Oh, I am so wonderfully worn and tired, yet strangely re-fueled and exhilarated  

If you have been to a conference then you might recognise this .. lots of information, faces, conversations and learnings which can over the many focused hours lead to feeling a little overwhelmed and drained, and yet once home (rehydrated and having consumed a solid hot meal) the feeling becomes a little buzzy and inspired!

This rebirth of the Meditation Conference in 2018 marks the tenth year of the Australian Meditation Association (AMA), which now has more than 300+ certified members. The 2018 three-day weekend event includes more than 60 speakers, and delegates not only from Australia, but also Singapore and Asia, and presentations by internationally known teachers and researchers.

Meditation is a pretty solitary practice, and it is not often that meditation teachers are drawn together to share and learn in a such a professional and dedicated space

It was super dark when I woke this morning, meditated, made a coffee and hit the road into the city edges. I had a full back-to-back program of presentations and workshops that I had highlighted to attend. I stuck with most of my choices and was well rewarded for straying a little from the program as well. Below is a little overview of my experience today:

Asher Packman, President of Meditation Australia, opened the Conference and shared some of his personal story, striving in a corporate career until finding meditation at a time of great personal loss and tragedy, and in doing so he ‘found his purpose’.  Pauline McKinnon, Founding Patron of the AMA shared her journey of working with Dr. Ainslie Mears (1910 – 1986) a psychiatrist, hypnotherapist, psychotherapist and great advocate of meditation, who supported her in overcoming agoraphobia and severe anxiety and initiated her journey as an independent meditation teacher.

“Meditation attends to the primary human desire for calm and contentment” (Pauline McKinnon)

The Keynote Address was MEDITATION AND SOCIETY: FROM THE INDIVIDUAL TO THE COLLECTIVE presented by Dr. Craig Hassed .. a stirring presentation, rich in both academic research and humor, that certainly won over the crowd.

Associate Professor Craig Hassed is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of General Practice. Monash University where he has been teaching at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels since 1989. He is also coordinator of mindfulness programs at Monash University. He has been instrumental in introducing a variety of innovations into medical education and practice in Australia and overseas with an emphasis on the application of holistic, integrative and mind-body medicine in medical practice. Some key takeaways from Dr. Hassed:

  • Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD): and the 2017 study that found negative mental health values, especially anxiety symptoms, being positively associated with the recognition and rise of FAD
  • There have been 712 research papers on Mindfulness to date (in 2018) equating to four papers per day in peer review publications
  • Meditation fosters self-mastery: self-awareness, emotional regulation, appetite regulation (freedom from addiction), decision-making with more discernment (wisdom), creating and mental flexibility, problem-solving, compassion, and communication – and from these individual shifts we can influence a positive change in society

Next up was the Panel Presentation: CAN MEDITATION CONTRIBUTE TO CULTURAL CHANGE that presented a lively, and overall optimistic, supporting that meditation can indeed contribute to change, and perhaps already has :

  • the importance of leadership in cultural change, and having trust in the leader, seen in organizations that have brought meditation to their teams, such as the Google mindfulness project that has led to development and growth of new programs in the corporate space
  • a discussion of ‘mirror neurons or “smart cells” in our brains that allow us to understand others’ actions, intentions, and feelings, and how people literally mirror a leader’s actions and their emotions; so simply showing up with more ideal behavior and an intentional emotional state is an important part of imparting these qualities to others
  • hearing from Professor Kalvinder Shields on the example of leadership contributing to cultural change within in the Brahma Kumaris and Indian culture: in 1937 Dada Lekhraj establishing a spiritual university with a group of 12 young women nominated to assume all administrative responsibilities for the group of almost 400 people: at that time in India, when women were treated as second-class citizens. Since then the University has continued to grow and now operates over 8,500 centers in 100 countries, with all administrative and spiritual duties still being carried out by two of the most senior women teachers who have been students since the University’s establishment.

At this point, I changed my plans ..

After some interesting discussions over morning tea, I moved across the campus to a beautiful room looking over the Melbourne city skyline, for the workshop with Asher Packman on MEDITATIONS ON DEATH. This will be one of the highlights of attendance at the conference, and flowing from the earlier discussion on cultural change, realizing the profoundly important and positive movement to demystify death, and give us all greater language and understanding of death and dying. Asher provided a beautifully safe and sacred space for many attendees to also share some of their experiences:

  • the growing awareness and conversation around death which is almost the last taboo in the West, as we largely live outside any spiritual, religious or belief framework on death and dying
  • the power of reassessing and attending to life through the lens of the end of life
  • hearing from one of the participants who is currently training as an End of Life Doula – and Asher’s experience presenting at the Death And Dying Festival in Sydney (2017)

“death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most”.

  • this quote from The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski – highly recommended reading

After a lovely lunch spent catching up with old and new friends .. was the address by Dr. Maura Kenny: IS MINDFULNESS ENOUGH?

Dr. Kenny (MBChB, MRCPsych, FRANZCP) is a psychiatrist and founding co-director of the Mindfulness Training Institute, Australia, and NZ. She specializes in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy in the areas of Stress, Affective and Anxiety disorders, she is the Convenor of the Discipline of Psychiatry’s Mindfulness Research Group (University of Adelaide) and her research focuses on the efficacy, mediators and long-term effects of applied mindfulness. Key takeaways:

  • “the whole of this path rests upon the head of intention”
  • mindfulness is only one element of the Buddhist Eightfold Path (just 1/8th) and perhaps having subtracted it from the whole framework we are missing something?
  • In a clinical context: Mindfulness should ‘proceed with caution’, that the statistical significance is often (inappropriately?) equated with clinical or practical significance
  • neuroscience findings need to be reported “with all due modesty” (I love this)
  • and, you can see the final slide of Dr. Kenny’s presentation (in the image attached) – which really say’s it all!

The address MUTUAL ENRICHMENT: MEDITATION IN TANTRA AND CHRISTIANITY gifted an insight into Comparative Theology “one tradition understanding itself more fully by understanding another”. Reverend Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism, he lives in an interfaith ashram in Victoria and travels each year to India.

  • the state of mind enriched by Tantra and Christianity – to hear the divine word means being transformed into the divine
  • pleasure increases exponentially as delight increases the capacity for delight, taking them into levels of joy they had never imagined, right into the realm of divine bliss
  • meditation develops one’s essential point of view but the few moments spent in meditation are a sort of training session
  • this enriched position is not just awareness but mutual presence, not just sensation but perception of freedom, not just peacefulness but ecstasy as well
  • Nearly all traditions peaks of ‘Universal bliss’ .. the spirituality of pleasure

and I finished my first day with Eric Harrison from the Perth Meditation Centre and his seminar BEYOND SITTING: THE BUDDHA’s PROGRAM FOR COMPLETE MINDFULNESS. I have had the pleasure of a few of Eric’s workshops and presentations over the past ten years .. and he always brings home salient insights.

  • The Foundations of Mindfulness is the Buddha’s original manual for the training of attention and  2500 years on, is still the most comprehensive explanation of mindfulness available
  • the modern mindfulness movement owes more to the Zen practice of ‘Just Sitting’ and knows little about the Buddha’s more sophisticated approach
  • the four Foundations of Mindfulness include: Mindfulness of the Body (Kaya) Mindfulness of Emotion (Vedana) Mindfulness of States of Mind (Citta) and Mindfulness of Thought (Dhamma)
  • the Buddha’s instructions included the sitting .. but also the walking and the standing .. along with judgment (whereas modern ‘mindfulness’ directs us to non-judgment) which is the noticing and evaluating and modifying needed in order to make better decisions
  • the bliss of a focussed mind (with no strain) and the rough ride of a scattered mind – “trust the inner God”
  • try meditation with ‘capped’ eyelids and go for high quality and short duration: you can do this 100 times a day with a level of awareness that allows you to describe what is dominant in the mind ‘in this moment’

for the Buddha, the four foundations was training to what we can call ‘embodied cognition’ .. a way of thinking through and with the body .. a form of controlled, intuitive, and insightful thinking that the Buddha said was ‘the only way to enlightenment’

*Now .. sleep and I shall share some of the second (and final) day of the conference shortly