18 May 2020

An Open Heart – what meditation has to offer on death, grief and COVID-19

Sitting to meditate at home a few days back, I found tears pouring down my face. Pouring. Flowing freely. Yet no distress. Just lots of tears.

I recently learnt a delightful young man had succumbed to the same cancer that once came into my own life.

So what were the tears?

Common grief? Self-identification? Sadness? Despair? The expression of the accumulated grief of years spilling over? Something natural? Well maybe…

But actually, on this occasion those tears flowed courtesy of a major insight, so this week let us go Out on a Limb in a real sense, be brave and consider how a realistic and healthy understanding of death can have a positive impact on our lives. Also, new details and dates for the meditation teacher trainings (mindfulness and meditation; then contemplation) and meditation retreat postponed due to the pandemic, but first

           Thought for the Day
To work with changes now. 
In life. 
That is the real way to prepare for death. 
Life may be full of pain, suffering, and difficulty, 
But all of these are opportunities 
Handed to us to help us move 

Toward an emotional acceptance of death. 
It is only when we believe things to be permanent 
That we shut off the possibility of learning from change.

                          Sogyal Rinpoche

It had been my good fortune to come to know this young man for whom I grieved quite well. It was easy to recognise his many fine qualities and appreciate his passion for life and thorough commitment to staying alive.

Faced with the grief of loss, especially when it comes early in life through the agency of accident or sickness, it is so easy to close our hearts.

Speaking candidly, I have come to know many people over the years who have died “early”.

So my insight as I sat meditating was how rather than closing the heart, how much more sense it makes to open the heart in the face of the reality of death.

This young man’s death reminded me to open my heart.

And sometimes, tears flow quite naturally.

Now for the spoiler alert… Look away if you are not ready to face what we all know, yet so often disregard.

Life is so precious and yet so fragile. Of course we will all die one day. We all know this. Currently, many are fearful of dying of COVID-19. Yet on any given day, far more people die of cancer or heart disease. This is not to make light or diminish any aspect of the pandemic, but we all know this too is a fact.

So how does this fact of death inform our life.

How do we live given we know one day we will die?
Do we attempt to close off?

Do our best to block out the thought of death, distract ourselves as much as possible and attempt to live in the hope of being immortal?

Reality is, for those who do attempt to live in denial of death, underneath there will always be the knowing of the truth and with that truth comes an inescapable low-level, chronic fear.

And with the fear, it is natural to close the heart somewhat. Natural to attempt to create a wall of emotional defence. And with this defence comes a new certainty. Relationships will always suffer. Always be compromised. Always filtered through barriers.

In closing our hearts to almost any degree, we run the risk of diminishing some of the best parts in life – the closeness, the intimacy of relationships.

By contrast, it takes a brave heart to be open. There are bound to be times when tears flow. But then, with an open heart there is the chance for open relationships. Real engagement. Real sharing of truth. Real intimacy.

People often have asked me how has it been possible to work for so many years with those dealing with major illness? For while many are alive and very well; reality is many have died.

The answer may seem counter-intuitive, yet has proven real for me.

Attempting to keep an open heart has actually protected me from real hurt.

Rather than hiding behind some form of clinical detachment I attempted to be more open.

I chose to make friends with people I worked with and invited them to share their experiences and feelings.

We all aspired to be a little more open.

How is this helpful? Easy really. Reflect on this… A fully open heart cannot be hurt. An open heart is one that is full of pure love. Unconditional love. Unconditional. Un-hurt-able.

Now I certainly do not profess to work in a state of unending unconditional love. And my sense for all of us is that if ever, we will probably only experience this state in the depths of profound meditation. Or maybe we can gain a glimpse of it in the lives of luminaries and models like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Or maybe when we die…

However, simply aspiring to this state while we are alive, being prepared to take the risk and aiming to be as open as possible, makes for great possibilities.

It frees one to cry in the company of someone telling a deeply personal and tough story – and to not have someone else’s voice in your head saying it is not OK to cry in such circumstances; especially if you are meant to be the therapist, or the oldest sibling, or the one who “has it all together”, or a man – or whatever….

It frees one to cry in one’s own company when touched by the death of a fine young man; and it frees one to dare to be more open in relationships generally.

So how to gain this daring? Well, first comes the idea… The recognition that to aim for a more open heart is worthwhile. Then intention takes us a long way. The trick is to remember what we are aiming for, and to be prepared to face our own pain as we feel the pain of our self and of others.

A good lead-in is learning to meditate in less comfortable circumstances. Being able to sit with discomfort and not react - one of the many great skills we can gift ourselves through meditation.

Then in the practice of meditation, maybe we do start to sense, or to access that part of ourselves that is beyond the fears and the barriers; to come closer to a direct experience of the unconditional love that resides in the heart of all of us.

And once we do touch that pure love, to aspire to live a life more fully informed by that. To live with a more open heart...

Blue Sky Mind

Relaxation, mindfulness and meditation downloads available in both Ruth and my own voices –



7 day Residential Meditation Retreat with Ruth and Ian Gawler and Melissa Borich 

Modern culture has taught us to look externally for solutions to feeling better… substances we can take, new and exciting experiences, the acquiring of new ‘things.

However, to regain balance and cultivate reliable, sustainable joy, we learn to go within.

Meditation provides real answers.

And all of this amidst the nurture and beauty of the Yarra Valley Living Centre…

Dates     Saturday 14th to Friday 20th November

Venue   The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria

More details   CLICK HERE

Inquiries and Bookings    Call 1300 651 211   or  www.gawler.org

MEDITATION TEACHER TRAINING   with Drs Ruth and Ian Gawler

Ian and Ruth have been teaching teachers of meditation for decades. This is a unique opportunity to learn from them directly in two 5 day residential trainings – Module 1 on meditation, Module 2 – contemplation. Attending both modules will meet the requirements for provisional membership of the Meditation Association of Australia. Both trainings will be highly experiential and be based upon comprehensive manuals.

Venue     The Yarra Valley Living Centre,  55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria

Dates     Meditation Teacher Training 3 - 7 Octomber 2020 : Full details  : Click here

          Contemplation 7-11 September, 2020  ;  Full details :  Click here

Inquiries  and Bookings   Call 1300 651 211 or www.gawler.org

11 May 2020

Avoid COVID-19 - 8 top tips to boost immune function

Well, it seems the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic may well be over and now we move into a whole new phase of our collective lives. Living with a new threat to life. A new disease.

So this week, 8 simple steps that we can all manage in daily life that can be relied upon to boost immune function, have us in the best health to recover from the virus if we do happen to develop it, and that will give us the best chance of avoiding all the chronic degenerative diseases. A simple formula, but first

    Thought for the day

In our time, in our civilization, 
Sitting and doing nothing 
Is considered either to be a luxury 
Or a waste of time. 

But sitting can produce 
The most nourishing calm and joy 
And we can all afford some time to sit. 

How wonderful to sit 
And do nothing.

      Thich Nhat Hanh

So as we begin to navigate these uncertain times, what is our best protection? How to bolster our own health to best resist the virus along with anything else we would rather not catch or develop? How best to boost our own natural good health; our own immune systems?

Seven simple yet reliable steps to boost immune function

1. Meditate daily for 20 minutes
For guidance - my new book Blue Sky Mind, and downloads of all the exercises therein guided by Ruth and myself - available by Clicking Here . If you cannot manage to meditate daily, then do it twice daily - your need is clearly greater!

2. Eat well 

Guidance - follow a plant-based, whole food vegetarian or even better vegan diet.

For details, best go direct to the recipe book compiled by the Gawler Foundation catering team : Eat Well, Be Well 

3. Exercise for 30 - 60 minutes daily

Guidance - just do it! If you miss a day or two per week, that will be OK, but aim for daily.

4. Get regular, sensible sunlight exposure
For guidance - check this excellent guide from my friends at Overcoming MS - Click here.  Vit D is crucial for good immune function and while the information in the link is framed for people with MS, it is one of the very best summaries anywhere...

5. Maintain a good social network 
Guidance - start with a good relationship with your self. You are the most important relationship you have. Be kind to yourself. Generous. Then pay it forward to others. Use social media wisely...

Lots of great books to consider, but here are 2 that are old but very good : Getting the Love you Want by Harville Hendrix and Love is Letting go of Fear by Jerry Jampolski.

6. Be creative
Guidance - try this…
Go into an art store - or look on-line - and pick up and feel blank drawing books. Personally, I like A4 size, but you may find a small one speaks to you, or maybe a bigger one. Take home the one you like the feel of. Same with pencils or crayons, pens or watercolours. Feel around and select what asks to accompany you.

Then try this
Each day create an image on the right hand side of your book. Maybe something abstract, maybe something literal. Do your best to let go of thinking and allow the image to develop as spontaneously as possible. When it feels complete. Stand back a little, reflect for a moment, and without labouring things, write a title or very short piece on the left hand page. Add the date - and smile. Do this daily and enjoy…

Creativity is highly under-valued but is a powerful force for good health.

7. Practice gratitude 
Guidance - simple really - just do it whenever you think of it. Start easy… wake up and be grateful you did not die in the night! Then at the end of the day, think of what you can be grateful for - from the simple to the profound. Make it a habit and enjoy the warm feeling it steadily builds within.

And a tip - as you become more grateful for the easy things - those things you find it easy to be grateful for, start to be grateful for the tough stuff too. Then the benefits will start to really flow…

This single emotion – gratitude - has multiple and profound benefits.

8. Consider taking a potion - Echinaforce
Guidance - there is a myriad of supplements and potions touted for good immune function. Based on experience garnered over many years, the one I recommend is Echinaforce liquid. An extract of echinacea it has stood the test of time and many have reported feeling its benefits. Use your judgement. If you do take it, probably best to have breaks from it for a few days every few weeks - seems better for the system...

Do all this and enjoy chronic good health!

What is behind the COVID-19 pandemic
– and what to do

Simple meditation for complex times
Leave it as it is
– the direct approach into meditation

How to build a veggie garden quickly
– or revamp one