Courage is not necessarily about moving mountains

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

                                                           –  Theodore Roosevelt

For quite some time I have wanted to write about courage because the concept of courage is such a magnificent human attribute. This big topic, almost boundless to discuss, kept pulling at me because in my work I see so many people living courageously through a range of life challenging situations.  It is a recurring privilege to witness such courage.

But also, in this work I see people who believed they had no courage, now begin to gain that supposed lack.  In my experience this is due to the fact, that, in actually learning and practising Stillness Meditation, a certain degree of courage must be summoned.  Since fear and courage are emotional companions, those who persevere with this style of meditation then discover that as their fear recedes, more and more courage is gained.

So, I began to ponder ‘courage’ and seeking inspiration, I was fortunate to discover the words of the remarkable Theodore Roosevelt.  So neat yet so respectful: “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – a summary so profound that the word itself doesn’t even need to be included.  Just think of how those simple words might apply to our world today as we begin to adjust to the adjustments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

With social restrictions being reviewed here and scant recovery in other parts of the world, the virus hasn’t left us.

We don’t really know what our future holds except that we must learn to begin to live again to the best of our ability, regardless.

As a society we have been fortunate for a very long time to be able to make plans and assume the probability of perfect outcomes.  In some ways we have taken much for granted and we’re now challenged to consider things differently and with caution.  And so there are risks – especially those surrounding matters of health and finance – perhaps the two major reasons for concern.  Risk involves us all and especially those remarkable people at the coalface of healthcare.  Finance also involves us all through a variety of ways and decisions must be made.  Humanity requires courage at this time – and yet the courage to act may be impeded if fear, predictably, should raise its controlling head.

I’m reminded now of the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz.  That representation of the King of the Beasts believes he is fearful and that he lacks courage, and that he’s not at all brave.

But, of course, he really is very courageous and only needs to shift his belief.  In fact, that lion has been living authentically and in precisely the way that Roosevelt’s words convey!

So courage really means simply moving forward with good intent to face whatever we need to face.  Courage means believing that whatever we need to attend to, achieve or conquer can be accomplished.  It is reassuring to understand courage as action, just as we are at any time.

And remember, while a certain few will make headlines for extraordinary courageous achievements, millions of ordinary people throughout the world are performing commendable acts of courage every single day.

                                                                                                          © Pauline McKinnon, June 2020

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As we emerge from the chrysalis…?

COVID-19 has enveloped the world in fear, apprehension, concern for our families and ourselves and for others.  Most importantly and tragically, due to the virus many, many lives have been lost.  For our own protection and for the protection of others, while practicing social distancing we have been secluded in lockdown, living restricted lives.  

This was our first taste of pandemic loss.  Next came secondary loss due to the collapse of businesses and reliable work for many. Individuals and families must now adjust to a change in income and in general abundance which for many, has previously been taken for granted.  And those less privileged will need the support of all, from government through to each of us as best we can contribute.  

Meanwhile, sheltered within our protective cocoon, loss continued.  Valued events and the travels and pleasures of our dreams, days, months and years have been cancelled.  The traffic has slowed, the streets have emptied, religious venues are closed and social distancing within shopping centres has created empty space. Our celebrations and our grieving times have reduced to few participants and the aged in care have been denied family company.  Inevitably health will suffer – mental health in fact more than ever as drastic changes impact emotional lives. 

The world as such, will never really be the same again.

However!  Seclusion has brought cleaner air, less noise pollution and quite likely a reassessment of wants as opposed to needs.  Also, through the human ability to adapt, creative people have managed life well.  Zoom, among other technological facilities, has brought us together for business and pleasure.  Kind and resourceful people have created unique concerts, parties and practical assistance for the needy.  Parks and gardens have come alive with walkers – keeping their distance – but enjoying the outdoors with friendly compatriot smiles and a nod to those they meet along the way.  Best of all, time has become available to us.  And in many respects, because of that, so has energy.   

Perhaps our enforced restraint has brought advantages?   The virus came upon us almost without warning but has provided the opportunity for another stage in human knowledge, understanding and development.  There is potential for a better society. Families have become closer, sharing time, meals, conversation and the support and appreciation of each other with new vision.  Most importantly, slowing down has provided leadership opportunities for those who might otherwise be viewed as reclusive:  here is their time to shine within their kind of world.   

This universal experience has given us occasion to accept, reflect and convert old ways into different ways and, in fact, availed us of the key to greater freedom.  Surely changing habits, adapting to situations and adopting novel interests is part of the process of evolution?  

In a way ‘lockdown’ is rather like a tiny preview of the personalized ‘stillness’ we teach at this Centre: less effort, less stress, less tension, less anxiety and a sense of calm where physical health thrives too.  

Life has changed.  How might we each emerge from our stay-at-home bubble into a different, and unquestionably transformed, world?  

© Pauline McKinnon, May 2020

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Breaking through the COVID Challenge!

And so now we’ve all, somewhat suddenly been catapulted into a range of strange experiences, a new way of life – and perhaps some very strange feelings.

In a bid to contain the COVID-19 pandemic we are surely all complying with government recommendations – the most important of these: stay at home.

We’ve been so used to freedom! We’ve been so used to fulfilling most needs, wants or desires in a heartbeat, that personal containment may well feel like some level of incarceration.

We hear of those who feel lost, lonely, alone, confused, anxious. With compassion, I deeply honour those feelings. The very reason I’m involved in the healing work that I do, is really because of my 8 years of ‘incarceration’ due to extremely high anxiety some 4 decades ago. Anxiety at that level means lost, lonely, alone, confused. I deeply understand anyone feeling such very negative emotions.

Those who have read my book (In Stillness Conquer Fear) and from it, learned to change their reactivity, have identified and benefited from my story. They too, will certainly identify with people currently feeling all that confusion surrounding the restriction placed on our lives.

It’s important to understand that current restrictions for many, cause a shock to the self. This sudden change coming from beyond our self represents loss of control. When we experience a sense of lost control, yes, we experience a loss of self. And so of course we will feel lost, lonely and confused.

Routine has vanished; everyone or no-one is home all day and the elements within our life that we have taken for granted are no longer available. Symbolically, we become rather like a fragile piece of porcelain, balancing on a shaky pedestal. As such, we need to steady that pedestal – and then begin to treat the fragile ornament with some new respect.

While we’re also obligated to care for our personal health as much as possible, here are some practical tips to help others strengthen, grow and gain some sense of control through this experience.

  • Steady the pedestal by releasing tension (that means learning to release the tightness within your body and let go within your racing mind)
  • Plan the day (without a plan, the loss of personal control will intensify)
  • Make communication part of the plan (use devices, but go beyond technology to make personal calls to your family, friends and neighbours)
  • Humour and fun are essentials whether you’re alone or within the family unit
  • Ensure daily fresh air and exercise – simply walking is the best all round physical activity
  • Seek new things to ‘do’ – this could be the very time to commence new interests or long-term unfulfilled dreams
  • Take a short time each day to review the day, to ponder your reactions, to notice your potential for adaptation – and maybe even start to keep a journal – something to look back on as a period of change and all it represents for you, now and into the future

Finally, it goes without saying that I more than advocate the practice of meditation. This strongly relates to the very first item in my list above. Meditation, if learned and practised effectively, empowers you to relax your body, mind and spirit and therefore gain calm control, profound serenity and natural ease of being. In a nutshell, I quote my esteemed mentor, Ainslie Meares MD:

Ease is that incredible quality
That enables us to deal equally
With disaster and success

Ainslie Meares M.D. – Let’s Be At Ease (1987)

I would truly welcome your comments and would very much like to assist as set out in this month’s Newsletter.

© Pauline McKinnon, April 2020

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SMT – Coronavirus as a prompt to discuss typical life issues

As we all know, our community is currently facing the health threat of novel coronavirus, an apparent pandemic. While it could be argued that the level of concern is largely driven by excessive and potentially misleading social and other media, this raises the topic of fear and anxiety as these reactions apply to typical life issues.

Being human means experiencing the joys and the ‘messiness’ – the good, the bad and the ugly matters of life. Being human also means that we can’t personally choose one or the other or predict possibilities. We may well experience an amalgam of both joyfulness and messiness all together. One thing is for sure, there will be times when that amalgam will challenge us with what we recognise as stress. And as we know, stress increases anxiety from which a range of associated and common symptoms may present themselves. I have chosen four typical issues that present regularly at this Centre:

• Insomnia
• Grief
• Panic attacks
• Social phobia

Insomnia:
Insomnia or sleeplessness is almost always included among the symptoms noted when first we consult with new clients. Insomnia is and has been for a long time, an extremely popular topic for discussion in glossy magazines or newspaper columns. Insomnia is also high on the list of symptoms presented at visits to the GP. Insomnia means broken sleep, restless sleep or long hours through long nights feeling frustrated, lonely, isolated and desperate for respite. It’s probably fair to say that there is no one who has not known the experience of a restless night. But for some, insomnia becomes a major problem and a habit that interferes with daily health and wellbeing. In many instances, worry has set the scene and prolongs the misery. How to change when mental overload is the primary source of poor sleep? Of course, there are practical steps one can take and general advice usually recommends lowering mental stimulus in the bedroom. The phone has no place on the bedside table. Nor should any device including TV enter that space – simply because a sleep deprived brain needs to slow down, and literally switch off. If work, or other challenging issues are foremost in your mind at bedtime, these may trigger wakefulness. It can be useful to make a list and prioritise worries to be dealt with next day. Other habit breaking tips include avoidance of alcohol, caffeine and high sugar. Replace these with milky drinks or camomile tea, read a relaxing book – real books are preferable to digital books – and consider counselling to resolve emotional issues. However, in our experience of many years, the regular experience of ‘stillness’ as we teach it, certainly calms the mind and brings ease from insomnia. It may take commitment to therapeutic sessions and time to change but results will be long lasting.

Grief:
One of the most frequent reasons for clients attending our Centre involves the matter of loss and consequent grief. There are so many levels of these highly charged occurrences and the individual emotional reaction that accompanies them.

Loss, whether of a loved one or a seemingly less significant part of life, can be an experience of desolation. Loss can be tragic and devastating. Loss can seem relatively minor, yet reactions can still be potent. In grief, memories, fears and feelings become mingled and magnified – sometimes out of proportion. Fatigue, loneliness, displacement and confusion and a range of physical symptoms are common reactions to grieving.

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. From regular therapeutic stillness sessions, regular daily practice and the passing of time, the nervous system will regain equilibrium. I have been privileged to hear extraordinary stories and positive outcomes that could not have been imagined on the client’s first visit. Grief, when travelled well, is the gift of personal growth.

Panic attack:
Panic attacks typically seem to come ‘out of the blue’ but this assumption is incorrect. For the sufferer, the lead up to a panic attack is indicative of a gradual increase in stress, tension and exhaustion. When the brain receives those messages through a surge of nervous signals, the amygdale, thought to be the fear centre therein, is activated. Just doing its job, at that point the body releases from the adrenal glands, the natural chemical, adrenaline (epinephrine) – our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in action. These days of course, the level of danger that once existed in earlier times is limited but, as a form of natural protection, the brain continues its work even though the signal we are giving it may relate to some far less threatening occurrence. Even a sharp rise in tension for a relatively simple reason can be sufficient to trigger amygdale reaction and a subsequent flood of anxiety.

And so, as adrenaline is released into an overloaded system, the body is prepared for action by raised heartbeat and the onset of shaking, sweating, churning in the stomach, irregular breathing, bowel or bladder reactivity or other alarming symptoms – and so a panic attack occurs.
Panic attacks really mean the occurrence of extremely high anxiety attacks. These will gradually cease when calming measures as indicated throughout this blog, are put in place.

Social phobia:
Social phobia begins with emotional pain – perhaps rejection, judgment or self-criticism experienced by sensitive people influenced by unkind, negative and controlling others. Usually formed within early childhood, such insecurity is heightened by stress and always by increased nervous tension. Whatever the cause, something in one’s life has raised anxiety to the point where social situations create for many people, the alarming symptoms of panic and a sense of losing control. Social interaction soon becomes something to avoid – painful experiences for the sufferer, for fear of ‘falling apart’ leading to the prospect of failure and rejection. Over time, such situational avoidance becomes a lonely way of life.
To assist people to gain or re-gain personal confidence, our first step here again is to discuss the influence of nervous tension. As we facilitate SMT sessions, we see tension gradually lowering and our clients becoming more at ease as over time they capture mental rest and the emergence of calm confidence. Again, from regular therapeutic sessions, regular daily practice and the passing of time, the nervous system will regain equilibrium.
In summary, when dealing with life issues we also need courage: the courage to step back from pressure and be present to ourselves and to others; the courage to seek appropriate help when we need extra support; and the courage to reciprocate hope and compassion to our ‘self’ and to others. And we need to nurture patience, without which, issues as discussed cannot be solved.

SMT offers a personal experience that calms reactivity. The repetition of this meditation regulates the nervous system and restores healthy mental equilibrium. Painful symptoms and despondency can lift and hearts can heal as we enjoy the gift that grows from learning to just be still. And it is well known too, that a healthy nervous system leads to a healthy immune system. Let’s not be excessively fearful about the coronavirus; let’s take sensible care of our health and address the matter of fear and anxiety in the bigger picture.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with any of these issues, please get in touch; we can offer an alternative that can help change your life.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, March 2020

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Surviving Trauma

For some months now our beautiful land, Australia, has been and still is, burning. Bushfire throughout vast tracts of land has stripped natural beauty, destroyed homes, livestock, native fauna and flora and robbed people of their homes, their livelihood and in some cases, their lives. It is heartrending and difficult to contemplate the losses sustained and the challenges faced by so many as they look to their changed future while coming to terms with,  and surviving, this trauma.

A majority of we city dwellers have also been touched – indeed members of my own family live within very close range of the spread of fire but this time at least, have been fortunate. And many friends and acquaintances who treasure life in rural areas on the fringes of the city, they too have been living in cautious anticipation of threat.

Perhaps we in Melbourne needed to experience something tactile to help share the pain? And so came many days of thick smoke to envelop the city, forcing people to remain indoors, soon followed by torrential rain bringing with it the Mallee red dust – a powerful further reminder of the power of the real disasters way beyond the city’s boundaries. Loss, bewilderment, pain, grief, fear, trauma.

Yes, practical matters can be addressed. Funds have been raised and countless people across the community have contributed generously through various events and through those organisations whose responsibility it is to bring assistance in these ways. Many touching stories have been told, too, demonstrating how consistently we Australians support each other. Similarly, relief for the native animals in need and care awareness for the future of our rivers, forests and natural land has become a high priority. The disasters of this summer are not incidents easily forgotten.

In this climate, currently we have become aware of another kind of trauma – that of the coronavirus, originating in China but certainly now affecting this country and further abroad. Growing fear within the community surrounding the prospect of an invasion of a life-threatening virus infection may, even in itself, reach outbreak proportions. Fear grows fear – a topic I have written on in numerous ways in the past. It is human and normal to feel afraid. Life in general provides many reasons to incite fear and such reasons certainly include trauma.

And so, from this background we have come to the beginning of a new decade. These are times, similar in emotional reaction to significant birthdays, when people tend to take stock of life. Questions are many … que sera sera indeed:

How will we ever get through this? How to hold our family together? Will insurance be sufficient to assist us? The new school year has commenced, there are many expenses to cover, how can we manage with such limited funds? Can we ever rebuild the property/farm/business? How will our ageing parents cope with this shock? Will I/we ever feel less confused and stressed again? Has it ever been this bad before? Maybe the last decade was affected too but we were lucky that time? What will the coming decade bring? Are we able to compare these lifechanging events to those of the past? What has been learned from the past? Do we have the capacity as individuals – or as government leaders – to address potential change that can influence the future? Will this be the life-changing-for-the-better decade? While questions abound, what are the solutions?

I think the primary solution to managing trauma and all it embodies, lies within our self. I think we see this evidenced in the magnificent and courageous words spoken by those affected by the fires. We see absolute courage and dedication within the work of the ‘fireys’, those men and women of all ages, who fearlessly and willingly face the demon fire, at times day after day, risking their own lives to protect the lives and existences of others. There’s a job to do – and they do it. Perhaps they don’t always win, either. But they are prepared to persevere in search of the best possible outcome.

When it comes to the rest of us, I believe we too have that capacity to pull through personal pain. We are not all suited to fire fighting. But there are resources within each one of us to assist us in traumatic times – regardless of the cause of trauma. So, it’s good to reflect on those resources:

We have some level of physical strength and aptitude. We have some level of mental strength and aptitude. We can prepare our mind, listen and learn and take proper precautions. We can value ourselves and our families enough to offer advice and protection. We can offer love in its many forms – to ourselves, to our families and to others. From life experience, we can make the right decision. We can honour our loss and grief and accept the prospect of change. To come to acceptance, to gain self-understanding and to grow into life, we can seek counsel by sharing with trusted friends and family or with professional therapists. We can adopt stress reducing activities such as walking, running, swimming and more. We can learn the value of rest for body, mind and spirit to nourish the gift of true awareness.

At this Centre we know the value of rest – especially rest for the mind. We talk about it regularly. We are proud of the dramatic successes our clients experience and we share their enormous joy as they benefit more and more from the ‘magic’ of this simple yet profound style of therapeutic meditation. If you find yourself in need of mind rest, if you recognise the value of mental equanimity and if you have always wanted to make positive changes to your life, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you.

Most importantly we know that traumatised lives can heal. Such healing comes through the ability to develop personal resilience through whichever means each person may commit to. There is no doubt, when all is said and done, that ultimately healing comes from within the self.

We wish all those who need relief, the joy of new beginnings, with hope, peace and love in abundance for 2020 and all the years to come.

 

NB: I have 20 complimentary copies of my book (Living Calm in a Busy World) to assist those affected by the bushfires. Please email or call us now to secure your gift and share the love.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, February 2020

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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

 

 

How much does your mind matter? A question for mental health month

It’s Mental Health Month – this is a topic that’s really very close to our hearts at this Centre.  As the keeper of our mental health, our mind matters greatly.  So this month I’m going to revisit a topic I explored some time ago about the concept of ‘mind’. In the interest of your mind, please read on …

Do we ever stop to think about what we’re thinking? Are the thoughts that we’re thinking relevant, useful, productive, reactive, peaceful or distressing? Even more importantly, do we stop to think that we might be thinking too much?

In a gorgeous conversation with my eldest granddaughter on one rainy day we began to dissect the mystery of that amazing treasure contained within the brain – our mind!

We pondered that ethereal gift: is ‘mind’ our spirit? Is mind everlasting? Is mind the product of our physiology – or the other way around? Are we, in fact, our mind? And what would we do without our mind – for mind in itself, perhaps is life-giving. Our mind is the receptacle of our entire life experience, the keeper of our secrets, thoughts, wishes, hopes and dreams. Our mind can contribute to conversation and discussion … the mind is our communicator and our communication.

Our mind gives rise to action and reaction so therefore our mind can enrich or debase our humanity. Our mind analyses and discerns; it allows us to see the world both visually and emotionally and to make moral or immoral decisions. The major five senses – in fact all sensations – within the body are delivered by our mind. Our mind can appreciate art and beauty and dismiss those others that it’s already ‘made up its mind’ to dismiss.

From our mind can come imagination, creativity and experiential phenomena. Our mind monitors our body, speaks to us in our dreams and permits times of peaceful reverie, without attention. Great minds produce insights and discover facts that can change the world. Some great minds have produced terror and suffering. Some great minds may never reach that level of potential or be empowered to contribute to the wider world as meaningfully as they might. And of course, as with our entire being, our mind can fail us, too.

Perhaps the earliest tabled examination of mind comes from the Greek philosopher Plato (429-347BC). Plato identified the mind with the soul, arguing that the soul pre-exists and survives the body through the process of reincarnation. Within his ‘theory of forms’ (that everything in existence has a perfectly corresponding form) Plato argues that the soul/mind obtains knowledge through recollection of these forms.

The basis of Buddhist philosophy is to understand the function of the mind – as quoted by the Buddha – ‘all things are preceded by the mind, led by the mind, created by the mind.’

Here is one Q & A relating to Buddhism:

  • “What is the mind? It is a phenomenon that is not body, not substantial, has no form, no shape, no color, but, like a mirror, can clearly reflect objects.” Lama Zopa Rinpoche
  • And another … the 1800 year old ‘one-liner’ by Nagarjuna: “Without the discipline of guarding the mind, what use are any other disciplines?”

In Christianity, Jesus’ greatest and first commandment (Matthew 22:36-38) is quoted ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ The emphasis of heart, soul and mind as living experience beyond the physical is noteworthy

Much later and among those great minds who have pondered the mind, is of course, the ‘father of modern philosophy’, Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes primarily concludes that the nature of the mind is totally different from that of the body and that it is possible for one to exist without the other. Yet others argue that if mind and body are different – or separate – then how is it possible for the mind to cause limbs to be activated … or how can reaction in the body cause sensation in the mind … ?

Much later Carl Jung (1875-1961) goes a little further, coining the term ‘collective unconscious’ which he believed to be comprised of instincts and archetypes. This ‘other’ state of mind, for Jung, largely explains the meaning of life as it is symbolically lived through experience.

Now, leaping even further forward, what about the marvellous Dr Seuss and “Oh the Thinks you can Think”. What a mind! What an imagination – and what connection he makes with all age groups as he colourfully explores all the possibilities of mental activity … and way beyond. Using puns and visuals that trigger the imagination, Seuss invents ‘thinks’! And through his illustrations he seems to have done the impossible: created the perfect visual image for the related descriptive language – a feat that for me anyway, is rarely fulfilled when books are translated into film.

Currently, David Anderson (The Mind Project, Illinois State University) researches among many interests, what it takes to be a ‘person’. He explores the possibility as a “valuable educational enterprise to do our best to simulate minds and persons. In the very attempt, we learn more about the nature of the mind and about ourselves. At the very least, it forces us to probe our own concept of personhood.”

He asks: what are the properties necessary for being a person? “Many properties have been suggested as being necessary for being a person: Intelligence, the capacity to speak a language, creativity, the ability to make moral judgments, consciousness, free will, a soul, self-awareness . . and the list could go on almost indefinitely. Which properties do you think are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for being a person?”  Something else to think about?

With just a glimpse of the many amazing minds who have considered the mind, conjured up ideas, reflected upon its source, object and purpose … to delve further is, in fact, almost mind-blowing!

And then another wise man, my mentor and our inspiration at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, the psychiatrist and scholar Ainslie Meares, tabled that, as the body needs rest, so does the mind. Meares isolated a style of mental relaxation (aka ‘meditation’) to permit the mind to utilize one of its many natural states. Rather than following the concept of mindfulness which has become popularised today, to care for the mind Meares originated the concept of pure stillness: mental rest, or reverie, to re-establish mental homeostasis and help people restore mental health.
Here’s a valuable thought from his little book titled ‘Thoughts’:

To think
Without thoughts in our mind;
And we come to know
What we did not know before

So!
Do we ever stop to think about what we’re thinking? Even more importantly, do we stop to think that we might be thinking too much? Maybe it’s time to give your mind the rest it deserves.  After all this thinking and all this interesting exploration, that’s certainly my next step right now!

Pauline McKinnon ©
Melbourne, October 2019

 

 

 

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Stop Still for Peace – please join us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon
Melbourne, September 2019

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Loss, bereavement, grief and the power of stillness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, August 2019