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…

15 March 2022

The 2 major benefits of meditation – what to expect, and how predictable are they?

Easter is approaching and as mentioned in the last post, I have been persuaded to present a meditation retreat for Rigpa, the Tibetan Buddhist, Dzogchen group I have belonged to for decades. It has raised the question of what one might expect from meditation practice and the very real issue for many of unrealistic expectations.  So this week, more details of the retreat - click or see below - along with a revisit of meditation’s benefits, what to expect, and how to get the most from your practice, but first 

     Thought for the day

         As you continue to practice the method,

         Then meditation slowly arises. 

         Meditation is not something that you can “do”; 

         It is something that has to happen spontaneously, 

        Only when you have perfected the practice.

                    Sogyal Rinpoche

Why keep meditating daily? 

What is in it for me? What can you reasonably expect?

When it comes to meditation, it seems there are 2 big classes of benefits. There are the obvious, and the subtle. However, unrealistic expectations seem to interfere with many people’s meditation progress and satisfaction levels. Experience tells me that one big group of meditation benefits is reliably predictable – with the more you learn and practice, the more directly you benefit.

But then there is a whole other class of benefits that are far from predictable, and unrealistic expectations in this arena can lead to frustration and disappointment. 

The many obvious benefits of meditation

In our modern world, the obvious benefits are being well researched and we can say they are now reasonably well proven. Without wanting to overstate things, pretty well any area of human activity that has been studied – and there have been a lot – seems to get better when the people doing them meditate.  

You are probably familiar with these benefits – relaxation, stress management, better sleep, better
performance at work and in sport and education, better resilience and mental state generally. 

Many healing benefits – accelerated healing with evidence of many diseases including mental health issues being improved in both quality of life and outcome. 

And on and on….

Now the good news for all these obvious benefits is that they are reasonably predictable. 

Get good instruction – ideally from a teacher, but many find a book or on-line platform works – apply yourself, and results will follow. 

The more you learn and practice, generally speaking, the more the benefits. And these obvious benefits tend to build in a fairly linear fashion. As time passes, as your practice builds, things get steadily better.

The subtle benefits of meditation

Traditionally, people meditated for what we might call subtler, or more esoteric reasons. They were seeking the truth of who they really were, a direct experience of the divine, or of themselves as some traditions would express it.

Experience tells that some people started on this path and almost immediately had profound and life-changing experiences. However, I personally know quite a few who have put in years of effort, years of study with good teachers and years of diligent practice, and are still searching for some elusive and ephemeral experience.

Plenty can be said about what helps lead into these deeper experiences – my books and other blogs go into all this – but for now, it seems worthwhile pointing out this difference. 

The difference between what comes easily, and what seems more unpredictable. 

The point is, if one is seeking the essence of meditation – the profound insights and deeper experiences that are definitely there to be had, one does tend to need patience; and perseverance. 

Also, paradoxically as many will know, while with the obvious benefits it is quite reasonable and effective to have expectations of benefit, with these subtler benefits, the more we let go of expectations, the more the benefits flow. Tricky :)

So why go on a meditation retreat?

Speaking personally again, I go on at least one annual, personal retreat for a few reasons. 

Firstly the obvious reasons for meditating are highly valuable and are a function of study and practice – it is worth continuing to learn, and taking the opportunity to deepen the practice. 

Of course, I teach meditation, so for me this is also a bit like going to a summer school. There is always more to bring back to those I teach.

But then, for those more subtle benefits, creating conducive circumstances is one of the most reliable ways to experience the more profound benefits. So withdrawing from daily life for a while, having a good teacher, being in like-minded company; all that does make for increased possibilities. 

And also, there is the fact of being with those like-minded people each year. It is one of the things Ruth and I enjoy in our own retreats. As the years roll on, it seems more people form friendships and come back as groups to renew and deepen those relationships and to enjoy practicing together.

So Happy Easter. Happy meditating and may you feel the obvious and subtle benefits of your own practice.

Easter Meditation Retreat

Topic : Mind in Comfort and Ease : a Shamatha retreat. Shamatha is the basis of Dzogchen meditation and translates as calm abiding; it is a technique one can learn that reliable leads to a relaxed body and mind, leading towards a state of inner peace characterized by being able to remain undistracted

Venue: In person or online. In person in Melbourne where Ian will be teaching, and in Sydney and Newcastle where the retreat will streamed and supported by other Rigpa teachers. Online courtesy of Zoom.

Melbourne: 803 Nicholson Street, Carlton North
Sydney: 158 Australia Street, Newtown

Dates Friday 15th April from 9.00am to Monday 18th at 4pm.

Booking LINK

01 March 2022

Mind in Comfort and Ease - Ian Gawler Easter Meditation Retreat

Join groups in Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle; Online option as well

Easter is approaching - a natural time for introspection. This year for the first time, I will present a meditation retreat open to the public based upon the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen teachings I have been studying and practicing for decades. 

With so much turmoil around us at present, there may never be a better time to step back a little, relax, allow the mind to settle, and to reconnect with our own inner peace. So this week, details on the style of meditation and the retreat, but first

   Thought for the day

      Even if you have a lot of money and power and fame, 

       You can still suffer very deeply. 

        If you do not have enough peace and compassion within you, 

         There is no way you can be happy.

                    Thich Nhat Hahn

So much turmoil on the outside… The pandemic continues to affect the way we live, there is the constant threat of environmental devastation highlighted most recently by the tragic floods in NSW and Queensland, there is the horror of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and then our own issues – family, communities, finances. So much change and uncertainty. So many people suffering deeply.

It is so easy to become swept up in our own thoughts and emotions as one challenge is heaped upon another. It is as if our mind can become lost in all that is going on “out there”, and we lose any sense of peace and clarity.

This is where meditation has so much to offer. When we start to meditate, we learn to turn our mind inwardly, and there we can make a great discovery. Just as a great hurricane has at its centre a space of calm stillness, so too do we have in our core this place of peace and tranquillity. 

And the good news is we do not need to manufacture this inner peace or create it through some fancy technique. Real meditation is more like an unfolding. It is like bringing our mind home; bringing it back from its engagement with the chaos, to experience its own natural peace and clarity that always was, always will be there.

And if you doubt this to be so, if you are yet to experience this “inner sanctuary”, meditation provides the means whereby you can explore, experiment and find the truth for yourself. 

This Easter retreat will be based on the shamatha teachings. 

In the Tibetan tradition of Dzogchen there are 4 levels of meditation practice and we begin with shamatha. 

Shamatha translates as “calm abiding” or resting calmly. 

The practice involves following clear and simple instructions that reliably help us to let go of worry, stress and anxiety while enabling us to find this inner peace. And in doing so, we become familiar with this inner truth, the truth of our own peace and clarity. 

Then, from this base, we can extend our peace and clarity into how we live our daily lives. This can be truly transforming, and having witnessed so many people turn their lives around for the better using these techniques explains why I am so passionate about teaching them.

The retreat itself will be presented by Rigpa, the Tibetan Buddhist organisation I have been involved with for over 35 years. You will be able to join myself and Ruth in Rigpa’s Brunswick Centre (Melbourne), join other like-minded people in Rigpa’s Sydney (Newtown) and Newcastle Centres, or gather live online.

For much of the retreat we will practice together with some guidance from myself.

There will also be

. Teachings on how to practice and what to expect

. Many practice tips – the subtle points that can make a big difference

. Guidance on how to settle a restless or painful body

. How to settle a restless or agitated mind; and how to manage strong emotions from a meditator’s perspective

. Problem solving for new people and those who have been meditating a good while – good opportunities for question and answers.

Please do invite your family, friends and colleagues.

This retreat is suitable for anyone who would like to practice in the supportive company of a community of meditators; and will particularly benefit :

Anyone who wants to develop and deepen their meditation practice - whether you are experienced or not; a Rigpa student or not.

People who have been enjoying Rigpa’s 20 Minutes a Day Meditation program

Those who attend Inspiring a Revolution in Your Heart and Mind - A transformative course currently in progress at Rigpa presenting the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism that can be joined at regular intervals

Rigpa All Encompassing Path students

The event will be available online for those who are unable to get to a centre. 

DATES and SCHEDULE   -   Easter 2022

9.15am Friday 15th April to 4pm Monday 18th April 

Saturday and Sunday 9.15am to 6.00pm with good breaks throughout the days



If you are able to join at a centre in your city we look forward to greeting you in person at these locations:

Melbourne: 803 Nicholson Street, Carlton North
Sydney: 158 Australia Street, Newtown

Newcastle: Unit 18/26 Oakdale Rd, Gateshead

Ian will be present in the Melbourne Centre; streamed live to Sydney and Newcastle, along with those attending online