24 January 2017


Club Med or a meditation retreat? Which is better for your health? If you are interested in your health and wellbeing, is it worth “sacrificing” holiday time for a retreat, or are you better advised to simply head to the beach?

You may think this to be a silly question. However, the “vacation effect” is well known. There are measurable positive health changes that flow from a simple holiday; while intuitively we expect a meditation retreat will do us good.

So this week we go Out on a Limb once more and examine new research. What happens when meditators and non-meditators head for a residential holiday or retreat? Who comes home healthier, and who is healthier months later? But first

Thought for the day

There is a difference 
Between interest and commitment. 

When you are interested in doing something, 
You do it only when circumstances permit. 

When you are committed to something, 
You accept no excuses, only results.

Art Turock

Modern researchers are beginning to look at some really cool things. What happens physiologically when we go on a meditation retreat compared to just having a holiday?

Most of us who work hard – either formally or at raising a family - will have been on a good holiday, felt a release of pressure; maybe even something of a relief.

We might have regained some balance for a bit, but then the holiday ended and we went back to life as usual with the same old coping skills we had before the holiday began.

We feel a bit better, but has anything changed?

Many who read this post will have been on a meditation retreat. Same release of pressure; same relief. But maybe more. A deeper level of relaxation. Relaxation of body and mind. Maybe some new learning, some new insights, some new techniques we can take back to our ongoing life. We feel a bit better, but maybe something has changed?

In a highly controlled and randomised residential study, regular meditators, new meditators and non-meditators spent 6 days in the same retreat environment. Blood tests examined interesting things like telomerase activity, Aβ peptide levels and tumour necrosis factor alpha.

Everyone benefited from a significant ‘vacation effect’ - highly significant epigenetic changes as well as a reduction of stress-related responses and immune function related to acute-phase wound healing and decreased inflammation.

Remember, meta-inflammation is a major driver for all the chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and MS (see the link below).

The study also identified an additional ‘meditation effect’ in those who had practiced meditation before their retreat.

The regular meditator group, showed additional epigenetic changes associated with cellular functions that relate to healthy ageing, and this was associated with increased expression of a number of telomere maintenance pathway genes and an increase in measured telomerase enzymatic activity.

Remember too, telomerase protects and repairs our telomeres; the shortening of which is directly related to the rate of our aging.

Changes in wellbeing were assessed after the retreat/holiday, as well as 1 and 10 months later. All groups showed equivalently large immediate post-intervention improvements in wellbeing, but interestingly, novice meditators showed greater maintenance of lower distress over time compared with those in the vacation arm.

The researchers concluded that this study provides a strong distinction between beneficial effects of short-term relaxation typical of a vacation versus acute intensive meditation for regular meditators.

Also, they pointed out that for those already trained in the practice of meditation, a retreat does in fact appear to provide additional benefits to cellular health beyond the vacation effect.

So there you have it. The meditation retreat was a clear winner! Maybe armed with this evidence it will be easier to approach the boss for time off to attend a future meditation retreat – there are well proven advantages.

Epel ES et al. Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Translational Psychiatry (2016) 6, e880.  LINK HERE

A New Way of Living

COMING PROGRAMS - Retreats and Trainings

March 27th -31st     Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2
Ruth and I train people aspiring to be meditation teachers, or who already are and are seeking to extend their skills. This program is allied to Module 1, presented by Paul and Maia Bedson who teach on Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation. We teach Contemplation and Guided Imagery.

April 7 – 13th     Meditation in the Forest
This is our annual Pre-Easter 7 day retreat at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. Each year we learn a little more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and we practice together. Then each year there is a specific theme; this year it is contemplation. There is not so much written on contemplation, and very few retreats on this specific topic, yet in my experience it is one of the most useful and profound elements to add to our practice. Ruth and I love presenting this retreat, and we love observing the benefits it brings to those who attend.

09 January 2017


Meditation for Life 
Seems to sum up so much to do with meditation. Meditation brings us more fully into life. It is a profound healer. It awakens us, heightens our awareness and helps us to appreciate life more fully, to live more fully. Meditation brings us life; directly adding to our longevity. Meditation for life.

So this week, the schedule of retreats Ruth and I will present this year – meditation retreats, our specific cancer residential programs, and of course, the meditation teacher training programs, but first,

        Thought for the Day

Would you like me to give you a formula for...success? 
It's quite simple, really. 
Double your rate of failure... 
You're thinking of failure as the enemy of success. 
But it isn't at all... 
You can be discouraged by failure
-or you can learn from it. 
So go ahead and make mistakes. 
Make all you can. 
Because, remember that's where you'll find success. 
On the far side.

                         Thomas Watson

I love this quote. It speaks for the need to persist, and it speaks to the value of being somewhat adventurous; of having a go, making mistakes, learning from them and accomplishing remarkable things.

Can you remember what it was like when you began meditating? Seems to me there was one “mistake” after another for me. Tried this... not much progress. Tried that… not much progress. Just an inkling that something useful was happening… could happen. Just an inkling that meditation was something well worth persevering with and learning from the experiences along the way.

So the message? Do not be put off. On the contrary, persevere. And seek opportunities to learn and practice more deeply.

Again, speaking personally, amidst the busyness of modern life, amidst all the changes that are hurtling through our modern way of living, amidst all the opportunities we have; it just seems essential to take some time out at least once each year, to give ourselves the time to reflect, to contemplate, to learn some more, to deepen our practice – maybe re-new our practice – and then return to daily life invigorated, with a deeper sense of calm and clarity.

It is for this reason that last year, Ruth and I decided to reduce the number of public workshops and seminars we present and to concentrate more on the retreats.

This gave me more time for preparation for our different retreats and now in retrospect, this was really useful. In my own estimation, the teachings in the retreats went to another level in 2016 and the feedback was excellent.

So we have decided to do the same again for 2017 – focus on presenting retreats. Maybe 2018 will be another year of larger public events, but this year we invite you to join us and deepen your experience on one of our retreats.

Speaking personally, Ruth and I will attend 2 retreats as participants ourselves in 2017; one for 2 weeks starting soon and then a longer one through August. These retreats will further add to what we can provide and are an essential part of what we offer.

So here is the program of meditation and other retreats for 2017             with links to their details
                  Hope you can join us …

March 27 – 31st  Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2 
Ruth and I train people aspiring to be meditation teachers, or who already are and are seeking to extend their skills. This program is allied to Module 1, presented by Paul and Maia Bedson who teach on Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation. We teach Contemplation and Guided Imagery.

April 7 – 13th Meditation in the Forest

This is our annual Pre-Easter 7 day retreat at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. Each year we learn a little more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and we practice together. Then each year there is a specific theme; this year it is contemplation. There is not so much written on contemplation, and very few retreats on this specific topic, yet in my experience it is one of the most useful and profound elements to add to our practice. Ruth and I love presenting this retreat, and we love observing the benefits it brings to those who attend.

April 24 – 28th Cancer and Beyond
For many people these days, living with cancer is an ongoing reality. So how to do that? How to live fully and well in the potential shadow of a major illness? It seems to me to be virtually essential to regularly take time out, to stand back, to re-assess, to keep on track, to get back on track when necessary, to clarify the confusion that is so easy to get into with all that is in the Press and on the net, and to perhaps most importantly, to be re-inspired and re- enthused for the journey ahead.

June 5 – 9th Deepening Your Meditation
Our only 5 day meditation retreat, this program is all about taking time out, entering into a meditative environment and being supported to deepen your experience. Then, with this deeper experience, being able to take it with you so that your ongoing practice is more rewarding, more beneficial, more enjoyable.

July 1 -7th Mindfulness and Meditation in Daily Life
We have had many requests to present a meditation retreat in Queensland, so this is it. We are fortunate to be able to use the facilities of the Chenrezig Centre – a Buddhist Retreat Centre in the hills back of the Sunshine Coast. Our retreat will focus on integrating mindfulness and meditation into daily life. I know when I first started, meditation was something I did for a few minutes (or hours) every day; but at first, I then went back to my day as if nothing much had happened, The real benefit of these things is in how they inform our daily life, so this retreat will be very Practical. We will practice mindfulness and meditation together formally, and then use the rest of our time to bring the qualities of the practice into our daily experience – in a way that we can take them home and maintain them. My sense is that for many this could well be life changing.

October 9 – 13th Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2
This is a repeat of the earlier program. These training have been booking out, and like all our retreats, it is wise to register early.

October 21 – 27th Meditation Under the Long White Cloud
The annual New Zealand retreat at the wonderful Mana Centre on the Coromandel Peninsula (see the view from Mana below), this year the focus is on using Guided Imagery techniques to combine head and heart. We hear so much these days about training the mind. Very useful, but a mind with no heart is cold and empty. Guided Imagery provides the techniques in meditation that bring the mind and heart together – a wonderful new dimension to the practice and to life.

November 2 – 9th Mind-Body Medicine and Cancer
This 8 day comprehensive program in New Zealand for people affected by cancer is the only program still to be confirmed for 2017.

November 20 – 24 Cancer and Beyond
This is a similar program to the one in April. It is part of the ongoing series of programs designed specifically for those affected by cancer. Each program is adapted specifically to the needs of those attending based upon a pre-attendance questionnaire, and the interests and needs that emerge during the program.

So, plenty of choices… Will you join us in 2017?

02 January 2017

An-Ode-to-Love – or 3 ways to be More Loving

In the words of the classic hit song by Foreigner, "I Want to Know What Love Is". Might sound a trifle trite, but for 2017, my New Year’s resolution is to aim to go beyond the knowing - and to actually be more loving.

So this week, here is my plan – 3 ways to be more loving, but first

Thought for the day

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast,
 it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,

It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil

But rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts,
Always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4

How to be more loving?

Seems like a simple and very worthwhile aspiration… Yet how to make some real progress? Three things come to mind; maybe you have more insights and would like to add them via the comment section. Maybe we can return to this theme throughout 2017 and comment on progress. Anyway, these 3 techniques may well be helpful…

1. Know what love is - engage the analytical mind
Don’t you just love how unloving this sounds? “Engage the analytical mind”. Seems far removed from love to be in the mind and to be analytical. Yet, clearly love is complex. Is it an emotion? A virtue? A state of mind? An attitude? A feeling?

To analyse love theoretically can help us to understand love in the real world. Love is often contextual – it may well vary depending upon who you are with. The love you feel for your lover may well be different to your love for you mother or your dog.

And also, consistent mental analysis can open the way to contemplation and deep insight. While the thinking mind can help us to understand, insight gives us access to a direct experience.

So traditionally, when people sought to know love, they contemplated it; first by thinking deeply and consistently about it, then waiting for that time where they went into the stillness beyond thought and experienced the insight, the direct knowing.

So how to do it? Start with the theory - think about what we do know of love. For example, the ancient Greeks had different words for different types of love that are to this day very insightful; well worth thinking about…

Eros : Passionate or Romantic love. Seen in Ancient Greece as being something of an affliction…

Philia : Brotherly love. More in the line of friendship and affection.

Storge : Natural affection like a parent has for a child.

Agape : That selfless love that in Christianity became “Charity” : from the Greek word caritas or dearness.

Xenia : Hospitality – an almost ritualized friendship formed between host and guest, who was expected to repay only with gratitude.

As another “thinking” option, you could reflect upon how conditional love can be.
How often love actually is like a deal? “I will love you if … “.

If you do something in return for me. If you love me back. If you pay for… If you look after the children… If you… What is the deal?

On the other hand, unconditional love has no “ifs”. There is no deal. Unconditional love says “I will love you”. Full stop. I will love you. No conditions.

As such unconditional love is rather rare and rather difficult to sustain for most. We can aspire to it; the more we realize what it is and the more we accomplish it the better, but one would need to be enlightened to manage unconditional love with everyone.

So in contemplation, we start by thinking about anything to do with the subject, we analyze it, we persist in the process; and then from time to time, we drop the thinking, leave a space and wait. Fairly reliably, from that space an insight emerges. More like a knowing than a thinking, insight gives us a deeper, more experiential understanding of what love is.

2. Feel the experience of receiving love

On a 3 month personal retreat in 2015 I spent time contemplating past and present relationships and my experience of receiving love through them. While this process was helped by being on retreat, it is something that is possible amidst daily life.

Simply recall relationships. I started with the female ones. From earliest memory to the most recent. It was fascinating. At different times quite moving, confronting, delightful, painful, humorous, sad, joyful and on and on. Profoundly useful and beneficial. Then I did the same with all the male relationships that came to mind.

Again, it took some time but the perseverance with the one theme steadily gave me a real sense of what love felt like as it came into my own life.

3. Be more outwardly loving
So this is the one I plan to work on. Speaking personally, I have spent good time on the first two. So how to give more love? How to be more loving?

The Bible certainly has a lot of good things to say about love. “Love thy neighbor as thy self”. Mark 12 : 31. Whether you are into the Bible or not is hardly the point. The principle certainly is real. The better one feels about one’s self, the more comfortable we are with our selves, the more we will be able to give out to others.

So meditation practiced regularly enables us to make friends with our selves; to feel more stable, less dependent upon the feedback of others, less dependent upon the deals we might otherwise make with others; more free and more able to give from our own hearts.

Then too, if we really care for the other, our love may not always appear soft and gentle, patient and kind. Tough love is a delicate art. In spiritual circles, it is said that the true spiritual friend is the one who points out our hidden faults.

So some spiritual teachers can seem quite direct, even to outsiders as very tough or rude. But real love wants to see the best for the other, so if there are hidden faults that are causing difficulties for the person directly, or through them to others, best to have them out in the open.

But let us be clear about this, tough love will always feel loving to the person involved. If tough love hurts, it is something else. Genuine tough love will always feel loving to those receiving it – even if it is quite tough.

So for me, this will be an interesting exploration. How to be more loving? If I remember, I will write something on what transpires; for that is the thing about New Year’s resolutions… One needs to remember to keep them going, to actually do something with them. We shall see…


WANT A TREAT? - sit back, make the link and enjoy... the song

RELATED BLOG I had the incredible good fortune some years back in Bethlehem to meet and converse with an authentic Christian hermit monk. He spends his days contemplating love, and told me a little of how he does that and what he experiences. Click Here


Meditation in the Forest
The annual Pre-Easter retreat amidst the natural peace and tranquility of the Upper Yarra Valley.

Looking for meaning, clarity and purpose in life? You could even contemplate love :)

Need a break? Some time to stand back from the busyness of life, to re-assess, to regenerate, to regain some balance once more? A new clarity...

This year, as well as taking time out to deepen our experience of the stillness of meditation, we will practise together simple yet profound methods of contemplation - the direct path to a calm and clear mind that provides the real prospect of major insights...

Dates           4 pm Friday 7th April until 2 pm Thursday 13th April 2017.
Venue          The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Court, Yarra Junction, Victoria, Australia 
Bookings     The Gawler Foundation: +61 (3) 5967 1730 

For more details and to book CLICK HERE