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Essential Calm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, August 2018

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A calm mind and a beautiful life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (c)
July 2018, Melbourne

Can we attempt to reverse the sad facts of life?

Some time ago the World Health Organization predicted that suicide would become the highest cause of death by the year 2020. As again we learn of several more high profile people having taken their lives, it seems that prediction has almost become a reality. Even more mystifying is that the act of suicide is very often taken by those who are seen to ‘have everything’ … prestige, economic wealth and the prospect of a successful future.

How can we as a community attempt to reverse such negativity? Questions arise.

What are the primary values of Western society today? Who could be so significant that they are deserving of excessive salaries while worthy folk struggle and some lie destitute in the streets? Why is anger so readily expressed – from road rage to newsworthy ‘incidents’ right through to domestic violence and beyond? Why are many ruining their lives and the lives of others, seeking the bliss they crave in drugs and the accompanying way of life? Why are many admitting to depression and how have these negative matters so painfully infiltrated the modern world to the extent that life for too many people has become worthless?

Attempts to normalise mental illness are liberating but there is also an accompanying risk that irrational acts are part of that normality. For many it seems life has deteriorated into a roller-coaster experience where calm reason appears to have vanished, leaving behind it a raft of pain for others including shock, bewilderment, loneliness, lack of resolution and grief.

Surely we must acknowledge that the ever-increasing expansion of technology and the expectations that brings, is somehow robbing us of humanity. Virtual tools are creating ‘virtual’ lives … lives that may remain empty of personal contact. Yes, there is medication and there is therapy. But clearly medication is not a complete answer to emotional restoration; and therapy is only successful when there is rapport and relationship between patient and therapist. And even to commence to assist or resolve this level of suffering and its surrounding hopelessness takes time and most importantly, patience – for the sufferer and therapist alike. In our fast moving world where technology promises to repair, replicate, amend at the touch of a button, new understanding of the requirements for emotional change must be recognised.

Then, with so much 21stC freedom and so little restraint, due respect – for oneself as well as to others – is also becoming scarce. It’s all too easy to judge, criticise and blame, internally and externally. And so values become trivialised and individuals, diminished. Unfortunately this lack of respect in many instances is exemplified right at the top. If all leadership would demonstrate respect, perhaps respect would regain its rightful place.

And we need courage and the ability to encourage. Though it can be challenging to really understand another’s emotional turmoil, let’s take courage and patiently and respectfully listen, knowing that any conversation with any person may be the conversation that makes or breaks an emotional situation.  So let’s readily ‘be there’, offering trust, companionship, compassion and encouragement so the downcast may glimpse the support they so desperately need – and sufficient hope to gather the strength to continue to live the life they’ve been given.

Let’s also remember where we each began – in the natural world. The seasons don’t hurry or expect more than is due. Each comes in time, bringing with it challenges as well as joys. In the crispness now of our Melbourne winter, remember that the world keeps turning, darkness passes and the leaves having fallen soon we will see again, fresh new growth. Let’s learn and exemplify the ability be still, to breathe, wait, let go and feel the living life. Let’s be leaders, not followers and set about generating some joy?

Look into another’s eyes with kindness, and touch their soul
And so two souls might lift both hearts in hope, optimism and the eternal power of love

                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, June 2018

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Let’s discuss anxiety again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (c)
May 2018

 

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Are YOU becoming too busy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, April 2018

Value of self – value of others – the companion to respect

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day urges #Press for Progress.  In fact women have made tremendous progress since the initiation of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908. Progress has come in many forms – to quote the perception of Virginia Woolf ¹ “Moreover in a hundred years … women will have ceased to be the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. … expose them to the same exertions and activities … and will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker than men … “? Hmm … interesting to contemplate – and almost heading towards target, too?

So what might this have to do with values?  We humans are complex.  Our physical bodies are an amazing assemblage of useful moving parts to steer us through our time here.  But that aside, our mind, that which is almost constantly at work – well, our mind is the most precious – and the most powerful gift of all.

So let’s remember, progress for any cause really begins with our mental view of our self.  The role of the mind as the director of our entire being is overwhelming to contemplate.  Our life and our interaction with the world rest within our mind.  Therein we can choose to take action or not, to make decisions – wise or otherwise – to differentiate between choices, to judge or to be giving in our consideration of others and to judge or be giving in our consideration of our self.  And countless more responses – even within a mere day.

And because of our mind, our view of our individuality and all we believe about our self is the view that colours our entire act of living.  It is that ego, that self that runs the show for each of us, women and men alike – and it’s that self that dictates – unless we remember to be wiser – our reactions to and our treatment of others.

I would dare to suggest, then, that as well as those of our responses we regard as worthy or in fact any action we may take, come from the value and image we have of our self.  We must be careful.  It’s very easy to lose sight of or to over-compensate for that ‘self’ amid the flurry of day to day dealings, media influence, social media and especially, (for anyone who might haplessly glimpse it), reality TV.

Maybe IWD this year could prompt an opportunity to take the time to quietly consider our self – by asking a few questions.  Who am I?  How do I see myself?  Where did I learn to appraise my view of myself?  Am I critical and judgmental when considering myself?  Am I positive and generous in my perception of myself?  Am I developing and growing as a valuable human being in this 21st century?  And ultimately, how does my view of myself guide me in the way I treat others?

This may require a bit of ‘calm’ time … sitting quietly in meditative composure with a pen and paper to hand.  In quietness, memories surface, insight flows, intuition speaks and obstacles we grapple with might more readily point us in the right direction to discover resolution.  And so perhaps – women of the world – this exercise could assist our progress in positive and life-affirming ways?

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, March 2018

¹Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own, 1929

In these challenging times

We are surrounded by negative news. As if the major world problems weren’t enough concern, issues of abuse appear to have been stretched beyond reason. Certainly, allegations of serious abuse of which much has been brought into light over recent years and months and weeks is valid reason for appropriate action. But I am concerned about finger pointing and the pressures put on society in general relating to apparently inappropriate actions, the highlighting of which seem to imply that all males belong to a category of doubtful repute.

I am concerned because I believe that certain over-reactions made public emphasise the need for reason – and most importantly, respect – not only to women but to all of life. What is missing in our current society? How do we understand what it means to respect, to be respected and to be respectful?

Pondering this I started to consider my father – to me, the ultimate gentleman – and I wondered how he would interpret these matters.

My father knew hard and physical work from childhood. He and his siblings lived through the Great Depression, endured family instability, survived financial disasters and he was largely self- educated. Because he had the misfortune to lose his hearing in his early twenties, a lot of his life was spent in isolation. Spare time was devoted to reading, mostly quality literature and works relating to philosophical pondering. He was sensitive, non-judgmental, patient and tolerant at all times, quite reserved though with a keen sense of humour. If pushed, his strongest verbal explosion could occasionally contain the word damn and although he was not a regular church goer, he upheld the best of those values. In short my father enjoyed the metaphorical ability to ‘walk with kings and keep the common touch’. Most of all I believe my father emanated and taught respect – a word that to me, is largely conspicuous by its absence within the current articles and editorials laid before us each day.

Perhaps fortune smiled on me in having my dad as a primary example of male behaviour. And yet my first work experience was in the office of a printing factory that employed a significant majority of men including many young apprentices. In my several years in that office, dealing with all who came by, never did I experience an inappropriate word or action from any man. When I left there to work in real estate, by then a little more life experienced, the workplace was professional at all times and nothing untoward ever occurred. And in the three years prior to marriage and family as a PA in a peaceful and efficient environment of some thirty management consultants all of whom were male, my fond recollections are those of working with gentlemen and enjoying the gift of mutual respect.

The 21st century has brought many privileges but privilege carries obligation. Technology and science give us freedom and information, but these gifts must also be deferred to. As a society we face many problems to solve including those of refugees, our indigenous people, environmental issues, gangs and criminal activities and all kinds of violence. Surely it is only through respect – starting right at the top – meaning all government representation, and grandparents and parents that our values can be raised peacefully to address these issues and seek the betterment and benefit of all. And the media must also take responsibility – especially the media – which permits exposure to violence ranging from real life stories through to facile comedy and lucrative advertising that promotes aggression (for example the desire for powerful cars), along with demeaning portrayals of daily life that trivialize and set the wrong example to all age viewers.

On that note, just last week in the Melbourne news appeared the strategy of involving the police to teach online safety to kindergarten children and beyond – another aspect of the trials our world is now experiencing. Kindergarten children? To be taught by police? Where are their parents – and most importantly, their parents’ values?

What has happened to courtesy … to graciousness, dignity, kindness, to considered rapport between all people … to the essence of respect? And how can we cultivate meaningful attitudes to replace whatever it is that society has lost in these challenging times.
Yes, it’s true, 21st century times have changed. But is it change for the better? Obviously not. And what kind of excuse is that anyway? Something important is missing and in need of reinvention. It’s time to consider life issues with discernment. And that’s a task for adults and one to teach their children … with serenity and through calm control.

Pauline McKinnon
Melbourne, February 2018

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A Quiet Place

Sunshine and shadows, blue sky and a gentle breeze, green growth and a quiet place to simply be … a message of hope for this brand New Year … welcome 2018!

These warm, lazy days, holidays by the sea or among the ferns – and best of all, undisturbed city streets. January is a precious time of the year where quietness provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past year and plan this new one.

Yes, among many satisfying occurrences, most certainly we have each experienced various challenges. How did we manage these? Have we learned something new? Are we content with certain outcomes? Can we accept those things we cannot change? And what will be the future?

Quietness – within our self or beyond our self is with us right now as the new year begins. Somewhere close by for each of us there is a quiet place to sit and dream, reflect, plan, pray or even better, be simply still.

From all of us at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre we wish you a happy, peaceful and productive New Year.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
January 2018, Melbourne

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A question of giving

And so it’s almost that magical Christmas time again and how quickly this year has flown by. I just spent a few minutes reviewing the topics I’ve blogged in December over the past five years – and what did I discover? Nothing much has changed … the world is in a slightly ‘messier’ state … Amazon has arrived in Melbourne (ho hum) and people are still feeling pressured as Christmas Day draws near.

So what good things are happening? Many might say not a lot in the big picture … and yet through the past twelve months we’ve all experienced life with its joys, sorrows, strengths and weaknesses. This makes me wonder if this year, we might consider ‘giving’ in a completely different way.

For a moment, let’s forget commercialisation, the TV adverts, the champagne and cheese and partying … because really, those commodities exist for a large majority for most of the year anyway. Let’s look a little deeper, at grassroots so to speak:

  • Somehow, we were each given the gift of life!
  • Many of us have given that gift to others
  • In this country we have been privileged to receive the gift of reasonable health care
  • The same goes for food, clothing and education
  • And we have also been given the gift of reasonable freedom and safety, highly prized presents to be treasured
  • Most importantly we own the gift of our mind, that most wondrous miracle that allows us freedom of thought to be used well or otherwise
  • And so, without having to ask for it, we have the gift of questioning …

Can we pause now in the midst of all the Festive Rush to question the important things of life? Can we consider those who have no refuge, family, friends, food or support? Can we look at our own family with new vision, knowing that some individuals don’t need ‘things’ as Christmas gifts, but compassion, understanding and love? Can we give the gift of patience to those relationships we find challenging? Can we give our time to others who are lonely, afraid or ill? And can we give to ourselves as well, the gift of gentleness; the gift of self knowledge with an understanding of our beginnings and their consequent outcomes, and the gift of truly appreciating our own story?

Let’s pause and consider.

Because maybe it’s gifts such as those that just might manifest the magic of Christmas? But then again, there is no real magic in this life – there is only love – and that’s where the story of Christmas all began.

Pauline McKinnon (c) 
December 2017, Melbourne

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When anxiety gets in the way of Dr Google

There’s no doubt about it, we can learn lots from the internet. And I wouldn’t mind betting that ‘Dr Google’ gets more visits than any other site – because people always want answers to their health matters. This is good, because health matters a great deal.

Lots of clients at the SMT Centre are those who have a tendency to be more than anxious … highly sensitive people, creative thinkers with busy minds and busy lives. When you mix those qualities with prolonged web browsing in a search for symptom relief, clarification, reassurance, successful remedies or the side effects of medication it’s not surprising that a negative outcome may take place.

Those who tend to be anxious are almost always blessed with a vivid imagination – and before you know it, web based advice will lead to panic. A small new mole instantly becomes threatening; tension headaches transform to a likely brain dysfunction and generalised pain could be any dreadful disease as the mind conjures up visuals in colourful detail. Indeed, bad things can happen. However, and not surprisingly, real illness is usually coped with courageously as one of the many life challenges we all must face. But … catastrophic reactions to likely minor ailments lead to extended and unnecessary worry – reactions which won’t help the situation at all.

Thankfully in the majority of these cases, all worries can be quickly put to rest.

Also thankfully, a majority of people, anxious types or otherwise, have a good sense of humour tucked away behind their anxiety. The gentle use of humour is an excellent strategy for recognising the reaction that leads to over-reactive concern!

So what to do next time?
Relax … let go … look at the situation gently. Give Dr Google some time off and calmly visit your real doctor or health practitioner to get the facts. And remind yourself that your imagination is best put to real creative use rather than negative ruminations. Life is a journey peppered with a multitude of experiences and most of them are good experiences. Trust yourself and trust the goodness of life to provide the correct answers and the best outcomes. Yes, your health matters and includes the importance of your mental health, too. Treat your mind with kindness and your body will be more able to look after itself!
In Stillness …

Pauline McKinnon (c)
November 2017, Melbourne