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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absence in the cause of freedom

In one of my books on a topic close to my heart (Help Yourself & Your Child to Happiness) I have quoted the respected literary poet, T.S. Eliot:
“Teach us to care and not to care, teach us to sit still”.

I really admire those words – conceived in the early 20thC with insight and wisdom. Eliot wrote frequently about ‘stillness’, his penetrating mind highlighting many years ago, other reflections so pertinent to current times. Here are a few examples:

• So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

• I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing

• Where is all the knowledge we lost with information?

• Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

Eliot’s thoughts are well worth pondering – and pondering even more the significance of absence as the solution to a better understanding of life. And so the focus of our work at this Centre is on just that: absence of disturbance of the mind – as we offer the skill of stillness created by psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares who identified profound stillness as the ultimate step in change, growth and of course, personal freedom.

The end of October Halloween celebrations (whether we like the custom or not), highlights the gift of freedom. To see relative strangers welcoming each other into their homes, allowing hordes of kids to run freely, meeting new faces, receiving and sharing their treats with many parents gathering to party into the night, unquestionably reminds us of what it means to live in this ‘lucky’ country.

Freedom is perhaps the most precious gift humanity can know, and a perennial cause for celebration. And yet alongside that freedom is the reminder of the gradual erosion of the freedom we take for granted when we in Melbourne have so recently experienced loss, grief and disbelief in the heart of our beloved and safe city. These are harsh reminders, too, of the many atrocities now and in the past, where countries throughout the world were and remain subjected to long periods of occupation – as well as the peoples’ oppression of their own nationality and identity.

I’ve written of this before, but I can never forget the experience of spring celebrations near the site of liberation in Tallin, Estonia, alongside the giant memorial cross made of glass – glass as an ongoing reminder of the fragility of freedom. Even more imprinted in my mind is our shocking tourist visit to the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. At Birkenau, the opening words on the plaque of remembrance state: For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity … One would think humanity might have learned. Yet still our world knows war and terror, with thousands throughout various parts of the world seeking refuge in safe lands.

We, in this country, are generally at a loss as to how to offer support to those suffering in other parts of the world. We can continue to encourage, pressure, plead for our Government to find the right way to truly assist refugees – and to seek the wisdom it needs when making decisions that ultimately affect our country and our own freedom. But as individuals, sometimes it is challenging enough to gain and sustain the strength we need ourselves, simply in daily living. 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.

Let’s think, then, about absence – the missing piece in the puzzle of life. The concept of absence may mean new strengths to recognize, develop and practice. Let’s think about developing the practice of a quiet and rested mind to better manage stress and reduce anxiety; to differentiate what’s really important; to increase confidence and gain better health and energy and to gain the strength to persist when trouble crosses our path.

Like the tree that begins as a sapling and survives by standing firm despite the stress of the elements, injury or disease, by doing ‘nothing’ in a special way, we too can re-shape and calmly grow stronger.

Perhaps there lies the hope that ultimately, that calm may spread to the minds and hearts of others – to our leaders or simply the community – in small steps to build greater freedom for all.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, November 2018

 

Mental health and social anxiety

Should mental health begin by understanding social anxiety?

Driving today I heard an excellent radio interview with singer Jane Hendry on the topic of her release of ‘Mirror’. The song, inspired by a poem of the same title by Sylvia Plath, is described as an expression of the “hunger for self affirmation through the saccharine veils of social media”. The studio discussion led further into matters of self esteem and the negative influence of social media as it compels people to spend time and energy checking in, responding to others and creating personal ‘stuff’ to ignite the interest of such others. I feel it’s time to recognise this fickle ‘mirror’ that has taken hold of so many lives, so frequently leading to emotional pain and physiological exhaustion.

This topic is food for serious thought, particularly at this time of October, the month of mental health awareness. To be attentive to the rise in mental health issues, we need to consider the complexities of the human mind and the existential coping strategies people employ. Stress in life leads to reactions – primarily fear and anxiety – which in turn lead to avoidance, isolation, loneliness, negative thoughts and rumination, self harm and depression, with a high risk of suicide.

I believe strongly that self esteem – lost or never found – is very likely the prime mover of these emotional reactions. The possibility of human rejection is humanity’s deepest fear. People crave the security of acceptance within their ‘tribe’ and Western society does little to provide that security. In former times, social interaction took place mostly face to face and usually with some consideration of individual circumstances and personal feelings. Any experience of social competitiveness, jealousy, criticism, judgment, rejection and exclusion can cause immense pain. There is no doubt that the ‘free for all’ manner of social interaction of today has the blatant power to instigate personal pain 24/7, at the tips of unkind fingers and insensitive minds.

In the real world, life is a mix of joy, sorrow, change, uncertainty, loss, grief, regret and achievement to name merely a few human emotional experiences. Body, mind and spirit are affected and so the mind, our rational mind, attempts to deal with these elements.
So how does the human mind respond? Do some forge ahead and deal with each issue as it occurs, riding the waves of hope and despair? Do some retreat, preserving themselves from further pain? Do people seek (or indeed risk) the comfort of personal disclosure within friendship in the manner of RUOK? Or seek professional counsel? Do people have the practical and emotional support of family? Are many very much alone in the pain that disturbs their mind? Are too many alone, left with the physically debilitating symptoms and life limitations that come with that pain? And what indeed, is that kind of pain?

One of the most common expressions of fear presents itself for many as social anxiety, perhaps the primary factor surrounding mental health disturbance. The smallest hurt can trigger great suffering, begetting the mental ‘illness’ of social phobia – an unfortunate title that carries a simplistic understanding of the compelling nature of this anxiety reaction.

There is no doubt that social phobia begins with emotional pain. This pain may be formed within early childhood or at any time of life and lived with – until personal insecurity is heightened by extraordinary stress, loss, grief or trauma. Whatever the ‘cause’, something in one’s life has raised anxiety to the point where the body begins to generate the alarming reactions surrounding panic and a sense of losing control within the mind. So follows the desire to retreat from social interaction, for fear of somehow ‘falling apart’ leading to further judgment, criticism and rejection. To preserve security and for personal protection, avoidance then becomes a way of life.

There is a warning to heed here because the more avoidance is practised, the more the tentacles of fear spread to other objects or situations: fear of any social gathering or public exposure may include the fear of eating in company, fear of writing or signing one’s name in view of another, fear of crowded places, fear of expressing oneself and any involvement in public view. And so fear gains strength, personal power diminishes and negative beliefs increase as fear invades whole of life situations: a claustrophobic fear of flying, or using elevators or public rest rooms, fear of being alone, fear of new places … and more … very likely escalating to full blown panic and potentially the agoraphobic reaction, the most lonely and life-limiting reaction of all.

I have seen this pattern time and again since I explored fear following my own experience of agoraphobia many years ago¹. And I emphasise again – anxiety as a mental illness begins as the fear of losing personal control. While it’s true to say that social anxiety and social phobia has undoubtedly existed for time immemorial, combined with 21stC pressures it is little wonder that now we hear so regularly of excessive levels of anxiety within the community, more and more incidences of depression, increased mental illness and high statistics surrounding the frequency of suicide.
Let’s understand the implications of Social Phobia. And among other measures of healing, let’s take a long hard look at the side effects of Social Media. Its name belies its purpose because this virtual interaction may well be the most anti-social medium of all.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, October 2018

¹In Stillness Conquer Fear: Pauline McKinnon, Garratt Publishing 1983, 2016

 

 

Stillness Meditation helps you really love your life!

‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
All play and work makes Jack a mere toy’

With R U OK in mind this month, let’s get some energy and balance in life.  The old proverb gives us a hint that it’s not a bad idea to do just that, yet sometimes it’s a bit tricky to get the balance just right. We all must work in one way or another and while we all need play for recreation and refreshment, we can’t rely on play for life satisfaction. However (and unfortunately for many), our desire for ambition and independence, our easy access to international travel and all that entails and our ready access to technology of many kinds can mean that work can become far too constant – and over-cluttered.

That’s when burnout begins to make its presence felt. This is when finding the time and energy for play becomes challenging. Play becomes difficult to organise, seems to be interrupting more important matters, and fatigue destroys what once would have been an enjoyable and relaxing event. This is when other unwanted feelings begin to dominate the day. Frustration becomes a regular companion. Struggling against a kind of entrapment or helplessness underpinning the work ethic and drive for success, tension increases. The mind is racing and the faster heartbeat and shallow breathing recurs too often. “Work is great, I love my job” is the inner cry – while chaos abounds and the exhaustion of wakeful nights produces with daylight, a sense of overwhelming panic.

This is overdrive, this is stress – this is burnout – a state of existence where its victim is running on adrenalin all week and collapsing in shreds at the weekend to curl up for two days under the doona. How much better to have balance, to be relaxed in work and play and keen to seek fresh air, sunshine, exercise, the fun and company of family and or a simple meal and a glass of wine with friends.

Burdened by headaches, recurring colds and ‘flu, chronic illness, the expression of latent anger and high tension levels, now comes a conflict between love of work and fear of work. We see this from the dark suit corporate world right down to new mothers learning to juggle and adjust to an unfamiliar role. People want to succeed, to get things right, to be in control. But those aims are difficult to accomplish if we’re operating along the lines of the Duracell Battery.

So, are you loving your job and balancing it all with ease or slowly collapsing under its weight? If your reply is that of the latter, then you are in the clutches of a stress response and burnout is likely to be the reason.

At this Centre we abide by the theory and the words of eminent psychiatrist Ainslie Meares who defined stress as the difference between what is happening in our life and how we are handling it. Those words of wisdom apply to the effect of any ‘stressor’ that may enter one’s life.  Burnout is supposed to be work-specific. However, anyone can experience burnout if we’re not taking care of ourselves. I say this with conviction due to my personal experience which coincided with my experiencing a major panic attack. I wasn’t in the corporate world of today, but I was hard working, inclined towards perfectionist ideals, ambitious in my desire to perform well in anything I attempted, newly married, a new mother, very short of sleep, unaware of the need for rest and facing the reality and grief of a series of losses and readjustment to life. Whew! I was stressed and ‘burned out’ and life was very difficult until I learned and developed the natural way back to balance.

So … R U OK? How will you know? When we want to bring life back into life again, sometimes it’s in simplicity that we discover the greatest power … and so we remain passionate about Stillness as the premier meditation.

Our work and our passion means helping lots of others truly love their life!

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Director
Melbourne, September 2018