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...


27 November 2023

To have and to hold; or maybe not???

See it, want it. How often do you have the experience of seeing something and feeling you just have to have it? That feeling is what we call desire, and Ruth and I are having a big encounter with its consequences right now as we sell our farm and downsize considerably. 

So this week we delve into desire; its nature, its consequences and what to do when it needs an antidote, but first

   Thought for the day

If you ask me what sort of self-control you need 

To do the work of contemplation, 

My answer is, ‘None at all!’ 

In everything else you do, you should practise moderation. 

Avoid extremes when eating, drinking or sleeping. 

Also, protect your body from severe cold or heat, 

Do not pray or read too long 

And do not spend too much time conversing with your friends. 

In all of these things, it is important 

That you do neither too much nor too little. 

But in contemplation, you may throw caution to the wind. 


I hope you will never stop doing this loving work as long as you live.

              The Cloud of Unknowing

We humans are primarily motivated by desire. We want things. We wish for things. So much of our energy and thinking is dedicated to how we can acquire stuff, and then both hold onto it and protect it. Ask the Buddhists, and they characterise human life as being in the “desire realm”.

So just because we like something does that mean we have to have it? 

To obtain it? 

To work for it? 

To purchase it? 

To steal it or gain it by deception?

Ruth and I are in the final stages of selling our delightful farm where we have lived these past 23 years. We are downsizing dramatically; moving into our small flat in the city where we will enjoy a simpler life for a while and await what beckons us into the future. We are bound to move again soon…

So in this process of transition, lots of “stuff” to deal with. The fascinating process of going through all our possessions, every one of them, evaluating them on need and desire, and deciding what to keep, what to give away, what to put in the bin, and what to attempt to sell.

As an aside, have learnt something interesting: 

When you go to sell something, it is always worth less than you thought. 

When you go to buy something, it is always worth more than you thought.

Funny that…

Anyway, back to the “stuff”, and desire. That urge to own things – and experiences – is such a strong one, and it comes with so many challenging attachments. You could say “attachment” is the issue. 

I notice it most strongly having lived on a farm for a good part of my life. 

People say “we own this piece of land”. 

We “own”? 

What does that mean? 

At the least we are short term guests, maybe at best we are caring custodians. 

The land was here long before we arrived; it will be here long after we leave. 


So maybe with land we can get this principle of non-ownership more easily if we live in a peaceful part of the world. Where buying and selling is a civilised process. But it is easy to notice how complicated the notion of ownership becomes in contested areas. “This land is mine. It was my parents, my ancestors, my nation’s land”. When two or more families, tribes, nations hold a similar view, then it is easy to understand how conflict ensues.

And we do not need to reflect for more than a moment or two to appreciate how complex and challenging it can be to resolve such issues. 

Most of us will have been deeply affected by recent conflicts – most notably in the Ukraine and Gaza. 

Many may identify with one side or the other, and feel strong emotions.

So this is the point. 

Here we are not going into any sense of who is right and who is wrong, or indeed if anyone is right or wrong; what we are reflecting on here is the root issue – desire and the feeling of ownership – my land, my car, my job, my wife, my computer that I read this on. 

How do we balance the recognition that we do need to “own” things, to have the right to maintain our ownership, to not be robbed or tricked out of them, but at the same time avoid becoming overly greedy, or overly possessive, right up to the point of going to war over ownership?

I am just going to leave this one here for now… with an invitation to reflect on these deeply personal matters… 

How we manage our desires, and the consequences of those desires, defines how we are as human beings. 

How do we manage acquiring enough stuff to meet our needs and to keep ourselves comfortable in an equitable and fair way? 

How do we balance our desires with the desires of others? 

Maybe even more, how do we become less driven by desire itself???

And remember, the quieter you become, the more you can hear…

11 November 2023

Meditation Special – Finding Peace in Troubling Times

So what is it that is troubling you? 

The war in Ukraine? In Gaza? 

Environmental Armageddon? 

Cost of living pressures? Financial uncertainty? 

Insecurity? Health matters? 

Family pressures? Relationship issues? 

Study demands? Work pressures? 

Multiple choice… 

Some of the above? 

All of the above? Got your own list? 

For me the latest challenge is moving house – from a farm into a small flat; downsizing and then working out were to from there. Most of us will have plenty going on…

Now, some say it is the good things that tend to distract us most easily from regular meditation practice. However, currently I am hearing from many who feel overwhelmed by all the difficult news, all the troubling people and events that disturb their equilibrium and make sitting to meditation quite difficult. It is as if their minds are so full of "noise", settling into meditation has become nigh on impossible.

Sad really, as either way - with positive distractions or amidst troubling times, meditation has the potential firstly to provide some time out, a moment’s peace, and then lead on to a new way of being that makes life easier all around. But if the “noise” is too strong and is making meditation impossible, what to do?

So this week, how to use meditation when the brain is in overdrive, worrying and anxious; how to find peace in troubling times, but first


         Thought for the day

     The body benefits from movement

       And the mind benefits from stillness

                    Sakyong Mipham

When the mind is racing and you are seeking peace, it is no time to be casual.

Sure, if you are well enough practiced and you can simply observe your mind, that is sufficient. If it is possible for you to be like an impartial observer, to sit back a little as it were, and to simply be aware of all those racing thoughts and their attendant emotions; to do all that and remain both undistracted and non-judgemental, well then yes, you are a solid practitioner and more power to you. No more needed…

But here we are talking of when the mind is overwhelming. When the thoughts race so hard, when the stress is so strong, when the anxiety is building and there is just no separating observer, awareness and all that activity of the mind. 

In this state, it is like the mind is so caught up in thinking and emotion, so engaged with it, something quite strong is needed to bring about a transformation.

This is where meditation technique is paramount. This is exactly the type of situation for which meditation techniques have been developed over the centuries.

And there is one, simply and reliable principle of meditation that works every time, in every troublesome situation.

When we are distracted and find our thoughts to be running riot, we need a single object upon which we can focus. By using the principle of concentration, we cut through all the “noise”. We focus. We concentrate. We narrow our thinking down onto one single thing so there is no room for the “noise”. 

Simple principle. 

Rather than have the mind ranging everywhere, give it just one thing to focus upon, and thereby bring it to a point of stillness. 

Like a sense can focus light down to a single point, so too can the mind focus our thoughts.

This is the key. 

When we concentrate on just one thing; when we focus and concentrate fully, there is no room for other thoughts or emotions. Our mind finds its own natural peace.

So how to do this? The principle is simple – concentration. What to concentrate upon is up to you. You could literally use anything as the focus of your concentration. However, here are a few techniques that have stood the test of time. With some you already may have a familiarity – and maybe the reminder is useful; maybe some new ideas with which to experiment.

1. The Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Over the decades, this is the technique we have found most reliable for inducing deep relaxation of body and mind in a wide range of adverse and troubling situations. 

Concentrate particularly on the feeling in the body as you contract and relax the muscle groups from the feet to the head. 

Check it out, listen to it again on the Allevi8 App under the heading of Deep Relaxation in the Managing Stress and the Being Well sections.

2. Guided Imagery

Again, a very reliable technique. This one is particularly good for beginners and children. 

This type of exercise gives the mind something to focus upon, and when the images suggested have deeper sub-conscious metaphorical meaning, the exercise can be both calming and transformative.

On the Allevi8 App, we use 2 well proven Guided Imagery techniques: the Healing Light exercise (sometimes know more simply as the white light exercise) that is found in the Healing Support section, and the Healing Journey in the Managing Stress section.

So the crucial thing is not to be put off by what may seem to be a simple solution to a complex problem. 

Trouble comes in many guises. 

They all affect our mind, and we can learn to take charge of our mind, use suitable techniques, concentrate, find a moment’s peace, practice regularly and work towards a more stable, long-lasting unshakeable peace.

May you find true and sustaining inner peace… 



23 October 2023

Meditation and our way of being

We hear a good deal about the benefits of meditation – for health and wellbeing, for sport, the workplace, relationships and so on. But what about how it really affects us? In how we are? How we experience the world? How we view the world? How we are in the world? Our way of being?

Now some do say even to have an outcome in mind - any outcome - when approaching meditation is to miss the point – see the thought for the day. However, with regular practice many do notice meditation seems to transform their experience of themselves, of those around them and of the world itself. 

So this week, two major benefits of meditation you might like to share with others, but first the contrary notion…

                         Thought for the day
The moment we sit down to do zazen (Zen meditation), 

We are useless; 

What we are doing has no point outside of itself, 

Outside of the moment itself.

Barry Magid, Uselessness: The koan of just sitting

Speaking with a friend recently, we fell to discussing how regular meditation seems almost automatically to transform our lives, and how it could be useful to be able to share this prospect easily with those newer to meditation. Inspiration and motivation…

And sure there are the well-publicised and well researched benefits of meditation; but there is much more. So maybe sharing these two benefits that flow from regular meditation will be helpful…

1. Our View 

Our View is how we experience and understand our world; hence the capital V – our View.

With regular meditation there is every chance we will become more:

i) Spacious 

Stressed, anxious people are tight and narrow minded. Meditators are more relaxed and open in their thinking and their way of being. There comes a natural ease, a natural humour, a light-heartedness

ii) Mindfulness 

Being spacious does not mean regular meditators become spaced out! Rather, they develop the capacity to focus their attention better, while at the same time, becoming less judgemental, less distracted, more present and more capable.

iii) Aware

With spaciousness and mindfulness comes a new-found clarity and calm. Our minds become less cluttered, less distracted; more aware. 

So we notice what is going on in 2 very important ways

Firstly, there is what is best described as raw awareness. We simple notice things as they are – better. We notice the details; the raw details. We notice people’s distress or needs. We notice the opportunities. Having noticed, having become aware, we are better positioned to help. Life seems richer, fuller … 

But secondly, more than just the raw details, we begin to notice the truth of what we are aware of. Three main things:

We notice the truth of how things are changing all the time; that nothing is permanent, and we learn to live informed by this truth.

We notice the truth of how everything, and everyone is inter-dependent. The notion we exist in a vacuum, or can survive on our own is seen to be an unhelpful illusion, and we learn to live informed by this truth.

Finally, we notice the truth of multiplicity – of how things are not just one thing but made up of many parts, and we learn to live informed by this truth.

2. Our Good Heart

Regular meditation does more than transform our state of mind. 

It opens our heart and leads us naturally to find ways to care for self and others. 

But in becoming more open hearted, is there a risk of becoming more vulnerable?

This is where our View has more to offer. 

As well as helping us to be more spacious, mindful and aware, our View helps protect us. 

The calm and clear mind it fosters helps us to develop the capacity for healthy discrimination. 

So we do not overdo helping others and burning out. 

We do not overdo helping self and becoming an ego-centric pain. 

Maybe we do have ups and downs, maybe we do experiment, maybe we do need to learn and adapt, but we make good progress with the heart as well as the mind.

And very significantly, through all of this, we come to know ourselves better, who we really are, what is in our heart’s essence. And with this comes both an inner peace and an inner confidence. The very common feelings so many suffer from of not feeling good enough begin to drop away, our good heart emerges, our mind becomes calm and clear, and life begins to flow more easily.

The value of long-term, regular meditation practice…

Happy Meditating

Early Notice

Next year, 2024, I will present a residential meditation retreat and 2 meditation teacher trainings. Details will be posted on the blog soon…

11 September 2023

A new crisis: cancer in young people

The COVID pandemic has received so much attention, it is amazing these latest and deeply disturbing cancer statistics are not all over the press. 

Between 1990 and 2009 and averaged all across the world, early-onset cancer has increased by an incredible 79.1%. The number of early-onset cancer deaths has increased by 27.7%. 

79% and 27%!!! 

If that is not as significant as a pandemic, it is hard to imagine what is???

So this week, what are the facts, and what are behind them? What the …. is going on amongst our younger people, but first 

   Thought for the day

      Regardless of who we are,

      The main purpose of our life, 

      You could call it the heart of being human, 

       Is to be happy. 

       All of us share the same wish, the same right 

       To seek happiness and avoid suffering.

       If you look closely, 

       You can see there are two kinds of happiness.

       One is based on physical comfort or pleasure of the senses

       The other is based on a deeper mental contentment

                            H.H. the Dalai Lama

Early onset cancer is defined as cancer in adults under 50 years of age – or sometimes as cancers in those 18 to 25. So what this recent major study published in the British Medical Journal of Oncology is saying, is the amount of cancer in the world’s younger people is going up at an unprecedented rate.

Now you might imagine the obvious question would be: “What is causing this?” Yet most of the academic commentary I have read so far is emphasising the need to increase early detection! 

The exclamation mark is an attempt to highlight how odd this seems. Surely the need is to find out what is causing the problem and to correct it, rather than aim to diagnose and treat (given diagnosis and treatment is of course what is needed for people currently afflicted).

To be fair, the actual article did state:

Dietary risk factors (diet high in red meat, low in fruits, high in sodium and low in milk, etc), alcohol consumption and tobacco use are the main risk factors underlying early-onset cancers.

Encouraging a healthy lifestyle could reduce early-onset cancer disease burden.

However, for me there are 2 important observations:

1. Cancer is largely a lifestyle issue and the rates of cancer are going up way too rapidly in younger people. The impact of this as the years go on will be disastrous both for the people involved (as both patients, family, friends and colleagues), and for the medical system attempting to help them (a system and a workforce that seems to be buckling under ever increasing pressures).

2. Lifestyle is the cornerstone for the prevention of cancer and all the other chronic, degenerative diseases that create so much havoc, but are demonstrably preventable. 

So then two questions: 

1. Why are people around the globe drawn so strongly to an unhealthy lifestyle? 

2. And given how much so many of us know about the impact of lifestyle, why is it so many of us are find it easier to follow an unhealthy lifestyle as compared to a heathy lifestyle? 

Consider this… when it comes to exercising, do you find it easier to do some regularly, or to put it off?

When it comes to meditating, do you find it easier to do some regularly, or to put it off?

When it comes to most lifestyle factors, do you find it easier to do some regularly, or to put them off?

Now this is not about shaming or blaming, but we do need to observe there is a real crisis. How do we help ourselves and our communities to be drawn to a healthy lifestyle and sustain that?

So over to you:

It would be wonderful to hear from those of you who do maintain a healthy lifestyle. Whether that has been for a long time and you find it easy, or have gone through personal struggles to turn things around, what works for you and those close to you? 

Given up smoking, cut back on alcohol, change your dietary patterns??? How did you do it? What was easy or difficult? How have those around you reacted?

How are you going maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

Please add your experiences into the Comment section below:

Comments need to be cleared, so they may take a while to appear on the blog, but maybe your own experiences or insights can help someone else… 



Zhao J, Xu L, Sun J, et al   Global trends in incidence, death, burden and risk factors of early-onset cancer from 1990 to 2019. BMJ Oncology 2023;2:e000049. doi: 10.1136/bmjonc-2023-000049

 Lifestyle Medicine Cancer Retreats

Good friends and ex-colleagues Liz Stillwell and Sandy Clinton will be presenting their next 5 day Residential Cancer Retreat later in October this year - 2023

Designed specifically for men and women with a cancer diagnosis this is a research-based integrative medicine lifestyle approach supporting conventional medicine cancer treatments and best cancer outcomes – based on the philosophies and teachings of the Gawler Cancer Foundation, and echoed worldwide in various centres in Canada, US and the UK. 

Liz and Sandy now offer 2 retreats per year at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, (previously The Gawler Cancer Foundation) warmly hosted by Brahma Kumaris.

Next Retreat: 27th – 31st October 2023

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Teaching sessions include Meditation, anti-cancer Nutrition, effective use of the Mind, Imagery, Spirituality and living with Purpose, Healthy Emotions, Exercise and healthy Support.

The daily Programme includes Daily Meditations & Qi gong, walking (and rest time) with fresh delicious whole food plant-based meals – all within a beautiful peaceful natural bushland setting.

Enquiries: please email us - cancerbalanceandwellbeing@gmail.com 

Facilitators: Liz Stilwell & Dr Peter Johnston (see overleaf) 

Retreat Co-ordinator: Sandy Clinton 

Harpist: Michael Johnson

Plus: Recovery stories When diagnosed with cancer, hearing real stories of real people making real recoveries inspires our belief and builds our faith in what is truly possible – and helps hold us to our intentions to maintain a healthy lifestyle focus. This retreat is for people who choose to take an active role in their health and wellbeing

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Liz Stilwell: Retreat Facilitator

Liz has an extensive 35 years in Health – Occupational Therapy in Psychiatry, then counselling, clinical hypnosis and N.L.P in private practice. She trained with The Gawler Cancer Foundation in 2004 leading 12 week Lifestyle change programmes for cancer, Mindfulness meditation courses, and counselled many people with cancer at The Gawler Cancer Foundation City branch - specialising in processes for trauma recovery, anxiety, depression and insomnia - her approach influenced by her meditation practice.

Liz later facilitated monthly Cancer Retreats and co-facilitated MS retreats. And for 5 years, Liz assisted Drs Ian and Ruth Gawler in leading annual Meditation Retreats in the Coromandel Peninsula, NZ. Liz advocates strongly for a life created and directed by the heart believing our physical health is strengthened by emotional wellbeing. She has a deep lifelong interest in spirituality and works as a spiritual carer in palliative care.

Peter Johnston:

Peter is an accredited practising dietitian with a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics and a PhD in Human Genetics. Peter is also a fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine and has completed health coaching training with Well Start Health. He has been exclusively plant-based since 1991 after learning of the health, environmental and ethical benefits. Peter runs a private practice: Perfect Human Food Consulting, offering individual consultations, public speaking, webinars, workplace health programs, and residential reboot programs. Peter is a member of the advisory council for health charity Doctors For Nutrition. He is also a partner with Melbourne Lifestyle Medicine which offers a range of programs including residential retreats. He has expertise in the prevention, treatment and reversal of chronic diseases through the use of whole food plant-based diets and the holistic approach of lifestyle medicine. He enjoys empowering people across all life stages to attain optimal health. Peter has attended and spoken at numerous national and international conferences.

Sandy Clinton:

Sandy joined The Gawler Cancer Foundation in 2006 and has deepened her interest and appreciation for the mind-body connection since then. She has assisted hundreds of people in the Client Services role with TGCF which gave her a unique insight into the challenges people face when diagnosed with a chronic illness and wanting to improve and maintain their wellbeing. This led her to train as an Ageless Grace ® Educator, and she rejoices in delivering this brain health fitness program as often as possible. Sandy takes true joy in supporting the journey of discovery participants experience during retreats.

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Michael Johnson:

A concert performer and composer, Michael has worked for many years in the field of therapeutic support through music. His tranquil harp music has been a significant part of the retreats at the Gawler Foundation for over thirty years. He is a Music & Mindfulness co- ordinator at Delmont psychiatric Hospital and Road Trauma Support services Victoria and leads seminars, workshops and Inservice sessions for businesses for staff professional development. For over 20 years, Michael has been resident composer at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, organising the Harp in the Gardens concerts and Harp Meditations.


04 September 2023

Meditation and Mindfulness to receive medical rebates?

Who will be the first health insurer in Australia to provide medical rebates for the therapeutic application of meditation and mindfulness? Currently, very few providers in the USA or elsewhere provide reimbursement for these widely used treatments. 

Recent research has added to compelling, existing evidence that reinforce the fact it may well be time; mindfulness-based stress reduction has been found to be as effective as a commonly used antidepressant drug for treating anxiety disorders. 

"Our study provides evidence for clinicians, insurers, and healthcare systems to recommend, include and provide reimbursement for mindfulness-based stress reduction as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders,” says Elizabeth Hoge, MD, the lead author. 

So this week we look at this new evidence, and what it means for individuals and the medical system – including medical rebates and Allevi8, but first


   Thought for the day

           Wisdom without compassion 

           Feels no pain

                    Gary Snyder

Significant recent research published this year in JAMA Psychiatry demonstrated guided mindfulness-based stress reduction program was as effective as use of the gold-standard drug - the antidepressant drug escitalopram - for patients with anxiety disorders. 

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found mindfulness-based stress reduction is as effective as a common antidepressant drug for treating anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders can be highly distressing; they include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder and fear of certain places or situations, including crowds and public transportation, all of which can lead to an increased risk for suicide, disability and distress and therefore are commonly treated in psychiatric clinics. 

Drugs that are currently prescribed for the disorders can be very effective, but many patients either have difficulty getting them, do not respond to them, or find the side effects (e.g., nausea, sexual dysfunction and drowsiness) a barrier to consistent treatment. 

Standardized mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), can decrease anxiety, but prior to this study, the interventions had not been studied in comparison to effective anti-anxiety drugs. 

Of note, approximately 15% of the U.S. population tried some form of meditation in 2017.

"A big advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it doesn't require a clinical degree to train someone to become a mindfulness facilitator. Additionally, sessions can be done outside of a medical setting, such as at a school or community center."

For this study, MBSR was offered weekly for eight weeks via two and a half-hour in-person classes, a day-long retreat weekend class during the 5th or 6th week, and 45-minute daily home practice exercises. 

Patients' anxiety symptoms were assessed upon enrollment and again at completion of the intervention at 8 weeks, along with post-treatment assessments at 12 and 24 weeks after enrollment. 

The patients were relatively young, with a mean age of 33 and included 156 women, which comprised 75% of the enrollees, mirroring the disease prevalence in the U.S.

Both the MBSR and the drug treatment groups saw a statistically equivalent reduction in their anxiety symptoms. 

The drop in the severity of their anxiety was significant – around 30%.

The researchers added, "It is important to note that although mindfulness meditation works, not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort to successfully complete all of the necessary sessions and do regular home practice which enhances the effect," 

"Also, virtual delivery via videoconference is likely to be effective, so long as the 'live' components are retained, such as question-and-answer periods and group discussion."

Hoge points out many phone apps do offer guided meditation, but researchers are yet to assess how apps compare with the full in-person, weekly group class experience. However, the researchers did conduct a second phase of the study during the pandemic that involved moving the treatments to an online, videoconference which will be the focus of future analyses. The researchers also hope to explore the effects of MBSR on sleep and depression.


1. This study adds to the evidence base in support of the Allevi8 app being used in therapeutic settings for anxiety disorders. Our app includes live components - direct interaction is available with experienced meditation teachers.

2. The evidence supporting health funds reimbursing meditation and mindfulness programs is now compelling. My guess is it will not be long before companies are adding these rebates as an edge to attract and retain new members. In the process, they are likely to make significant cost savings…


Mindfulness and sleep – more research

Also this year, research been published by Gao and colleagues exploring the benefits mindfulness might offer to those with sleep disorders. 

This study demonstrated a mechanistic link between mindfulness practice and increased emotional nonreactivity, decreased worry, and a reduction in reported sleep disturbances, suggesting that app-based mindfulness training may be a viable option to help individuals who report worry interferes with their sleep.

NOTE The Allevi8 app also features a sleep section


1. Hoge AE et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults with Anxiety Disorders. JAMA Psychiatry, 2023;80(1):13–21. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679

2. Gao M et al. Targeting Anxiety to Improve Sleep Disturbance: A Randomized Clinical Trial of App-Based Mindfulness Training. Psychosomatic Medicine 84(5):p 632-642, June 2022. 

14 August 2023

In praise of fast cars

What can we learn from a very fast old car?

Plenty really. I drive a Subaru WRX. Fabulous car. I was fortunate and happened to buy the 1998 model, the best looking WRX of all time. Sleek, elegant, relatively cheap, and bloody fast!

My car has just celebrated its 25th birthday, having completed over 330,00Kms. Yes 330,000Kms! And it still goes very fast!

And yes, I know that these days it is about as politically correct to admit to loving driving fast as it is to being a smoker, but it is a fact. I love speed. Always have. Never smoked :)

So this week, let’s go “Out on a Limb” once again and discover what we can learn from a very fast old car. But first, I love being still as well, so

      Thought for the day

      Profound and tranquil, free from complexity

      Uncompounded luminous clarity

      Beyond the mind of conceptual ideas

      This is the depth of the mind of the victorious ones.

      In this there is not a thing to be removed

      Nor anything that needs to be added.

      It is merely the immaculate

      Looking naturally at itself

                      Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche 

The metaphor is simple but very strong. As a fast car, to get to be 25 years old and to continue to look as good as you did in the early days, to continue to go as fast as you did in the early days; it all takes some work. Good care, regular servicing, a few running repairs, and maybe a facelift!

My WRX came with all the raw ingredients. The car looks terrific to my eye; it has beautiful lines, is compact and elegant. In many ways it looks like a modest hatchback.

But then there is this incredible turbo-charged Boxer motor that is hooked up to everything that matches. The outcome? A racing billycart. Sure the ride is a little rough, but it moves fast, handles extraordinarily well and has been incredibly reliable. I love driving this car.

But then, the truth is the car is serviced regularly by the best Subaru people I could find using only genuine parts. It has never had an accident, despite being driven very hard in its early days; more sedately of late. 

It did blow up a transmission at 30K, but Subaru recognised an in-built fault and replaced it free of charge. Being automatic, the transmission did need replacing again recently.

The only other difficulty was when the failure of a minor part led to a major engine problem at around 200K and the bottom half of the engine needed replacing. And I did have it resprayed a year or so ago.

So the simple metaphor. Compare the car to the body. My body is 73 years old. Still goes quite well despite being short of one leg, one lung and most likely one kidney. But this body of mine, like the WRX, gets very well looked after. 


I am quite particular about what goes into it this body of mine. 

The WRX would probably run on basic unleaded; splutter along at least; but it goes best on Premium and that is also better for its engine. 

My body, like the WRX, is a combustion engine. 

You put things into it, it burns them up and it goes. 

The WRX has a relatively simple combustion engine and I am very particular about what I put in its petrol tank. 

My body has an exquisitely complex combustion engine. 

It makes logical sense to be even more attentive to what goes into my own tank.

Why not use the best? Why not eat the best?

Regular servicing

For me, regular meditation is like servicing. Worth doing daily. Going on retreat is a more deliberate form of servicing, as is having a regular massage, taking time out in the garden or going for a walk. Regeneration time. When I need to, which is often, I want to know that everything has been done, everything is ready, so that I can be at my best. 

Why not be at your best?


This seems to be unknown or overlooked by many, but in my view, good food, really good food, is way more effective then a facelift. Eat consistently well and skin tone is good, wrinkles smooth out and an inner glow emerges. 

Why not look at your best?

Actually, I treat my body better than the WRX. 

I like to think I treat it like a Formula One racing car, where everything is taken seriously, but there is a lot of fun involved. 

That attitude certainly helped me to recover from a very difficult cancer. 

And these days, while I am not fixated, I am fairly diligent, and this attitude helps me to make the most of the bits that I do have, to live and enjoy life to the full, and to make the most of what it is that I have to offer to others.

And finally, along with the WRX’s milestone 25th birthday next month, I have no demerit driving points against my name. Not sure as the years advance if I am becoming more politically correct or just more careful?

Love that car!


What food goes into your tank?

Bottom line comfort

I am often asked where to obtain a good meditation cushion.

Here is a link to where you can order great Zafus (buckwheat filled, round cushions) and other meditation gear...

They also have buckwheat refills for well used, flattened Zafus that need replenishing. 




07 August 2023

Relationship – a crucial point in learning and deepening your meditation

In the Western world, relationships with teachers can be really mixed up. Because of the power differential between students and teachers, because of the dependency, the desperation that sometimes can be involved, students worry about giving their power away, of being taken advantage of or being abused.

However, the relationship we have with our meditation teacher can be crucial; it can add great depth and ease to learning and progressing along the path.

So this week, we look at something that may well be provocative, and that is not so often spoken about: the meditation teacher/student relationship, and we will look at it from both sides; but first

     Thought for the day

          The absolute truth cannot be realized 

          Within the domain of the ordinary mind. 

          And the path beyond the ordinary mind, 

          All the great wisdom traditions have told us, 

          Is through the heart. 

          This path of the heart is devotion.

                             Sogyal Rinpoche

Meditation and the student/teacher relationship

Evidence would say there can be risks involved, but in holding back, in taking a defensive stance, students may well miss out on fully developing one of the biggest supports for meditation. And in this day of heightened sensitivities, teachers may well hold back, they may well limit themselves in what they offer.

If you had gone to Dr Ainslie Meares to learn to meditate, it may not have been what you expected. He would request you read his meditation books before attending. Then at the first and subsequent meetings, he spoke little and deflected questions. It was all about how he could share his experience with you. 

Being an accomplished meditator himself, Dr Meares' understanding of the teacher’s role was to impart his experience in the most direct and effective way he could. 

As he was interested in the essence of meditation, the stillness, in his view, talking about meditation only stirred up the thinking mind and created a barrier to going beyond that and into the stillness.

So his approach involved using words to lead into meditation that were abstract, that did not invite rational analysis, that were softly and slowly spoken with plenty of gaps to allow for the silences and stillness to become more apparent.

He used his presence to convey his experience.

This was back in the 1960s to 1980s. 

In those days he also used physical touch; lightly touching his students in a way that these days where the risk of being misunderstood is high is just too risky for practitioners to do. 

Having learnt from and been mentored by Dr Meares, you may well notice a similar use of words and voice when I or people I have trained introduce meditation. In the early days of this work, we used physical touch as well; always having a male and female teacher in the room and touching people lightly on the head and shoulders. 

Sadly – as in my opinion it lessened the experience for our students – as time moved on, this part of the work just seemed too easy to be misconstrued and we stopped doing it around 2015.

Dr Meares was a deeply spiritual man, but not aligned to any specific spiritual tradition. His approach was secular. On the other hand, my even more significant teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, grew up in and was highly trained in Tibetan Buddhism. His quote above reflects his deep connection with, his reliance upon, and his devotion to his own teachers and their unbroken lineage right back to the Buddha himself.

But maybe it is the word “devotion” that encompasses the key issue for Westerners. 

We have been so inculcated in the notion of being independent, or finding “ourselves”, of standing on our own two feet, and so on. 

And there are quite a few stories where devoted people have been taken advantage of, and have suffered as a consequence.

There is not much in this world that does not carry some risk…

But read Rinpoche’s quote again. It does have compelling logic. How do we get past this thinking mind with all its attendant emotions, and connect more directly to our still, inner essence? The path of the heart is regarded as actually being the easiest and most reliable path, and the path of the heart is devotion.

So again, that word that seems to strike fear in some – devotion.

Speaking personally, when I first became interested in Tibetan Buddhism, I really struggled with devotion. What did it mean? What would I need to give up? What would I need to commit to? Would becoming devoted to a teacher diminish me or put me at risk? Why was I holding back? What to do???
Happily, I was able to discuss this with Sogyal Rinpoche and he taught on it extensively during retreats. My own conclusion is each one of us who considers making a conscious commitment to devotion needs to listen, read, discuss and especially contemplate this deeply. It nay takes years to reach clarity.

For myself, I was really helped by coming to understand devotion is a logical conclusion. It is actually a profound commitment to the teachings, based upon an understanding of how powerfully they work, and a gratitude for being able to listen to them, to learn and to practice them. 

A good teacher embodies what they are teaching. If they do this authentically, then devotion to them is devotion to the teachings. 

The more fully we can see the teacher as a pure vessel for authentic teaching, the more fully they will fulfill their role for us.

From the teacher’s perspective, the more they can put their own ego aside (at the very least while teaching), the more effective they will be in sharing their teachings in an authentic and effective manner. 

That is why good teachers start each session with a commitment along these lines. This may well go unspoken, but it does reflect this deep inner wish to present the teachings free of impediments.

Now just to be clear, it is true one can gain a lot from a good meditation teacher while keeping a distance. But there is a greater depth on offer when one makes more of a commitment and engages more fully.

A comparison may be to experience the use of a meditation app where the connection with the person leading the practice is quite superficial. The app and the practices may well be helpful, but it is no surprise within a month of downloading a basic meditation app, only 5% of people are still using it.

This is why with Allevi8 we offer direct online contact with our trained teachers; and the difference in connection and regularity of practice is hugely different.

And it is why wherever possible, the ideal is to go to meditation teachers in person…

So maybe reflect some more on the nature of your own connection to the teacher(s) you have…

Happy meditating 