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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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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