Contentless Meditation. New Research

New research by The University of Melbourne, Contemplative Studies Centre shows benefits of natural and simple meditation.

The Contemplative Studies Centre fuses contemplative wisdom, innovative research, lifelong education, authentic dialogue and practice in the pursuit of knowledge to allow us, our society, and our world to flourish. Find out more on The University of Melbourne, Contemplative Studies Centre website:

In contentless meditation experience, the mind is silent and still, without thoughts or perceptions. What do we learn from studying this experience scientifically in different forms of meditation? University of Melbourne PhD Candidate, Toby Woods, has used scientific method to examine contentless experience in four meditation practices. In this talk he presented the findings from two large-scale analyses: an evidence synthesis of 135 expert texts and a questionnaire-based study of more than 250 meditators attending specific retreats and classes.

have butterflies in the stomach

Have Butterflies in the Stomach?

Had butterflies in the stomach recently?  Just think about the glamorous affair of the Oscars. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of movie actors, directors, producers, sound technicians, costume designers, and many more ‘movie makers’, young and old, dressed in their finest, ready to applaud the best and support their own. Some were in the running to win the ultimate – the golden Oscar. And while the world knows them as the famous actor, or producer or director, have you wondered how many butterflies they had in their stomach as they waited for the winners to be announced? As the world waited to see their reaction to the announcement; and even more, to hear their acceptance speech.

Being nervous or a little anxious before a ‘big’ event is very natural to every human being; and one very common symptom is feeling ‘butterflies or palpitations in the stomach’ that don’t seem to go away, until of course the stressful event we have been anticipating is over or resolved. Famous people are not immune to this and there is nothing wrong with having these temporary feelings of tension or stress; but it is when these butterflies in the stomach never stop or go away; when this unsettling ‘ill’ feeling becomes the norm and disrupts one’s ability to live calmly, that one realises that he or she is living with anxiety. In many cases other symptoms will also materialise limiting the full enjoyment of living even further.

Of course the regular practice of ‘stillness’ provides relief from all these anxiety symptoms and restores calmness. One of the many advantages of SMT facilitated sessions is the use of calming touch, a unique, regulating feature of this particular type of meditation. Dr Meares explained this as “non verbal communication” between the client and the therapist. The support and understanding of the therapist is communicated without the need for words.

Some recent studies support and further expand this concept:

“The skin and the central nervous system arise from the same embryonic cell layers … after the differentiation of the brain and spinal cord, the rest of the embryo’s surface covering …give rise to the sense organs of hearing, smell, taste, vision and touch. We could consider the skin an exposed portion of the nervous system or an external nervous system. Touch can have strong effects on our bodies because, when the skin is touched, that stimulation is quickly transmitted to the brain, which in turn regulates our bodies. Depending upon the type of touch we receive, we can either be calmed down or aroused”  ( Ref: Touch, By Tiffany Field, MIT Press 2003)

Mothers have instinctively used touch to bond and calm their babies and now science can explain why this is. There are hundreds of studies supporting this theory and Dr Meares was certainly wise to the benefits of calming touch over 50 years ago.

So next time you’re feeling nervous or anxious with “butterflies in the stomach”, try placing your hands gently on your stomach, the same way as if you are comforting a baby, and take 5-10 minutes to practice Stillness. You may be surprised to find that you are feeling much calmer afterwards

Stillness Meditation Centres practitioners can help you overcome nerves and anxiety, if you want to know more please get in touch with us

overcome the obstacles

Commitment To Self-Care. How to Overcome the Obstacles of Life

Extract from “In Stillness Conquer Fear”

Caring for oneself is a life-long project — a kind of challenge to live well. Like a strong marriage, good health and a good life do not ‘just happen’ as many might hope; we must be prepared to work at achieving this state. So in the serious desire to overcome the obstacles of anxiety, panic and agoraphobia, it is necessary to be committed to this cause.

The film City of Joy, based on the book by Dominique Lapierre, uses the principle that in life we have three options:
•    to run
•    to spectate
•    to commit

Most people have known at some time the experience of running away from life’s challenges. In my years of agoraphobia, I did my share of running, only to receive in return for that effort ever-increasing fear and an all-pervading emptiness, to say nothing of a host of other accompanying negative emotions.

It is tempting too, for the fainthearted to ‘spectate’. Why not, after all, let others do it all for us while we try to remain safe and comfortable? But this way of life, too, is profitless and only emphasises the dependency people have come to accept: the doctor knows best, the tablets will cure me, everything will be all right when . . . Being a spectator in life also leads us down an empty path.

But commitment — to oneself and to the world we live in — is the threshold we long for, the threshold to the wellspring of the goodness of life. Commitment to any worthwhile cause will always bring positive results. It sparks our motivation and kindles hope when hope seems to be flagging. Commitment is the tool that gets things done. We must, therefore, make commitment a priority and, through it, take responsibility for ourselves.
With commitment we can then begin to eradicate excessive tension by practising stillness with purpose. As its serenity enters our lives, from it will be distilled the answers we are seeking and the solution to the problem of this kind of fear.

A life free of problems is a life without experience and, perhaps, without meaning. The experience of agoraphobia in my life helped me towards richer personal development and a more profound understanding of life and of human kind. We are all ‘amateur actors’, feeling our way, learning by our mistakes and our successes; even the steps which sometimes seem to be backward eventually take us forward in the continuing growth towards completeness. And so we collect life’s experiences as we might collect shells from the beach.

We should remember that, while sometimes those seashells are flung on to the sand in the midst of the storm, without fail, once the storm has passed, more shells will be gently laid there by the peaceful waters of a new day. As a child I found peace in Nessa’s garden. Somewhere, in everyone’s memory, is a garden of some kind where trouble is washed away by tranquillity. I use the example of the garden, not as an end in itself, but only to kindle within the reader’s spirit the tiniest memory of stillness and the wish to seek further. For it is well to recapture that memory and realise its value. It could be just the glimmer of light necessary to help you on your way. It is necessary too, to grasp the fact that suffering, whatever it may be, is not necessarily something to be avoided or of which to be ashamed, but an opportunity for life enhancement. Stillness meditation is, in my experience, the skill by which that suffering can be more easily accepted, transformed and overcome.

I recognise my good fortune in overcoming fear. Although eight years seemed a long time to me then, it is nothing at all compared to those who have known fear for twenty-eight or thirty-eight years. But this doesn’t mean that my understanding of the problem of fear is any the less, or that those who have suffered longer cannot change.

Here now, is a confession. During those years of fear I thought I would never forget one unpleasant moment. In the original telling of this story and in now reviewing it after twenty-five years, I have had to take my mind right back with some effort to recall the detail of eight years of that experience. A statement such as that, I think, holds sufficient conviction for the reader to know that anxiety, panic and agoraphobia definitely belong to my past.


It is my privilege to have shared all this with you. I trust that my story will continue to bring fear to greater awareness and help overcome the obstacles and provide that much-needed hope where required. To wish an easy road is to deny you adventure. I wish you, instead, a fulfilling journey upon which you will find a tranquil return to the truth and wholeness of yourself — and a future of contentment where all your dreams will be fulfilled.

I began this book by recalling a conversation with a stranger on a train. His thoughts seem a fitting expression to close with: ‘People are scared, you know’! But it is generally because they are tense. People are tense, you know. But we don’t have to be — there is a rewarding alternative!

Stillness Meditation Centres practitioners can help you overcome the obstacles of Life, if you want to know more please get in touch with us

Stillness Meditation for Students Melbourne

Stillness Meditation for Students

By Kaye Hakopian

As we move further into the school year many students experience stress ~ the difference between problems faced and the ability to cope.

For adolescents it is not only the challenge of keeping up with work deadlines and looming exams, but also worries about being ‘ left out ‘ academically and socially. More and more there is an element of competition in all areas of life.

Anxiety fuels uncertainty in developing an inner identity and in the perception of what others think.  A fear of ” ruining or spoiling things ” for family and friends is common at this stage of life.

Stress, anxiety and the tightrope of nervous tension can become the norm, establishing unhealthy and unnecessary patterns of coping.  Coping well is about restoring harmony to brain function so that all the information received can be integrated.

Adolescent life is better without the feeling of being constantly ‘ on guard, ‘ readily provoked to be defensive or aggressive, over reactive to the superficial.

The suggestion is not to do less nor avoid stressful situations, but to learn to experience an ease of mind, a degree of inner calm so that problems and uncertainties no longer have the same disturbing effect.

The regular practice of Stillness (SMT) offers moments of profound quietness in which the brain is able to sort out the stream of impulses. Such moments come naturally as in daydreaming and the effect flows on into daily life.

Often when I suggest Stillness Meditation for Students, the response is …..  But, ” HOW CAN I SIT AND DO NOTHING WHEN I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO ?? ”
This is a reasonable response when a student feels overloaded, struggling to meet so many expectations and demands.   Trust and gentle encouragement are needed ~ just let it come, slowly and little by little a calmness comes to your mind.

You will be able to:

  • think more clearly
  • do more with less effort
  • and respond more freely

Inner ease and naturalness lead to an understanding of things at a deeper level, beyond the active mind ~ a source of inner strength and confidence. For the adolescent this is very empowering.  When nervous tension is not consuming so much energy, it is also easier to concentrate and fulfil creative potential.

While so much of learning appears complex, the practice of Stillness Meditation for Students is essentially simple:


I encourage young people (and their parents) to make this natural practice part of their lives. Yes, it does require time and commitment but the benefits are worth making that initial step, for Quiet Time soon becomes something to look forward to, a special space to ‘just be.’

As a practitioner at the Centre I have been privileged to see so many students discover for themselves the difference SMT makes. Having settled into the school routine, before the intensity of end of year, NOW is a perfect time to explore, establish and begin to benefit from Stillness. You will be most welcome at the SMT Centre.

© May 2015

There are many benefits of Stillness Meditation for Students, if you want to know more please get in touch with us

Children and SMT School

Working with Children and SMT

By Francine Cockerill

The following quote comes from Let’s Be Still the Teaching Manual that accompanies the book Quiet Magic by Pauline McKinnon.

‘To link ‘magic’ with the word ‘quiet’ may seem to be a paradox.  And yet, perhaps the simplest way to discover the real magic of life is by not trying in any way to find it at all, but by being open to positive possibilities, allowing them to transpire.  And that is the essence of this teaching program.’

It is also the essence of the Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT®) experience and the therapeutic process when I work with children and parents in private sessions.  Whatever the ‘presenting issues’ happen to be, positive change occurs on many unexpected levels.  How is it that by simply sitting still and feeling safe enough to close our eyes for a period of time can bring a whole consciousness shift?  It may be either subtle or profound – but ‘magic’ as an experiential process happens!

Within my sessions and supported by an atmosphere of calm, relaxed ease, insights come through varied art activities and creative play.  Parents feel less vigilant and oppressed by the stresses of parenting and problem solving.  They can view their child in a new context and if they join the stillness experience, they have at firsthand an unspoken understanding that can only deepen the bond between themselves and their child.

Over several sessions, a foundation is laid for positive change.  As one parent expressed, her child now has stillness in his tool-box, close at hand when in need.  Many clients revisit stillness sessions at various life stages to reconnect with this valuable life-skill.

In the school context, the magic of stillness becomes a precious refuge.  This is most successful with the co-operative support of teachers, staff and therapist working together – while respecting the philosophy and values of the school and the teaching styles of the year levels.

In that environment, over time, a bond of trust is assured which gives children permission to feel comfortable in the ‘space’ created by the therapist.  In that space is fostered what can be translated as quiet time, relax time and mind rest.  In that way, stillness then becomes an integral part of the school curriculum.

When the teachers themselves actively participate and look forward to Children and SMT stillness time then they become role models for their children.  This shared experience flows on into the classroom and other aspects of school life.

Stillness MeditationTherapy has a special part to play in all aspects of daily life … if only we all ‘just let it occur …’

© June 2015

Please get in touch if you want more information about Children and SMT

Can Meditation Treat Anxiety Melbourne

Can Meditation Treat Anxiety?

Im often asked can meditation treat anxiety. The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes!

This is such a topical question – here we are in Melbourne in lockdown again due to another wave of COVID that has caught us quite unexpectedly.  And of course, people become anxious – or more anxious because currently, we have no control over this insidious virus.

Stillness – the therapeutic meditation

I can say ‘yes’ with confidence due to the style of meditation I learned and have taught and practiced for nearly 40 years.  My story is told in my book In Stillness Conquer Fear, first published in 1983. It is to the courage and wisdom of the late Dr Ainslie Meares and his concept of meditation and Relief Without Drugs that I attribute this success.  In sharing my story, I have been able to offer many others his style of meditation, helping people transform anxiety into productivity and a happy, fulfilling life.  I know the frustration and sorrow that anxiety causes.  I know how people can go from expert to expert, seeking relief.  I know that a majority of anxiety sufferers do not want reliance on medication as the solution to their symptoms.

Stillness – simple, natural, life-changing – different!

Meares’ vision for mental health (Stillness Meditation Therapy) is centred upon learning and practising periods of complete rest – body, mind and spirit.  And here’s the difference: in the experience of stillness there is no technique as in other styles of meditation.

Stillness meditation is simple and natural – the body’s own way of easing distress.  There is no mantra, no music, no focused attention, mindfulness or breathing to occupy the mind.  Just complete rest.  Challenging at first?  Yes, but with perseverance and regular practice, a profound calm is experienced.  And then things begin to change.  Anxiety reduces and symptoms gradually decrease.  Calm control replaces agitation. Confidence, self-knowledge and intuitive awareness gently bring further relief.

If you still have questions on how can meditation treat anxiety or if you long for positive change, please make contact.  You don’t have to live a life of anxiety.

We would also appreciate it of you’d share our blog, especially if you know someone it might help.

                                                            Pauline McKinnon, June 2021


Jessica Mauboy Panic Attack

Anxiety Can and Does Affect Everyone

Recently, it was revealed that the mystery reason the popular Australian singer Jessica Mauboy did not appear at the Melbourne Cup last November to sing the national anthem, was because she suffered a panic attack. “This is far more common than you think” says Pauline McKinnon, psychotherapist and respected meditation teacher for over 30 years.

“I’m sure Jessica was terribly disappointed not to have been able to perform at the Melbourne Cup, a coveted gig for Australian entertainers”, said Pauline.  “But equally she is very brave for opening up and seeking help”.Jessica Mauboy

Jessica’s willingness to talk about her own struggles with anxiety makes it easier for others to recognise symptoms in themselves or loved ones and encourage them to seek help.

“Anxiety is debilitating and can limit one’s life quite severely” continued Pauline.  “Usually the sufferers do whatever they can to hide this from others and often begin to withdraw from activities that may bring on the feelings of anxiety or a panic attack”.  This is clearly demonstrated in the case of Jessica Mauboy anxiety, withdrawing from performing at the last minute.

But not all is lost.  Pauline herself was a long time anxiety sufferer who spent 8 years fearing to leave the safety of home.  After seeking and trying numerous medical remedies, she finally found relief through Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT) as taught by renowned Melbourne psychiatrist Ainslie Meares.

That was over 30 years ago.  Since then Pauline has been teaching thousands of others how to similarly find relief and overcome limitations and fears.

The practice of SMT, simply enables our central nervous system to achieve homeostasis – to return to a balanced way of functioning, which is essential for mental health” said Pauline.  “It does not require concerted effort or constant awareness of one’s self, which is a relief for most anxiety sufferers.”

Pauline offers these tips for anxiety relief:

  1. When you feel anxiety or panic symptoms rising, note the tension in your body and practice letting that tension go. The more you practice letting go, the quicker the anxiety will diminish.
  2. Don’t force or fight against fear as that reaction only stimulates the fight or flight response. Instead, stop and think: ‘I will do this and I will do it calmly and easily by letting go of tension”
  3. Cultivate an attitude of ease in your everyday life. This will gradually come into being by practicing stillness, until ease becomes the way you live.

We know Jessica Mauboy anxiety struggle is not uncommon.  There are many many people suffering similarly, but perhaps more silently.  While public figures get a lot of coverage and seemingly a lot of support for what they are going through, ultimately, it is about reaching out and seeking help.  If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety SMT can help.  Contact us to make an appointment and start living calm!

© Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, March 2016
03 9817 2933

Finding Hope

Finding hope – and the matter of soul

Spring’s arrival in Melbourne brings us a step nearer to the close of a year when the world metaphorically stopped. Still the virus hovers and for preservation’s sake, the range of restrictions imposed by authorities continues a new way of living in a bid to outwit this enemy.

Understandably, people are confused, frustrated and upset. Anger and fear have become emotional companions to many. There is little to look forward to.  Perhaps most overwhelming for many families are concerns surrounding student upheaval and financial issues relating to lost employment or the failure of businesses impacted by the entire COVID problem.

These six months have clearly raised the need for stress management. Significant recognition is being given to mental health issues as emotional turmoil crosses all boundaries of society. People are experiencing thoughts and feelings previously unknown to most and it becomes easy to lose hope. With these influences in mind I have written recently about seeking our inner self and about valuing new beginnings. Attention to such concepts keeps us positive and aims to offer an optimistic focus. But this emotional pain, experienced so widely, indicates that our collective soul is hurting.

The concept of ‘soul’ may raise questions. For centuries, sages, mystics, spiritual guides, poets, philosophers and wisdom seekers throughout the world have discussed the human soul – its power, its protectiveness, its contribution to shaping life.

But in current times with a somewhat egocentric focus on material matters, perhaps we have overlooked important soul matters? Could the absence of attention to soul be contributing to society’s emotional pain? And if so, how can we do more to assist ourselves and others to discover the hope we crave by looking into the depth of our soul?

Here we meet another challenge: how do we recognize or even define ‘soul’? First, I think we must honour imagination, the part of our self that stirs within life’s surprising moments. Our soul is also found in deep emotional experiences, intimate conversations or flashes of insight. Soul is present within nature, when wonder triggers emotion or when the heart is touched by awareness or gratefulness. And soul is there within the power of art, music, literature … or when tears spring unexpectedly into being. Soul is of those moments when the power of love rises to expand our consciousness beyond the present. And as our soul can teach us much about the beauty of life, it can also teach us how to ease the pain.

From within our pain, our soul can offer us hope! If we take time to be still, to calmly receive the messages within everything we feel, we may be surprised at the depth of truth, understanding, freedom and healing that may gently be revealed.

Soul discovery cannot be rushed. Soul is the most secret part of our-self, waiting for our attention. This is mystery that has intrigued me for decades and so I copy below my poetry as expressed in the opening pages of my book ‘In Stillness Conquer Fear’. If nothing else, perhaps those thoughts may prompt a reminder of the precious value of hope.

The Soul sits waiting she is poised,


Ever patient, she waits for man or woman to know

her truth;

the truth that frees him or her from all pain

wrought by fear.

The Soul never fears.

Strength is her trademark, peace is her


wisdom the arrow that flies from her bow.

The Soul is love.

Deep as the core of a precious fruit she

nestles within us.

Yet wide as thunder and wind

her wings of change embrace the world.

All powerful, all mild,
she is our own –
our whole and special self.


© Pauline McKinnon, September 2020

New Beginnings

New Beginnings!

Life is all about regular and individual, new beginnings!  Every age and every stage bring difference, change, challenge and hopefully, knowledge and growth.  If you take a moment right now to revisit yourself at pre-school age, from that moment on, engraved in your memory will be circumstances surrounding each or all those influences.  Within each of those influences, among the joy you have also experienced some level of pain.  And every time, you survived it and you moved forward accordingly!

When I first wrote my personal experience of overcoming anxiety, that word was largely unknown in our vernacular.  For me and for many others, anxiety was practically a forbidden word.  Now at this time in our living history, anxiety has truly been brought to public attention and it rates public concern.  It’s important to notice this raised awareness and the level of emotional challenge within today’s human experience.

Reflecting on this topic I recall the words of one of my clients quite a few years ago:

“what I’ve learned from you is my own resilience and the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in this ordeal”. 

Somehow, knowing that she wasn’t alone in experiencing the effects of stress and anxiety enabled her to stay steady and not diverge from her commitment to facing a new beginning.

 COVID-19 has brought a great many people to face significant change and a range of new beginnings.  We are not alone in this situation.  And so many are feeling crippled by negative reactions: loneliness, boredom, exhaustion, confusion, stress, tension and fear.  These are typical reactions and it’s not difficult to imagine that many may be unable to picture a positive outcome.  Subdued by a range of alarming thoughts, the prospect of any kind of change may waver:  what if I never recover from this situation?  What if the hesitancy, the headaches, the churning, the avoidance and the depression and many other negative feelings will always rule my life?

I think it’s important to remember that thoughts are transient and in reality, life is all about new beginnings. 

That is not to deny that fact that life is somewhat more challenging right now since the pandemic experience is far reaching and, again, never previously experienced.

Yet from quite a number of years of living I can attest to having experienced many new beginnings – many positive and several quite negative.  And right now I am facing another major change:   as with many businesses – and especially businesses such as this that for over thirty years has involved very personal interaction with groups of people – these past months have been severely challenged from a sustainability point of view.  And there is no way of knowing what the future may hold as well as the restrictions we will likely face for quite a long time.

This situation has provided the impetus for me to creatively restructure services offered.  The reason for this decision is simply because our current environment was tailored to meet therapeutic requirements that cannot now be fulfilled in precisely the same way.   This is the end of a long era – but as I see it, the welcoming of a new beginning!   Having made that decision, I am very much looking forward to continuing my work within the following established practice:

Kew Holistic Health

77 Willsmere Road, Kew, VIC

My contact details remain the same as always:

[email protected]

Tel: (03) 9817 2933

So if life is causing you to feel disheartened at present, perhaps now is the time to discover different ways of working, new ways to nurture self-confidence and skills that assist with optimism and the ability to live from a depth of personal calm.

We travel long roads in a lifetime and we never know exactly what might be around the corner.  When approaching those corners however, the one thing we can be sure of is that whatever we discover there will inevitably be linked to a new beginning!

I wish everyone a peaceful and productive month!


                                                                                                Pauline McKinnon,

August 2020



Time to hear my inner self

Time to hear our inner self?

I listen for the whispers

That come from within.

But who can hear the whisper

Mid the noise of trying?

As with the bird

On his lonely flight,

It’s in the calm and the stillness

That we hear the whispers

Which tell us the way.

Ainslie Meares M.D. – A Kind of Believing: 1984


And so, throughout our lives, whispers come and go.  Sometimes, though, whispers grow a little louder – and these whispers are quite likely speaking a great deal louder to us right now, within this time of global pandemic.  Life as we knew it has become difficult. For some, time drags by painfully as concern and fear fills minds and hearts.  For others, time is frustrated in juggling responsibilities, managing home-schooling again, adjusting to living arrangements and prioritising workload.  For most, worries worsen as finances diminish and a range of future insecurities become apparent.  Humanity is indeed facing a serious situation.

In modern life as we have long known it, emphasis has been placed on a drive to explain things, prove things and fix things.  We have been focused on control and to seek outside our self.  But now, the throb of life, the ups and downs of life and the thrills of life speak in undertones of a new urgency.  Are we feeling out of control?  A bit lost, scared and confused?

What is it all about?   Why this current world challenge? What is the purpose?  What is truth?  How?  Where?  Who?  Even more questions and the urge for answers as frustration, anger and blame rise in crescendo from a whisper to a shout – to be met only with silence.  From the depths of the raucous din of everydayness, in all this chaos, it is really the quiet inner self, filled with life questions, that is calling to be heard. 

So then come more questions and what are we really seeking?  The ‘old’ ways and the world we thought we knew?  Or is it security – or prevention and cure?  Or is it fulfilment?  Or our happiness, peace …  contentment …  resolution … wholeness maybe?  And that little voice inside us says again…

‘the answers won’t come from out there, but from within yourself’.

So maybe now’s the time.  That time perhaps previously spent on matters that seemed important then has now become a little more available as time for reflection.  Time to pause and consider and remember how we began and how we have travelled since.  To question our beginnings … who was this person when I was seven … or seventeen … or twenty-seven … who is this person now?  And we might for a moment feel even more afraid!

Because of course, it’s fear – anxiety – that detracts from contentment and peace and robs us of the security of happiness.  In other words, fear gets in the way of all that is good.  So, before seeking answers we may first need to manage fear, that human reaction that holds us back and can spoil our own life and the lives of those around us.

To know our ever-changing ‘self’ is a journey without end.  It takes time!  And commitment and lots of stumbles along the way.

But now is an opportune time to begin! 

Let’s value our personal history, where we came from, who we were then and who we are now.  And let’s truly hear, in times of quiet, the whispers within – the truth and value of the inner self.


                                                               Pauline McKinnon, July 2020