27 December 2023

Ruth’s Back Pain, Long COVID and Recovery - Part 1 – Back Pain

How has 2023 been for you? For Ruth and myself, it has been formidable – major adversities, major challenges, major changes. Life at its most florid. 

There is some joy; we did survive; we learnt a lot, we lived a lot and in 2024 we will offer two meditation teacher trainings and a meditation retreat (details below). We do wish all of you who keep in touch and read this blog, all the best over the festive season, and another heart-felt wish that you, and all you care for and love, thrives throughout 2024...

Now, there is that saying that seems to me both apt but a bit tiresome these days: “What does not kill you makes you stronger" Happily for Ruth, what she has been through did not kill her; not quite. 

Now recovered, Ruth is keen to share her story in the hope it may help others, both by establishing yet again it is possible to recovery from very difficult health issues, and also to stimulate deeper thinking around Long COVID, but first

   Thought for the day

     Doesn't everything die at last, 

     And too soon?

     Tell me, what is it you plan to do

     With your one wild and precious life?” 

                         Mary Oliver

Ruth’s story:

“Sea Kayaking is one of those delights that can come at an unexpected cost; sometimes a long-term cost. Despite Ian and I being absolute novice kayakers, the prospect of exploring the famed Ningaloo Reef was too good an opportunity to pass up; let the paddling begin…

So on a fateful day in early June 2021; 

our first adventure – an all day tour. 

A gentle introduction with the wind behind our backs. 


With minimal effort we glided down the reef: catching glimpses of coral and the occasional turtle. 


But then lunch, and the return… not easy at all! 

Quite a strong head wind! 

And the tour guide struggling to remember where his bus and trailer was, resulting in a couple of false landings and much more paddling before we finally made it back to our starting point. Tough but manageable...

Two days later, another inspiring location near Monkey Mia with its famous dolphins, and we decided to have another go. 

Again, easy out, tough coming back; and really tough this time. 

As before, Ian was in the front position, me in the back, as I had the two legs required to control the rudder via pedals deep in the kayak. 

However, because of a strong crosswind, there was a constant need to twist my back and extend my left leg to get the right pressure on the rudder and hold our course. 

After a difficult two hours, the tour guide took Ian into his kayak, and I was left in the back seat of the one we had shared. 

For the whole trip it was “fast as we could”, vigorous paddling.  Working against this strong  wind, coming in at an angle, caused increasing muscle tension all over my body. Faced with no real option - we had to return - I ignored the twisting and the strain in my body, and kept paddled on. 

Eventually, limp with fatigue, we did manage to make it back to our landing place! But there was more! Next we needed to drag the heavy kayaks quite some distance across the sand and hoist them onto the trailer. Finally, we slumped into our seats on the small bus, quiet and exhausted for the long drive back to our accommodation. In all, my lower back had been uncomfortable and under pressure for about six hours. 

So ended our second sea kayaking adventure as we tried to make the most of the enormous distances we
had travelled to see parts of North West Australia that we had only heard about. 

The next week we continued our tour in a motorhome as we made our way down to Perth. 

All the while, the ongoing niggle on the left side of my lumbar spine continued. 

Then from Perth to Melbourne in the much-vaunted Indian Pacific train. In fact, the train’s rattling and jiggling just further aggravated my back. 

By the time we arrived home, we had travelled for 9 weeks and covered 12,000kms by road and I was in trouble. 

Wonderful, wonderful trip, but soon after our return, I was woken one morning at 6am with terrible back pain and spasms on the left of my lower spine. This pain was so strong it rendered me unable to move, and worse, it soon became chronic, continuing throughout the day and night. I could not walk normally for the next year and a half. It really was extreme. 

Now for context, I do have a somewhat delicate back. 

I have experienced back problems in the past,
including requiring surgery many years ago that had been very successful. 

So for the previous 10 years I had been fairly diligent with regular exercise and nearly daily yoga while consistently eating an anti-inflammatory, whole food, plant-based diet. 

This regime had seen me pain free throughout this time up until the kayaking episodes.

But now, this left-sided back pain had me experiencing high level pain almost constantly. My mobility was greatly reduced, it was hard to find a comfortable position by day or night, and I was very limited in what I could carry. With Ian being not much better when it comes to what he can carry over distances, we needed help whenever there was something heavy to move. 

In attempts to heal, I used all the techniques I have found personally helpful and taught to others over many years. 

All with minimal benefit. 

So over the next year I consulted four different physiotherapists, including two reputed to be amongst the very best in Melbourne.

 I religiously followed the combinations of rest and exercise they recommended for me, yet one by one, these regimes proved unable to remedy the ongoing severe pain and immobility. My pain became worse with everything I tried.

At the same time and of necessity, I began trying various pain-killers and anti-inflammatories to manage my life; starting with the natural ones but working into the stronger conventional medications- ibuprofen, voltaren, celebrex and so on. Never used opiates.

During this same time, I consulted no less than seven different orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons. 

X-rays, MRIs, PET scans, blood tests…facet joint injection, but non felt surgery was appropriate. 

Finally, an epidural injection revealed a trapped nerve in the lumbar spine at L4/5; although this injection caused problems in its own right. 

So, another consultation with the next neuro-surgeon. 

This time we were advised an operation had about a 50/50 chance of success with little risk of making matters worse. 

Being seriously desperate by now, these seemed like reasonable odds. So finally, in January 2023, the trapped nerve was released by a surgical laminectomy and the pain reduced to almost nothing. A great result for the back, but there was more to all this…

The Divine had more to teach me than “just simply” dealing with chronic pain.

Long COVID was adding a whole other level of complexity…

In the next post, Part 2, Ruth describes how a mild infection with COVID descended into the horrors of Long COVID…

ADVANCE NOTICE – save the dates; full details including bookings available soon  

In 2024, Ian and Ruth Gawler will once more offer a meditation retreat and 2 meditation teacher trainings.

Meditation Teacher Training

With Ian and Ruth Gawler, supported by Murray Paterson and Sandy Clinton

Aspiring to teach meditation? Or keen to expand and deepen your skills?

Are you applying for registration with Meditation Australia and need an approved course?
Ian and Ruth Gawler have been teaching teachers of meditation for decades.

The two trainings for 2024 will be supported by a manual, will be sound in theory and highly experiential. There will be many practice sessions where you will be encouraged to experiment with your delivery style and to hone it. 

You will be guided and supported to develop confidence and competency.

All programs will be in-person only, fully residential, at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Crt, Yarra Junction, Victoria, Australia.

Meditation Teacher Training – Part 1: Mindfulness-based Stillness Meditation

Monday 6th to Friday 10th May, 2024

This is a basic yet thorough training in how to present a meditation course, whether in-person or online.

A comprehensive approach to meditation that covers preparation, relaxation, concentration and mindfulness plus stillness. An approach to meditation that goes to the very essence…

Theory, delivery, session structures, promotion, finances, the special challenges and needs of online courses, and more…

Developed for those new to teaching meditation, and for those wanting to go further.

Meditation Teacher Training – Part 2: Contemplation

Saturday 2nd to Wednesday 6th November, 2024 (inc Melbourne Cup holiday for Victorians)

So many people in so many domains recommend the benefits of contemplation.

Yet who is teaching how to do it? Very few it seems…

This training will position you to be able to offer your community something of great value – a reliable way to practice contemplation. This training is also manual based and will enable you to deliver a much-needed program.

Of great personal value, this training is also suitable for those new to teaching meditation, and for those wanting to go further. It too will be highly experiential, as well as delving into theory, delivery, session structures, promotion, finances, the special challenges and needs of online courses, and more.

Criteria to join these meditation teacher trainings

Both trainings are broad. They are specifically designed to be accessible and valuable to beginners and the more experienced teachers alike. In past trainings, this mix of participants has made for a very engaging cohort.

It is recommended applicants have at least 2 years of regular meditation practice and some experience with speaking in public. All applicants will be requested to discuss the suitability of the trainings for their needs and situation with our training manager.  


Saturday 22nd to Friday 28th June, 2024

With Ian and Ruth Gawler, supported by Melissa Borich and Sandy Clinton

It is back! After COVID, lock downs, so many ups and downs, join us for this 7 day retreat.

Relax. Let go. 

Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Yarra Valley. 

Be cared for with delicious plant-based food and plenty of free time.

Be reminded of the theory and practice around meditation as Ian teaches in depth on mindfulness, awareness and stillness. Experience the inherent joy and love that flows from the depths of meditation; those depths that can be reliably reached when we take time out, let go of day-to-day activity, and rest in deep, natural peace.


11 December 2023

The Watch and the Bracelet – life’s conundrum in a simple story…

Take your mind back to the era before smart phones. That time when watches were watches. They told the time; that is what watches did. And sure, they could look pretty, so they did have a secondary function – as adornments, but basically we used them to tell the time.

So here is a gentle challenge… Imagine you only knew your watch to be an adornment. Imagine that rather than being a timepiece, you thought your watch was a bracelet.

Not too hard a mistake to make, but we could fantasise about the consequences, and what such a mistake could teach us about our very own minds, but first

  Thought for the day

    No one knows how to describe the mind’s essence.

   If one describes it by analogy, 

   There will never be an end to describing it.

   You can use many synonyms and terms for it,

   Names such as “mind,” “self,” “alaya,” and so on,

   But in truth, it is just this present knowingness.

             Karma Chakme Rinpoche 17th C 

What a wonderful life it is when spectacular human beings like the Tibetan Buddhist master Mingyur Rinpoche comes to your hometown and offers teachings. Author of “The Joy of Living”, and the monk who left the world behind to go on a 4 year wandering retreat in India with no money or support, Rinpoche has a clarity, good humour and wisdom that is exquisite.

This weekend past Mingyur Rinpoche taught on open awareness meditation and aspects around life, death and dying, and the transitions in between – fabulous and a delight to be there. Rinpoche told this story which is recounted here, with any errors being mine; although it is a simple yet profound story and hard to get wrong…

So… imagine again you have made the mistake of thinking your watch is a bracelet; and we are in an age where there are not many other clocks around. So you are regularly late, maybe even early, for everything, including work. Your boss likes you, but you become increasingly unreliable, so eventually you get fired. Then you lose your car, your house, everything goes from bad to worse, and you end up on the street. 

After a while an old friend spots you!!! 

“Whatever happened to you?” 

“I lost my job, and then my whole world fell apart “ 

“Why did you lose your job, you were good at it.” 

"Yes but I was always late for things…” 

“How come?” And pointing to the watch, “Didn’t you look at your watch?” 

“Oh, I don’t have a watch, this is just a bracelet!” 

So off course, the friend tries to point out that no, it is not just a bracelet; it is in fact a watch.

At first, you are in disbelief; incredulous. “No this cannot be a watch! I have had it for years. It is a bracelet.” “No it is a watch. Look there is a dial, with hands, the hands move around and tell the time… “
Gradually you overcome your doubts, your embarrassment, your shame, and realize you really did have a watch all this time, and learn how to use it. Before long you make a new start, you are punctual and you rebuild your life. And so it goes…

Now take this analogy to our minds. Each one of us has a mind with 2 major functions, and many of confuse these functions, effectively taking our minds to be a bracelet; not a watch. 

The basic function of our watch is to tell the time.

The basic function of our mind is to operate in accord with its true nature.

The watch has a major, secondary function – it can act as a bracelet. 

It can be an adornment that reflects our aesthetic, our taste, our status, our choices.

Our mind has a secondary function – through its capacity to think and express emotions, it can be a servant that supports its primary function. 

That primary function of the mind, to act in accord with its own true nature, results in the mind operating from a place of pure awareness, love and wisdom. 

The secondary function, the thinking, emotive mind can be a real mixed bag of good, bad and indifferent; and worse, it often takes us over and does its best to rule our lives through its conditioned and habitual ways of thinking and acting.

So I loved hearing this story, this analogy from Mingyur Rinpoche. Got we wondering, how can we get over treating the mind like a bracelet, and really recognize we do have a watch? And act from the watch’s perspective, rather than that of the bracelet?
Few suggestions:

1. Hear the truth over and over

The more we hear from people we trust the truth of the connection between our mind’s true nature and the role of its servant the active, thinking, emotive mind; and the more we hear that our own fundamental nature has these pure qualities of awareness, love and wisdom, the more we will start to believe it, and recognise it in ourselves.

2. Contemplate this

The way we take things in is to progress on from simply hearing, to thinking deeply about it; to contemplate what we heard.

3. Draw on models

People like Mingyur Rinpoche model this. 

Less than 10% of new information we take in depends upon the words people say to us. 

It is their lived experience that is so important in this domain.

So, hanging out with people who have their own direct experience of what we are discussing here gives us “a feel” for it. 

Happily, you do not need to be a Buddhist to go to a talk with someone like Mingyur Rinpoche, and there are many people from other traditions, and some of no tradition that carry these qualities; so seek them out, and hangout…

4. Meditate

Meditation is the reliable path to sorting out the bracelets from the watches. This was always meditation’s primary function; to help us to get to know and become familiar with who we really are, and to be confident, to be sure: our mind is like a watch, not a bracelet. It can make quite a nice bracelet, but fundamentally, it is a watch…

Happy meditating...