those who have shared something of their experience, and for the wonderful supportive staff at the Gawler Foundation, along with the very conducive facilities and environment of the Upper Yarra Valley, a final comment

The retreat has been quite extraordinary; nurturing and challenging; peaceful and restorative. It has given me a real sense of the possibilities that lie ahead. 

I came feeling despondent, tired, fearful and basically worn out. I now feel much more energetic, calm, clear headed and optimistic even though my circumstances haven’t changed in essence. I feel that I can face the future again.

The take home message? Meditate. Regularly….

Slow down and go faster

Journalist Peter Greste attributes meditation in part to surviving his ordeal in an Egyptian jail.

He has given permission to recount that he learnt meditation from one of the meditation teachers i trained some years ago.

The ripples go out in extraordinary ways!!!

Recounting his days in prison, Greste said he made a conscious attempt to stay fit physically, mentally and spiritually.

"I made a very conscious effort to deal with all three of those things: to try and keep fit, running in a very limited space, to keep up an exercise programme, to keep mentally fit with study and spiritually fit too with meditation. 
"Through all of that it was a way of enforcing a kind of discipline on myself and dealing with each day as it came. And hopefully, touch-wood, I haven't come out of it too damaged."



See all the program details - CLICK HERE

Ruth and I will be presenting just one full cancer program this year during an 8 day residential program amidst the amazing beauty of Wanaka (nearby to Queenstown in the southern island of New Zealand). We will also present 3 follow-up programs for people who have attended previous “Gawler” style cancer programs. Two of these will be at the Gawler Foundation, one in New Zealand.

The first two of these programs are 2 months away and the follow-up in the Yarra Valley is close to fully booked already. Here are the details…

CANCER and BEYOND  May 2015   Monday 4th at 11am to Friday 8th at 2pm

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley 

This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.

FULL DETAILS Click here 


Eight day residential program in New Zealand   May 15th  –  22nd , 2015

All welcome; attendance with a partner/ support person is ideal but not essential.

This program will lead you through all the self-healing options:
. Therapeutic nutrition
. Practical positive thinking
. Therapeutic meditation, plus the healing power of imagery and contemplation
. Accelerated healing
. Healthy, healing emotions
. How to get the most out of mainstream treatments and minimize side-effects
. How to be most effective as a support person/carer, and to look after yourself in the process.

I actually lead most of the main sessions, with support from Ruth and 2 exceptional New Zealanders. We live in for the full program so there is plenty of time for questions and personal interaction.

This program is organized and supported by Canlive New Zealand.



  1. Thank you so much for the retreat Ian. Its effects have travelled home with us and it's been a very mindful and calm Easter. Such an invaluable gift we can give ourselves, the time away from the distractions of the world and the opportunity to bring our minds home. Namaste. Jane

  2. What a wonderful week we all shared . For me the peace and calm has flowed through into Easter and has continued on as has the hours spent in meditation. As Jane so aptly wrote "such an invaluable gift we give ourselves". Why wouldn't we make it a part of our lives. Meditation is truly life changing and attending a regular retreat is essential in refreshing our meditation practice . Thankyou Ian for sharing your wisdom.

    Love and gratitude ,Linda

  3. That is one of the things that makes the Pre-Easter retreat such a treat - finishing on Thursday and having Easter to quietly integrate it all.
    Thanks for the thanks - Ruth and I really love presenting these retreats

  4. Well, it is through your books Ian that I have learned to meditate, and when I read that those thoughts coming back as I was trying to stop them were just in facts clouds passing by, that was it! No more trying to control those thoughts as they were just passing by like clouds. So meditating became the present time for me, to me, with me and above. Thank you for sharing those thoughts/comments about meditation. I need to meditate and I love it.