19 September 2022

The Allevi8 meditation app is changing

One of the few constants in life is change. 

Many of you who read this blog have downloaded the Allevi8 meditation app I have been involved in developing, so thank you for the support.

This is to advise of significant changes we plan around Allevi8’s content, the opportunities it will provide to meet online with experienced meditation teachers, and how the pricing will change, but first


   Thought for the day

           Happiness is your nature.

           It is not wrong to desire it. 

          What is wrong is seeking it outside

          When it is inside

                      Sri Ramana Maharshi






Our Allevi8 app has been developed to help people with a serious intention to meditate, to do so regularly and well. We are particularly focussed upon sharing techniques well proven to assist those affected by physical or mental illness; including stress and anxiety.
Two years on since our launch, we have received a good deal of positive feedback, whilst the evidence-base provided by published research grows stronger and stronger. However, we realise there is more we need to do to best meet our aims. 

Maybe you can relate to the big issue… 

We all know, and the research makes it very clear; the more we meditate, the more we benefit. 

No surprise there. 

However, over decades now, I have asked 2 important questions of literally thousands of people during meditation workshops, conferences and retreats, with disconcerting results. 

First question: Over the last few weeks, who feels they have done as much meditation practice as they would personally have liked? 


A. Only a very small percentage say Yes

Second question: Over the last few weeks, who feels well satisfied with the quality of their meditation practice? 

A. Again, only very small percentage say Yes; the rest, an often forlorn NO.

So Allevi8 was actually born out of this knowledge. 

We knew many people would like to practice more, and many feel their experience of meditation could be better. 

We had hoped the accessibility of the app, the targeted techniques for specific issues such as anxiety and sleep disorders, along with our innovations of the weekly group meditation and the more recently introduced online mentoring would make a difference. 

And while the feedback has been good, and the numbers of people using Allevi8 builds steadily, our own research makes one thing very clear. 

Those who do engage with our online mentors are practicing significantly more often than those who do not. Also, they are feeling better about their experiences in meditation, and perhaps of greatest significance, they are reporting significantly better health and wellbeing outcomes.

So we can make a common observation… We each take up meditation with good intentions, but then all too often life gets in the way, and the resolve to practice daily slides into the reality of occasional practice. Worse, it is when we are stressed or unwell we need to meditate more, and often at these times we put off our practice even more.  

How then to turn this around? 

Because all of us at Allevi8 are passionate about meditation, we want to provide the best service through the app that we feel is possible. We envision Allevi8 as a high quality, innovate app committed to providing the best outcomes for its users. We are not so interested in just having more people use the app, we are committed to providing a meditation app with related services that provide the best possible support to build regular and satisfying practice.

With this in mind, we plan to continue to provide access to all the tracks on Allevi8 for free. However, for those who want the full benefits, for those keen to practice regularly and well, we are introducing a new 'Group Mentoring' offering. This will provide access to the weekly group meditation sessions: Allevi8@8, along with access to a small group mentoring session once each month. It seems clear from our feedback and internal research, that providing access to online support from our trained meditation teacher/mentors makes a significant difference.

To be transparent, we also need a system that will enable Allevi8 to become financially sustainable. For example, over the past 2 years, all our mentors have donated their time to contribute to Allevi8@8. We hope you will appreciate and understand the need to change the cost structure at the same time that we are increasing what we are offering through the app. 

Along with the option of the free Allevi8 app, we feel this new paying model is an ideal, cost-effective combination to provide ongoing support that in turn leads to sustained and effective practice. 
Priced at AU$30 per month (inc GST), the new offering will include the weekly Allevi8@8 sessions (which will no longer be free as of November 2022), and a further practice session each month in a smaller group of up to 6 participants, also led by one of our Meditation mentors. 


The Allevi8@8 sessions will continue as they are now - in that they will focus on a particular practice within the Allevi8 app and feature one of our meditation teachers sharing some interesting background, theory and tips before leading us through the practice.





For the new monthly teaching and practice sessions in small groups, we will make available multiple sessions through the month at different times, with each session geared to focus upon one of the seven issues featured on the Allevi8 app. Each of these groups could contain anything from one person up to six as a maximum. You will receive an e-mail at the beginning of each month, showing you the available sessions for the month. You can simply choose which issue you wish to work on that month and book yourself into a corresponding session. 

Also, we will continue to provide mentoring on a one to one basis for those who would like even more personalised attention and support. 

I do hope this new offering is of interest, and invite you to go to allevi8.net  where you can sign up for Group Mentoring. 

With sincere thanks for your continued support and best wishes; may your daily practice flourish...



 


 


12 September 2022

How to get the most from treatment

If you have been diagnosed with a significant illness, you will probably have endured enough bad news already… So it is a pleasure to be able to bring you some good news – and to share some wonderful new techniques freely via the Allevi8 app.

I am one of those fortunate people who has been through some very tough health challenges, endured, survived, and learnt from it all. So in the spirit of sharing this good fortune, those of us involved with Allevi8 have added a new section to the app specifically on how to get the best from any treatment you may receive, including how best to prepare for surgery. In all, there are 8 new tracks and these are listed below... And remember, the access to all of this on the Allevi8 app is free, with a Pay it Forward option. 

So this week, how to get the best from your treatment, but first

       Thought for the day


When given a challenging situation
Your brain has not encountered before,
It can reorganise and restructure to respond to that situation.
The more often your brain is exposed to that new challenge – like learning a musical instrument, for instance –  the more it reorganises and makes that path more established.
Our brains are constantly being shaped wittingly or unwittingly – most of the time unwittingly
We are raising the possibility to intentionally train our brains to improve well-being.
                          

                          Professor Richard Davidson

 

Consider this...

How much difference can you make to anything you do? Seems to me there is common sense in this. Clearly when it comes to healing, there is what can be done for us – and what we can do for ourselves. If we are fearful, anxious, confused, it may well be we end up working against our treatment. 

So the exercises here are intended to help you to feel empowered; clear in your mind, at ease and relaxed, confident to work with and get the best from your treatment.

But first a little history. As a young veterinarian, I developed bone cancer in my right leg and it was amputated in 1975. The cancer re-appeared later that year and despite a very short prognosis, and with the help of medical and self-help lifestyle based measures (like meditation, good nutrition exercise and so on), I was fortunate to recover against the odds. 

In response to many enquiries around what had helped me, I went on to co-found the world’s first lifestyle-based self-help programs for people affected by cancer and multiple sclerosis.


So by now, the mind-body exercises we share on the Allevi8 app have been well tested through decades of
clinical experience. 

They are well supported by a growing body of research and I have gathered, summarized and made available key research papers on the allevi8.net website.




How then to use this section of Allevi8 and to get the best from your treatment?

The first thing I would encourage you to do is to have some confidence. I have personally witnessed these techniques make a big difference in the lives of many people. I have seen many people who started treatment fearful and anxious, who quite quickly found inner peace and a clarity of conviction.

Clearly with any treatment there is a natural distribution where most people get an average response, some do not so well, and some do particularly well. It is my belief, and my experience, that using these techniques regularly can give you the best chance of getting the best from your treatment.

So what to do? 

If you are dealing with significant illness and receiving treatment, the suggestion is to do two of the exercises in this section of the app daily; if you are really keen, even three.

The suggestion is to practice what we call in this section of the Allevi8 app the Daily Healing Meditation at least once each day. 

This exercise will guide you into a deep relaxation of body and mind. 

As you do relax more deeply like this, your body settles into its own natural balance. 

The key principle behind all this is that when your body is in balance, all your body’s natural healing capacities come to the fore, and as such, they create an ideal inner environment in which to heal.

So this main Daily Healing Meditation is all about relaxing deeply and letting go. 

Some people find it so helpful they actually do it 2 to 3 times daily. 


But there are more possibilities...

In this section of the Allevi8 app, two other key exercises support this main practice. There is Relaxation with Harp (featuring Peter Roberts), and the shorter Rapid Relaxation. This latter exercise is ideal to do discretely when wanting to relax before an appointment, or if you feel tension rising through the day and want to let it go… You can experiment with both and it will be obvious to you whether they are helpful or not for you.

The remaining exercises in this section of the app involve guided imagery that more specifically engage with your treatment, including radiotherapy and preparing for surgery. These exercises use powerful principles of mind-body medicine and can act synergistically with the relaxation-based exercises.

To repeat, the spirit of experimenting is important. People are different and that is why we have different exercise on the app. Best to try the other exercises in this section of the app and notice which ones resonate; which ones you are drawn to and feel good doing. Ideally do one of these extra exercises at least once daily. Also, you may find exercises from other sections of Allevi8 helpful in your healing journey. Let your own inner wisdom guide you here.

Now a heads up… 

We are in the final stages of developing a new model for those wanting more guidance and support with the Allevi8 techniques. Once released, if you join this new Allevi8 Group Mentoring Program you will have access to a monthly small group mentoring session in a group of up to 6 like-minded people. Each group will be led by one of our highly trained and experienced meditation teachers and mentors. Each of these groups will address one of the sections from the app, so it could be Getting the Best out of Your Treatment, or Better Sleep, Managing Stress, Healing and so on… So if you do have questions or need clarification, you will be able to ask there. Also, these Allevi8 Group Mentoring sessions will include a personally guided practice. You will find the link to the new program and these sessions on the app once it is released, and we will notify everyone once it is released.


Next, the Allevi8 Mentoring Program will also include access to our weekly Allevi8@8 sessions, where as many of you will know, in a larger group you will receive extra guidance and support, along with a guided practice led by one of our mentors. 

These Allevi8@8 sessions are presented weekly with a highlight being the very popular Healing Meditation sessions held on the first Monday each month.



Finally, just to say all of us here at Allevi8 have a deep commitment to assisting you in your healing process. We have a deep respect for what can be done for you – and what you can do for yourself. Get the best from both – from your treatment and your own efforts – and truly remarkable things become possible.

Please do give us feedback and let us know how we can support you best.

Our wish is for you to recover quickly and fully, 

That you do gain the best from your treatment, 

And that you do go on to have a long, happy, and fulfilling life.

 

The Allevi8 tracks: Getting the most from treatment

1. An Introduction recorded on video from Ian Gawler

2. The Healing Journey – guided imagery based upon a series of archetypal healing images 

3. Relaxation with Harp – the progressive muscle relaxation exercise without the step of contracting the muscles, but including the wonderfully soothing and healing harp of Peter Roberts

4. Rapid Relaxation – a short deep relaxation exercise using breath and gentle movements

5. Daily Healing Meditation – the full relaxation, mindfulness into stillness meditation practice for regular use

6. Preparing for surgery – what can help develop a positive state of mind plus how to use imagery to make the most of surgery

7. Working with my medical treatment – featuring Cathy Brown, the Allevi8 head of our therapeutic meditation mentor’s group. A series of relaxations and guided imagery pieces designed to get the best from drug treatments; and to minimize any potential side-effects

8. Working with my radiotherapy – similar to the treatment exercise, but here using guided imagery and light to work with radiotherapy; and again, to minimize any potential side-effects.


15 August 2022

Mindfulness, compassion fatigue and burnout

Here is a fact. It could be good or bad. Most people who meditate and become more mindful, quite naturally become more aware of the suffering of others and become strongly motivated to help.

When it becomes “bad” is when people overdo helping others while neglecting themselves. This seems to come naturally to many, but is clearly far from ideal.

Burnout is the feeling of chronic and deep-seated exhaustion we can experience when repeatedly we have taken on more than we can handle. 

Amidst all the turmoil of the past few years, burnout has become rife, so this week a little on what burnout is and what might help to prevent or treat it, but first

     Thought for the day

         If the problem can be solved, 

         Why worry? 

         If the problem cannot be solved, 

         Worrying will do you no good.

                                      Shantideva 


This is an unusual blog. 

I had intended to write it myself, but in researching the topic came across this great article from Karen Kissel Wegela PhD, and decided that given the article is in part about avoiding burnout, I would be generous to myself and share her terrific article.

Karen is a psychologist in private practice and a professor in Naropa University’s MA Contemplative Psychotherapy and Buddhist Psychology department. Her most recent book is Contemplative Psychotherapy Essentials: Enriching Your Practice with Buddhist Psychology.  She writes, and I quote:

In the past few months I have been feeling overwhelmed by a variety of events in my personal and professional life. Among other things, I am about to step down after fifteen years as director of the M.A. Contemplative Psychotherapy program at Naropa, and I feel like I am handing “my baby” into other hands.

Transitions, even ones that we seek out, are challenging. I am experiencing what helpers call “burnout,” and it is showing up in my body, my emotions, and my mind.

Burnout refers to the kind of exhaustion or feeling of overload that professional and other helpers sometimes experience when they have taken on more than they feel that they can comfortably or appropriately handle. 

Physically, burnout can manifest in exhaustion, muscle tension, clumsiness and dizziness. 

Emotionally, we might find that we have hair-trigger reactivity. 

Feelings of anger, sadness and even depression are not uncommon.We might feel hopeless and inadequate.

Angry outbursts and tears might pop out at seemingly silly things, and our minds might feel chock full of thoughts that whirl rapidly from one topic to another. One of the most pernicious symptoms of burnout is the belief that there must be something terribly wrong with us to find ourselves in such a state. 

We lose all sense of maitri (unconditional friendliness to all aspects of our experience). Instead we become self-aggressive. This is especially easy for helpers to do. We are likely to habitually buy a storyline about ourselves as being helpful, useful people, and in situations where that storyline is not being supported, it is a blow to our attempts to create an ego based on seeing ourselves as “helpers.” Doubts about who we are get added to our other feelings of distress.

Often the way we deal with what comes our way is at the root of burnout. There is much we can do to work with preventing it, as well as with working with it when it occurs.

One of the biggest causes of burnout is the desynchronization of body and mind.

First we ignore small cues that we are not fully present: we do not get enough sleep or food, or we over-schedule ourselves. 

This leads to still more separation of body and mind, as we speed up to accomplish more. 

If we ignore these initial signs of burnout, we might become physically ill or even more mentally frazzled.

An additional cause is becoming attached to outcomes. 


If we are focusing on what will happen in the future, we lose track of the present moment. This happens a lot for professional helpers: we want so much for the situation to improve, we want the person we are trying to help to feel better. This is exhausting, and it makes us less helpful since we are only partially present.

There are four key ideas in working with and preventing burnout. 

The first is bringing ourselves into contact with nowness. 

The second is learning to make realistic choices about what we can and cannot accomplish. 

The third is cultivating maitri. 

The fourth is getting help from others instead of trying to do it all alone.


If we can bring ourselves gently back to this moment, this body, this place, we can start to slow down our wild minds. Bringing body and mind back into connection in the present moment helps us discriminate between what is actually happening and what we fear or hope is happening. This is an enormous help. Making choices about what we can and cannot realistically do is also based on being grounded in the present moment.

The simplest thing to do is to breathe.

Taking some breaths and paying attention to that experience can help us feel grounded. When we feel burnt out, especially if we are anxious, we tend to hold our breath.

Noticing our sense perceptions can help us reorient to this place in this moment. 

While writing this morning, I suddenly realized I had forgotten to start the crock-pot for dinner. I dashed off to take care of it and then left for my day’s appointments. On the way home, I forgot to pick up the cat and had to circle back to the vet’s.

So, now that I am back at my computer, I am taking some of my own advice. 

I am enjoying some mindful breaths. 

I am looking up and noticing the trees and fields outside the window. 

These things are helping me be right here, right now. 

My mind is slowing down a bit, and my heart is softening. 


As I tell you of the mindless things I did today, I feel some humor and maitri. I am practicing feeling whatever arises and letting it be just what it is, instead of what I would prefer it to be. 

So these are some ways to practice the first three key ideas.

The fourth thing that I can do is to get some assistance and support from my friends, family and colleagues. I can go for a walk with a friend. I can ask someone to help with all of the picking up and dropping off of animals. 

And for professional helpers, it is always important to engage in on-going supervision or peer consultation to prevent personal difficulties from affecting one’s work with others.

Most importantly, I can walk myself into my meditation room and sit down on my cushion. I can let go of the false sense of urgency that there is something else that I must be doing at this second.

A number of years ago I worked with a client who was a Naropa student and a meditation practitioner. He told me something that I often reflect on. 

“You know,” he said, “when I’m really busy and don’t have time to practice meditation, I never have enough time. But if I do practice, then somehow there’s more space, and I have enough time for everything.”

 

A reminder of Allevi8

Allevi8 is an app specifically designed to support people affected by significant physical or mental illness. It has sections directly relevant for anyone seeking to prevent or recover from burnout; especially the sections such as Managing Stress, Finding Meaning and Purpose in Challenge and Better Sleep. 

Search Allevi8 in your App store.

 

Finally, maybe this is also helpful…

Mushim Patricia Ikeda’s “Great Vow for Mindful Activists,” which I invite you to take right now:


Aware of suffering and injustice, I, _________, am working to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. 

I promise, for the benefit of all, to practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy. 

I vow to not burn out.”


Helping others relies upon you helping your own good self

Enjoy


25 July 2022

Prevention or Cure? Latest official figures point to a life-changing choice

Almost half of us have one or more chronic health conditions and these conditions make up our leading cause of death. 

Would you prefer to read about statistics – or become one? 

Challenging question maybe, but when it comes to our health, it is clear that collectively Australians are not doing too well. In this post, a summary of the bi-annual report on our national health issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW); and then the choice…

Become a statistic, or read about them, and if you prefer reading, details of the one thing most likely to assist you to avoid becoming that statistic, but first, one of my own quotes seems relevant for this topic:


    Thought for the day

        To change your habits - the way you function

        First change your beliefs - the way you think

                     Ian Gawler





Almost half of all Australians have one or more chronic health conditions and these conditions make up our leading cause of death. 

While the cause or causes of any one individual’s health condition is likely to be complex, and having had what is well described as a major chronic degenerative disease myself; this post is not about blaming or shaming those who do have such conditions, but is all about encouraging those who are basically well to truly appreciate their current good health and realise there is plenty you can do to maintain that good health.

Here are 2 simple facts:


1. The major identifiable causes of chronic degenerative disease are lifestyle related

2. Lifestyle changes are known to significantly aid in recovery from chronic degenerative disease.

Here is a simple choice:


1. Get in early, adopt a heathy lifestyle and do all possible to not only avoid developing a chronic degenerative disease, but to experience chronic good health

2. Ignore the connection between lifestyle and health, hope for the best, and if the worst does turn up and a chronic disease ensues, then take up a healthy lifestyle to compensate.

Why is this choice so important? 

A staggering number of people alive today are dealing with major physical and mental health issues.


Every 2 years, the AIHW publishes its analysis of our collective health

 It makes for tough reading – and drove the writing of this post… 

Key points:

Almost half of all Australians have one or more chronic health conditions

        •      Chronic conditions are the nation's leading cause of illness, disability and death

Coronary heart disease and dementia are the leading causes of death overall

For young Australians, accidents and suicide are the leading causes of death

        •      Over one third of Australia's "disease burden" is due to preventable risk factors, such as smoking, physical inactivity and poor nutrition

Two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese

Three in 10 adults do not get enough physical activity

Less than one in 10 adults consume the recommended amount of vegetables

        •      Some good news - smoking rates have fallen to a record low of just 11 per cent

        •      One in two Australian adults experience a mental health disorder during their lifetime

        •      Average levels of psychological distress were higher in 2020, 2021 and early 2022, especially in younger people, and there was also an increase in self-harm and suicidal ideation presentations to emergency departments

In 2020, an average of nine people died every day by suicide

        •      More than half of all deaths by suicide were among people aged 30-59, and males were three to four times as likely as females to take their own life

$202.5 billion was spent on health in 2019-20, about $7,900 per person

Children born in 2020 can expect to live to 83 

AIHW: Australia's Health 2022

About the only statistic listed I would be happy to be associated with is the one where so few people are smoking these days (not that I ever did fortunately).

The rest of these statistics do strike me as something of an inditement against our culture. Almost half of us have a chronic disease. Around half experience mental health disorders during their life! $202.5 billion spent on health on one year. Something is not working…

What to do?      While there is obviously no simple fix, consider this… 

1.     What decides what you eat, and how much of it?

Not who – we know who that is, at least primarily, that would be you. No not who, what decides? 

2.     What decides what you drink, and how much of it?

Is it “just” a
habit? Or a craving? If so, where does that habit or craving reside???

3.     What decides how much you exercise?


Clearly for all these crucial lifestyle factors, it is our mind that decides. And if our mind is confused, mis-informed, agitated, stressed, anxious, depressed, angry, jealous and so on; clearly that mind will not function at its best and is highly likely to make choices that will prove difficult either in the short term, or long term.

Is there a simple answer?

 No. But there is a guaranteed sensible starting point – work on your mind. The more we have inner peace, clarity and contentment, the more likely we are to notice what impact our lifestyle choices have on us and those around us, and the more we are likely to make good lifestyle choices.

Having worked in Lifestyle Medicine for nearly 50 years, I am convinced the best self- help technique, the best act of kindness we can offer to ourselves, is to learn to meditate and then maintain a regular (as in daily) practice.

Hence my commitment to teaching meditation. 

Hence my commitment to developing and making accessible the Allevi8 meditation App. 

Hence my tendency to get carried away as an advocate for meditation! 

But this bit is simple...

Regular meditation does bring mental clarity, inner peace and contentment, and while these 3 are worthwhile in their own right, the more you experience them in your own life, the better choices you are likely to make concerning that life. Good health, as well as healing, starts in the mind...

Happy Meditating!!! 

 

 


11 July 2022

The challenge of a daily meditation practice – and 7 top tips that make it happen

Pardon the big gap in blog posts – did the COVID dance (all OK now), then busy with a round of meditation teaching events. Will be in Adelaide Wednesday for an evening of meditation ...

From recent questions and discussion comes the reminder – the most important thing with mindfulness or meditation; more important than any aspect of the practice itself, is actually to develop and sustain a regular practice. Regular as in daily…

So this week, insights from the talks combined with years of feedback. 

Establishing and maintaining regular practice may not be easy, however, it is doable. 

Follow these 7 tips and enjoy your practice, but first



Thought for the day

Start by doing what is necessary;

Then do what is possible; 

And suddenly you are doing the impossible.

St Francis of Assisi

 




Seven top tips to help you establish a daily meditation practice 

1. Motivation

When your motivation is really strong, you just do it. 

If a meditation beginner, take time to consider – what is my motivation? Speaking personally, I had planned to take up meditation for many years, however, it was not until I developed cancer that I began; and with the sense my life was on the line, regular practice became easy. 

Hopefully your situation is not so dire, but you get the message…

If you are one of the many long-term meditators who bounce in and out of regular practice, this is where to start – reflect deeply on the why; gain clarity around your motivation and then the how becomes much easier.

2. Intention

Intention is all about making a clear plan. Experience tells us beginning with a modest plan seems to work better for most people. Rather than set high expectations for yourself and falling short, better to start slowly and build – build your practice time, your confidence and your meditation habit.

The key thing is to aim for a little each day. 

So what feels doable? 

Listen to one recording on an app each day? 

Do 10 minutes a day? 

Twenty minutes? 

Some can go straight into longer sessions twice daily, even 3 times if the need is strong. 

Reflect on your motivation, your need. 

Start conservatively and aim to build to what you imagine as ideal for you.

3. Commitment

Yep, just do it! What else is there to say? Except it is not always that easy. 

When I first started teaching meditation, many of the people I was helping had major health or other personal issues with which to contend. They understood the theoretical benefits of meditation and were keen to practice, yet it amazed me how many found it difficult to establish a regular practice. 

By contrast, I remember many who became what is best described as uncompromising. One long-term meditator described his daily practice as “non-negotiable”! He said there were things he would do often, things he would do when he could or when the mood moved him, but he was so clear how important his meditation practice was to his good health and his wellbeing, it was a non-negotiable – both for him and for others. Nothing came in the way of this daily practice. It was an absolute commitment to himself.

So if the commitment is strong – easy. But if the commitment waivers, there is still hope! 

To strengthen your commitment, maybe share it with those close to you. 

One good way to lapse is to avoid accountability. Tell no one and it is easy to slide. Tell the world and it feels awkward to slip. 

Some find going public like in social media, announcing your intention, seeking support, providing progress reports and so on; some find this very helpful, others not. It is a personal choice, but many do find seeking help with accountability very useful.  

And four more tips to come :)

4. Establish a routine

Lock your meditation practice into the normal rhythm of your day.

Some accomplish this by making a regular time commitment – 7am or 6pm or whatever time reliably you can make to practice.


Many others find it better still to estabish their practice between pre-existing habits. 

So if in the habit of shower and breakfast in the morning, make it shower, meditation, breakfast. 

Then on weekends or when other events affect your timing, you still have a reliable routine to support your practice.

Your adopted routine is another aspect of your practice that will be beneficial to share with the people close to you, especially if you live together. 

That way they can support you, both with gentle – or firm reminders (as you request and agree), and give you the space when you need it.

5. Be prepared

Aim to do most of your meditation practice in the same place and leave it ready to go again next time. 

What works best for you? A cushion or chair? A shawl or blanket? A shrine? Incense? Need matches? Maybe a notebook and pen in case the need to record an insight arises?
Also, be clear about what practice you intend to do. Make sure you have access to whatever app or recording you may use to support your practice.

Be prepared so when you go to your place of meditation, you can relax into it and simply begin… 

6. Reward Yourself

Of course the practice is its own reward. Of course. 

But we are talking here of getting something done reliably! So the next tip, especially for beginners, is to consider treats that reward a block of practice.

Is it as simple as regarding a post-practice cuppa a reward?


Is it going to a movie or a special night out after a month of daily practice?


What about committing to a retreat after 3 or 6 months of regular practice?


Consider what might work for you – how much practice results in what reward?

7. Track your progress

For many, this can be a big one. Keeping a record of what practice you have done increases your sense of accountability. There is something very appealing, and very effective about this.

You could use a calendar or go high tech and use one of the many new tracking apps that are available. Our Allevi8 app has this function built in.

Do aim to focus upon what you have achieved and celebrate that; and do aim to avoid beating yourself up when you miss a session. Use the gap to strengthen your resolve.

Establishing a new daily habit is a process

May these tips help you accomplish just that, and may you find joy in the practice itself…

MEDITATION EVENING IN ADELAIDE - Wednesday 13th July 7 - 9pm

To Book : CLICK HERE 



30 May 2022

Daydreaming – Mindlessness or something really useful?

Reflections based upon the official opening of the Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies (M3CS).

We all know the benefits of mindfulness. So does that mean daydreaming, or wakeful mind wandering, is a waste of time and something we aim to avoid?

Last week, Ruth and I attended the official opening of the M3CS. Inspiring, memorable and significant! And followed by a forum featuring discussion of the relative merits of mindfulness and mind wandering – very stimulating. 
So this week, an exploration of daydreaming and more on the new Centre, but first

      

    Thought for the day

          Everyone is a genius.

           But if you judge a fish

            On its ability to climb a tree,

              It will live its whole life

                Believing that it is stupid

                              Albert Einstein





The Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies has been functioning and teaching students since early in 2022. It is enabling unprecedented collaboration between the disciplines of philosophy, neuroscience, medicine, psychology, education and interfaith dialogue, while contributing to exciting new research, educational and community engagement initiatives. 

One manifestation of the new M3CS is how it brings together like-minded authorities in their fields with somewhat different perspectives, thus enabling a wider dialogue and deeper, more fulsome enquiry.

Evidence of this was demonstrated very clearly in a forum after the official opening where once again, Prof Craig Hassed a doyen of mindfulness – and wonderful colleague and friend - waxed on again about the joys of mindfulness. No problem there. However, by implication, we might think to be mindless, to daydream or in more technical language, to allow or mind to indulge in wakeful mind wandering, could be a waste of time. 

Enter Craig’s colleague at the new Centre Dr Jennifer Windt – an advocate of the virtues of letting the mind wander. 

Dr Windt is a senior research fellow whose research lies at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive science. 

Jennifer seeks to understand what our minds do when left to their own devices, for example when we fall asleep and dream, or when our thoughts and attention wander away from ongoing tasks and activities in the here and now. 

Her current research on spontaneous experience in waking and sleep is funded by the Australian Government and she is the author of Dreaming (MIT, 2015). 

Here is Jennifer’s proposition : our stream of consciousness is subject to constant change. Conscious experience changes in response to major life events and minor day-to-day and even moment-to-moment occurrences. We can alter our consciousness using psychedelic drugs or certain meditation techniques. And these alterations can be large or subtle, long or short lasting. 

Even when our minds are left to their own devices, as they are during sleep, our stream of consciousness is in constant flux. This is also true in waking when our minds wander, our attention drifts away from the here and now, and we daydream, Strikingly, in sleep, our stream of consciousness itself can stop and restart, as we slip from dreaming into unconscious sleep and back again into consciousness. Spontaneous experiences, such as dreaming and waking mind wandering, show that transformation is not just a reaction to external events or the result of deliberate attempts at changing our minds, but part of the very fabric of our conscious mental lives. 


Maybe our minds actually do need this “time out” when we daydream? 

Maybe as our minds wander, important things actually are occurring? 

Maybe these are times when things loosen up somewhat, when there is both time for regeneration, re-calibration and even time for integration?


What we can be sure about is the new M3CS is bringing people like Craig and Jennifer together in a way that collaboratively, and very positively provokes them and others they work with to go even deeper into their fields of knowledge, expertise and research. 

The fact that the University and its senior staff headed by the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor are supporting the emergence of the new Centre so strongly is deeply heartening. The atmosphere amongst the new staff is one of excitement; full of possibility and hope for a better future. May it be so…


16 May 2022

Meditation and Blue Sky Mind

Your mind has two aspects. There is the familiar active, thinking mind with all its attendant emotions, and then there is the still mind, renowned for its innate inner peace and clarity, loving kindness and wisdom.

While meditation and my most recent meditation book, Blue Sky Mind do focus upon getting to know both aspects of your mind better, more particularly they provide a reliable way to become familiar with the still mind.

Meditation enables us to focus our attention, to move past distractions and the pre-occupations we often have with our thoughts and emotions, and introduces us to our still mind with direct certainty. It then helps us to function with confidence from the perspective of that still mind wherein all the qualities we aspire to as good people are to be found.

So this week, more of an introduction to meditation, Blue Sky Mind and its genesis, but first

        Thought for the day

The aim is to experience 
Meditation practice and life as one.
 

The aim is to continue 
The mindfulness, the awareness 
And the View
Of the meditation into daily life.


As we practise 
And these qualities 
Begin to become a reality for us, 
We begin to see more clearly 
The way to do things 
In a connected, effective and caring way.

                                          Ian Gawler


Blue Sky Mind is intended to be a highly accessible introductory book to meditation; something that everyone will find informative and useful for establishing and deepening their own meditation practice.



The inspiration and starting point for this current book was Peace of Mind, my first meditation book published in Australia in 1987 and one of the first books to be published on meditation in that country. It has sold over 100,000 copies.

This earlier book provided instruction on how to relax deeply and enter the simple stillness of deeper meditation as well as a comprehensive introduction to the use of contemplation and guided imagery.







Peace of Mind was followed in 1996 by Meditation - Pure and Simple.

This book was written in response to many requests that flowed out of Peace of Mind regarding what to do with an active mind and the many distractions and frustrations an untrained or unskilled active mind can bring into meditation. This book highlighted skilful ways of moving past those very common intruding thoughts.







Then followed a more complete expose on guided imagery - The Creative Power of Imagery in 1997.








In 2010 there came the more explicit and extensive book on the techniques of meditation, contemplation and guided imagery - Meditation - an In-Depth Guide co-authored with colleague Paul Bedson. 




The Creative Power of Imagery led into and was replaced by The Mind that Changes Everything in 2010. In this book, there are around 50 Guided Imagery exercises that can be applied to many life situations, including achieving any set goal, sport, work , relationships and healing.








So then in 2019, to reinvigorate the “beginner’s book”, the best of Peace of Mind and Meditation - Pure and Simple were combined with a good deal of original material into one fresh new book, Blue Sky Mind.

My wife Ruth played a major role in developing this work and has brought her love, care, sensitivity, experience, wisdom and insight to all facets of the book’s writing and production.

The understanding of meditation reflected in this book has grown through my personal contact with many people and books. There has been great good fortune in being able to learn directly from many great masters of meditation. The two most significant are Dr Ainslie Meares and Sogyal Rinpoche.





Dr Meares was the true pioneer of therapeutic meditation in the Western world.

His first book on meditation, Relief Without Drugs was published in 1967, translated into many languages and sold over one million copies around the world. That book is out of print but well worth taking down on the used market.

Dr Meares insights were pivotal, informed my own work and are as relevant to current times as they were to the sixties.



Since 1985, the Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and master of Dzogchen meditation has been my main teacher.

Rinpoche has helped deepen my understanding and experience of meditation by his presence, kindness, knowledge and patience.

The TBLD as it is commonly known is a classic with over 3.5 million copies sold. It held the record for some time apparently as the most shop-lifted book in Australia :) Not sure what that says... Anyway, a great read.


Also, gratitude is offered to Zen Master Hogan-San for his knowledge and insight. And what a blessing to have known and learnt from that extraordinary Christian mystic and scholar Father Bede Griffiths along with many others who have shared the experiences of Christian Meditation.

But then Blue Sky Mind was also the product of many years working with great staff as we helped so many people learn to meditate. There is a debt owed to them all - the staff and those who learnt with us - for their shared experiences, responses, feedback, failures and successes. It is a privilege to have been able to work in this way.

And while all these wonderful people and books have helped a great deal, in meditation the real answers lie within. There is a profound appreciation and gratitude for the experiences and the knowing that comes from listening and waiting in silence for the still voice within.

May you encounter meditation, recognise its inner value and maintain a regular practice.

Enjoy :)



02 May 2022

Meditation and wisdom

In older times people grew up in cultures based upon wisdom. All the great spiritual traditions provided an ethical and moral framework, plus a world view on the meaning of life.

In modern times we have moved progressively towards a more secular culture. During the transition, many drew on the fumes of the old traditions and exhibited some semblance of wisdom; but now as we become increasingly secular, many of our youth are wondering what is missing; and where to fill the gap.

In the domain of meditation, this trend has been exacerbated by popularist teachers and especially Apps, cherry-picking the great traditions for their techniques which they share widely, while they leave out or minimalize their wisdom teachings.

So this week, a dip into where wisdom is to be found, plus how to nurture and develop it; but first

   Thought for the day


       God is that which is so complete in itself 

       That even if a whole is removed from it 

       Or indeed added to it

       It still remains the same whole.

                                       Sanskrit hymn

From where do you derive your wisdom? 

Seems to me there are 4 most likely possibilities 

1. One of the great spiritual – and wisdom – traditions

2. A spiritual friend – this could be a teacher from outside one of the great traditions, or a person close to you – a parental type figure (or grandparent or … )

3. Books and podcasts from which you draw together your own conclusions/values

4. You experience a void because neither of the other 3 apply.

This post is simply a prompt; an encouragement to recognise the value of the search for wisdom, and an encouragement to make a commitment and do the study and practice required to develop, and even better, to embody wisdom.


With this in mind, here is a quote from Ken Wilbur that might inspire…

And in the pursuit of wisdom, be prepared for ups and downs, and the need to persevere…

Never give up!



It is important to understand we all meditate within a Tradition and all traditions belong to one great Tradition of Humanity. All our Traditions we could say are connected. They have a root Tradition. But that root Tradition is held in a pre-historical silence, in a very primeval awakening to our human meaning and purpose. 

Translative religion which is by far the most prevalent, widespread, and widely shared function of religion ... acts as a way of creating ‘meaning’ for the separate self: it offers myths and stories and tales and narratives and rituals that, taken together, help the separate self make sense of, and endure, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. 

This function of religion does not usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness in a person; it does not deliver radical transformation. 

Nor does it deliver a shattering liberation from the separate self altogether. Rather, it consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the self. As long as the separate self believes the myths, performs the rituals, mouths the prayers, or embraces the dogma, then the self, it is fervently believed, will be “saved” - either now in the glory of being God-saved or God-favoured, or in an after-life that ensures eternal wonderment. 

Transformative religion in a usually very, very small minority - serves the function of radical transformation and liberation. This function of religion does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it - not consolation but devastation, not entrenchment but emptiness, not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution - in short, not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.

… at some point in our maturation process, translation itself, no matter how adequate or confident, simply ceases to console. No new beliefs, no new paradigm, no new myths, no new ideas, will staunch the encroaching anguish. Not new belief for the self, but the transcendence of the self altogether, is the only path that avails.

 .... For those few individuals who are ready - that is, sick with the suffering of the separate self, and no longer able to embrace the translative [exoteric] worldview - then a transformative [esoteric] opening to true authenticity, true enlightenment, true liberation, calls more and more insistently. 

And depending upon your capacity for suffering, you will sooner or later answer the call of authenticity, of transformation, of liberation. 

Ken Wilbur - One Taste

 

 

 

 

 


30 March 2022

Blowfly Meditation – the art of remaining undistracted

Settled in to meditate yesterday, when the blowfly first announced his presence. Now you need to appreciate, this was no ordinary blowfly. This one took noise amplification to a whole new level, plus he had mastered the art of the stop, the quiet pause and the noisy re-start. You probably know what I mean…

Anyway, the challenge was there. Leave the meditation and move the fly on, or manage him through the meditation? Being a “serious” meditator, there is not much choice really. It would be a shame job to deal with the fly, so the fly stayed and the inner process began. But then, a small miracle – a great insight ensued.

So this week, the insights on dealing with distractions in meditation and life, courtesy of “blowfly meditation”, but first 

           Thought for the day

   The supremely realized yogi Phadampa was asked, 

   “When Buddhahood is attained, 

   Then how will this awareness become?” 

   He replied, 

   “It is wisdom purified of the mind’s conceptions.” 

   Then he was asked, 

  “Does wisdom have mindfulness or not?” 

   He answered, 

   “What are you saying? 

   Mindfulness is the intellect of sentient beings. 

   Wisdom is free from intellect.”

 

In meditation, when faced with a distraction, there are 2 basic choices. One is to turn away from it, the other is to turn towards it. Let us examine what this means…

Turning away from distractions

One does this when one decides the distraction is not to one’s liking. The distraction is either too unpleasant, even possibly in some circumstances too pleasant!, or too scary.

Whatever the aversion to the distraction, this meditative choice is then to move one’s attention from the distraction and place it somewhere else. This commonly involves focussing the attention on one particular thing. 

The focal point could be the breath, a mantra, an image; all manner of things. Or it could be one’s own inner silence; it could involve focussing upon what is effectively our own inner refuge, that place of inner comfort and ease that is always there, always available; our own inner peace.

The key point here is turning away from a distraction works well and it is an active intervention; it is a deliberate act and it does take some energy and effort.

So the blowfly is there and in response we either focus our attention on something like our breath or our inner refuge. Effectively, we basically ignore the blowfly and remain undisturbed.

Turning towards distractions

Many of us will be familiar with this concept courtesy of some knowledge and maybe some experience with mindfulness. In the practice of mindfulness we aim to learn how to notice whatever is coming to our attention and not react. No commentary, no sense of like or dislike, we just let things be as they are.

The key point here is turning towards a distraction in this way does work well, and while it is still a deliberate act, it is a more passive intervention than turning away, and it does take less energy and effort.

So with this approach, the blowfly is there, we notice him, we do not react, we accommodate to his presence and remain undisturbed.

The blowfly insight

So here is the thing. Our perspective significantly influences how we do or do not respond to things like blowflies.

To explain, our mind has 2 aspects – the Active Mind with all its thoughts and emotions, and the Still Mind that is beyond all that. 

When our perspective comes from the Active Mind, we have a strong sense of this is me – my thoughts, my emotions, my possessions, my experiences – and by contrast, there is you and all that other stuff out there. 

Me and the rest of the world. 

A duality. And that ego-centric sense of needing to protect me, gather as much pleasure for me as possible, and avoid as much pain as possible.

So the blowfly is separate from me and a threat to my peace of mind. 

He needs to be dealt with, albeit in the most skilful way possible – getting rid of him, or turning away from him OR turning towards him; just deal with him!

When our perspective comes from the Still Mind, there is a strong sense of unity – a oneness. There is no fixed sense of me and others; we are all intimately inter-connected. So in essence, there is no threat from something “out there” like a blowfly; there is not even a sense of a “someone” who can be hurt.

Maybe this sounds a bit esoteric, but this is the truth of who we really are. We may seem to be these independent individuals prone to pleasure and pain; that illusion is very strong. But in the heart of meditation, we can experience this other reality, this reality that is actually the truth of who we really are.

So back to the blowfly meditation. 

If one perceives the blowfly from the perspective of the Active Mind, then the blowfly is unpleasant, and/or it needs to be defended against. 

And understand this, whether we turn our mind away from it or towards it, in essence we reinforce the false sense of our own self that is dualistic, ego-centric and needs protection and craves pleasure.

By contrast, if one perceives the blowfly from the perspective of the Still Mind, then it is neither unpleasant nor does it need to be defended against. 

It simply is. 

It simply is a part of the experience we are having at that particular time, in that particular place. 

But curiously, from the perspective of the Still Mind, whether we turn our mind away from the blowfly or towards it, whether we decide to get up and move the fly on gently, or even decide to drop the meditation and come back later; from the perspective of the Still Mind it will be possible to act without reinforcing the false sense of our own self that is dualistic, ego-centric and needs protection and craves pleasure.

This maybe worth contemplating…

And this…

The domain of the Active Mind includes relaxation, mantra practice, mindfulness and pretty well all other forms of mind training. By definition, if we are training the mind, we are training the Active Mind.

So meditation in the classic Tibetan Buddhist tradition of Dzogchen has 4 phases. There is: 

1. Shamatha (calm abiding) that aims to settle the mind, bring us stability and help us to remain undistracted.

2. Vipashyana (insight) that aims to develop the wisdom that comes from recognising and knowing who we really are

3. One taste that comes with accomplishing shamatha and vipashyana and leads to a state of equanimity wherein one is able to respond to all things equally

4. Non-meditation which is when the meditation and its attendant wisdom has become so fully integrated into one’s life there is no differentiating between formal periods of meditation and life itself, and as such, there is no need to meditate formally.

In conclusion

The blowfly is a metaphor for whatever distracts you, for whatever irritates you.

Contemplate this and enjoy your next encounter
 :)

And remember what a joy it is to be alive 

and in circumstances where we can ponder such things…