19 June 2024

Last minute vacancy at retreat 22 Jun 24

There maybe someone or some people for whom this is just right. Is it the right time for doing something spontaneous, impromptu and meaningful?

We have a last minute cancellation for the meditation retreat set to start this Saturday at 11am in the Yarra Valley.

From a full house we now have a twin room that could take 1 or 2 people, and rather than just leave it unannounced and empty, maybe there is someone for whom this is just right! Synchronicity can be a wonderful thing.

Promises to be a great retreat, and such a last minute decision would make it even more memorable! Winter is a perfect time for introspection, meditation and regeneration...

Check out the details below and enquire asap.

See you there?

Meditation in the Forest with Ian and Ruth Gawler, and Melissa Borich.

11am Saturday June 22nd to 2pm Friday June 28th 2024



17 June 2024

The Stages of Life - and a time for retreating

Sometimes life does offer us the opportunity to full fill something that does come from deep within the heart. For some time now, the call to a longer, silent retreat in solitude has been growing. Soon I will head into the hills for 3 months and 3 days; to quietly sit. This aligns with the stage of life in which I find myself to be.

So this week, a little on the stages of life and personal retreat, but first

   Thought for the day

      It should no longer be your concern 

     That the world speaks of you; 

     Your sole concern should be 

     With how you speak to yourself.

     Retreat into yourself, 

     But first of all make yourself ready 

     To receive yourself there. 

     If you do not know how to govern yourself, 

It would be madness to entrust yourself to yourself. 

     There are ways of failing in solitude as in society.

                                    Michel de Montaigne 

The Hindu tradition of India has a long history of dividing life into four dramatically different segments or phases - aƛrama as it is known.

First comes Bramacharya, the time of being a student and single.

Second is Grihastha, when the focus is to make a family and a living; a time of being engaged with wordly pursuits such as seeking pleasure, wealth and all the material world has to offer. Commonly, Grihastha begins around the age of 20.

Third is Vanaprastha, when we begin to withdraw from the world and begin to attune more to the spiritual life along with adopting an increasingly hermit-like lifestyle. Vanaprastha commonly begins around 50. It is time for grand children and the time to hand over to the next generation. It is time for community service and spiritual pursuit; time to act more as a mentor and benefactor; a time to share any wisdom gathered so far. 

Fourth and finally comes Sannyasa, when renouncing the material world and dedicating life to spiritual realisation becomes the sole focus. It often begins around 70 to 75.

The intention of sannyasa is to live a simple, peaceful, love-inspired, spiritual life very similar to the monks and nuns of Buddhism, Christianity and other traditions.

Sannyasa is a form of asceticism. 

A male is known as a sannyasin, a female a sannyasini. 

Sannyasa does not necessarily mean abandoning society although in India many did and still do leave their families and homes and become wandering spiritual beggars. 

They may have a walking stick, a book, a container or vessel for food and drink, often wearing yellow, orange, or soil coloured clothes. They may have long hair and appear dishevelled, and are usually vegetarians.

Alternatively, Sannyasins may simply aim to abandon the conventions of their society and aim instead for a more liberated, content, free and blissful existence.

In the Hindu Karma Yoga tradition, acting without greed or craving for results is considered a form of detachment in daily life similar to Sannyasa. Sharma states, "the basic principle of Karma yoga is that it is not what one does, but how one does it that counts and if one has the know-how in this sense, one can become liberated by doing whatever it is one does", and "(one must do) whatever one does without attachment to the results, with efficiency and to the best of one's ability. 

Bit like mindfulness, or even more-so, pure awareness.

Rudyard Kipling describes taking sannyasa beautifully and eloquently in his story “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat", featured in The Second Jungle Book (1895). 

The story recounts an influential Indian politician abandoning his worldly goods to become an ascetic holy man. 

Later, he saves a village from a landslide with the help of the local animals whom he has befriended. 

I have read this story at a number of meditation retreats, always accompanied by tears I find it so moving. 

Kiplings take on the stages are somewhat different to the traditional ones. 

He described Purun Bhagat having divided his own life, as the Old Law recommends, twenty years a youth, twenty years a fighter, — though he had never carried a weapon in his life, — and twenty years head of a household. 

Then despite all his good works and fame, he leaves it all behind to become a fully-fledged sannyasin.

So for me, autumn is definitely well advanced. The seasons are changing… it is winter at present here in Melbourne…

And now, from July to October there is the good fortune to be able to go into silent retreat. Ruth is very supportive and helping to make it possible; it is a blessing that family and work commitments can be put on hold as well.

The retreat will mainly feature meditation; may do a little reading and study, but mostly sitting and walking meditation. Who knows what it might lead to? I will not be writing during the retreat; will not be speaking, will not be looking at texts or emails. Just a long time with self… Could be interesting…

Many thanks to all who are making this possible…

As always, the wish is for you and all those you care for to have long and happy lives…

 PS A large part of this post was first aired 6th September 2017 when I was considering retiring in full. As it happened, I did retire from quite a few things, but felt moved to continue offering meditation through Allevi8, through retreats and teacher trainings; not to mention the work with the Centres for Contemplative Studies at University of Melbourne and Monash. So as you were reading this and there was is a sense of deja vu...




03 June 2024

Meditation in a Time of Personal Crisis – What is Needed? What works?

Whether to write this post or not; that is the first question. Having been through an intense medical crisis, is it useful to share something of the experience? 

Many meditation teachers, particularly traditional ones, rarely divulge their personal experiences. They tend to teach as if their audiences are “well”, and in a good state to practice. Yet many come to meditation exactly because of a personal crisis. 

Certainly in years gone by, my own work centred around helping people who often came to meditation in response to a major health crisis such as cancer or MS; or other major life-changing events.

So why the reserve in sharing personal meditation experiences? 

All teachers – of meditation or anything else – teach in one of two ways. 

The first is driven by ego – look at me, how wonderful I know all this stuff I can teach, how good am I, etc, etc. 

\The second is where the teacher aspires to teach in a largely ego-less way. 

Few teachers are at either extreme.

Most of us are somewhere along that spectrum.

This is one of many reasons I enjoy offering myself as a teacher – it provides another domain in which to address the ego and attempt to tame it; an ongoing challenge! 

And no doubt this is why so many meditation teachers traditionally did not share their experiences – to avoid the ego trap.

But here we are in current times where the need for guidance is high. So pardon me while I attempt to contain the ego, and together we go Out on a Limb once more while I share what I did when faced with my own recent major health challenge; but first

 Thought for the Day

      To bring peace to my mind and my own experience 

      There is nothing else. 

      Just to reduce these negative emotions 

      And create more kindness and compassion, 

      Because that is best for me, 

      That is best for everybody.

      It is nothing mysterious, 

      It is nothing religious, 

      It is nothing spiritual, 

      It is just very simple.

                                          Ringu Tulku Rinpoche  (now there is an ego-less teacher!)

Another reason for deep reflection before sharing these experiences is that in truth, I did not do all that much when it comes to using particular techniques! This is another part of the reservation in writing about this; we need to observe there may well be differences in what works for someone who has been meditating for almost 50 years, when compared to what might help a rank beginner. Even acknowledging this is another potential ego trap…

As a beginner, techniques are very useful – essential for most. However, as our practice develops, it can become more direct.

As a beginner faced with a crisis, the first thing is to seek some respite and some balance. In my experience, this is best accomplished by concentrating on the feeling in the body as we go through the Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This exercise is easy to learn and simple to practice. It works well when led by the voice of a friend or via an App like Allevi8. 

Yet the PMR reliably leads to deep physical relaxation, which then flows on to relax the mind. Deep relaxation of body and mind brings an immediate sense of relief, clears the mind to make good decisions and brings the body and mind into balance; which creates an ideal environment for healing. I have witnessed many people transform a crisis from this starting point. More details are in Blue Sky Mind.

However, speaking personally…  recently, following a second bout of COVID, I developed a weird functional bowel obstruction. 

This landed me in the Emergency Ward in acute shock.

Then ten days on a drip unable to eat or drink.

A total of 16 days in hospital before released... 

Absolutely zero energy, high levels of discomfort; dancing on the edge…

                                 The hospital room view :)

On reflection, what I drew upon most was a long body of study and practice. It felt like the “credit” from years of regular meditation flowed into this acute situation. There was a stability and inner calm despite the extreme circumstances. There was openness, an acknowledgement of what was happening, its potential severity, and yet, almost remarkably, no hope or fear. 

Fear we can relate to easily in difficult situations – and we can understand how more than just leaving us feeling miserable, it can obscure us from thinking clearly, and worse, give rise to panic. The danger is of becoming overwhelmed; of freaking out, then making poor decisions that result in bad outcomes for us and for those around us. Worst case scenario – we die leaving a mess behind.

Yet hope too takes us out of current time, out of the moment. Hope actually is another agitated state. While hope is touted as being so important, and it genuinely is for those feeling hopeless, it is an important starting point; hope is the flip side of fear, and both can be problematic.

This is one of the reasons I love sport, for while sport easily reveals itself as a game, hope and fear can easily creep in. 

Sport provides a great practice ground in which to be engaged, to be present, yet almost like an impartial observer, free of hope and fear. 

Who will win this year’s premiership???

Back to the illness; and accompanying all this, a quiet confidence. 

A confidence based on years of experience with the Mind-Body connection. 

Knowing that healing comes from balance – and the mind is in balance when free of hope and fear, when it is open, at ease and at peace. 

Next - a heightened awareness. Not so much mindfulness – that is where the mind goes out to concentrate on something. Awareness – where, like the impartial observer, we are fully present and allowing whatever is going on around us, to come to us. Open awareness. Awareness takes little to no effort; – which matched my capacity – but also is a powerful practice. Simply be aware. Be present. Leave it as it is, and be aware.

So this is the practice that flowed through the toughness of the experience. Open awareness. Not blocking, not disassociating, not fearing outcome, not hoping for anything in

particular except trusting in the best outcome. A baseline of confidence it would be OK – either I recover or I die, and either would be OK. 

But perhaps most importantly, a deeper connection with that all pervasive stillness. That presence some call God, others inner truth, our inner essence, the true nature of our mind; that presence that is beyond words, beyond description yet a presence we can experience in the depth of our meditation. A presence that then comes to pervade all of our life and provides this inner certitude, inner confidence, inner warmth. That direct experience of the all pervasive quality of unconditional love and its expression in this life we live. The real “credit” from years of regular meditation.

Plus a real sense of gratitude for all the staff and facilities that carried me through; and for the love of those around me

 – especially Ruth, the friend who made time amidst their own personal busyness to come into the hospital and quietly meditate with me, (I was too exhausted to interact in any “normal” way) and all those who prayed for me and sent well wishes.

Occasionally some focused relaxation in an attempt at relief; and yes some pain medication as I became so physically debilitated and worn down by the obstruction. 

I did also regularly invoke spiritual support in a way similar to the White Light guided imagery practice, and had the recognition all of I was going through, me included, is inherently empty and will pass. 

And maybe we talk more of the role of positive thinking another time…

                                                         Taken in hospital, closer to release time; starting to feel a little better

So… a long post, and  not sure how helpful this is. It is not so easy to put into words and maybe it might come across better in a conversation, however, there it is – a shared experience of meditation in a time of crisis; told by one who survived… 

What next?!

The good news is, and thanks to all who have cared about me through all this, I am feeling better slowly but steadily and actually woke up feeling comfortable in my body this morning - it has been a while...

Should be fit and well for the meditation retreat in 3 weeks time...