25 February 2020

Six Ways to Benefit from Nature in the City

How good does it feel to spend time in nature? Really good. We all know that so perhaps it will come as no surprise recent research does indeed validate spending time in nature is beneficial.

So this week, be inspired with 6 ways city folk can gain the similar benefits to their country counterparts via a guest blog from Maureen Cooper. Through Awareness in Action Maureen provides excellent on-line courses, blogs regularly and offers workshops and coaching on self-compassion, meditation, and kindness that can easily be integrated into a busy lifestyle, but first

     Thought for the day

Know from the rivers

In clefts and in crevices 
Those in small channels flow noisily;
The great flow silent.

Whatever is not full makes noise.

Whatever is full is quiet.

                           The Buddha

My partner and I have just returned from a short break in Drenthe, a province in the NE of the Netherlands. It is a beautiful area and we spent lots of time in nature. We were both struck by how relaxed we were when we came home and how well we slept.

It reminded me of a recent article reporting on research carried out by researchers at Exeter
University in the UK and Uppsala University in Sweden.

It showed people who spend 2 hours a week in nature are ‘significantly more likely’ to report good health and psychological wellbeing.

The thing is, what about all of us who live in cities and do not get the chance to be out in nature every weekend?

The study points out that shorter, frequent doses of nature are beneficial.

It got me thinking about how to maximise the nature we have in the city, so we can really feel the benefit.

1. Start your day with a moment outside 
Take a look at your morning routine. Do you have time for a cup of coffee in the garden before you start your day? Where I live in Amsterdam, most people in the city do not have a garden but they do have a balcony. Dutch people are great balcony gardeners.

It can be just wonderful to step out on to your balcony while the city is waking up. The birds make more noise than the traffic and the flowers are fresh from the cool of the morning.

2. Make sure to go out at lunchtime
Are you caught up with working through your lunch break? Maybe think about taking a short break

You do not have to go far.

Just find a spot under a tree, or maybe find an office window with a view.

Just a few moments in the calming atmosphere of nature, outside of the busyness of your workplace will be nourishing.

3. Use the city parks and squares
In Amsterdam there is a deliberate policy of planting as many trees along the streets as possible. I can stand on my balcony and look along a long street of beautiful trees. The Japanese favour forest bathing as a way of increasing wellbeing. Even if you do not have regular access to a forest, you can get a lot of nourishment from the trees in a city.

I find it quite joyful to watch the birds flying in and out of the trees. The patterns of the branches against the sky can be dramatic. It helps me keep things in proportion.

4. Bring nature into your home
I came across a lovely article the other day. One of the universities in Amsterdam is opening a plant hotel. The idea is to provide a place where students can leave their plants to be cared for while they are away from the university for the summer. The university recognises the benefit to students’ wellbeing of keeping plants in their rooms and wants to support it.

We have window boxes on every window ledge in our apartment.

It feels as if we are surrounded by flowers.

When we look outside, we are immediately connected with nature.

Another good idea is to have a bird box by a window to encourage birds to visit.

You have the benefit of watching them throughout the year.

If you do have a garden, you might consider re-wilding your lawn. By stopping regular mowing and trimming you can encourage the growth of wild flowers. This in turn will encourage bees. This is already happening along some motorways, where road side meadows are springing up.

5. Look for 5 beautiful things each day
You might like to get into the habit of looking for five beautiful things you can find in nature in your city each day. When we are busy and caught in our routine it is all too easy to miss them. Keep an eye open for a new window box in your neighbourhood, or a newly planted tree.

6.  Stay mindful so you do not miss it
In fact, a key to finding our 2 hours of nature when we live in a city is to be mindful.

If we are continuously checking our phone, or always hurrying we will miss a lot.

If we can be present to where we are and what we are doing, we will notice so much more.

When we notice, it will help us to quieten down.

So much of the beauty of nature is in its deep quietness and unhurried rhythms.

We will be more deeply nourished by tuning into that.

15 February 2020

Has-Ian-Gawler-retired? And what is he doing now?

“But I thought you had retired?”

I hear this a lot as I go about my work (and am about to turn 70!) and understand it can be confusing, given I have retired from quite a few things. However, I am still actively engaged in several big projects, so thought clarification may be useful, but first


            Thought for the day

      Praise and blame,
      Fame and shame,

      Gain and loss,

      Pleasure and sorrow,

      Come and go like the wind. 

      To be at peace, 
      Rest like a great tree

      In the midst of them all. 

                            The Buddha 

You have to love great trees…

Anyway, I did write something on this topic a couple of years ago, pointing out we all have “retired” from many things. Many transitions. In fact, moment-by-moment everything is changing, so we could say we are “transitioning” all the time; even though we may not notice it so obviously.

Certainly, some transitions are way more obvious. How do we name them? Retirement? Moved on? Forced out? Found something new? Left it behind? Joyful change? Divorce?

What is next???

Here is a list of some of the major “retirements” made over the years…

1975   Retired as an equine veterinarian and retired as a committed athlete - having a leg amputated will do that

1984   Retired altogether as a veterinarian - to concentrate upon developing the Foundation, cancer programs and teaching meditation

1990   Took a year off to reflect on the work and planning the residential centre and programs

2009   Retired from full-time job at the Gawler Foundation

2017   Presented last cancer residential program

2018   Presented last residential meditation retreat at The Foundation


1. Working with Ruth - retreat and trainings

i) Meditation retreat

Ruth has asked me to co-lead her meditation retreat this year Pre-Easter along with the sublime Melissa Borich and I readily accepted. We all love working together and this year the focus will be on how meditation leads to bliss and joy. There is so much anxiety about at present; so much doom and gloom. However, there is a font of joy within us all that is quite blissful and when experienced, does give us the strength, optimism and motivation to continue to do good in our world.

At the Foundation April 3 – 9 

ii) Meditation Teacher training at the Foundation
Again, with Ruth I will lead this year’s trainings for the Foundation. Paul and Maia Bedson have taken a year’s leave so we have been asked to step in and again, happily accepted. We both love teaching teachers – a real delight and 2 great programs will be offered :

                    Teacher Training focused upon meditation itself – April 27 to May 1

                    Teacher training focused upon contemplation. Contemplation is a   wonderful skill yet rarely taught in any detail, so this is a good opportunity to extend your range as a teacher of meditation – September 7 – 11

2. Meditation App
The meditation app I have been working on for quite a few years with my partner Saurabh Mishra is currently being re-focused to more specifically address the needs of people dealing with chronic degenerative disease. More about this soon…

3. Meditation retreats for younger adults
Have been working on this visionary and large project with Martin Hosking for several years now and it is gaining a good deal of momentum; likely to begin programs next year and close to having more details to share…

4. Public speaking 
Am open to the occasional public speaking event or conference appearance.

On the personal front

I continue with painting classes and the garden is flourishing.

Also, as well as having 3 considerable areas of work, there is a clear sense of more time being available for the more personal things including time with family and friends.

But overall, a greater emphasis on study and practice.

And throughout, moment-by-moment, the little transitions are constantly flowing.

Doors opening...   Doors closing...