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Mental Health in 21stC

“We are all gifted with the ability to adapt – to literally change our minds” as quoted in In Stillness Conquer Fear, Pauline McKinnon, Garratt Publishing 2016 ed.

It’s not unusual for anyone to shift their opinion or idea or concept of their surroundings. And it’s not unusual for anyone to note that they’ve changed their mind – I guess we all do that quite regularly in greater and lesser degrees. That kind of shift or change of mind usually takes place as a logical shift or decision and yes, in favourable circumstances people can adapt accordingly.

The dictionary describes the ability to adapt as that of becoming accustomed to … getting a feel for … acclimatize to, adjust to, familiarize ourselves with – in short to ‘find our feet’ – and maybe that little English idiom simply sums the word up very neatly. But there’s more! Finding our feet does not always occur through the use of logic. Finding our feet can be extremely challenging, can be a terrifying prospect in certain circumstances and can also describe, albeit vaguely, the adaptation necessary in the desire to relieve or manage the effects of anxiety.

We are reminded daily how hundreds of millions of people throughout the world suffer from anxiety. Similarly, depression is rife, suicide (often unexpectedly) touches thousands of lives, violence has become a world-wide problem, physical pain (not uncommonly related to mental pain) holds many thousands to ransom. And then there is the powerful emotional pain and suffering surrounding loss and grief or is endured when trauma or illness invades people’s lives. All such reactions involve human mental health.

What is happening in society today to bring to light such widespread lack of mental health? And what can be set in place to truly supply a solution to this unacceptable community problem.

The essence of the problem is really that in truth, the modern and consumerist world is lacking contentment of spirit. Adaptation to life matters requires practical information, logical understanding and spiritual contentment – otherwise recognized as peace of mind.
As my followers know, through the publication of my own anxiety experience many years ago, I took courage and pioneered awareness of this level of mental health – also offering an effective solution.

From that outspoken act I continue the work of the late and great psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares, whose intellect, wisdom and medical knowledge introduced the practice of a particular style of meditation for mental health purposes. Meares’ powerful and world revolutionary book Relief Without Drugs changed millions of lives. From within his insightful teaching, people learned the art of mental rest and therefore, the art of adaptation to nourish and strengthen mental health – a natural therapy par excellence!

Today, meditation of many styles has captured the interest of the media and consequently, countless people are turning to similar practices.
In my view the true aim of meditation is to calm the mind and renew the spirit. For some, their practice of meditation is wholly related to philosophy or religion and that is excellent. Others practice other methods that perhaps are more suited to their personal belief system. My life’s work has been dedicated to the concept of ‘stillness’. Stillness Meditation as created by Meares is a form of therapy that induces mental rest. The practice of pure stillness is founded in the natural being and is taught for the purpose of experiencing less, not more, for a short time each day. The introduction of quiet!

What a magnificent idea given the constant ‘busy-ness’ that distracts so many today? What a wonderful way to foster the human ability to adapt to the challenges of living? The natural and simple practice of ‘stillness’ creates the perfect environment for allowing the mind the gift of true adaptation – to literally change in a manner that releases tension, reduces anxiety and facilitates resilience.

Meditation has the potential to transform lives. With less stress, less anxiety, less depression people become happier, more personally free and certainly more content. Greater fringe benefits from ‘stillness’ mean that pain can be managed with equilibrium – and may in time be barely noticed, immune function strengthens, physical health is better regulated and negative habits are overcome. And from this safe place, the power of emotional intelligence can reveal the ‘real’ person within and open the way for that calm and contented person to truly come alive.

All meditation, if committed to and sustained can be the premier solution to Mental Health in 21stC. I and my followers just happen to prefer the Meares style of Stillness Meditation Therapy. This is an important and, despite its long existence, lesser known work. We welcome your assistance in learning more about ‘stillness’ and in coming to this Centre to experience it. And if there’s anyone out there who would like to contribute in other ways to making a true and lasting difference to our troubled world of today, please make contact. Mental health in 21stC requires this!

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, June 2019

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Reframing the myths around anxiety

I was recently invited to comment on my personal experience of anxiety and the opportunity to bust some of the common myths surrounding this emotional reaction.

Not surprisingly, the most common myth of all – and one that deeply affects the individual – is that anxiety is a reaction that is rare, shameful and of course, embarrassing. When I experienced 8 years of debilitating anxiety many years ago, I was convinced that this ‘illness’ was terrifyingly rare, shameful because of my feelings of helplessness and so embarrassing that I couldn’t share this burden with anyone but those closest to me. As well as that, chronic anxiety is alarmingly ‘scary’ as the fatigued brain lurches from panic to depression and many shades of confusion in between.

Having been the first person in the world to write a book (In Stillness Conquer Fear) on my experience and with well over 30 years’ experience in assisting many similar sufferers, at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, the connection I have with others travelling this emotional path is quite profound. My book remains a leading source of comfort and change since not only did I record my experience of anxiety, I have included very personal understanding of such suffering, advice on dealing with its impact and most of all, a powerfully effective way of overcoming this life limiting reaction.

As a therapist, drawing on one’s own life experience helps greatly in working with others as together we walk a path of companionship leading away from the fear-driven feelings and the apparently never-ending cycle of being lost, afraid, stuck in a quagmire of emotional pain.

Of course, today, society is getting better at talking about anxiety. Nevertheless, individual pain is just that … part of the individual journey … and hurtful or damaging myths can get in the way of change.

So here are some thoughts that may help dispel some of those myths:

1. Anxiety is rare
Anxiety is not rare; in fact, anxiety is common to all in varying degrees of experience. Acute anxiety affects one in three people during some stage of their life. It also affects both men and women. However, statistics show that women tend to present more often with anxiety than men. As I’ve noted in my book, women are likely more ready to seek help while men more likely attempt to tough it out in other ways.

2. Anxiety is just another form of stress
Anxiety and stress are two completely different things. Stress nearly always occurs due to a specific external situation. When the situation passes, so does the feeling of stress. Anxiety on the other hand cannot be solely attributed to an external situation. It is usually associated with stress – but is an emotion that reaches a point where one feels out of control and consumed by fear.

3. People with anxiety should avoid things that make them anxious
This is not the case. Avoidance unfortunately reinforces anxiety and can result long term in the full agoraphobic reaction with an ever-worsening anxiety as one’s constant companion. People who become anxious are usually temperamentally strong, sensitive and highly functional and they can, albeit with some difficulty, still achieve the things they need or want to achieve.

4. Medication is the best treatment for anxiety
This is an unfortunate assumption. While medication can be useful to help cope with anxiety symptoms, studies show that certain relaxing meditation practices, psychotherapy and for some, cognitive behavioural therapy have the advantage of assisting people to gain insight, personal understanding and self-empowerment; all of which bring far better results than medication. And there are dangers with medication: trial and error frequently occur with disastrous long-term results and for many, once commenced such medication may become a lifelong sentence that cannot be undone.

5. Panic attacks are just drama tantrums
Panic attacks are spontaneous, very real and cannot be deliberately constructed. To experience a full panic attack is alarming and occurs due to physiological and hormonal responses within the body as it aims to protect itself from a perceived highly threatening situation. Symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, feelings of mental confusion, unreality and overwhelming fear. Many people who experience panic feel they are having a heart attack and find themselves rushed to emergency.

6. Panic attacks make you pass out or lose control
Passing out or fainting usually happens when a sudden drop in blood pressure occurs This does not necessarily happen during a panic attack. In fact, a panic attack usually activates an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. When panic occurs the sufferer rarely loses control but instead experiences an overwhelming fear of losing control which of course, sustains the panic reaction.

7. Deep breaths will make anxiety go away
Anxiety causes physical responses such as dizziness, loss of balance, nausea, increased heart rate and chest pain. Some people sweat profusely and even feel close to choking. In emergency, often people are recommended to breathe deeply into a brown paper bag to regulate breathing dysfunction. However, while such a recommendation might bring some temporary comfort, this action, of itself, is not a cure for chronic anxiety.

8. Anxiety is always related to sexual problems
This is another myth. Anxiety is largely about personal temperament, life conditioning and one’s perception of what’s happening within their life. As such, these elements of living can cross many thresholds and for some, sexual issues may be one of those thresholds. As with any emotional reaction, life experience is filled with many, many potentially anxiety producing incidents or challenges and rarely limited to one major cause.

9. Some people are more prone to anxiety
Anxiety can strike anyone at any time for no reason whatsoever. There is evidence however to suggest that heightened anxiety is hereditary and can be passed down through the genes. As mentioned earlier, temperament, conditioning and perception of life can all contribute to the individual’s response to life. But as with all living things, these influences are not set in concrete. People can learn, grow and change!

10. So you can just grow out of anxiety?
Sorry, not that kind of growth! Acute anxiety is a persistent emotional experience and is not something you ‘just grow out of’. In my experience the only way to effectively deal with anxiety – and truly grow – is through deep physical and mental relaxation – with the emphasis here on mental relaxation. When the mind is effectively rested, over time, equilibrium can be restored within the autonomic nervous system with the result that anxiety lessens, recurring symptoms decrease in intensity and personal confidence and self-knowledge gradually unfolds.

 

Real growth and personal change are what we like to see with our clients at this Centre. Anxiety is treatable – naturally – once we learn the way. People can live successful and fulfilled lives – even more enriched from having learned and grown because of anxiety.

The key is to acknowledge anxiety – without shame or embarrassment – and search for the right help to ensure recovery. At this Centre we offer experience, expertise and exceptional results with the aim of making a difference!

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, May 2019

High anxiety
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High Anxiety

On 30th March this year the Age Magazine, Good Weekend, published a spread titled just that – High Anxiety. The point of the article seems to be aimed at highlighting anxiety as a more recently discovered ‘mental health’ issue.

However, in this blog I’m going to be very bold and stake my claim! My story, first published in 1983 was, to the best of my knowledge, the first personal account of anxiety on the shelves in Western society. Titled In Stillness Conquer Fear, mine is a personal account of this kind of suffering but one that also offers a powerful, lasting and successful solution leading to life fulfilment.

With its most recent updated edition being published in 2016, my story has been published in Ireland, the UK and Poland, in the Polish mother tongue. That’s some claim to make and I am proud to have assisted thousands of people throughout the world through the telling of my story and my experience over 36 years as a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders.

My story relays the power of anxiety and how 8 years of my early life were limited by recurring panic attacks that led to agoraphobia, the overwhelming fear of leaving the safety of home. Despite the efforts of a range of medical experts, relief escaped me until almost by accident, I came upon the genius work of Melbourne psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares. It is to Meares’ work that I can attribute recovery for myself and for many others whom I’ve been privileged to assist.

By way of elaboration, here’s an extract from my story:

“It was as I was driving in rather heavy traffic that I suddenly experienced an unpleasant sensation of unreality – as if I was there, but I wasn’t there.

I felt a surge of alarm at this new experience. I remember vaguely thinking that perhaps I had not been concentrating very well on my driving, and almost wanted to pinch myself to see if I were dreaming.

This feeling of unreality is quite a common symptom surrounding the onset of an anxiety/panic attack. Unintentionally I most likely became more tense in an attempt to overcome that unpleasant feeling. I then realised that I was feeling extremely unwell. I was dizzy and nauseated, my head was pounding, my vision was blurred and my heart was thumping in my throat – and I was still driving the car. I managed to park and sat there for a few minutes, terribly aware of the fact that I was ill and away from home and I had two very young children with me.

By then, I was also feeling weak and faint, hot and cold and gasping for breath – hyperventilating, so I learned much later. This resulted in the unfortunate experience of paresthesias – a scary experience indeed, which begins with tingling in the fingertips gradually leading to numbness in the hands and limbs, and which, in my ignorance at that time, I thought was the sudden onset of paralysis. With all those dramatic sensations happening and the predicament of my little kids alone in the car, I was convinced that I was dying or certainly being stricken with some dreadful disease.

With the influence of recent sudden deaths and illness in our family flooding my mind, somehow I stumbled, panic stricken, into a shop nearby. All I could say was that I needed help, and quickly, as my head swam with dark patches of fading consciousness. I must also have been the colour of a sheet, for I certainly caused some agitation amongst the shopkeepers. I had alarmed them as well as myself, as they confirmed a couple of weeks later when I returned to say ‘thank you’.

I didn’t actually lose consciousness as some do in such circumstances, but my mind was swamped with panic and I was terrified. Panic is a word we have come to use fairly loosely in our vocabulary, but the real meaning of the word can only be appreciated by someone who has been through a complete panic attack. At that time what I was experiencing was a mystery to me — but I remember feeling threatened by a sense of urgency, and all my responsibilities seemed to crowd into my thoughts, in particular the wellbeing of my two little children. It was a sensational and very frightening experience and I felt, in my confusion, that if I wasn’t dying, I was about to lose control of my reason and actions.

Since being in control is a very important aspect of security in human nature, a panic attack is quite devastating. No one likes to feel threatened in any way, least of all to have their composure threatened. But when one feels threatened by something unidentifiable, it is doubly difficult to accept. I pictured myself in all that confusion, being removed from the scene with absolutely no control over the situation, even to the extent of being unable to communicate. In hindsight, a classic experience of loss of self”.

Dr Meares work and indeed his vision for mental and physical health is centred upon mental rest – known today as Stillness Meditation Therapy. This is what I learned from him; this is what I needed to learn in order to truly relax, to assist my brain to unlearn and relearn and to gain ease, confidence and over time, the insight necessary to live well.

And so it is frustrating at the very least, to read articles such as that in the Good Weekend where it seems anxiety as a social problem is only now really being addressed. It is frustrating that so many people are still victims of stress, fear, anxiety and accumulated tension while relying on medications that keep them trapped in dependence and often make matters worse. I feel very strongly that people deserve far better and, when finding the right path, are more than capable of negating the adverse influence of anxiety to become more wholly themselves.

If you appreciate the content of this blog, please pass it on to others. If you read this and identify with my understanding of anxiety, please make contact. My colleagues and I would truly love to assist.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne
, April 2019

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Overcoming anxiety naturally and the courage to change

Autumn for me always brings with it a time of deep reflection. It seems fitting to ponder life with cooler evenings, to observe the many shades of falling leaves and to consider the changes of the past with the prospect of other changes as the coming year progresses. Throughout life, change is inevitable. Some change is perhaps unwelcome. Some change will be for the best, and some will be the magnificent fulfillment of dreams. But regardless of outcomes, change will always be accompanied by challenge, and challenge takes courage.

My work in helping people change is a constant privilege. How fortunate I feel to have learned the ability to assist others on their journey … learning from personal experience and learning from the experiences of others. Here, within the living of life, is where wisdom matures. And having walked the talk with a great many people I believe I can claim some wisdom and a level of expertise within the treatment we offer. And that thought brings me to more autumn ponderings.

It was the wisdom of the remarkable psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares MD (1910-1986) whose natural Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT) enabled me to find freedom from my life-crippling anxiety and discover personal life transformation. From that life story I was able to set in motion the public recognition of anxiety and related disorders, and later, having accepted Meares’ baton, the purity of his work continues.

Within that journey of change (no doubt triggered by Meares’ work and the telling of my own story), in recent years an increased interest in meditation has encouraged others to focus on new ways to look at ‘what happens in our mind’. And yet popular statistics inform that one in nine Australians currently experience high or very high levels of anxiety! Clearly there is still much work to be done. The upcoming Royal Commission into Mental Health is timely since the need to constantly raise awareness surrounding these issues certainly must include anxiety. From information and education people can learn best where to turn for relevant diagnosis and how to choose the path most suitable to make their desired change.

With my associates at this Centre we unreservedly offer to anxiety sufferers the prospect of positive change. With a majority of our clients attesting to a 54% life improvement within their first SMT course, our results are consistently remarkable. But remarkable too, is the way of this work.

The dignified terminology for Stillness Meditation Therapy as coined by Dr Meares is mental ataraxis. This terminology is not some vague idealistic notion taken from meditative spiritual traditions. Mental ataraxis describes the development of Meares’ stillness meditation experience as absence of disturbance of the mind – a unique, physiologically based meditative state that is simple, natural and powerful.

Nonetheless, change cannot take place without mutual work taking place. While many people will find ready relief, some take far longer. As with any style of treatment or healing process, there are personal requirements necessary to aid the journey – especially those of commitment and perseverance.

As therapists, we can facilitate the Stillness experience and we can encourage and support each person’s journey – providing each person makes a commitment to the changes they seek. Without commitment the journey will halt or be significantly delayed. To commit to something means to persevere – in this case, attendance at regular, repeated therapeutic sessions and daily home practice. Without that level of perseverance, the body and mind – our nervous system in fact – will remain stuck in old habits. But commitment and perseverance also require one more important quality: courage. Desire without courage is not a truly passionate desire. Bring courage to the fore and with these three values in place, change is at hand.

Those who master anxiety by this means indirectly affirm the genius of Ainslie Meares’ own courage over many years’ advancement of this radical life-skill. It is courage indeed that brings the reward of calm confidence and the discovery of the real person within.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, March 2019

 

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Gratitude

At the SMT Centre we are blessed with truly wonderful clients! It is heart-warming and so deeply rewarding for us to receive words of gratitude for the services we offer. It is these words of gratitude that encourage us in our work and assist that work in helping others.

Last week a beautiful card arrived in the post. To have something arrive in the ‘post’ is a thrill in itself in these days of emails, texts and ‘postings’ that attempt to fill the void of personal contact. And within that lovely card were words of gratitude for help received some ten years ago – as well as a long handwritten letter, expanding upon that.

This surprise came from ‘Mary’ as I named her when recounting her story in my book, Living Calm in a Busy World. It’s been at least 6 years since we’ve had contact so it was a truly beautiful surprise to hear from her. Mary’s story of stress, mental breakdown, panic, chronic debilitating anxiety and depression is one of courage, and most importantly, the courage to try something different after years of seeking relief. It was my privilege to offer Mary that ‘something’ and it became her path to emotional freedom.

The letter recently received is therefore an update and almost like a new chapter in Mary’s life. In recent years she has been struggling with severe illness of another kind and one that has involved many hospital admissions, tests and the prospect of unusual surgery … “but”, she said in her letter, “the important thing I wanted to convey to you is that without Stillness Meditation I wouldn’t have been able to deal with all that my condition has thrown my way”.

What a joy to read! And so Mary’s gratitude becomes my gratitude to her in a lovely circle of true wellness. All of us at this Centre are thinking of her and wish her well and continued ease of being – in every way.

A simple thank you is almost like a prayer. There is so much in life to be thankful – or grateful – for. Yes, there are challenges. There is unkindness, hurt and consequent pain. We suffer losses of varying types. There is illness and loss, and there are the ravages of nature, especially this summer where both fire and flood have caused great harm in this country. But I think we must always look to ‘tomorrow’ … to find courage and hope in whatever comes our way … and to treasure with gratitude even the smallest of good things that enter the day.

Our mind is perhaps our greatest gift and one that will either make or break calamitous events. A mind in turmoil creates more turmoil as can well be confirmed by the need to hold the upcoming Victorian Royal Commission into mental health.

With gratitude for restored mental health as part of my own early life story, my hope is that somehow this royal commission will truly come to understand that a calm mind is unquestionably the key to mental health for all members of society. Meditative practices of all kinds can significantly assist this need. My own gratitude and that of many of our clients will always acknowledge the gift of natural and simple Stillness Meditation as a premier key to discovering the gift of happy and productive wellness.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne,
February 2019

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A Year’s Reflection

December, we know, is a busy month as we find ourselves perhaps prematurely propelled into Christmas and the New Year. For me, December is also a reminder to reflect upon the year’s work – life in general and especially at this Centre.

I use the word ‘work’ when perhaps, for the latter our engagement with the wonderful clients we meet is closer to gentle play – or reverent communication. It’s an endeavour that for several decades I have truly loved to participate in – and I believe that truly expresses the sentiments of my wonderful assistants and associates. And so my thoughts turn to the ‘why’ of our work. And from a personal perspective, why indeed have I shown up week after week to meet with and hold in ‘stillness’, so many people over such a long period of time?

The ‘why’ I believe, is because this ‘work’ is a gift to give to others who, as any of us are destined to experience, find themselves in times of emotional pain. Within this work comes the visibility of human need and the privilege to assist as we each grow through all the hopes and obstacles, successes and disappointments, losses and gains and times of sorrow – the major and minor challenges that every year presents. These highs and lows are the stuff of life from which no one is exempt – and which very often we cannot truly understand. And yet this work, the work of stillness of mind, can somehow pacify these events and bring healing and strength. My mentor, the psychiatrist Ainslie Meares says this:

What can I understand?
Events have their consequences.
Cause and effect.
Basis of all understanding.
Perhaps.
And may we say, perhaps not.
Who mended a heart ache.
By knowing the cause?
It comes in the calm and the stillness.
To know beyond words.
And we know no pain.

Yes, understanding can come in special ways. And very often in ways so subtle that it’s easy to recognise that the use of words may frequently just get in the way.

And so my thoughts travel further to recall some of the reasons people come to participate in our work … reasons that each and every one of us can readily identify with:

  • The cancer diagnosis
  • Trauma following financial collapse
  • The death of a life partner
  • A retiree at a loss to know how to find fulfilment
  • An unexpected broken marriage
  • A compelling fear of flying that prevents family connection
  • The personal outcome of a dysfunctional family
  • A breakdown due to post traumatic stress
  • Certain challenges in tending to a chronically ill child
  • The diagnosis of a rare disease
  • The mid-life crisis
  • A separation due to his partner’s dementia
  • Grief and anger surrounding the unfaithful husband
  • Exam time for the twenty year old
  • School bullying for the teenager
  • Social anxiety inhibiting life achievement
  • Unjustified accusation of wrongdoing
  • Work related stress
  • Trauma and injury following a road accident
  • Countless negative outcomes due to low self esteem
  • Chronic depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Emotional pain from early life abuse

… and so the list goes on … human life in need of consolation … or simply in need of managing things differently and perhaps becoming more complete people in the process. And we’re all in this together!

Last month I wrote of the precious gift of freedom reminding myself and others that:

“Life challenges exist and enter our way in many varieties even within the cushioning of our usually comfortable existence. And the major reaction to such challenges is that ultra modern disease – stress – meaning worry, lost energy, mental burnout, confusion, rampant, life limiting anxiety and shades of depression. So stress and the anxiety it brings, needs to be managed to gain a sense of personal freedom”.

So let’s pause for a moment and be thankful for this year, 2018, with all its ups and downs. Let’s look to the busyness of December and the coming New Year with a sense of joyful celebration and hopeful expectation. Let’s value whichever way we have established within our life to best support whatever comes our way. And let’s never forget to engage in the pursuit of peace – within ourselves and far beyond.

We look forward to reconnecting with you next year and send warmest wishes and Season’s Greetings from us all at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, December 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Essential Calm

The primary purpose of our work in teaching Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT) is to help people to find within themselves, the essential calm that gives power and purpose to life. Our world today is a busy place, often cluttered, sometimes controlled beyond personal resource and many feel overwhelmed. When we ask our new clients what they hope for in coming here, the distilled responses are always located within the primary desire for calm, peace and happiness.

When psychiatrist Ainslie Meares created his concept of meditation (the Stillness Meditation Therapy of today) way back in the 1950’s, he keenly recognized those needs – calm, peace and happiness – and the way to access such desirable strengths within the self. As specialists in his work we aim to collect, nurture, distil and teach attitudes of calm; to curate and project the values of calmness in fact. And so we assist people to access their own essential calm through natural mental rest – in silence, quiet and profound stillness.

Once the commitment to stillness commences and after several intensive sessions, without doubt good progress can first be seen in each person’s face … the loss of tension, and yes, the calmer, more serene (yet livelier and happier) expression, and the clarity within their eyes. As such, these observations often lead us to test our clients’ sense of humour by suggesting that SMT can be the most wonderful form of beauty therapy, too!

When the mind rests naturally in stillness, the reactivity of stress and the symptoms of tension, anxiety and depression are relieved: the body’s own way of coping with distress, to quote Dr Meares. Gradually we see our clients begin to experience living calm, which of course means that they are moving toward their goal of becoming calm, peaceful and happier people! And then along comes confidence. Confidence leads to productivity and these lead to courage. Courage means meeting life’s challenges, reaching ambitions and dreams and being rewarded with success. Success brings contentment … and so life gets better … and better.

In short, as the days and weeks pass and new friends become regular visitors, magic happens! And while each person may not know it yet – or they may not have yet reached the personal freedom they believe they are seeking – further changes are taking place.

Now here’s an important thought! Anyone can achieve this. SMT is not a challenging system or technique to learn through action. In SMT there is no mantra, no chanting, no mindfulness, no need for breath control or the focus of background music. Stillness is about not doing anything … just simply being in profound mental rest with the outcome of experiencing deeply, one’s inherent calm.

SMT is simple, natural, and easily accessible. Sometimes though, the simplest things in life can be the most elusive. In learning to capture such simplicity, the majority may need some help in correctly finding the way.

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, August 2018

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A calm mind and a beautiful life!

This is a really important reflection. As well as witnessing life changes taking shape with our clients, we meditation therapists consistently notice visible changes, too. When the art of ‘stillness’ is truly captured, it’s really another form of beauty therapy – men and women alike!

I’m always interested in the progress of our clients as they walk the walk of Stillness Meditation. We review this progress formally at certain times during each client’s course. But far from the formal assessment of individual progress is the appearance on people’s faces as they gradually begin to live calmly.

Very often at first meeting, the new client’s strain visibly shows. When anxious, tense, stressed or depressed, the facial features appear tight, twitchy, nervous or sad. Hands are restless. Nails may be bitten down. Legs are crossed and uncrossed and the eyes, often close to tears, are wide with apprehension. After so many years’ observing the effects of ‘stress’, it’s just not possible to miss these things.

But as the days and weeks pass and the client becomes a regular visitor, magic happens! The practice of stillness is morphing into living calm. Individuals may not know it yet but there’s a serenity appearing. ‘Stillness’ is becoming part of their life. The smile is brighter and more spontaneous. The eyes look rested. The nervous habits have vanished. Nails are growing and excessive lines are smoothing out. A kind of beauty is gradually emerging. He or she may not yet have arrived at their desired outcome – but the way there, the way of living calm, is certainly making a difference.

Calmness leads to confidence. Confidence leads to courage. Courage means facing life challenges, meeting those challenges and being rewarded with success – and then achievement … and adventure … and little by little, next comes the change that leads to contentment. And so life gets better, and better …

Meditation is the balm to soothe life and challenge and personal growth. For some, these transformations are captured surprisingly quickly. Others may take many months to have their commitment and patience rewarded. But as an observer who is also sharing the journey, it is utterly delightful to notice beauty in its many forms, gradually emerge.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
July 2018, Melbourne

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Let’s discuss anxiety again

The stories and struggles of people experiencing anxiety are becoming more and more prevalent. How interesting that this word ‘anxiety’ has become so much a part of our vernacular when not too many years ago, people believed anxiety was the domain of others – never themselves – and shied away from any anxiety related personal disclosure. I’ve written lots about anxiety in the past but I feel it’s time to raise the topic again.

It’s always important to remember that anxiety, is in reality fear, our natural defence mechanism. However anxiety unmanaged can cause huge distress, becoming symptomatic in two ways:

  • Stress-induced anxiety is the reaction that happens when challenging life problems give cause to worry. This is when sleepless nights, feelings of overwhelm, high tension levels, increased blood pressure, headaches and palpitations lead the individual to seek ways to calm down. Usually anxiety symptoms at that level do eventually calm down as the stress related problem is resolved and so people are restored to ‘normal’ and continue to get on with their lives.
  • But acute, chronic anxiety is another matter. This is when people experience all the above symptoms plus many more such as hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, avoidance, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, eating disorders, fear and terror, self-harm and depression – and potentially a diagnosis of mental illness. Like a flow on from stress-induced anxiety, this is the level of anxiety that occurs when challenging life issues set the ball rolling but leave deeper, concealed or denied existential issues still unresolved: the lack of personal fulfilment, unrelenting loss and grief, a faulty relationship, a negative self image and so on … intangible issues that may need careful investigation. This kind of anxiety is life limiting at the very least and at worst, a huge personal burden to carry.

In all this, it’s evident that relief from anxiety remains confusing to many and unquestionably an area in need of support within the community.

So what to do? When anxiety at either level is diagnosed or otherwise identified it may be thought that relief can be found in the same way the flu can be dealt with. But anxiety is far deeper than contagion! Anxiety is part of human existence, part of our life experience and hopefully, part of learning to grow. So it can be really helpful as a starting point, to begin to accept that some level of anxiety helps keep us safe.

Next – and most importantly – is to find a way to reduce the intensity of surrounding feelings and symptoms. Nervous tension is the primary force behind insistent symptoms and as it reduces, the unpleasant symptoms decrease. Tension is like an acceleration of activity within the nervous system – with no idea of how to apply the metaphorical brake! Tension is usually a habit developed in a bid to cope with the ups and downs of living. And of course, tense families produce tense progeny and on it goes until someone breaks the cycle. To successfully reduce nervous tension takes understanding, recognition and assistance from another who has the skills to impart effective change. Hypnotherapy, therapeutic meditation sessions or reputable relaxation classes are the premier ways to be assisted in reducing nervous tension.

And finally, best of all in the end, is the development of a positive attitude and the courage to begin to discover and truly know oneself – the dark side as well as the bright side – through self exploration or the guidance of a mentor or therapist.

I’m reminded now of a lovely story that I recently heard from one of my clients. Accompanied by a few tears Kay recalled how her much loved Grandma had passed away at 96 following a fall while dancing! And so we talked about the happy spirit of this lady and within some other anecdotes, Kay reflected on further memorable moments. “Sometimes I’d phone Grandma and find her a little bit overwhelmed by day to day events but her attitude was always amazing. She was ever an inspiration but perhaps her most often repeated words if I happened to call at a difficult time were the enthusiastic “I’m having a terrible day – but I’m having a wonderful life!”

That is an attitude we could all do well to cultivate, too. Life can be challenging but it’s ultimately rewarding.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
May 2018

 

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Are YOU becoming too busy?

When I need some holiday time I seek serenity by the sea. A range of responsibilities have brought highlights as well as challenges for me in recent months. But while responsibilities and duties (and of course the good times) are cause for planning and executing these well, when some days feel a little too busy, then I sense trouble brewing.

Trouble may mean feelings of being time-poor, the hint of uncommon restlessness, too many lists as yet unfulfilled, emails unattended, more papers than desirable waiting on the desk and occasionally, interrupted sleep. Feelings like these are normal enough in the ups and downs of life – but being too busy can lead to those ‘troubled’ feelings I’ve just outlined … and for many, of feeling just a little out of control.

To remain capable and to deal with modern living, some element of control is a necessity; but to feel out of control because of feeling controlled by external forces is certainly unhealthy and may lead to stress, anxiety, depression and illness.

So – the main pressures of today? Somehow – through transportation and technology – society has accepted the desire for instant gratification. It’s possible to achieve a great many outcomes almost instantaneously and contact is perhaps the greatest achievement of all. Being in quick or constant contact may seem to be desirable. But it brings with it a subtle demand to perform in some way. Evidence of this pressure surrounds the use of virtual skills to think, to offer ideas, opinions and knowledge; to photograph, edit, save and send; to interact and make instant decisions and feel the need to respond – even when it may be preferable not to do so – and even if neglecting to do so might mean missing out on some information, event or opportunity.

This kind of busy is a successful sales pitch. Yes, we want to succeed in life. Yes, we want to feel recognised, included and liked. But maybe this sales pitch has the power to rob people of the very self confidence that is actually craved. Rather than building confidence and a sense of self, there’s something of a universal need to compete. There’s also an inclination to judge, as well as the need to ‘have’ what others have – or perform as others do. These are the pressures that can drive some to succumb to frantic online shopping or comparing goods and concepts with those desired or possessed by others. Perhaps it’s time to revisit reality? Those others by whom we may feel judged are most likely not close or dear friends. Perhaps they (and we) are merely passing each other in virtual form without a future or very importantly, knowledge of the real person.

Could it be in this now readily accepted process, that many are losing our uniqueness within the probable ground-swell of conforming to the ideals of others? Are we losing the freedom to make personal choices? And might we be harbouring feelings of guilt or even fear if we overlook returning that message or responding immediately to social media in its many forms? Even worse, are we unwittingly allowing these pressures to create the predictable underlying and compelling advent of stress?

I asked myself these questions as I meditated by the sea. For me the sea is a reminder that all is possible in life – providing we own the physical and emotional foundation of calm. Which is why I meditate; which is why I teach others to meditate.

As always, a simple image like this gives me my answer … there is serenity to be found within and beyond all activity – providing we have the wisdom and power to access it.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, April 2018