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Navigating Christmas in the 21st century

Another year is drawing to a close and it’s nearly time for celebrations! On the front door, the Advent wreath heralds more to come. Christmas lists are being prepared, Christmas trees and festive decorations are appearing here and there and Santa will soon emerge, hoping that the possibility of 40° temperatures around Melbourne might hold off for a while. The excitement of Christmas touches all lives one way or another but this time of year also coincides with a few other major milestones.

My family and I celebrated several birthdays within the month of November and of course numerous others have birthdays to look forward to prior to December 25th! Will everyone literally run out of steam before that day approaches?

My colleague Lucy and I were contemplating all this when she suddenly said “this is all about happily finding our way through … just as the three wise men navigated their way from a distance to discover the infant Christ in a humble manger in the small town of Bethlehem all those many aeons ago.”
So, let’s briefly contemplate a few other important matters with a view to minimising these becoming not merely hurdles but mountains along the path to Christmas.

At this time of year in Australia we have the challenge met by students facing end of year exams, concerts and celebrations of another kind. These activities involve a great deal of parental navigation, physically, mentally, emotionally and geographically! This is also a time where many children begin to walk new pathways: planning for the new school year, starting the little ‘preps’, entry into new schools for mid-level kids, significant adaptation from primary to secondary level, VCE to holiday jobs and awaiting entry into tertiary education – as well as holiday planning for the long summer break.

Family needs such as those suggested above also involve financial pressures for parents – and that’s before they even begin to consider the Christmas gift lists!

It’s also timely to remember that there are other areas of life over which to stumble in our journey to Christmas. Perhaps most notably the diversions on the way relating to personal adaptation to change. Within the closing year many people have experienced loss and it’s accompanying grief. Typically, loss may involve the death of loved ones and the thought of celebration without those so dear to us can for some, be beyond contemplation. But there are other losses to consider, too, that lead to radical emotional hurdles: the pain involved in parting where family members fall out or friendships are unexpectedly severed; or the acute pain within divorce and broken marriage or relationships where such separation touches children’s lives and the wider relationships within the extended family. And what of families separated due to loved members who live out of the country? The journey to Christmas may for many be tainted by loneliness and isolation when geographical distance and a sense of lost connection occurs.

And then there are the emotional barricades that halt the journey as stress morphs into fatigue and the unkind feelings of guilt, fear, anxiety and depression. To uncover the easy road to joy and the promise of celebration at Christmas time really means many must traverse not only the mountains and the desert but also the jungle.

Notwithstanding all these truths, in facing these realities, let’s not become overly negative. For many, myself included, Christmas is a stand-alone occasion for the purpose of celebrating the Christian feast. And this of course involves the tradition of gift giving, sharing special food and wine and particularly, sharing the company and love of family and close friends. Alongside the celebrations to look forward to, a significant component of the traditional Christmas celebration also involves attention to Advent, a time for reflection, self-nurturing and quiet in the four weeks preceding Christmas.

Whilst the meaning of Advent also originated in Christianity, wouldn’t it be wonderful if those first four weeks of December could be recognised by many more and truly valued as ‘down time’ – a time of self-care among all the duties and responsibilities that must be lived. This could also be a time for finding the positive within all change – that means aiming to see beyond hurt, anger, fear and loneliness and look instead to new beginnings of hope and actually, the eternal power of love … if we will only be patient enough to trust.

With that in mind, maybe this year we might consider making time each day for simplicity, for a little contemplation. For time spent in meditation, for noticing our feelings, for letting go of stress and pressure, for quiet conversation (away from the distraction of mobiles and other devices) – and a time to become self-aware which in turn, helps us in our awareness and love for others.

Perhaps navigation at this time of year means aiming to keep Christmas in correct perspective. Essentially Christmas is, after all, a reminder of the human need for peace. As we travel the journey this year, let’s consider the upcoming challenging road with a sense of peace; with ease and joyfulness without feeling burdened by obstacles and with the desire for a truly wonderful celebration.

From all of us at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, we wish you a very happy Christmas Season and a very happy and significant New Year – we look forward to meeting you and sharing a very calm 2020!

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, December 2019

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Letting go – and what that might mean!

This year, 2019, has been a year of significant change for me. Since no one is immune from change, whether negative or positive as we enjoy the privilege of living year by year, I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience.

One would hope that change will be readily adapted to and that change may ease us into another stage of life, of personal growth and if we’re fortunate, some accrued wisdom. As among other things I’m in the process of downsizing, one of the learning curves handed to me most recently is the need to dispose of goods. Quite apart from any personal journey, our current understanding of global warming and climate change gives rise to the obvious that the accumulation of ‘stuff’ within modern society has put our world to risk. Alongside such risk we are now also aware of the mammoth problem of waste disposal while simultaneously and by contrast, advertising continues to bombard the unsuspecting with temptations to purchase still more and more. We only have to switch on TV to be confronted by the potential excesses of the Christmas Season! It seems there is much our modern society must learn to let go of, despite commodities and despite the sales. But how to achieve this in the best possible way?

To begin, letting things go brings individual challenges. Initially we make the time to inspect all we have. And then comes assessment: do we really need this or that. What is its purpose? How might this or that object be meaningful to us as we are right now? We become torn between practicalities, sentiment and memories. Some items bring joy to the heart. Perhaps by association, certain objects remain of value and to part with these is difficult – perhaps inherited or gifted by loved family members or thoughtfully chosen within tender friendships. And yet such gifts are very likely still objects, of little use other than to remind us of another time, another person, another comfort. In the consideration of letting these go we must weigh up the pros and cons surrounding any decision to keep or dispose. And it may well be that the primary barrier to learning to let go is that of sentiment, where head and heart are conflicted in their aim.

Photographs are another challenge. Yes, today we have the advantage of the digital age with thousands of photos stored for ever in that way. But do they really bring the same day to day joy as did their previous print version – of which there are still too many in my possession for practical reality. The digital option provides us with an instant buzz or the possibility of scouring indefinitely to retrace many occasions. But who has the time available to do that on a regular basis? To print these would be ridiculous, not to mention the hundreds of frames needed or the space required to display even a limited few! In my deliberations surrounding photos I can happily leave the digital images where they are and, without regret, begin to let go of many printed images, some saved in albums or others now yellowing with the passing of time. This was an interesting exercise as I settle now in the certainty that the best selection of even the black and white memorabilia on the wall is an ever-present treasure that makes my heart sing.
Then the linen cupboard. Tablecloths? Too many place mats? Napkins? Even tea towels! The good and the tidy can find a home elsewhere. And cutlery accumulated over years, kitchen gadgets whose function can usually be replicated by simple alternatives … platters of many shapes and sizes … three kettles in case of emergency? Why complicate time and space more than necessary?

I believe there’s a secret to letting things go. And that means more than objects or things because all that material ‘stuff’ is linked to our emotions. This time of disposal intensifies my gratitude for having learned to draw on the power of inner calm. This time reminds me of another of the ‘fringe benefits’ of having learned such a long time ago, how to access stillness in my life and rely on the strengths it provides – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

In teaching the work of Dr Ainslie Meares as I’ve practised and shared with so many over the years, I remind my clients of this: As letting go in Stillness induces physical relaxation and ultimately, mental relaxation, tension becomes noticeably reduced. Among other rewards from this practice, tension reduction permits ease of being. When we regularly practice just being still, we open the way for mental calm, for clarity of thought, for emotional stability and for good decision making. Through the practice of being simply still, without force, focus or effort of any kind, body, mind and spirit are somehow united in purpose. Stillness is change made positive, regardless of the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ as Shakespeare so keenly observed. That little counsel has long served me well – perhaps such a reminder might help my readers now, too.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, November 2019

 

 

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Stop Still for Peace – please join us

Established by the United Nations in 1981, the International Day of Peace is observed each year on 21st September. With the onset of spring which always promises a sense of optimism, let’s remember September as the month to pause and review life as we know it.

As I write this in Melbourne, we are experiencing the first of our best spring days. My garden is overflowing with new green growth, the sky is blue and magpies, nesting in nearby trees are happily warbling their morning greetings. It is a peaceful morning.

And yet, reading the paper earlier I was dismayed as I often am, to read the flow of bad news stories: mental health issues, suicide, financial distress, infrastructure problems, welfare and financial issues, natural disasters, racism, discrimination and drug related crimes to mention but a few local matters of significance. There is a strong sense that peace is lacking in our community, not to mention the distress that encumbers so much of our wider world.

There is something else. Modern life is busy, with a thrum of activity underpinning each day. Then add to that the level of violence on our roads. Angry words, coarse language, gestures, bullying and aggressive driving, blaring speakers and vehicles speeding out of control. All this speaks loudly of inner turmoil. And, tragically, from levels of individual tension comes loss of life or innocent people seriously injured due to pent up frustration, anger and mismanagement of emotions.

How can we find peace in our home, our city or our world when busy-ness has come to be the ‘normal’ way to live? When almost anything we ‘want’ can be accessed via the mobile phone? When rushing from place to place or becoming ‘stuck’ in queues of traffic has become part of modern living? When families no longer share time together over the evening meal but eat on the run or while watching the news? When modern living itself has lost the means of expressing or enjoying peace? Without time to be, without personal interaction and without an appreciation of life, the challenge for a peaceful world continues.

As violence produces violence, similarly, peace can produce peace. We must value the concept of peace – and promote it more and more. September is one month during which we can remember the importance of recognising what is missing in the modern world and take steps to make a change.

The International Day of Peace on September 21 is a day devoted to the strengthening of the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.  As part of a broader initiative called Stop Still for Peace many communities especially in Melbourne and across Australia, will be participating on this day with a range of events.

We will also be taking part by holding our own event on Saturday 21 September at the SMT Centre, by offering 30-minute Stillness sessions starting from 10am until 2pm. These sessions are open to all and we warmly welcome you to make a commitment to peace by joining us in a peaceful observance – for the self, for the community and for our world.

You will find us at 146-148 Harp Road, Kew.  If you can’t physically join us, then please take 30 minutes at home, at the park, by the sea or wherever you wish – to simply stop still for peace.

The practice of being still unquestionably leads to personal peace, a sense of wellbeing, more happiness and, in time, improved health and greater contentment.

Peace begins within –your peace, our peace and ultimately world peace.

Pauline McKinnon
Melbourne, September 2019

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Loss, bereavement, grief and the power of stillness

Loss and its associated grief make for a challenging topic, yet one that we all must face in the course of our lives. Much has been written and researched about the grieving process and while concepts and words may certainly give guidance or support, loss and surrounding grief always remain individual and personal experiences.

While the death of a partner, friend or colleague is most associated with grief, this powerful reaction may occur for numerous reasons involving relationships at many levels – or ill health, injury or financial disaster to name a few. Grief carries a range of emotions, some predictable and others less so. In the process of grieving there are no quick fixes. Healing may come within weeks, months and not uncommonly, many years. It is for these reasons that new clients frequently seek assistance at this Centre. It is for this reason that I find myself lead to share some healing connections.

To touch on this at a very personal level, it is for me the recent loss of my husband of many years that has prompted these reflective thoughts. It has been a challenging and sorrowful time. But I am content in the certainty that he is at peace and there is resolution in this even though of course his presence is irreplaceable and sadness hovers. Within this experience I have been fortunate to have the loving support of family and friends. Most importantly, within this experience I have the gift of resilience through the additional support of my long-term practice of spending time in simply being still.

Not unusually my recent bereavement is one of many such experiences within family and friends over the years. By way of diversity, my earliest recollection of grief came in childhood when our much-loved grey and white kitten, Timmy, disappeared. The last time I saw Timmy he was by our front door, gently teasing moths with his right paw on a mild, maybe summer evening. And he vanished. We searched in every possible way for days, weeks and months, trying to locate just some hint of what could have befallen him. We lived near open spaces and repeatedly we covered every path and possibility – even searching for decaying animal remains in the hope that we could understand what happened to Timmy. Years have passed since then and although I rarely bring that little grief to mind, whenever I do, there is a lingering pain of loss without resolution. If there’s a problem, the soul seeks re-solution.

When Timmy the kitten left us, I had no experience of stillness. I was then a child, sensitive but purpose driven. Much later when my father suddenly died, I was an adult-child, sensitive and bewildered and my grief was comforted in my husband’s arms. Then an avalanche of grief came later, as numerous family deaths punctuated our early years of marriage. In this I kept running for comfort outside of myself, the outcome of which I have described in my book In Stillness Conquer Fear. The extremely high anxiety that plagued me for many years was undoubtedly triggered by repeated loss and too much effort trying to make sense of it all.

At that time and without knowing stillness, my mind was far too occupied, encumbered by over-thinking. But I knew no better. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, essentially loss and bereavement involve the heart and mind and soul. Nothing makes sense in the pain of grief. The normality of one’s daily comings and goings simply disappears to be replaced by emptiness. And nothing can fill the void: not company, love, sex, drugs or money. Not material goods or distractions. Grief can raise anxiety and depression along with feelings of panic and fear for one’s mental stability. There may come strange feelings of detachment from the real world along with the pain of separation and resultant loneliness. Grieving prompts loss of appetite or conversely, the comfort of over-indulgence. Grieving can feel like recovery from debilitating illness or becoming overwhelmed while rushing blindly into activities such as tidying and cleaning – and of course, utter exhaustion. And while the heart, mind and soul are seeking the solace that keeps slipping through our fingers, there are also practical matters that must be dealt with – matters that require focused attention that at this time, are difficult to access. In grief there is nothing but grief … until, perhaps by desire or happenstance, our spirit gradually awakens to inner peace and newfound awareness. Within awareness, a level of acceptance gently emerges; the symptoms of grief begin to lessen and the process of resolution can begin.

As for myself today, the skills I have learned along the way I confirm again as life necessities – for we never know what waits around the metaphorical corner. A certain spiritual faith I am fortunate to possess, strengthened by reading, reflecting, journal writing, walking, time spent surrounded by nature or within healing spaces. Support also comes from my attraction to art, music, the lightness of humour when appropriate, quiet conversations with family and friends … and lots of hugs that enhance the supreme power of love. Most of all, the practice of stillness within my life for many years is for me the keystone of inner peace that binds all the good together.

Regardless of the cause of grief or the length of the journey, within that time the heart, mind and soul need freedom from encumbrance. The experience of true stillness can provide that because it asks nothing but the practice of effortless rest. To gain that is to access the natural panacea for calming the whole being.

Finally, from loss and grief we can more fully grow. In the process of healing, it’s possible to come to accept that it truly is in the dying of who or what we grieve for that we can learn so much about living. This is no mystery. It is part of the truth of existence: loss and pain and darkness are just as important as all the goodness and joy of day to day life. For without the dark, who can ever truly know the light?

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, August 2019

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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