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...



  1. Ian, I can I thank you enough for sharing this. I’ve just begun chemotherapy for aggressive lymphoma and have been resisting picking up my meditation practice. Your words convinced me.

    1. Best wishes, and yes, meditation can provide the inner strength and clarity to transform most things... :)

  2. Sending you love and positivity from an OMSER in Wales GB X

  3. Thanks so much for this post. It came at the right time for this reader.

  4. Ian, wishing you a full recovery and best wishes for the future.
    Regards, Jim Euclid

  5. Thank you so much for posting. As one of your first graduates, reminders and refreshers are abundantly useful; maybe essential xxx Wishing you a full recovery ❤️‍🩹

    1. Remember to remember - love that suggestion :)

  6. Thank you Ian for sharing your thoughts feelings and emotions during your difficult time. It inspires us to know what can help in certain crises situations

  7. Thank you so much for your sharing Ian .
    May you be continue well to full health

  8. Thank you for putting your experience into words, Ian. I’m going to print this blog out for future reference. I’m sure I’ll need to re-read it in the future. Glad to hear you’ve turned the corner. Be well.
    Carolien 🕯️

    1. Many thanks Carolien; glad it seems helpful :)

  9. Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment Trevor. There is no doubt hope is very important on the relative level. For those facing adversity it is a key of what helps them through. Victor Frankel was one of the first to draw attention to this. However, when it comes to advancing on the spiritual path, there comes a point where we need to let go of hope and trust that things really are as they should be, accept where we are at, be present, and be open to knowing what is best to do in any given moment and circumstance. An advanced practice :)

  10. Thank you Ian. What ever happens peace be with you <3

  11. Thanks Ian. Look forward to seeing you in 3 weeks. Graham C

    1. Excellent Graham, the retreat promises to be wonder full :)

  12. Beautiful sharing Ian. Thank you for your genenerosity and May all go well with you and Ruth

    1. Thanks Jacqui -happy travels :)

    2. Just caught myself with the selfish feeling of being relieved that you have survived and getting better. After 20 years of following and learning from all your hard earned wisdom, I could not imagine being without your inspiring thoughts. Thank you for sharing and your honesty. There is a lot to be learned here. So glad both you and Ruth have overcome difficult issues. Nor fear or hope but inner balance, what a beautiful peaceful, free state to be in. Wishing you Happy Days also, hopefully there will be another wonder-ful retreat I can join soon. Much love, Christel.

    3. Thanks Christel, happy days to you too :)

  13. Dear Ian, after presenting a retreat day last Saturday, was wondering whether I taught/guided too much from my own experiences. Your post put my concerns to rest. Perfect timing, thank you!

  14. Many thanks for your sharing of this trial you went through physically and emotionally.It is truly inspiring

  15. Your guidance deeply appreciated

  16. Thank you SO much for sharing this Ian - I had been wondering what you did with your mind during this ordeal! Your description is a very helpful and inspiring reminder of what is most important, and how important the mind is, no matter what stage we are at on the meditation and spiritual path. And the photo of you and Ruth is just beautiful, speaking to the truth of what you describe.

  17. Your words inspire your strength shows in how you “walk your talk” Happy for you to hear you have come through this ordeal safely

  18. I’m so glad to hear you are feeling well again Ian. Thank you for sharing your journey. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told of the journey ahead with chemo & radiation, I was unbelievably calm. I ‘knew’ I was going to be ok; I ‘knew’ that I would come out the other side of this journey. In fact I was reassuring my family & friends who were extremely fearful. I did come out the other side, I’m still here meditating!

  19. Lovely to know of this. That assuring can come naturally, or through the formal practice of contemplation. Either way, when it comes with that level of conviction, amazing things happen. Best wishes... :)

  20. Hello Ian, So pleased you are feeling better. Your inspiration is always welcomed. Blessings and Peace. Joanne Jackett