18 March 2019

Bodhgaya and the Bodhi Tree - a visual essay

In India, so much is out in the open. Not so much is hidden. In the streets you see life and death, wealth and poverty, hope and despair, joy and sorrow. In the West often these contrasts are hidden; in India it is all there to see.

So this week, a largely pictorial essay on recent travels in sacred India; starting first in Bodhgaya, place of the Buddha’s enlightenment; in weeks to come Mt Abu and Delhi, but first

              Thought for the day

                         Bliss is Brahman;

                         From bliss beings are born;

                        By bliss, when born, they live;

                        Into bliss they enter at their death. 

                                                The Taittreya Upanishad 


The Buddha started his life as a worldly Prince.

He trained to become the next King, married, had a son and then renounced the lot.

After serious ascetic travails, he ended up under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya and there sat until he attained enlightenment.

Two and a half thousand years later large numbers of pilgrims still flock to this place.




The original Bodhi tree was eventually destroyed by the Moguls. However, a sapling had been taken to Sri Lanka and a sapling from that tree was returned; so, many years later, this is the one you get to sit under if you go these days. Bodhi trees live for a long time!





Next to the Bodhi tree is the Mahabodhi stupa and temple.












Inside is a famous Buddha statue that is too hard to resist when it comes to spiritual tourist photos...















Visiting the great European cathedrals is wonderful, but sadly it seems tourists have virtually overrun many of these places, diminishing their presence and impact.

Bodhgaya is in a remote area and so here the serious practitioners overrun what few tourists there may be.












What stands out at this place is the number of pilgrims and serious practitioners.













They come from all Buddhist traditions.













         Young













 


 And old


















With plenty in their middle years
















Some seem like they might remember the Hippie days












And the place is also venerated by Hindus,
with some sadhus to be seen and talked with












There are many Tibetans doing serious practice.












Last time here - ten years ago - one Tibetan monk was close to finishing 20 million prostrations.

If you have done even one prostration you will have some idea of what that entails…

Almost unbelievable!







Some go for protection from the many mosquitos;

others offer themselves up to the feast :)




Ruth and I went to be a part of a Tibetan group practice and were fortunate to receive 2 days of teachings from one of Tibet’s leading women teachers - Khandro Rinpoche (you can link to one of her many Youtube teachings here where she discusses why there are so few women teachers).









We ended up being part of an international group of around 300













We went a little earlier than some others to make more time just to sit.

The atmosphere was extra-ordinary; that is, well out of the ordinary.










On the one level there was a good deal of activity.

Groups are coming from all traditions and nations, so it was common to have chanting in 3 to 4 languages going on around us at any given time.









Many people circumambulate the stupa - that is walk around it clockwise saying prayers or chanting











While many sit to meditate for a while then get up and move on.

Lots of activity…








But then, it is almost as if the activity and the place overwhelm the active mind and a deep stillness presents. We sat for hours. Sometimes 2 hours at a time. And something deepened.

The memory and the feeling; the experience will travel on with us...







Accommodation is basic, but we enjoyed it …




And at night there is a good deal of activity!














The streets can be confronting.

There are the beggars; often with significant disabilities or deformities













The dogs everywhere














The tailors almost certainly have no union,
but overnight and on the floor
make great kaftans :)









The food is varied and we found it easy to eat well (including no chillies!)






So maybe to finish... a cup of tea???












This is a journey that while not easy in many ways, is well worth making if you have a strong inclination.



RUTH'S NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT

RECLAIMING JOY - April 12 - 18 2019, Yarra Valley Living Centre.

Details - call the Foundation - 03 5967 1730 or link here for DETAILS



The legend of Meditation in the Forest lives on!

This classic 7 day meditation retreat is on again for yet another pre-Easter.

In 2019 it will be lead by Ruth Gawler and Melissa Borich.


Some will have had the good fortune to have shared time with Melissa in some of our previous retreats. Melissa is a highly accomplished yoga teacher with a wonderful capacity to tailor yoga for beginners or the advanced. Melissa has also trained with me as a meditation teacher and is one of the people I highly value and recommend.


These two women will present a wonderful retreat - lucky you if you get to be there :)


05 March 2019

Time poor? Need a solution?

We are all “time poor” now, and some of us are getting poorer. What does this actually mean?

It means that we are trying to do too much too quickly, that we try and do two or more things simultaneously, that we do things in a shoddier and less careful way, that we feel a tension in our body, that we are more likely to get a number of stress-related illnesses, that we tend to blame ourselves or someone else for what is happening to us, and all because it feels like we are all trying to find more time or trying to escape from the feeling of being “under the pump”. Even just listing the problems seems exhausting!
So this week, in a guest blog from Ruth - the problem and a potential solution, but first



         Thought for the day

What can we gain by sailing to the moon 
If we are not able to cross the abyss 
That separates us from ourselves? 

This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, 
And without it, 
All the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.

                         Thomas Merton






The solution? 

Well in the immediate sense, we desire a solution and everyone wants to sell us something.

Some promote a material goods like a machine that can do it all. How about a Thermomix?

Others push the next level App or faster more efficient software that supposedly speeds everything up. Now we can buy things with one tap on the mobile.

Some encourage us to take breaks and escape from it all. How about a cruises or a retreat holiday in some exotic location?

Many opt for what seems like a simple answer and go straight for a drug offering to alleviate the symptoms. Prescription, legal (alcohol, Panadol etc) or elicit??? Others want to teach us to meditate so we can treat the feelings of discomfort more naturally and maybe get some relief.

So, the challenge is this

Desire and capitalism is a very dangerous mixture.

The Buddhists say that this world of ours is actually a manifestation of the desire realm. Capitalism is about making money out of selling something. So we have now got a rapid escalation in all the things we can buy, how we can buy, with what we can buy and ever increasing speed with which we are doing the buying.

On the surface of things there are competing industries – like it looks like the drug companies are competing with the lifestyle industries, and the other sectors like education and housing.

But it is beyond the capability of any individual or community to actually change the direction our world is heading.

In the 40 years since David Suzuki came to Australia and warned of the dire effects of over-population we have had an IVF industry develop which is giving us one baby for every 20 babies born and many more of these babies are surviving better than ever before. We have seen Australia’s population double.

Since Al Gore put out “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 we regularly hear “climate change” is still being debated as being a worthwhile matter to address.

Even great people cannot seem to stop the addiction of this global civilisation of ours to more speed, more stuff, more people, more rubbish. Even our leaders with integrity seem to be floundering. Leaders with no integrity show no interest in these massive issues which will affect their own offspring.

It takes us back to the prophetic song of Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken to which I offer another verse :

Broken democracy, broken education,


Broken atmosphere, broken oceans,


Broken traditions, broken families,


People zoned-out from broken drugs,


Ain't no use jiving


Ain't no use joking


Everything is broken

And in the mean time we will keep carrying on as if there is hope on this material level. Maybe it was always like that, but then I am pretty sure there are more people living in appalling conditions than ever before.

We are the lucky ones who are just paddling as fast as we can, and getting some temporary relief from nature, medications, retreats, holidays and the irrepressible optimism that is a requirement for being a decent human being.

Depressing ? Maybe…..

But, not for me. Because I think this may force us to recognise that if we are going to have any chance of living a fulfilling life we need to look to a deeper meaning than just the world we recognise through scientific investigation. That science is unlikely to save the planet, or our schools or our hospitals; that the current trajectory just leads to greater and greater complexity and expense; all necessitating that we work more and speed up.

But we are paddling as fast as we can, aren’t we? Maybe we need some time out ...

Plain logic and common sense tells me the answer to having a better life, a more meaningful life, a more enjoyable life, is to take a real interest in knowing who and what we really are.

And what “on earth” we are doing here on this planet together.

Yes, you and me.

And to dedicate some special time to look into the truth the spiritual traditions offer - that there is in fact a magical and infinite dimension to ourselves that has power to create and transform.

That this truth defies simple instincts and matters of survival , and cannot be bought or sold.

Bigger than us, yet part of us.

 Invisible, and yet can it be known by its impact. A truth so hard to grasp intellectually that it slips our of any description that is offered…and yet the amazing thing is they tell us we can know it more and more, to a depth that is unfathomable.

So, it seems to me that we could at least slow down occasionally, enough to notice, what really matters and take an interest in it. And then when our life is over, we will not be left bewildered, and wondering “what was that all about?”

The real solution is in learning to sit within our own silence ...

And doing that regularly.

All else will follow ...



SPECIAL NOTE

Ruth will lead a seven day meditation retreat pre-Easter with Melissa Borich that is highly recommended. Ruth has asked me to come in one evening for a Q and A session that I am happy to do, so maybe I will see you there?

 Ruth is also leading another meditation retreat at the Living Centre in September as well as two healing based retreats with Prof Sanjay Raghav.

Details are on the Foundation’s website. Do yourself a favour…



RUTH'S NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT

RECLAIMING JOY - April 12 - 18 2019, Yarra Valley Living Centre.

Details - call the Foundation - 03 5967 1730 or link here for DETAILS



The legend of Meditation in the Forest lives on!

This classic 7 day meditation retreat is on again for yet another pre-Easter.

In 2019 it will be lead by Ruth Gawler and Melissa Borich.


Some will have had the good fortune to have shared time with Melissa in some of our previous retreats. Melissa is a highly accomplished yoga teacher with a wonderful capacity to tailor yoga for beginners or the advanced. Melissa has also trained with me as a meditation teacher and is one of the people I highly value and recommend.


These two women will present a wonderful retreat - lucky you if you get to be there :)




18 February 2019

The dangers of not going on retreat - and how long to go on retreat

As the world gets busier and busier, the need is to retreat for longer and longer. Yet many make the mistake of saying “I have not got time for that”, and ending up paying a high price for what seemed like an easier option.

So this week, why go on a retreat?, what makes for a good retreat?, and encouragement to take advantage of Ruth’s retreat offerings, but first


Thought for the Day

Mindful of a thought, 
Like the momentary glimpse 
Of a colourful sunbird flashing through the light, 
The heart remains undisturbed, 
Serene in its sky-like presence. 

Whatever the circumstance, 
Bodily movement or stillness, 
Feeling well or distressed, 
With good concentration or scattered attention, 
Everything can be brought back to awareness.



Kittisaro



The risk is you wake up in twenty years time and wonder what happened? 

Where did my life go? It is so easy these days to get caught up in all the things there are to do - good and bad - that what is really important can be missed.

This is a major lesson on offer from those who have been through major tragedies. The tragedy cuts through the day to day, automatic living and gives time, maybe even demands time be given to questioning what life is really all about.

Retreats offer the benefits of a tragedy without the trauma of the tragedy itself.

The opportunity
When we go on retreat we step back from life. We go into a sheltered environment, have meals provided, have teachings, practice and a program schedule to join in with; and then the magic.

We have time to our self - our self. Time to regain some balance. Time to reflect. Time to re-assess. Time to plan for how we intend to be within our lives. And time for insight.

The environment
Retreats are best taken amidst natural beauty.

Traditionally people took to the mountains or the deserts in seclusion; although there is a strong history in all the great traditions of group retreats.

Some places are profoundly conducive for meditation and retreats. This is like some places just feel creepy and are better avoided. Of course there is no good science on this that I know of, but then those who have not felt the truth of this probably would not go on a retreat anyway.

Some places have a natural potential to support retreats, others are enhanced by regular practice.

The Foundation’s sanctuary at Yarra Junction has it all - great natural beauty - the Yarra Valley surrounded by mountains - a strong welcoming, regenerative and peaceful feeling, plus years of meditation practice within.

The teacher
A retreat needs the experience, stability, expertise and wisdom of a reliable teacher. When we do take time out, it can be a bit like taking the lid off a pressure cooker; sometimes the proverbial hits the fan.

This is why good teachings provided amongst the anticipated rhythms of the retreat are essential to support and guide all present.

With good support there will be time in which there can be profound breakthroughs and profound resolution, and the establishment of a deeper sense of inner peace.

And this is why many keep returning.

Of course, virtually everyone has the benefit of time out and re-setting their direction - one of the primary benefits of retreat.

Noble company
In Buddhism they talk of “the sangha”. Traditionally this referred to the monks and nuns, but these days sangha describes all those committed to the inner way. Being amongst like-minded people is aptly described as being in noble company.

Noble conversation
Most retreats spend some time in silence; some time where conversation flows. Either way, there is this sense of communing with the others and communicating in a way that shares common values and intent.

Timing
This is the crux of this post. The temptation these days is to go for a weekend; maybe just a day workshop…

Having attended and let literally hundreds of retreats here is the best advice I can give.

Be kind to yourself.

The more you are tempted by a short retreat, make even more effort to go longer.

Sure a day is useful. You can learn stuff in a day, take it home and apply it and it will help.

A weekend is good too. A bit more time out, but then you just start to relax and it is time to wind up again and leave.

Five days is a beginning. Time to unwind, have a day or two actually present in the retreat and then a day to be in leaving mode.

Seven or ten days is a good length for a short, meaningful retreat. There is time to make some real progress. Time to let go of the day-to-day stuff, to settle, to go inwardly to a reasonable degree and still have time to re-emerge and be well placed to return home.

I have to say how much it saddens me the 10 day cancer programs have been discontinued at the Foundation due to the popularity of the 5 day version. And it seems more and more people opt for shorter retreats.

So again - the best advice I can give
Do at least one personal retreat each year. You owe your self at least that much.

Go for as long as impossible! In other words, extend yourself. Imagine what feels doable, then add a few more days and find a retreat that goes long enough to serve you well.


What Ruth is offering
Ruth and I shared leading retreats for many years. To be frank, she has been my best student - the most diligent, the most capable.

When I woke up one day and realised my time for leading retreats was over (at least for the foreseeable future; who knows what might happen when I am 80 ), it was a great comfort to know that those who had valued what I had to offer now have Ruth leading her own retreats.

Ruth will lead a seven day meditation retreat pre-Easter with Melissa Borich that is highly recommended. Ruth has asked me to come in one evening for a Q and A session that I am happy to do, so maybe I will see you there?

 Ruth is also leading another meditation retreat at the Living Centre in September as well as two healing based retreats with Prof Sanjay Raghav.

Details are on the Foundation’s website. Do yourself a favour…



RUTH'S NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT

RECLAIMING JOY - April 12 - 18 2019, Yarra Valley Living Centre.

Details - call the Foundation - 03 5967 1730 or link here for DETAILS



The legend of Meditation in the Forest lives on!

This classic 7 day meditation retreat is on again for yet another pre-Easter.

In 2019 it will be lead by Ruth Gawler and Melissa Borich.


Some will have had the good fortune to have shared time with Melissa in some of our previous retreats. Melissa is a highly accomplished yoga teacher with a wonderful capacity to tailor yoga for beginners or the advanced. Melissa has also trained with me as a meditation teacher and is one of the people I highly value and recommend.


These two women will present a wonderful retreat - lucky you if you get to be there :)

NEWS
BLUE SKY MIND
My new meditation book is now with the printers and is set to be released in May. More news on this soon...

INDIA
Ruth and I leave for India this week. Buddhist gathering at Bodhgaya and big conference in Delhi with the Brahma Kumaris. Will post on Facebook - maybe a good time to "like" my page and keep in touch... Dr Ian Gawler is the public page.

Happily we have a wonderful house and garden sitter who will keep the water up to the garden while we are away :).


04 February 2019

Reversing atrial fibrillation naturally

A dear old friend, Jean Fraser, had inoperable, untreatable pancreatic cancer diagnosed in 1985 and recently died in her 90’s. She had no medical treatment but used the principles and techniques in You Can Conquer Cancer. I did document Jean’s story in the book of survivors Inspiring People (out of print; but there is Surviving Cancer) yet despite her brother being a senior doctor it was never recorded in a medical journal.

So while Jean remained an “anecdote” it would be hard to estimate how many people her story inspired. And as they say “better to be a live anecdote than a dead statistic”.

Anyway, reflecting on Jean’s life and inspiration has prompted telling a personal story of using Mind-Body Medicine to reverse atrial fibrillation. Sure it is another anecdote, but maybe it will provide a clue for something you or someone you know is working on recovering from. Also, Ruth will be presenting a meditation retreat pre-Easter (link here; more details below) where these and other meditation principles and techniques will be taught and practised, but first

 

      Thought for the day


           The world of reality has its limits.

           The world of imagination is boundless


                            Jean-Jacques Rousseau






Went into atrial fibrillation for the third time while on retreat in January. 

The previous 2 times were around 10 years ago, seemed exacerbated by stress and resolved with some deep relaxation naturally and within about 24 hours.

While an ECG and blood tests confirmed no heart damage, this one was going on and heading into its 3rd day. Deep relaxation made me feel better, but the arrhythmia persisted. So decided to use some imagery…

Did a bit of mild exercise first then lay down, relaxed and imagined being back in the old athletic training days. One of the hardest things we did was 8 repeat 400m metres in under 60 seconds with either a walked or jogged 400m in between. The jogged version, especially if it was hot weather would push things considerably!


So I spent some time - 5 minutes or so - imagining doing that once again, feeling the extreme exertion and figuring that for a heart to perform at that level it needs to be functioning at its best and not fibrillating. Did not measure the heart rate to see where it was at - in retrospect that would have been interesting - but did remind my heart that it was a good heart, strong and reliable. It has been through quite a lot over the years and in general has stood up very well.

Then after this 5 minutes I imagined running smoothly but at an easy tempo for another 5 - 10
minutes.

Then checked my heart.


Now any serious advocate of evidence based medicine will tell you this is just an anecdote, but the heart was back in normal rhythm.

For me the coincidence will do.

And the heart remains in good rhythm and has survived a couple of heavy days in the garden since.

The message? 
In my experience imagery can be remarkably powerful. It works best when we are deeply relaxed in body and mind; and the more we can focus our mind the better. If focus is an issue, then make up for that with repetition. Also, with imagery, it can pay to be innovative.

No idea whether what I did for my flutters would help anyone else, but the example and the principles may.

If you are interested to learn more about guided imagery, my book The Mind that Changes Everything may be useful.

A final thought
Back in 1985 Jean was told there was nothing medically that could be done for her or her pancreatic cancer. Her life expectancy was put at just a few months. She then had the extraordinary experience of learning how to use her own resources and effect a remarkable recovery; surviving over 30 years without any medical treatment. What an empowering experience! And by the way, her diagnosis and recovery were both confirmed by biopsy.

Why are people with “anecdotal” stories like Jean not being recorded in the medical literature and studied more closely???


RUTH'S NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT

RECLAIMING JOY - April 12 - 18 2019, Yarra Valley Living Centre.

Details - call the Foundation - 03 5967 1730 or link here for DETAILS



The legend of Meditation in the Forest lives on!

This classic 7 day meditation retreat is on again for yet another pre-Easter.

In 2019 it will be lead by Ruth Gawler and Melissa Borich.


Some will have had the good fortune to have shared time with Melissa in some of our previous retreats. Melissa is a highly accomplished yoga teacher with a wonderful capacity to tailor yoga for beginners or the advanced. Melissa has also trained with me as a meditation teacher and is one of the people I highly value and recommend.



These two women will present a wonderful retreat - lucky you if you get to be there :)



07 January 2019

Is an easy life the best option?


Ever wondered what it would have been like if your life had been easier?

I sometimes do…

January the 8th is the anniversary of the day my right leg was amputated. This year - 44 years ago. Changed my life radically. Yet so much good came out of it.

So here we are at the start of another new year, and what to wish for ???

And at the start of a new year, maybe time to plan for a retreat, but first

       Thought for the day

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, 
If the world is filled with suffering, 
The Buddha has such a beautiful smile. 
Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? 

Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough 
Understanding, calmness, and strength; 
That is why the suffering does not overwhelm him.
He is able to smile to suffering because he knows 
How to take care of it and to help transform it. 

We need to be aware of the suffering, 
But retain our clarity, calmness, and strength 
So we can help transform the situation. 

                      Thich Nhat Hahn

Speaking personally it is hard to imagine I could have learnt all I have in this life and accomplished all I have without having my leg amputated. And yes, there is so much that has been missed out on due to the amputation.

Clearly that operation back in 1975 changed my life irrevocably. Much good has flowed into my life as a result of all the learning the change provoked. And hopefully this life has contributed somewhat to that of others as a consequence.

So would I have wished for this huge change to visit my life?

Certainly not before it happened! But in retrospect? That is a harder question.

The sense is my life actually tried many times before the surgery to steer me in the direction the surgery demanded. This is speaking personally; for others it may well be very different. However, for me I know I was too young, too pig-headed to listen. I kept on the track I was going until my life, courtesy of the surgery, demanded that I change direction. You can guess by observation what that direction was…

Cancer is an uncompromising illness and it brought the best out of me. One of the delightful things about cancer if is you do approach it with awareness, it demands you attend to your body, your emotions, your mind and your spirit.

So what to wish for? An easy life, or something else???

At the start of a new year, we commonly wish each other good health. Maybe if that is not associated with clear awareness and some resolve, something else may be preferable.

Now there is a radical thought…

In fact, my wish for you IS for a year of good health and that you use the blessing of this good health to best advantage - for self and for as many others as possible. Also, the wish is for prosperity so you have the capacity to do what is best for self and others, and that in the process of living a serviceful life you find contentment, meaning and fulfilment.

With love to you all…



RUTH'S NEXT MEDITATION RETREAT

RECLAIMING JOY - April 12 - 18 2019, Yarra Valley Living Centre.

Details - call the Foundation - 03 5967 1730 or link here for DETAILS



The legend of Meditation in the Forest lives on!

This classic 7 day meditation retreat is on again for yet another pre-Easter.

In 2019 it will be lead by Ruth Gawler and Melissa Borich.


Some will have had the good fortune to have shared time with Melissa in some of our previous retreats. Melissa is a highly accomplished yoga teacher with a wonderful capacity to tailor yoga for beginners or the advanced. Melissa has also trained with me as a meditation teacher and is one of the people I highly value and recommend.

These two women will present a wonderful retreat - lucky you if you get to be there :)