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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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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

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

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Essential Calm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, August 2018

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A calm mind and a beautiful life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (c)
July 2018, Melbourne

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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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Personal Peace for World Peace

Established in 1981, the International Day of Peace is observed each year on 21st September.  As spring approaches, bursting with new growth, let’s make September a month of peaceful, new and positive beginnings.

From 2001 when 9/11 changed the modern world, the challenge for peace continues as we are confronted with the news each day as witness so many levels of violence occurring.

And yes, humanity has known violence throughout the ages.  But with the sophisticated technology of our time, it has come about that 21st century is witnessing at close range, extremes of violence.  These extremes are visible from the games little kids play on their iPads where the opposition is there to destroy or be destroyed, to the media of film with explicit possibilities or the terrifying footage of carnage on the evening news.  And so we are witnessing not only domestic violence but a range of levels within our entire world with a current state of dissension, aggression, power play, and human conflict at extreme levels of violence and destruction.

Then add to that the level of violence on our roads.  Angry words, coarse language, gestures, bullying and aggressive driving, blaring music, speeding out of control – all this speaks loudly of inner turmoil.  And, tragically from this level of tension, lives are taken or innocent people are seriously injured due to the pent up frustration, anger and mismanagement of emotions of others.

I’ve written before about the common lack of courtesy, discipline or respect … the inconsideration of other people, pushing through crowded streets, the expression of a self centred approach to life where the narcissistic ‘me’ factor is so apparent.  And, very importantly, where role models from media and sporting personalities to politicians take advantage of their privilege to admit to criminal and sexual misconduct, or drug and alcohol abuse and beyond.

The modern world is quickly losing more and more of the societal values that bring strength, allowing attitudes of exploitation in general to become more and more ‘the normal’.

As violence begets violence, similarly, peace begets peace.  Surely all mature adults, especially parents, have a duty to learn and teach skills for the integration of personal peace. Surely we can all begin to focus on positive example, to teach by example and to become models whose bearing teaches attitudes of response rather than reaction.  Only then, little by little, will society be enabled to meet the ups and downs of life through creative and positive ways of resolution.

The practice of meditation, its gifts, strengths and many other benefits is one powerful way to develop and maintain personal peace and ultimately, contentment.  And look at the contagious happiness that occurs when we’re more content!

So let’s build strength together by mastering the skills that nourish our own inner calm – and consequently greater personal peace.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace.   To promote world peace at this Centre we have initiated the idea of wearing or displaying a knot of olive green ribbon as a reminder that one small peaceful gesture may grow to greater strengths. Get yourself some green ribbon!  Wear a knot – or tie a strand on your front gate, the lamp-post, fly it from your car … whatever you wish – but get the message out there!

Peace begins within.  If you would like to go one step further to find your peace, our peace and ultimately world peace, make meditation a priority in your life.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
September 2017, Melbourne