11 November 2019

Perennial Wisdom

What is the truth? From as early as I can remember, this question had a prominent place in my mind and directed my seeking. Is there a universal truth that underlies all religions, or is there an exclusive version of truth that is unique to one particular religion or teacher?

Perennial Wisdom takes the view that while religions differ in many ways, at their heart is a common wisdom that unites rather than divides. So this week we investigate this Perennial Wisdom and how it informs my own life and work, but first

    Thought for the day

      It is essential to know what real devotion is. 
      It is not mindless adoration; 
      It is not abdication of your responsibility to yourself, 
      Nor indiscriminately following of another’s personality or whim. 
      Real devotion is an unbroken receptivity to the truth. 
      Real devotion is rooted in an awed and reverent gratitude, 
      But one that is lucid, grounded, and intelligent.

                      Sogyal Rinpoche

Some years back I had the good fortune to be with that wonderful Christian mystic and scholar, Fr Bede Griffiths. On asking him directly about the truth, he held up his hand and pointed to the fingers.

When you look at the fingertips, they are all very separate and function in different ways” he said.

However, if you follow them down, they are all come back to and are united by the same hand. The truth, and the religions that espouse them are the same. Each religion looks somewhat different on the surface and functions in different ways, but when you delve into the heart of each religion, you find they all share the same common truth.

Fr Bede has been one of my heroes for a long time. 

The archetypal “wise old man”, he came into my life after growing up in the Anglican tradition, finding its basic teachings did not explain the complexity and trauma of my early life, and then launching off into exploring philosophy, metaphysics, the Hindu tradition, the Theosophical Society, Zen, and finally Buddhism.

In Buddhism I found the most uncompromising devotion to pursuing truth, especially in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and my long-term teacher Sogyal Rinpoche. 

And yet this is a very particular pathway into the truth. For me it works very well personally, yet many these days are seeking truth through other traditions, many are seeking a more secular version of the truth and its expression.

And as I grow older and benefit from all the teachings and study I have done, as I mature in my own practice a little, I find myself increasingly interested in helping a broad audience. So I am incredibly respectful and grateful to Sogyal Rinpoche for having taught me so much, and now, given he has died, will remain personally involved with his organisation Rigpa and help there when I can. I am planning to continue to study and practice through that tradition, and to enjoy getting together with the incredible array of extra-ordinary people that make up that organisation.

However, in my public life, I find myself compellingly drawn to take the Perennial Wisdom to a wider audience wherever possible. Perennial Wisdom is like religion without borders. It takes the view that all religious traditions do have their origin in a single source. It is a unifying force for good.

Aldous Huxley, author of the book The Perennial Philosophy, popularized this notion in his own day and wrote that the basis of Perennial Wisdom (or Philosophy as he called it) as found in all the mystic branches of the religions of the world, can be summarised as follows…
There is a Godhead or Ground, which is the unmanifested principle of all manifestation.

That the Ground is transcendent and immanent.

That it is possible for human beings to love, know and, to become actually identified with the Ground.

That to achieve this unitive knowledge, to realize this supreme identity, is the final end and purpose of human existence.

That there is a Law or Dharma, which must be obeyed, a Tao or Way, which must be followed, if men are to achieve their final end.

More recently, Rabbi Rami Shapiro put it beautifully when he wrote...

The term “perennial philosophy” refers to a fourfold realization: 

1.  There is only one Reality (call it, among other names, God, Mother, Tao, Allah, Dharmakaya, Brahman, or Great Spirit) that is the source and substance of all creation.

2. That while each of us is a manifestation of this Reality, most of us identify with something much smaller, that is, our culturally conditioned individual ego.

3. That this identification with the smaller self gives rise to needless anxiety, unnecessary suffering, and cross-cultural competition and violence.

4. That peace, compassion, and justice naturally replace anxiety, needless suffering, competition, and violence when we realize our true nature as a manifestation of this singular Reality. 

The great sages and mystics of every civilization throughout human history have taught these truths in the language of their time and culture. 

Perennial Wisdom therefore takes the view each religion provides the particular group of humanity to which it is relevant and appealing with everything required to observe a common divine reality, and to achieve a state in which one will be able to confirm the universal truth and achieve salvation or spiritual enlightenment. As such, each tradition warrants respect from all, and of itself, benefits from celebrating this common ground and each other’s different expression of this common ground. 

Also, it is possible to teach, learn and practice Perennial Wisdom in its own right, in a way that respects, supports and reinforces any individual religious tradition, as well as providing an accessible option for those seeking a non-religious or secular pathway into their own truth.

So this is what is taking the focus of my attention right now…

28 October 2019

Ian Gawler art show

After all these years my own artworks are to be involved in my first ever exhibition! And also for the first time, my pictures will be offered for sale!

There will be an opening night – Friday 15th November, however, most of the pictures can be purchased now via the internet. Some of the paintings are quite special – like those done during my recovery or are of places where meditation retreats have been held. All are in oil on good quality canvas and most are framed – by me.

So this week, a little on each of the pictures plus their images and a little of my art history, plus news of the meditation workshops Ruth and I will present in Queensland over the next few weeks, but first

           Thought for the week

If we could say it we would. 
What wants to be said is unsayable - and unthinkable too. 
That is why we make music, we dance, we paint and write poetry. 

Language and words are for mundane things 
Like shopping and running a country. 

The arts are a way to impart to each other 
The wordless core of experience: 
They are nothing short of stepping stones 
To the heaven hidden here on earth.

                                 Rashid Maxwell

As a teenager, I always wanted to be a veterinarian – and so it was. Yet the arts always held a special place in my heart. I held great admiration for artists and writers and actually yearned to do both.

At school I was fortunate to be accepted into veterinary science at the end of year 12. However, I was very young and at the school I attended, rather than taking gap years, many boys did a second year 12 – or matriculation as we called it.

So in my second year, I took English Literature and Art. What a delight! Probably my favourite year of study ever. In art we had two professional artists as our teachers… the wonderful Ronald Miller and the quiet, unassuming and highly talented Des Norman (of the Daisy Bates series of paintings).

That year provided a framework of both theory and technique and I struggled through to achieve a fabulous basic pass mark! Since then my art has surfaced in fits and starts. It was taken up seriously for a few years following my cancer diagnosis then relapse.

This first picture was painted

from the veranda of the house

I convalesced in near Melton


Next big influence was Larry LeShan, the real founder of psycho-oncology and author of Cancer as a Turning Point. Met Larry at a conference in the USA and became good friends – a delightful, insightful maverick of a man.

Anyway, Larry challenged me… Said if I did not have half a day to put aside for myself each week I was missing something really important. So I came home and enrolled in the art class my sister Sue was attending. This was with Peter Churcher – a great painter of figures, classically trained and a wonderful teacher.

So these next 3 come from those days…

A still life with grapefruit that I really like :


Another still life, simply named STILL LIFE

And a model from the classes : THE MODEL AT REST

In recent years there was quite a lull in painting up until last year when I joined Anne Esposito's weekly art classes; again with my sister. Anne is a great artist in her own right and an excellent teacher while the group includes many highly talented artists. We will all have works on display and for sale at the exhibition.

So this has led to a series from times spent around Alice Springs, including a picture from a perspective above Hamilton Downs where we held 7 Meditation in the Desert retreats :


is of the last of the 2 famous ghost gums
West of Alice Springs that were
a favourite subject for Albert Namatjira.
Sadly, both are now gone...

– such a beautiful part of the world…


And this one from the Eastern Macdonnell Ranges : GHOST GUM

And of course, Uluru – no longer climbable
and here under an amazing sky as it is so often…


(Note: this one is not framed although it says it is on the website)

Finally, a moment of reflection caught in WA
at the aptly named Green’s Pool.
(Note: this one too is not framed
although it says it is on the website)

All the pictures are featured on my art group's website - LINK HERE 

The photos on the website are good indications, but not always true as you might expect… For most of the pictures above the frames do not appear and there are 2 without frames.

Email: theartistsgroup1@gmail.com

If you are local enough and would like to attend the art show, it includes works from the art group I am involved with. There will be an opening on Friday 15th November at 5pm, and then more showing Saturday 16th from 10am to 2pm. For more details of the exhibition, including the venue, or to attend the opening, please email Info@insighthealth.com.au.

If you have questions re any of the works, please do direct those to me via Info@insighthealth.com.au. as well.

Hope to see many of you at the exhibition – this is quite a buzz for me… Something quite different

Plus news of our coming events...

16 October 2019

Meditation and the two types of stillness

“At times in my meditation, I do experience moments of stillness, but I am not sure what type it is. Can you explain?” This request came up while Ruth and I were leading a day workshop in Adelaide last weekend based upon my new book Blue Sky Mind. It seems many readers find the explanation of the two types of stillness helpful – stillness of the Active Mind, and stillness of the Still Mind; but then are not sure what it is they are experiencing.

Also, if the experience is of the Active Mind – as is common - how to move on to the more profound and transformative stillness of the Still Mind?

Classically, the metaphor of the blue sky being like the Still Mind and the clouds being like the Active Mind has helped many, but this week, it feels useful to share an excerpt from Blue Sky Mind that explains a new metaphor that is helping many, but first

     Thought for the day  

       Sit like a mountain

       Heart like the ocean

       Mind like the sky

                  Sogyal Rinpoche

The sky and cloud metaphor is a very useful one; but maybe for even more clarity we can use a new metaphor : carriages on a train. To elaborate, if a super-fast Bullet train were to fly past us, it may well be we would be unable to notice any gaps between the carriages.

However, if we were close enough to see the carriages of a long train making its way slowly past us, it would be fairly easy to notice the individual carriages and the gaps between them.

In the gaps between the carriages there is a space, and this space is in line with the carriages.

Carriage, space, carriage, space, and so on.

This space is quite finite and it is between the carriages; it is defined by the carriages, it is in close relationship with the carriages.

But now, if we look through the space between the carriages, we may well get the sense that there is much more space on the other side of the carriages. That space is not so dependent upon the carriages. The carriages may come and go, but our sense of that space will not change.

This more ‘distant’ space, is not affected by the train passing by. This more distant space was there before the train came, is there as the train passes by, and it will remain after the train has gone from view. And to be even more complete, there is a space in front of the train as well. And behind it. There is space between us and the train, as well as beyond the train.
Clearly, this space of which we are talking is all pervasive.

This is definitely worth reflecting upon a little until you really understand it; better still, take it in, experience it.

At first in our meditation when we start to notice the gaps between our thoughts it is most often like with the carriages; we are noticing the gap between the thoughts; the stillness between the thoughts. In this gap is what we could call the stillness of the Active Mind.

Now we must be clear. Any experience we have of the stillness of the Active Mind is quite useful. It is deeply peaceful, deeply regenerative. However, during the experience of this particular version of stillness we often have a limited sense of awareness. We can come out of the experience unclear about what happened.

After experiencing some time in the gap between their thoughts, people often say to me things like ‘I am not sure if I was awake or asleep. It did not feel like sleep, but I am not sure what it was’.

Often too, our perception of time becomes distorted in this state. Normally our perception of time is dependent on movement. However, if we are still and there is no movement, then we can be there for a few moments and it can feel like a long time. On another occasion it may feel as if we have been still for many minutes but when we check the clock, it was but a few brief moments.

Most people relate to this version of stillness – the stillness of the Active Mind - as pleasant and comforting, but rather dull and indistinct; a bit like a sleepy version of meditation. But again, to be clear, from the point of view of stress management, coming into our natural balance and the inner peace we have been speaking of along with healing, this state is actually quite useful.

But we do need to be clear that this stillness of the Active Mind is not the deeper state of stillness we have been discussing as the stillness of the Still Mind.

Using our original metaphor once again, the stillness of the Active Mind relates to the clouds; the stillness of the Still Mind has more to do with our experience of ‘the sky’.

However, all thoughts do actually exist within the context of the still mind, just as clouds exist within the context of the sky.

Clouds are dependent upon the sky, and only come into existence because the spaciousness of the sky makes them possible.

The existence of the sky allows for the natural expression of the clouds, but the sky is not affected by the clouds.

The sky is not changed or affected by the clouds; it is not stained or scarred by any particular clouds.

So it is with our own mind. The Still Mind provides the conditions in which thoughts can arise, be experienced, and pass on by. But the Still Mind is not affected by thoughts. It retains its natural qualities whatever type of thoughts we generate. Good thoughts, easy — stable Still Mind. Tough, destructive thoughts — just like a bad storm, blue sky unaffected, stable Still Mind.

So when we experience the stillness of the Active Mind, we remain on the level of our thoughts and emotions. We can experience some respite, even a deep sense of clarity and calmness; but in the fundamental sense, there will be no profound change in us. We are still in the domain of the Active Mind.

However, when we do manage to catch a glimpse of the stillness of the Still Mind, we transcend the Active Mind. Our whole perspective will change, our way of seeing the world will transform and we will View the world in quite a different way.


Blue Sky Mind is available through the Foundation’s website and most other outlets.

If your local bookseller is not stocking it as yet, please do ask…

30 September 2019

Go retro – one simple solution to thwart climate change

Are you old enough to remember simpler times? Maybe you have watched films or TV shows from the 50s and 60s. No plastic, less stuff, less people. And yet we all managed quite nicely. These days so much plastic and stuff. So much we can learn from back then, so here is a delightful tale, but first

         Thought for the day

   I was sitting on a hilltop looking 
   At the endlessly expanding horizon under the blue sky …
   A bliss began to permeate my body and mind. 
   I didn’t know that my eyes welled up with tears. 
   I bent down to kiss this earth. 
   This is a magic land, a sacred pureland…

                 Chen Xiaodong
   freelance Buddhist writer based in Shanghai

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring

her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The woman apologized to the young girl and explained,

"We didn't have this 'green thing' back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded,

"That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

The older lady said that she was right our generation did not have the "green thing" in its day. The older lady went on to explain: Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we did not have the "green thing" back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things.

Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But, too bad we did not do the "green thing" back then. We walked up stairs because we did not have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and did not climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We did not have the "green thing" in our day.

Back then we washed the baby's nappies because we did not have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we did not have the "green thing" back in our day. 
Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we did not have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we did not fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.

We exercised by working so we did not need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we did not have the "green thing" back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we did not have the "green thing" back then.

Back then, people took the tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family's $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the "green thing."

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we did not need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But it is sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we did not have the "green thing" back then?

Of course, my older generation poisoned rivers and streams, created havoc with DDT, lead based paints and many other environmental disasters. So while we have made good progress in some areas, and there is much more needed in many, maybe we can learn from going retro in others...

18 September 2019

Toxic tide - marine plastic pollution and what to do

In 2016, a Senate Committee released "Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia". This report contains alarming concerns about the impact of plastics found in abundance in our environment and provides suggestions. So this week we reproduce details to complete our 3 part series on plastic pollution, but first

            Thought for the day

     Power without love is reckless and abusive, 
     And love without power is sentimental and anemic. 
     Power at its best 
     Is love implementing the demands of justice, 
     And justice at its best 
     Is power correcting everything that stands against love.

                            Martin Luther King Jnr 

One generation ago, plastics were not part of our daily lives. Cloth, boxes or paper bags were used for shopping and there were no plastics for storing food in the fridges. Now it is part of our daily lives even for single-use packaging of food! The problem is global and widespread.

Go to Asia and places such as Bali and experience swimming in one of their beaches with plastic debris floating in the water and brushing up against your skin. 

It is not a pleasant experience!

The World Economic Forum warn plastics are increasingly being used across economies in sectors ranging from packaging to construction, transportation, healthcare and electronics. 

This increasing use is reflected in the rate of increase in global plastic production: in 1964, 15 million tonnes of plastics were produced, in 2014 that had increased to 311 million tonnes. According to the World Economic Forum, plastics production is expected to double again in 20 years, and to almost quadruple by 2050.

In summary, the Senate report raises serious concerns and highlights the following points:2
There is an alarming production and use of plastics worldwide. 
The vast majority of plastics is non-biodegradable and can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
Majority of marine-based pollution comes from land, originating from urban and industrial waste sites, sewage outlets, stormwater and litter discarded by recreational users of our coasts and marine waterways.
A major national study led by CSIRO, documented the state of marine plastic debris in Australia and its negative impact on marine wildlife.  The study suggests most marine plastic debris in the Australian region is domestic and correlates with increase in local population, urbanisation and human activity. 

Stormwater drainage is a significant contributor of plastic debris in the marine environment which often delivers directly to coastal areas, or via catchment runoff into coastal areas. 

Other sources include: urban litter, garbage from shipping and abandoned fishing gear from local, national and international fishing operations.

Marine plastic pollution in Australian waters can also originate from international sources with ocean currents transporting plastic debris over long distances. According to the World Economic Forum’s best available data, Asia accounts for more than 80% of the total leakage of plastic into the ocean.  CSIRO also note that China and Indonesia are significant sources of plastic pollution.4
Due to their light weight, plastics are readily transported by wind and water.
National and international studies demonstrate significant quantities of hard plastics, plastic water bottles and packaging litter found in our coastal and river waterways such as Sydney Harbour and Port Phillip Bay. 2, 
Plastic debris found in the marine environment is either larger debris (macroplastic) or small particles (microplastic) i.e. tiny plastic fragments, fibres and granules of less than 5 mms in size from intentionally produced items, inherent by-products of other products or activities, emitted through accident or unintentional spill or macroplastic degradation.

Substantial human voluntary hours such as Clean Up Australia and BeachPatrol are expended on collecting record numbers of plastic littering on coast and land. 

The cost of removing litter by local and state Government is enormous. 

For example, the Victorian Government in 2012–13 spent $80 million in removing litter, including the removal of over 7,800 tonnes of litter from Melbourne waterways.2

CSIRO report highlights the cost of littering to local government is substantial.4
There are international efforts to address the global concern of plastic debris and pollution. At present this issue is addressed on a state by state level in Australia, yet the problem is not a boundary issue and the Senate recommends it be addressed on a National level.2
The Senate committee received considerable evidence on the impact of plastic pollution on marine fauna and flora from leading Australian academics, government agencies and community organisations. The evidence indicates that plastic debris affects marine life through ingestion, entanglement, the transport i.e. plastic acting as a medium and bioaccumulation of harmful chemicals.2
Plastic ingestion is well documented in a large range of marine species, shorebirds and seabirds - small plastics look similar in appearance to prey for marine animals. The Senate also received evidence in relation to ingestion of plastics by turtles, seabirds, cetaceans (e.g. dolphins and whales), corals and zooplankton.2
Marine plastic pollution also acts as both a transport medium for accumulated chemicals present in seawater, and is a source of toxic chemicals such as pesticides (e.g. DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls and endocrine-active substances).2 These substances are well known to be bio-accumulative and impact marine and human health. 1, Many toxic chemicals are fat soluble, lasting decades in the environment where they undergo biomagnification (tissue concentrations increase) as they pass up the food chain.1
The effects of plastics on human life e.g. ingestion of plastics through consumption of marine life, is not well recognised or studied, and warrants further research in view of the growing contamination of plastics in the environment.

In summary, the Senate has made a number of recommendations to address the problems of plastics.2 

Every effort should be made at the State, National and International level to help raise community awareness of the problems of plastics on the environment. 

This includes a reduction in the production of plastics by industry and finding alternative options and the need and use of plastics by communities, e.g. one use plastic products. Additionally, the community and government should prohibit the supply of plastics where suitable options are available, e.g. shopping bags made of plastics, and for improved discarding and recycling programs of all types of plastics.

02 September 2019

Chemicals in food plastics and how to avoid them

Basically there are heaps - and many have been subjected to little scrutiny. Last post we examined BPA - whose problems are well documented. However, the expense and time required to research each new plastic and its chemicals seems to take a back seat to the expediency of the next “convenient” product.

So this week, some more real culprits and how to avoid problems.

Also, many thanks to all who have expressed their condolences following the death of my main teacher Sogyal Rinpoche. Rinpoche was an extraordinary teacher. In my long experience with him, unfailingly kind and caring, incredibly knowledgeable and wise and hilariously funny!

Coming from the dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpoche came to know the Western mind extremely well and he melded this knowledge with the ancient wisdom and profound understanding of the mind that came from his traditional training. As such, he shaped my life and my work.

If you feel any benefit from what I may have to offer, then you have benefited from the life and work of Sogyal Rinpoche, yet life goes on and so first …


     Thought for the day

     If we listen with a silent mind, 
     As free as possible 
     From the clamour of preconceived ideas, 
     A possibility will be created 
     For the truth of the teachings to pierce us, 
     And for the meaning of life and death 
     To become increasingly and startlingly clear.

                            Sogyal Rinpoche

PVC is used for bottles, cling wrap and screw-cap jars. It is hard and rigid (think pipes for drains and gutters etc), and it is regarded as relatively inert. However, it can break down, form microplastics and then initiate problems of its own.

The real issue with PVC, as with most base plastics, is that to make it malleable, plasticisers are added in much the same way water is added to clay for softening. Plasticisers can make up as much as 40% of the plastic material and 2 of the common ones used for food packaging, phthalates and epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO) have serious doubts raised about their safety.

DEHP is the phthalate most often used as a plasticiser for PVC. There is general agreement it can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys, and a US study has found an increased risk of diabetes and obesity in men.

ESBO is another frequently used additives to PVC, especially when used for containers or packaging for food. It functions as a stabiliser as well as a plasticiser. Lid seals made with it end up producing some chlorohydrins that are known to be toxic. Chlorohydrins have been detected in foods closed in glass screw-cap jars - check inside the lid for a plastic layer… that is the potential source.

polyethylene terephthalate or PET, is in the polyester family (polyester is the common name used for fabrics and includes Trademarks like Terylene and Dacron) and it also is used widely for food and liquid containers and other packaging (where it is commonly called PET).

PET is also suspected of being an endocrine disruptor, particularly through leaching of phthalates and antimony.

These are compounds that can leech out of cans and their linings into our food. If you are into canned food, you might want to sit down here…

Migrates from cans may contain oligomers, catalysts, reaction accelerators, epoxidized edible oils, amino resins, acrylic resins, various esters, waxes, lubricants, and metals. Furthermore, non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) such as impurities, reaction by-products and degradation products generally constitute a part of the migrate. Exposure estimates for these often complex mixtures are difficult or even impossible to calculate, because many NIAS are unknown or unidentified substances.

Many migrating substances are completely unknown, but they may strongly contribute to the toxicity of the migrate.

The real answer is actually simple and I suspect we all know what it is but shirk making it due to a combination of convenience, habit and money.

The real answer is to keep all plastics away from your food.

As much as possible, grow your own food or buy organic. Then prepare as much as possible from base ingredients. For example, instead of using a prepared, packaged pasta sauce, start from scratch and make you own. To help overcome the time issues, celebrate good health for you and the family, as well as making food preparation an active form of mindfulness and meditation. Win - win!

Do all possible to avoid buying anything wrapped in plastic - those supermarket trays of cling wrapped vegetables give me the horrors.

Find stores that do supply paper bags for food or take your own recycled ones.

Use glass, stainless steel, ceramics for food storage.

We have quite a stock of stainless steel containers as our garden can be very productive at times and we regard freezing as a reasonable way to extend the season.

Use wooden or stainless steel cooking implements - so much nicer to the feel anyway.

Avoid cans wherever possible.

Maybe the occasional one is OK; it does seem BPA is excreted from our bodies relatively quickly, however, regular ingestion is associated with all the problems listed so beware. Tuna and condensed soups in cans seem to have the highest levels of BPA. Canned fruit seems less problematic than canned vegetables.

Avoid exposing plastics used for, or containing food to high temperatures. This includes avoiding microwaving (really bad), high cooking temperatures and cars on hot days - especially with water bottles in summer

Buy a reusable drinking cup and carry it with you.

Avoid water and other drinks in plastic bottles - big source of microplastics and huge waste issue.

If on town water, use a water filter - either in-line (as in integrated into your plumbing) or as a water filter jug. These clear microplastics and may well filter unwanted chemicals including drugs in the water system. Portable water filter jugs are available for travel and we use ours regularly.

If the plastic content of a product is not clearly labeled, know some but not all plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA. Remember, BPA substitutes like BPS and BPF seem to have similar “anti-androgenic” hormonal effects as BPA.

If you do have to use a plastic, then it seems numbers 2 and 5 are probably the safest - high density polyethylene and polypropylene.

This is a tricky one given they are in such widespread use.

We do now know holding a receipt and eating food, especially after using hand sanitizer, results in high blood levels of active BPA, so at least wash well before eating.

Consider carrying an envelop for receipts so they do not contaminate clothing or wallets.

Do not necessarily be re-assured by new receipts proclaiming to be ‘BPA-free”.

They may be just BPS instead.

And, the BPS in receipts may be up to 40% more BPS than the amount of BPA, so BPA-free could be even worse! In fact, all BPA-replacement products tested to date released chemicals “having reliably detectable oestrogenic activity.”

We all know this now… Do all possible for all the good reasons to remove single-use plastic from your life and support companies that are moving away from plastic packaging.


Lobby your local and national office bearers and parliamentarians urging them to to support all these recommendations with their own support and legislation where needed.

Our local council of Yarra Ranges is about to vote on a bill to declare a climate emergency and take strong action within our area. Ruth and I have actively supported this push and it may well succeed.

It does seem there are healthy and viable alternatives industry could use; the problem is they may cost a few cents more. Let people know you are willing to pay - including the supermarket operators and your local stores.

And remember, for millennia the world managed just fine without any plastics at all. With thought, planning and a willingness to change some deeply ingrained habits, we may well retain the benefits plastics have brought and do away with the almost disastrous consequences that have followed.

Next post will feature the summary of a recent senate enquiry into the damaging effects of plastics that is full of references and confirms the need for major action…

22 August 2019

What chemicals are in the food plastics we use in 2019? How toxic are the chemicals in food plastics? And how to avoid food plastic chemical hazards?

How much food are you eating out of cans these days? Ever wonder about the plastic linings in those cans, or about the impact plastic is having in your food chain?

Could easily write a PhD on this, but let us go Out on a Limb once more, summarise where we are at in 2019 and suggest how to avoid some potentially major health problems, but first


      Thought for the day

   There is no need for temples; 
   No need for complicated philosophy. 

   Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; 
   My philosophy is kindness.

                     His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Well I remember way back in the mid 80s and my old friend Michael Lerner from Commonweal in California shared evidence linking chemicals in plastics with breast cancer particularly, and other health problems in general.

Michael’s research was compelling so most will know I have recommended doing all possible to keep plastics out of your food chain since then.

Decades have passed and slowly the risks have become better known. BPA (bisphenol A) emerged as one of the main culprits and public opinion has driven legislation to limit its use and seek substitutes.

So in 2019 does this mean some food plastics are OK to use? 

Please note I have limited time and resources for this. It is written as if writing to one of the family and the hope is that you find it helpful… So while I did read and use many sources, I am not documenting what is written. It may well be incomplete, but it has been written with due diligence and represents the best I can offer on the subject. Let us examine the facts and the issues, and then attempt to reach some conclusions; starting with BPA itself.

What is BPA?
BPA is an industrial chemical used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.

In the ‘30s it was identified as a synthetic oestrogen and considered for pharmaceutical use but BPA-based plastics were first manufactured in the ‘60s.

Currently, millions of tonnes are produced each year, to make polycarbonates - for CDs, spectacles lenses, water bottles and other clear plastics, and resins - used to line food cans.

What risks are associated with BPA?
Basically, BPA is a hormone disruptor that mimics oestrogen and interferes with its healthy activity. Widely researched now, it has been associated with

i) Cancer
Particularly hormonally related cancers like breast and prostate cancers.

ii) Sexual function and anatomical issues
The oestrogen-like effects in women are associated with early onset of puberty in females, infertility, miscarriage, premature delivery and polycystic ovaries.

Then, as oestrogen can supress testosterone in males, it is associated with male genital defects, reduced sperm counts and reduced male sexual function.

iii) Obesity
In children and adults through stimulating the formation of extra fat cells.

iv) Behavioural problems in children
Including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, aggressiveness and impaired learning.

 v) Other conditions
Altered thyroid and immune function, diabetes, heart disease, chronic respiratory and kidney diseases.

What a list!!!

How do we become exposed to BPA? A list of major sources…
i) Can linings (it is in both aluminium and steel based cans).

ii) Polycarbonate food containers and bottles (both re-useable and especially single use bottles), plus
food wraps. Heat, scratching and cleaning can all increase exposure. Fast foods with the packaging used are a major source.

iii) Thermal papers - these are those all so common supermarket receipts, movie tickets, lottery
tickets and the like.

Using hand moisturisers or handling receipts with wet hands increases the risks of absorption greatly.

iv) Microplastics - BPA tends to aggregate on the surface of microplastics. Given it is estimated average current US ingestion is a staggering 50 - 90,000 pieces of microplastic per person per year, this is another major source.

v) Children’s plastic toys remain a real concern, especially when you consider how young children put everything into their mouths. BPA has been banned for years from use in children’s bottles and dummies (where it was a major source of this chemical and affecting young children for decades).

vi) Dust also builds up BPA residues.

vii) Some toiletries and women’s hygiene products

viii) Many plastic eyeglasses

So what is the biggest source? 
It is claimed 90% comes through our food chain. Fast and levels drop 10 fold in 10 days. Once clear, eat one can of food lined with PBA and levels go up hugely.

What level of exposure is common?
Based on testing, virtually everyone has some BPA in their body; in the US, 93% of all over 6 years - and disturbingly it is commonly found even in babies prior to birth.

Are there safe limits for BPA?
Authorities in both Australia and the US claim our exposure levels are safe. France has banned BPA in plastics for food use. So if safe levels are not being exceeded, why are there so many problems associated with BPA?

What about low dose effects of BPA?
It is well know chemicals that mimic hormones and hormone disruptors can have significant impacts at low dose while not being so bad or having different effects at high doses. While the science is debated, and not surprisingly rejected by Industry sources, many researchers claim a low dose of BPA could well be worse than a high dose and that these low dose effects are yet to be fully researched and evaluated.

What about BPA substitutes?

BPA is associated with many problems but at least it has been studied extensively and those problems are reasonably well understood. When BPA is taken out of plastics, it needs to be replaced with another chemical, and here is the rub.

When you see “BPA free” touted on some plastic bottle or metal can, the implication we often take is
it is now safe.

Unfortunately this may well be far from the truth.

The substitute chemicals invariably are less studied, less known and while some substitutes may well be safer, others are clearly implicated with worse issues than BPA.

This is what is known as a “regrettable substitution”.

However, to be balanced, it is worth pointing out there may be a trade off here. Through the TGA and the CMI, the remarkable safety record of canned foods is observed: “More than 3,000 people die and more than 40,000 are hospitalized from foodborne illnesses every year, yet there has not been a single reported incidence of foodborne illness from the failure of metal packaging in more than 40 years and the consumption of trillions of cans of food.”

However, there are still major concerns that do need addressing…

Next blog we shall cover other chemicals in food plastics, and what solutions are available to us.

Please do consider sharing this post with others; it feels like one of the more important ones for some time…

And comments welcome - click on the tab below…

05 August 2019

Dr Ainslie Meares, Shivapuri Baba and meditation

How many people would you say you owe your life to? Interesting question… Mother first and foremost. Father naturally. But after that???

One of the people I owe my own life to is Dr Ainslie Meares. He taught me meditation in a way that made it possible for me to endure all that cancer threw at me, and even more, to overcome it altogether.

But Ainslie’e knowledge of meditation had its genesis in a 3 day meeting in Katmandu with the venerable and ancient Hindu yogi Shivapuri Baba. This little known figure was truly remarkable, truly extra -ordinary. Recently I met up with Cliff Woodward who has been studying the life and works of Shivapuri Baba for many years and actually visited his ashram in Katmandu.

As part of this guest blog, Cliff has kindly shared some of the key points of Shivapuri Baba’s life and teachings. Enjoy, plus a reminder my new meditation book Blue Sky Mind is now available, but first

       Thought for the day

          If you can see your path 
          Laid out in front of you step by step, 
          You know it is not your path. 

          Your own path 
          You make with every step you take. 
          That is why it is your path.

                        Joseph Campbell

From Cliff Woodward…
Shivapuri Baba’s remarkable life spanned an astounding 137 years from 1826 to 1963. (This is based on British records - and they were meticulous!) Probably one of the greatest human beings of recent times, Shivapuri Baba remains one of the least known and least celebrated.

This slight, little man who lived a life of ascetic, utter simplicity, was a giant of the spiritual life, sharing a teaching that is absolutely relevant to our lives right now, and could rightfully be seen as the antidote to the path of blind, egotistical self –destruction that our species has got itself onto. He called his teaching Right Life.

The external facts of his long life are indeed remarkable and worthy of a full-length movie film, although I sincerely hope it is never made!

The fact that he walked every continent [except Antarctica] on his world pilgrimage beginning at around 60 years of age, lasting over 30 years; he met many of the great men and women of the early 20th century [such as Einstein, the Curies, Marconi, Tolstoy], had eighteen audiences with Queen Victoria – but about all that he wanted nothing said, no publicity at all.

He consented to only one book being written about him towards the end of his lifetime, by the great English philosopher and spiritual seeker, J.G. Bennett, called “Long Pilgrimage,” which was published in 1965.

And his unambiguous instruction to Bennett was “You must write a book about my Teaching, not my life.” He himself, though seeming to have read everything of significance, wrote no books. He shares this in common with some other teachers of universal significance like Socrates and Jesus of Nazareth.

So what is the essence of this Teaching, Right Life? The first thing to say is that S.B. never suggested that this Teaching was his invention or his ‘intellectual property’, only that he had made accessible, to the contemporary mind, what was at the core of all the great Teachings of mankind, since time immemorial. Why would this be so?

Because the fundamental challenges that face how we live our lives as human beings have never been any different and never will be. All of the great spiritual traditions can be seen as different attempts to guide us into the solutions to these challenges, with greater or lesser success as we manage to despoil them.

It is interesting to note that there are many accounts of people from different spiritual/religious backgrounds meeting S.B., and each of them thought that he was the most perfected Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim - whatever background they were coming from - that they had ever met!

This was surely because S.B. could go to the core of any of these Teachings and speak its Truth.

He was completely free of dogmatism or any narrowness of perspective – a Universal Man.

Right Life is structured around three fundamental Duties.

With the First Duty, Right Life begins by acknowledging the fundamentals of our human life.

We have certain inescapable obligations or duties: the need to maintain our physical body, feed it, clothe it, keep it in health; and the need to earn a living in some way. This is a baseline that none are exempt from. We could see the First Duty as centred on the fundamental ‘Laws’, physical, moral and societal, that we have to obey. If we neglect them our lives end up in a mess of one kind or another.

The Second Duty focuses on our inner or moral life. It is about removing or overcoming our ‘defects in character’, our anger, resentment, jealousy etc. These things have to be seen, accepted and gradually eliminated from our lives. Further, we can consciously cultivate the positive qualities that may be missing from our lives, or at least not playing a strong enough role. So things like forgiveness, humility, empathy, kindness, need to be deliberately cultivated in our lives, must manifest in our lives – not just be ‘good ideas’ to aspire to.

These positive virtues can be found spelled out in any of the great spiritual teachings, for example The Sermon on the Mount in the Christian tradition, in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavad Gita in the Hindu tradition.

These Duties, according to Right Life, are not just to be acknowledged/accepted, they are to be perfected.

They have to be mindfully engaged with and worked on with perseverance.

We need to be consciously directing our lives in these directions, even down to the most basic practical tasks; for example, if I am failing to pay my bills on time, how do I get better at this?

If I can’t remember where I put things, how do I improve on this?

We do not accept or indulge our failings or weaknesses in little things or big.

Our constant aim is to make small, achievable changes that we can build on; like radical, sudden-weight-loss diets, attempting too much change too soon, will just rebound on us.

Of course we are going to fail, especially in the beginning, but we are enjoined to learn from our mistakes and keep at it – this is a life-long process! Ask yourself, what is the alternative to this? Surely the answer is to keep making the same errors and not evolving.

Shivapuri Baba described Right Life as “Your self-promised life”, meaning the life that you have set for yourself. So, for example, if I recognize that anger plays too strong a role in my life {at home or at work} and I have set myself to make some changes around this, this is my promise to myself.

It does not require the approbation {or the condemnation} of anyone or anything else – not THE church or THE faith or THE dogma. It is my deal, my promise, with myself. This places the teaching of Right Life in a very different space than we are accustomed to. It is not immediately obvious to most of us just how unique this is – it dawns over time!

But there is more!

The Third Duty is concerned with our Spiritual or Soul life, our deepest connection with ourselves, the Universe, God; express it as we will. S.B. said that eventually, to any sane human being looking at the basic facts of Life, there must arise a question such as:

What is the source of all this?

What is my significance in all this?

Does it all die with me?

The satisfactory answer to such a question, for you or I, is the basis for our deepest sense of peace or fulfilment – my answer, or anybody else’s answer, will not cut it, it must be YOUR answer. S.B. taught, again in line with all the great traditions, this is what we are here for on planet earth, to find such an answer – nothing, absolutely nothing, material success or power, will suffice. We can fill our lives with all sorts of things, all sorts of distractions, but the fundamental question will never go away.

So clearly the Third Duty relates to our practice of Meditation and Prayer. Note that S.B. never taught that there was one way into this: he encouraged people to follow their Christian way or Buddhist way, whatever they are connected to, but follow it with the correct understanding of its foundation in Right Life.

We need to attend correctly to all Three Duties, not any one of them, in order to succeed – truly a three-legged stool. Can you see how important this is? This Teaching is telling us, insisting, that, for example, you cannot just plunge into Meditation or diverse religious observances, leaving your practical life and moral life a total mess, and expect any success. It just does not work.

The other clear implication of this Right Life Teaching is that it encompasses the whole of your life. The very living of your life, on a day by day, minute by minute basis, is your Spiritual practice, is your life’s significance.

This is not a Teaching for the spiritually immature, for the ‘spiritual thrill seeker’; this is a Teaching that asks everything of you, but delivers Everything in its place.


Blue Sky Mind, my new meditation book is now published and coming into bookstores and on-line stores everywhere.

If you do go into a store that does not have it, please ask for it as booksellers these days respond very directly to feedback.

Signed copies of the book are available through the Foundation - and you support their work …


Enjoy deepening your meditation

22 July 2019

The best answer to stress? Meditation!

Who does not have stress in their life these days?

Meditators! So how does meditation negate stress?

How can you explain it simply to your friends? This week, we go to the heart of meditation and examine why it is so simple and reliable.

And a reminder, Blue Sky Mind is now available, as are the downloads that will guide you personally into the meditations, but first

               Thought for the day

In meditation the mind keeps wandering. 
We keep bringing it back, and it wanders again. 
And we bring it back again, and so it goes on, 
Maybe for months and years, 
Until at last the mind becomes stabilised . . . 

Thoughts go roving around in the head, 
But if we bring them down into the heart, 
That is, the centre of the person, 
They come to rest.

                          Fr Bede Griffiths
River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

Just why is meditation such a reliable antidote to stress and anxiety? 

Now, to be clear, when speaking of meditation, I speak of learning to relax deeply in a physical sense, and then to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind into a deeper stillness.

In fact, real meditation introduces us, or perhaps just makes abundantly clear, that the mind does have two aspects; there is the active thinking mind and the still mind.

The thinking mind is the domain of stress

How we perceive things.

How we interpret things.

How we think determines the stress we may or may not experience.

The still mind is beyond all this.

The still mind is calm and clear. The still mind is highly creative, highly productive, but it is the domain of deep, natural peace.

How then to help the thinking mind let go of stress, to become clear and calm, to become stress free?

First an analogy. If we were interested in the true nature of the sky but had never seen it before; and went outside on a cloudy grey day, we could form the view that the sky was this grey fluffy stuff that filled the space above us.

However, those of us who do have a little more familiarity with the sky know of course that clouds as we call them are only one part of the sky.

There is a second part, a second aspect – all that space that appears to be that big blue canopy we are so familiar with and that is so evident on a cloud-free day.

Those of us that are more familiar with the sky know that clouds come and go, yet the blue canopy is always there.

So even on the cloudiest, stormiest, wildest of days, sooner or later the clouds do clear and there it is.

It was always there of course, that clear blue sky, it is just that sometimes the clouds obscure it from our direct sight.

So, the analogy is good. With our minds, thoughts come and go all the time; they are ever-changing and impermanent. Happy thoughts, stressful thoughts. They come and they go. But sooner or later they will clear, and reveal this deeper stillness, the more fundamental enduring, stable aspect of our mind.

So there is the active and the still mind. Meditation provides a reliable way to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind and directly experience the stillness of the more fundamental or true nature of our mind. And in doing so, meditation offers 3 major benefits: Profound Peace, Natural Balance, and the View.

Profound Peace speaks for itself. There is a natural ease, an inner clarity and confidence that comes with meditation that provides a profoundly effective antidote to stress.

But more, this profound peace, coupled with deep physical relaxation brings Natural Balance to our whole being. Physically our body chemistry and physiology regains its natural balance. It is like meditation resets our factory settings and recalibrates the physiological changes we know accompany adverse stress, and over time becomes our default setting.

So this is how meditation diffuses stress and anxiety – with a return to a natural, healthy balance.

But there is still more! This natural balance flows on to be experienced as emotional balance, mental balance; there is even a deep sense of connectedness and a natural rise of love, compassion and altruism – a spiritual balance.

And perhaps even more profoundly, meditation offers a new perspective. We begin to see the world, and our life, not just from the perspective of the ever-changing “thinking mind”, but also from a more profound vantage point – that of the still mind, the true nature of our mind.

The View is a word that is used to encapsulate how we view the world, how we interpret our life.

What meaning and purpose we experience in this life.

Our View is tied up with our values, our ethics, our habits, and our beliefs.

How we live our life.

Now, our View of course is radically affected by our perspective. For those whose perspective does happen to lead them to think that all they are is just this body, it is easy to imagine how they “over-identify” with their body image and their physical health and in doing so become highly stress-prone.

For those whose perspective or View is such that they conclude life is all about relationships, and in so doing over-identify with their partner or children, or even their community, it is easy to imagine how the ups and downs of life will make them particularly vulnerable to chronic stress.

For those whose View is that life is all about mental reason, and as a consequence over-identify with the rational, logical, scientific aspects of their mind, it is easy to imagine how the mysteries of life, the unexplainable, the new, the challenging makes them significantly prone to stress.

So, one elegant definition of stress is “over-identification with the wrong part of our self”.

Body, emotions and mind are very important, but they are not who we really are. Over-identifying with them will mean we are bound to be stressed, maybe even full on anxious.

When we change our perspective, everything changes.

If we have a problem, as we see it, and we fixate on it, it is like holding an egg to our eye – we can see nothing.

It is a big problem and it obscures everything.

However, if we hold the egg at arms-length, we recognise it for what it is. It is an egg with loads of possibilities, loads of potential.

So meditation introduces us to who we really are, what is in our heart’s essence. And in doing so, meditation offers three great gifts Profound Peace, Natural Balance and the View.

Truly meditation offers a unique pathway to stress free stress-management.


The Book

Hot off the press, Blue Sky Mind is coming into good bookshops now.

If it is not in your favourite bookshop, please ask for it; booksellers often need prompting these days.

Or, you can order the book safely on-line through the Foundation’s webstore - and if you do that, you are highly likely to receive a signed copy... CLICK HERE

The Downloads

Ruth and I have recorded all the meditation exercises in Blue Sky Mind.

We have made them available as downloads as we have had a good deal of feedback that this is what people who use them regularly prefer.

The Blue Sky Mind downloads are intended to both guide you initially into the direct experience of the meditations, then support you in your on-going practice.

To access the downloads,   CLICK HERE

Enjoy :)