Residential Weekends on Evolutionary Spirituality

“Evolutionary Spirituality is evolution inspired, world embracing, and future-oriented. It is a creative, anticipatory spiritual path in which salvation, however we define that word, is to be found not in connection to the ancestral spirits of yesteryear, in promises of a heavenly beyond, in achieving a transcendent state of inner peace, or even in letting go into a timeless present, but in fully embracing the emergent potential contained in the depths of an evloving cosmos.”

Carter Phipps (Evolutionaries)

Since  my first encounter with the spiritual perspective of cosmologist Brian Swimme on our evolutionary story(back in the mid nineties) I have been absorbing the teachings of what has grown to be an evolutionary spirituality movement.  I have grown to have the deepest respect and admiration for  the integrity and  breadth of knowledge of its many leading teachers. They are all forging a new worldview for the twenty first century- one that integrates the wisdom and practices of all the ancient spiritual traditions with our Western expertise in science and psychology. My enthusiasm for the movement is such that I have now set up the infra structure on my 40 acre property in Northern NSW to be able to modestly accommodate a small group of interested folk ( max 10) for residential weekends exploring the  personal and planetary impact of these  inspiring new teachings.

The weekend practices will include yoga and meditation and relaxation sessions but I also plan on sharing  on-line talks from one or two of the leading teachers of the movement . These I hope will inspire stimulating discussion  and reflection. Significant teachers for me( in addition to Brian Swimme) have been Marc Gafni and his teachings on the Unique Self,  Craig Hamilton and his transcendence of ego process in an evolutionary context,  Terry Patten’s “Integral Spirituality” , EnlightenNext guru Andrew Cohen ( his recent book Evolutionary Enlightenment has become an international best seller) and founding mother of the movement, Barbara Marx Hubbard She offers ACE trainings ( agents of conscious evolution) on line that I can highly recommend. All these teachers and many others are now offering free seminars and  reasonably priced on line courses that connect you with like minded folk across the planet. The interconnecting power of the web for this sort of thing is extraordinary.  Other luminaries of the movement include the ebullient Jean Houston ( sacred psychology) Donald Neale Walsh ( Conversations with God) and Deepak Chopra as well as the ever present Einstein of consciousness Ken Wilber.

There is so much rich material that my challenge will be to select the best for the purposes of inspiring newcomers to these ideas. Please understand however that it is not my intention to encourage “heady” intellectual argument. We will be creating a sacred space of communion helped in no small measure by  the magical  land energies of Pemavalley. My hope is to bring a small group of people into a sufficiently deep state of  heartfelt connection with what we call the “Evolutionary Impulse”  to  experience something of the  ecstatic intimacy   Andrew Cohen speaks of:

In that higher state, carried by the evolutionary impulse there is an ecstatic intimacy that cannot be surpassed. It is a sweetness that is infinitely deeper than the experience of sexual union, personal friendship, familial connection or ethnic bonds. It is not separate individuals coming together; it is one Self delighting in consciously recognizing itself

In that state, ego agendas dissolve and one is left enthused with a desire to serve the greater good.

Our humanity is the conscious meeting place of the finite and the Infinite and to grow more and more towards that Infinite in this physical birth is our privilege.”    Sri Aurobindo

If you are interested in participating please e mail me:
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Details of dates and cost etc can be found on the WORKSHOPS page

Benefits of Yoga Nidra

Most of the relaxation sessions on Gillian’s CDs are based on the ancient Indian practice known as yoga nidra or psychic sleep.

The many benefits of the deep relaxation practice known as yoga nidra deepen as you learn to let go more and more and move deeply into yourself. This is best achieved by regular daily practice with an audio recording, preferably at the same time and in the same place. Most yoga nidra recordings last for about thirty mins. I am always amazed when people- usually excessively stressed people- declare that they don’t seem to find the time to do it. A half hour practice has the rejuvenating effect of several hours sleep.

It doesn’t shorten your day, it lengthens it by giving you more energy and greater efficiency . When I was a single parent of three young sons, I found the practice invaluable as an enjoyable late afternoon recuperation strategy before the boys came home from school. They soon came to appreciate how much more easy going ‘mother’ was after her yoga nidra and positively encouraged me to do it whenever they detected any fatigue inspired irritability. I was ordered to go and have a yoga nidra!.

They did not feel the need to do it themselves in those days but much to my delight two of them have now incorporated it into their daily lives as an antidote to the stresses of young adulthood. In other words, it must not be seen as a practice best suited to women. On the contrary, men, once they do apply themselves to it, probably get even more benefit from it than women but don’t quote me on that!

Physical Benefits

Any machine needs to be stopped periodically for servicing and repairs. Seen as a machine, the body is no different. Yoga nidra slows down body metabolism and allows deep rejuvenation. Sleep has a similar function of course but is much less efficient because the unconscious mind continues during sleep to cause bodily tension.

In the conscious tension release process of a yoga nidra, heart and breathing rates slow down reducing blood pressure. At the same however, blood flow is increased because the blood vessels dilate when the body is relaxed. Cellular process of absorption and elimination are therefore made more efficient.

The relaxation of the entire muscular system brings relief to aches and pains caused by body stiffness and over exertion.

The endocrinal ( glandular ) system, which coordinates all the body’s functions and which becomes constantly overused and abused in the course of our daily activities ( especially the adrenal glands in their response to anxiety), are given a chance to recuperate and normalize bringing them more into balance.

Above all, regular practice of yoga nidra improves the quality of your sleep and can even reduce the time of sleep that your body usually seems to need. It is a brilliant antidote to any form of insomnia if done immediately before to going to bed.

Psychological Benefits

The mind as well as the body is rejuvenated by yoga nidra as it is given a rest from its daily barrage of external stimulation. Furthermore, yoga nidra, like meditation trains the mind to be more focussed. This overflows into daily life, reducing energy loss through constant undisciplined thinking.

Our body is a storehouse of mental tensions. In this sense, body and mind are inseparable. A lasting reduction in stress levels in the body helps to releases deep seated anxieties in the mind. During deep relaxation the boundary between the conscious and unconscious mind becomes very fluid.

Fears and anxieties surface painlessly, releasing you from their unconscious bondage. You are able in your state of relaxation to observe them coming up but you don’t get caught up in them. This is the secret of a less reactive and more balanced consciousness in everyday life.

There is something very special and mysterious about the interface between sleep and waking consciousness. Many spiritual traditions honour the special significance of interfaces as being opportunities for openings in consciousness. This is why sunrise and sunset, the interfaces between day and night, are understood as being the most appropriate times for meditation practices.

The interface between life and death is especially critical. It is seen as being a time when momentous awakenings of consciousness can arise. In yoga nidra you are surfing the interface between sleeping and waking consciousness. You may fall asleep several times during the practice. Voice guidance keeps bringing you back to a semi conscious state. This movement in and out of sleep can bring wonderful inner experiences which leave you feeling deeply refreshed, like a child awakening from a magic dream.

Spiritual Benefits

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
Joseph Campbell

In the inward journey the mind begins to connect with deeper levels of knowing and being. As a consequence, in your daily life activities you become more fully who you are instead of being a passive victim of external conditioning and tensions. Your intuition is sharpened and your self esteem and capacity for love is deepened.

There is no argument these days about the desirability of including some stress management strategy into ones daily life. Gymnasiums in particular have become very fashionable places in which to chill out after work. In keeping with our ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ conditioning strenuous physical activity is perhaps the most popular choice when it comes to the release of tension in our body and mind.

As an overall tonic however, the most beneficial one in my view is a daily practice of yoga nidra and /or meditation. Given its many benefits, including ease and convenience, yoga nidra surely deserves to be a more important feature of our stress manage management palette of activities, at least as an optional extra.

The Buddha is said to have been asked one day if he was God. He replied ‘No I am not God’. He was then asked if he was some angelic being and again he said ‘no’. ‘What are you then?’ he was asked. He replied ‘I am awake’.

The primary aim of spiritual practices is surely to awaken us to our true nature. I can pay no greater compliment to yoga nidra than to say that it serves that end uniquely, powerfully and painlessly.

Yoga Nidra and Subtle Bodies

Most of the relaxation sessions on Gillian’s CDs are based on the ancient Indian practice known as yoga nidra or psychic sleep.

The soul is not in the body but the body is in the soul.
Meister Eckhardt

The healing power of the deep relaxation practice known as yoga nidra is best understood using the Eastern model of subtle energies and subtle bodies This time honoured model sees us as having not just a physical body but a number of non physical or ‘subtle bodies’. This is a strange notion of course for the average Western mind, which is steeped in the materialism of a Newtonian universe.

The most tangible of these subtle bodies is known as the etheric body. The etheric body carries the life force energy or ‘qi’ energy that acupuncture and martial art practices tap into. In yoga it is known as prana. Most people these days have heard of the special energy centres on the spine known as charkas. Chakras are structures in the etheric body that act like gateways between the physical body and the more subtle bodies that infuse and surround it.

Acupuncture points (tsubos) can be understood as mini charkas. There are thousands of them on energy channels known as meridians that carry the life force (prana, or qi) to the vital organs of the body in much the same way as arteries and veins transport blood. Meridians can be experienced in deep meditation and often in yoga nidra, as fine lines of energy flow and can be felt by sensitive practitioners of shiatsu (finger pressure) massage.

The health of the body of qi or prana ( etheric body) is essential to the health of the physical body. The etheric body however is constantly agitated by our thoughts and emotions. In the Eastern model these mental agitations belong to what is known as the ‘astral body’ In order to maintain adequate levels of qi throughout the physical body, the etheric body needs to be regularly released from the wear and tear imposed by our astral (mental/emotional) ‘body’.

We could use the analogy of a moistened sponge to illustrate the interactions of these bodies of energy with the sponge as the physical body. The water in the sponge is the qi of the etheric body. The mental and emotional agitations of the astral body are like a hand squeezing the water out of the sponge. The endless stimulation of modern life means that the astral body not only continuously distorts the sponge, it also dries it out over time. The flow of life giving qi becomes blocked and depleted causing exhaustion to the physical body, an acceleration of ageing and a weakening of the immune system.

This whole process of qi deterioration is also exacerbated by our diminished connections with the natural world. Our etheric bodies have always been nourished by the energies of nature. In city living we can so easily become like a plant in need of water.

Ideally our night time sleep releases the etheric body from the grip of the astral and helps to restore our life force energy. In other words, during sleep the sponge is allowed to regain its shape for a while and absorb more water. However, more often than not, the relentless excessive stimulation of the astral body in our modern world means that it doesn’t adequately release its grip even during sleep. Our natural sleep patterns are disrupted with restlessness and, all too often, anxiety induced levels of insomnia.

In the face of all of this, the healing and rejuvenating benefits of any practice of conscious relaxation are hardly surprising. I would go so far as to say that a daily deep relaxation practice is essential for the health and well being of anyone living in the modern world. In other words, healing, or, better still prevention of, serious eroding of our etheric body requires us to consciously release it from mental and emotional agitation for a reasonable length of time each day.

Scientific Scepticism

Most of this of course is very strange, if not absurd, for those who are conditioned into a traditional scientific worldview (as indeed I was until I discovered yoga). In the microscopic world of quantum physics however energy fields rather than particles of matter have become the substratum of the physical world.

The metaphysical implications of such discoveries have not yet been adequately addressed by our scientific masters. Most of them refuse to see any parallels between their revelations and those of the ancient sages of the East. Conventional science continues to remain adamantly opposed to any notion of subtle energy or ‘life force’ and hence to any notion of an etheric body let alone an astral one.

I have the utmost respect for scientific models and the amazing technology that has flowed from them, but in the end, they are only models and in the inner domain we can all be experts. The etheric body can be experienced quite tangibly in states of deep relaxation and meditation, not to mention the energy flows that can be felt acupuncture and shiatsu treatments.

Any experienced yoga or martial arts practitioner can tune into his or her flow of qi. In the East wholistic healing systems have been built on the reality of life force energy and are rapidly gaining respectability in the West because of their proven efficacy.

One of the delights of yoga nidra for me is that it brings me in touch with my subtle energy. After years of yogic practice and meditation and of course a daily yoga nidra, my etheric body has become as real to me as my physical body. Anyone applying themselves to the discipline of yoga nidra will soon appreciate what I mean. Yoga nidra becomes like a self administered acupuncture treatment. You can consciously feel and release energy blockages in your body while you are in your state of deep relaxation.

Beyond the etheric and astral bodies, we are immersed in what is known as the causal body, or causal sheath. It transcends space and time and death. Ancient Hindu scripts (known as Vedanta) speak of the causal body as being made of bliss consciousness. It carries the blueprint of the Self or our Divine Source.

This shines forth through us when the physical, etheric and astral bodies are healthy and free of blockages:

If right now you and I were in virtual reality, I would show you the highest peak of the Himalayas, then all the oceans of planet earth as seen from space, and then the sun, the Milky Way and gigantic clusters of galaxies. And I would hammer in the eternal message: this-all this! is nothing compared to what you are. You, the real you, is infinity.

How could you-you, infinity- end up believing that you are only this ridiculously small body?
Samuel Sagan

Befriend your Breath

We all enjoy a party from time to time but imagine one from which there is no escape! For many, modern living has become like a nonstop party. In our waking hours there is no relief from the sensory onslaught of relentless noise and chatter coming from either our own minds, or from the world around us.

The stress response that served our ancestors so well in times of danger has gone berserk. We are enmeshed in high alert situations from which we can neither fight nor flee. Is it any wonder that our body reacts to this level of agitation with stress related disease of one kind or another?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that in order to get the best out of living in the high tech, high achievement, mansion of modern life we have to counteract the effects of excessive stress by creating for ourselves some place of refuge-that place of refuge can be as simple as a practice of deep conscious breathing.

It is well known that deepening your breathing has an instant calming effect on your the mind and emotions. In slowing down your breathing you are consciously short circuiting the stress response by giving your brain the message that all is well and that the body can return to normal functioning, for a little while anyway.

On the whole, Westerners are very bad breathers. We underestimate and underuse the most essential ingredient of what it means to be alive. We have much to learn from Eastern traditions on the healing and rejuvenating power of the breath. Their understanding goes well beyond our Western perception of breathing as a means of supplying the body with oxygen.

Mastery of the breath is seen as the key to controlling the life force energy in the body . Accessing and balancing this energy, (known as prana in yoga, qi or chi in china, ki in Japan) is viewed as being essential to good health and well being . It is also the gateway to higher levels of consciousness.

This vital energy flows in channels ( meridians) throughout the body. A deep conscious breathing practice enhances the flow and can even release blockages in those channels. It acts rather like a self administered acupuncture treatment.

There are lots of ways in which you can play with the power of the breath, For example visualizing it as an energy akin to light which you can move around the body amplifying its healing effects. Feeling the stillness between the inhalation and exhalation can be used to bring about a profound sense of letting go.

Using the exhalation to release tension in your body is also a common practice. Gentle sustained focus on your breathing can take you out of normal mental consciousness into more expanded states of being. In other words, conscious breathing is a form of meditation.

The yogic ability to affect physical processes in the body through breath control and concentrated inner focus, has been well documented. Mastery of the emotions is also achieved through the control of prana. The ability to hold the breath either in or out is critical to the mastery of energy exchanges within the body. It is said, that a yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his days but by the number of his breaths.

Returning to our Western understanding, the lungs are not muscles. They only expand when given the space to do so through the movement of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles of the ribcage. It makes good sense to deliberately exercise these muscles from time to time. They will then work more efficiently in your natural ( unconscious) breathing. Deliberate expansion and contraction of the ribcage as you focus your awareness on your inhalation and exhalation is all that is needed, and it can be done with great ease throughout your day.

So, next time you are stuck in a traffic jam, don’t grit your teeth and tighten your grip on the steering wheel, breathe deeply. Next time you find yourself lying in bed unable to sleep, switch onto your deep conscious breathing. Even if it doesn’t put you to sleep it will make you feel better and help to take your mind off the anxieties that may be keeping you awake.

It is a common misconception to believe that we need a certain level of stress in our lives in order to feel motivated to do anything. This is simply not the case. The stress response is always debilitating. Our creativity and efficiency flourishes when our bodies are enjoying the polar opposite of the stress response – the relaxation response. And the good news is that once you move into it, relaxation is a state of being that reinforces itself by flooding the brain with chemicals that induce a natural high( endorphins).

One of the great joys of yoga teaching for me has been the sharing of some of the basic yogic breathing practices that have done so much for my own health and well being. Students never fail to appreciate how much better they feel after them and very often question why they are not taught in every primary school.

The Inner Quest

In ancient myths and legends the inner journey is symbolized as a journey into a wilderness of some description. Any serious process of Self discovery and spiritual transformation requires you to remove yourself one way or another from the safe and familiar surroundings of community life. In Joseph Campbell’s words, you go in search of the ‘jewelled centre’ of your psyche:

The goal of the hero trip down to the jewel point is to find those levels in the psyche that open, open, open, and finally open to the mystery of your Self being, Buddha consciousness or the Christ. That’s the journey.

Very importantly, the goal of the hero’s journey is to return to the world and gift it with the jewel that is your own precious individuality for ‘in loving the spiritual you cannot despise the earthly” In other words we connect with the Divine in solitude and then the challenge is to hold that connection while being in the world.

The transformimg power of solitude is honoured in all spiritual traditions. Withdrawal from the world for long periods of time continues to be commonplace amongst Eastern sages. And of course in Christianity we have the precedent of Christ’s forty days in the wilderness.

It is simply not possible to be a mystic without also being something of a hermit. I believe that periods of solitude are fundamental to the human condition. In other words there is a hermit as well as a mystic in all of us. We see this in the way that young children delight in having some secret hide away or cubby house where they can be alone with their imagination.

One of the saddest and most worrying things about our Western civilization is the ever increasing intensity with which it pulls us out of ourselves and into a relentless barrage of external stimulation, a cornucopia of noise, action and information- most of it signifying nothing. Life has become like a nonstop party. I have nothing against parties but a party from which one can never escape is surely a nightmare.. In the endless party we become caught up in artificiality and superficiality without even realizing it because we have no external reference point from which to observe ourselves. We don’t have the space and time with which to reflect on what the party is all about and our place in it.

Times for silence, stillness and solitude, generally speaking, are simply not on our Western agenda. Even amongst those who pride themselves on being health conscious, time out is more likely to be equated with a work out at the gym than with any desire to stop and smell the roses for a while. The idea of going into silent retreat for several weeks let alone several years, as spiritual aspirants regularly do in the Buddhist tradition, is seen as being at best misguidedly eccentric and at worst a self indulgent waste of time.

I like to use the symbol of the lotus flower to convey the beauty and challenge of the spiritual quest.

The lotus plant is a cross cultural symbol of spiritual awakening:

As a symbol the lotus is very significant. Man must pass through three different stages in spiritual life, which represent his existence on three different levels; ignorance, aspiration and endeavour, and illumination. The lotus also exists on three different levels- mud, water and air. It sprouts in the mud ( ignorance) grows up in the water in an effort to reach the surface ( aspiration) and eventually reaches the air and the direct light of the sun ( illumination) . The culmination of the growth of the lotus is a beautiful flower. In the same way the culmination of man’s spiritual quest is the awakening and blossoming of human potential.

The lotus flower also reminds us of our interconnectedness. The flower appears to be floating alone in all its perfection but in the muddy terrain beneath the water its roots are shared with those of many other flowers. It is a powerful image.

Let us be clear on this: withdrawing into a spiritual retreat is not an escape strategy . In the early stages it can be extremely challenging. You are bringing yourself out of the mud. Your emotional problems and deep seated anxieties are no longer cunningly concealed in distractions. A few of them will be obliged to emerge from their hiding place and confront you. Dedication to your spiritual practices however will sooner or later be rewarded with a significant deepening of silence and stillness and an awakening of blissful states of consciousness. ( illumination) . Retreats then become precious opportunities to enjoy the riches of your inner life and to strengthen your communion with the Divine. Moreover, you begin to tap into an ocean of psychic energy.

The Iroquois Indians use the term “Entering into the Silence’ to describe their vision quest experience:

I listen and hear the silence
I listen and see the silence
I listen and taste the silence
I listen and smell the silence
I listen and embrace the silence

The ‘silence’ is the silence of the chattering mind. With your attention internalised and your thoughts calmed you begin to tune into the subtle energies of the universe and your own body. You no longer feel alone. Above all, when you embrace the silence with an attitude of humility and receptivity you become a receptacle for Divine Grace.

Finding the right balance between participation in the world and opportunities for solitary contemplation, even among the well intentioned, is difficult in our culture- we are so busy with our work and family and household duties. One of the great blessings of growing old I find is the ease with which you can chose to withdraw from the party any time you like.

Silence, stillness and solitude do not have to involve a period of withdrawal from the world however. They can be honoured on a daily basis with a practice of meditation. Without any doubt, meditation is the crown jewel of spiritual practices. It is the most powerful tool for the blossoming of consciousness.

Close your eyes and you will see clearly
Cease to listen and you will hear truth
Be silent and your heart will sing
Seek no contacts and you will find union
Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit
Be gentle and you will need no strength
Be patient and you will achieve all things
Be humble and you will remain entire
A Taoist Poem


It is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storms and cannibals….
Than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans of one’s being alone.
Henry David Thoreau

Meditation does not come easily in a Yang dominated culture like ours. Carl Jung warned against meditation as a spiritual practice for externalised Westerners. He felt that it was not only exceptionally difficult for us but also dangerous. Opening ourselves up to a possible direct experience of the Divine was in his view foolhardy for minds so unschooled in the deeper levels of the psyche:

Although the intellect has brought well-nigh to perfection the ability of the bird of prey to espy the tiniest mouse from the greatest height, the gravity of the earth seizes him and the samskaras entangle him in a world of confusing pictures if he no longer looks for booty but turns at least one eye inwards to find him who seeks.

Jung believed that we need the protection of religious ritual and symbols on the journey inwards. In other words we are best advised to stay with time tested indirect experiences of the Divine. This could well have been true half a century ago but our collective consciousness is evolving. In this post-modern era, we are ripe for mystical experiences and there are now many responsible teachers in the West ready to guide us through our experiences.

A mere ten years ago I kept pretty quiet about my spiritual practices for fear of being dismissed as a New Age nut. I still run the risk of that of course but it is certainly not because I meditate. Meditation has become an acceptable and even admired discipline in the most unlikely quarters. For example, I recently spent a few weeks meditating on my own in a National Park in the middle of the Australian outback.

After 10 days or so I was visited by the park’s wardens – a couple of very down to earth chaps. They had obviously been alerted to my presence and were concerned for my welfare. I explained that I was doing a meditation retreat. They appeared to be very understanding around this. Maybe they were just being polite but they did not seem to perceive it or me for that matter as being in any way weird.

The growing respect for Buddhism in our culture, which owes much to the popularity of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is undoubtedly putting meditation on the mainstream menu of acceptable therapies. We are embracing it as a secular rather than as a spiritual practice but nevertheless we are at least beginning to acknowledge the power of the mind and this is a great plus for consciousness in its race against catastrophe.

It is still the case however that busy Westerners find sitting still and doing nothing for any length of time very difficult. Meditation is about the experience of’ being’ not ‘doing’. We are very much human doers rather than human beings. And, ironically, the more difficult we find it, the greater our need for it. The same applies to the relaxation practice of yoga nidra. At the best of times, our ordinary mental consciousness is not easily subdued.

We are so engaged in doing things to acheive purpose of outer value, that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive is what it is all about
Joseph Campbell

Samuel tells the story of a spiritual seeker who found himself a master and asked him what he must do to become enlightened. The master told him that he must meditate. On asking how he should do that the master told him that all he had to do was to go and sit under a tree somewhere but not on any account was he to think of monkeys. The disciple, delighted that it was going to be so easy, sat himself down in the shade of the nearest tree only to discover that the more he tried not to think of monkeys the more they kept coming into his consciousness. Finally he gave up and returned to the master saying ‘ I think you first have to teach me something about the nature of mind’

The human mind is inherently restless. Out of control thinking plagues our every moment and is counterproductive to our health, well being and creativity. This is because our consciousness has become chronically externalised. We suffer from what Samuel has described as ‘centrifugal malaise’. Consciousness in our culture has been thrust outward- the non-stop party.

Meditation is about turning consciousness back into itself and allowing it to rest in its natural state undisturbed by even ripples of thought. In that sense meditation is the ultimate ‘deconstruction’ process. This is a strange notion for thought worshipping Westerners but sagely wisdom tells us that we must liberate ourselves from domination by our thoughts before we can move into the unconditional non-reactive mind of our buddha nature or Higher Self. Ken Wilber writes:

Having used thought to transcend the body, we have not yet learned to use awareness to transcend thought, That I believe will be the next development in men and women.

So how do we enter a state of pure awareness? Traditionally meditation requires first of all some practice of concentration. When presented with a particular task the mind automatically lets go of agitating distractions. I have always found playing the piano an antidote to stress- I can’t play without music and I have to concentrate on every note. In meditation, unlike my piano playing, the concentration is one pointed. You focus your mind on something that does not require thought.

In yoga this can be your navel, or your breath or a repetitive sound ( a mantra) In the Christian tradition, repetitive prayers can be understood as mantras- Hail Marys for example. In the Tibetan Buddhist practice of shamatha meditation you sit and look at an object, traditionally a blue flower. You discipline the mind by constantly bringing it back to the point of concentration. Thoughts begin to subside and the lengthening periods of silence become the pristine awareness that is a state of meditation. Stillness, mentally and physically is its core experience. Out of that arise the many wonders of pure consciousness.

Meditational practices focussing on the third eye are foundational to the many tools of transformation developed by the Clairvision school:

The third eye has always been regarded by those who seek to know themselves as a most precious jewel, hence the precious stone placed on the forehead of Buddhas .
Samuel Sagan

Third eye deepens your connection with subtle energy in your body. From the space of the third eye, you can help to withdraw your sense inwards by observing the movement of subtle energy in your body. Once your awareness is turned inwards, you can let go of all practices and simply rest in the inner space. This inner space of the third eye is experienced as deep purple or blue, or simply as an expanse of space. When you see or feel the space in depth your mind is still. In the silence and stillness you begin to connect with deeper levels of yourself:

Truth cannot be attained by the Mind’s thought but only by identity and silent vision.
Truth lives in the calm, wordless Light of the eternal spaces; she does not intervene
in the noise and cackle of logical debate.
Sri Auribindo

Samuel uses the analogy of a superconductor to illustrate the energetic power of meditation. At normal temperatures the molecules in a substance are in constant motion. This is the nature of heat. Similarly the ordinary mind is in a constant state of agitation with thoughts moving in all directions. If an electrical conductor is cooled down to near absolute zero, the molecules in it more or less stop moving.

At this point surprisingly, the flow of current through it does not freeze, on the contrary, there is zero resistance to the flow so the conductor can carry huge intensities of current. It becomes a superconductor. In the same way, in meditation, the mind becomes still and then again, ” surprise, there isn’t boring dullness, there is ‘being’ -an experience which sanskrit texts compare with the rising of a million suns”:

Meditation isn’t just about relaxation. It raises the voltage of consciousness. It reveals completely new dimensions of yourself- levels of immense creativity, joy and fun, levels where you are alive, awakened and, even more interesting, levels where you just are. To be, to just be is something that people rarely think about.

People want to be happy, want to be successful, want to be rich. Sometimes they want to be parents or be of service, things which in reality are more about doing than being. But who wants to be, just be.

This is not part of the common palette of aspirations and yet states of pure being are experiences of phenomenal magnitude. They put you in touch with parts of yourself which have a flavour of Infinity.

The ordinary mind, like a light bulb, can only take so much voltage whereas in a state of pure being there is a state of total simplicity, zero entropy, zero resistance and a potential for infinite voltage. …….. In our lives we constantly hit limits- the resistance of the material world……..but inside a human being there is being and being is a state of Infinity.
Samuel Sagan

Four Week Breathing Program

For many years now I have been recommending a four week breathing program that uses the deep breathing technique offered on my CDs.

The program invites you to take time out each day to do at least sixty rounds of a deep breathing pattern. You can count the rounds on your fingers. Ideally you do the practice lying on your back in your yoga nidra relaxation pose.

Week One

Inhale and exhale to the same count for your sixty rounds. For example, if you inhale deeply for a count of six then you slowly exhale to a count of six.

Week Two

Inhale, hold the breath in and then exhale all to the same count.

Week Three

Inhale, exhale and hold the breath out for the same count.

Week Four

Combine the patterns. Breathe in and hold your breath in and then breathe out and hold your breath out, all for the same count.


If you are having difficulty with any of your breath retentions please drop to a lower count.

If you are lying in bed doing your deep breathing, it is a good idea to help to open up your chest by turning your pillow around so that it supports your head as well as your chest.

If you are lying on a firm surface, try putting a telephone book under your chest and under your head. The head and chest should be at the same level. Unlike your yoga nidra practice where it is so important to lie in a” letting go” position, free of tension, your breathing practice can be done satisfactorily with your knees bent and some people find it helpful to rest their hands on their chest to feel the movement of their rib cage:

It is a joy to introduce this program to people. It never fails to induce a whole new sense of wellbeing and the benefits are long term. It massages the heart and rejuvenates the nervous system, giving greater resilience to stress. Above all it improves the efficacy of your ‘normal’ unconscious breathing and makes you more breath conscious.

Get the whole family doing it! Children respond well to learning the breathing. It is particularly beneficial for anyone who suffers from bronchial problems, including asthmatics.

You are guided through these four deep breathing patterns on my CD Relaxation for Healing.

NB It is not advisable to practice breath retentions during pregnancy

A Spiritual Parable

If spiritual practices are working for you they bring a lightness of heart and a twinkle to the eye. Authentic spirituality is richly endowed with laughter. Tibetan lamas, for example, seem to exude infectious good humour as well as joy. The Dalai Lama certainly does. There is not doubt that one of the many qualities that endeared me to Samuel as a spiritual teacher is his ever present sense of humour.

Once you taste the Infinite, the world of duality loses its sting. It becomes nigh on impossible for you to take your little self and its many foibles all that seriously. You learn to laugh at yourself and that is extremely liberating. This does not mean of course that your compassion for the suffering of others is diminished.

On the contrary, you become more sensitive to that suffering and are better placed to help to alleviate it. In Joseph Campbell’s words you are able to ‘ participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.’

The following excerpt from Anthony Mello’s delightful anthology of humorously charged spiritual parables says it all:

The Master was in expansive mood and his disciples sought to learn from him the stages he had passed through in his quest for the Divine. ‘God first led me by the hand’ he said ‘into the Land of Action. There I dwelt for several years. Then He returned and led me to the Land of Sorrows; there I lived until my heart was purged of every attachment.

That is when I found myself in the Land of Love whose burning flames consumed whatever was left in me of self. This brought me to the Land of Silence where the mysteries of life and death were bared before my wondering eyes.’ ‘Was that the final stage of your quest?’ they asked. ‘No’ the master said. ‘One day God said ‘Today I shall take you to the innermost sanctuary of the Temple, to the heart of God himself. And I was led to the Land of Laughter! (1989:17)

A Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep, the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care!
Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Why is a good night’s sleep so elusive for so many people? There are many reasons but undoubtedly a significant factor is an overactive mind. Mental agitation of one kind of another causes a build up of stress in the body and inhibits the relaxation response.

Body and mind are inseparable. Our body is a storehouse of mental tensions and anxieties. Relax the body and you relax the mind. In traditional yoga, increasing the health and flexibility of your body is only important in so far as it helps you to master your thoughts and emotions.

Benefits to the body are secondary. Stilling the restless mind is the challenge. Clearly, in this sense, the ancient practices of yoga have much to offer 21st century Westerners overdosed on mental stimulation.

For the yogi of course, stilling the mind is a pre-requisite for experiencing union with the Divine. On a more mundane level it can also be seen as a pre-requisite for a decent night’s sleep!

Conscious breathing

A classic yoga strategy for relaxing your mind is to Befriend Your Breath. Conscious deep breathing is instantly calming. Consciously directing the energy of your breath to stressed parts of your body or simply becoming aware of the movement of your breath in your body serves to give your brain the message to chill out. All is well. No need to stress.

Instead of allowing your thoughts to incessantly take you on labyrinthine excursions into what happened yesterday and what might happen tomorrow, you come to the present moment by staying with your breath and letting it soothe your body. Voice guidance in this process is invaluable.

It enables you to move into a more passive mode, gradually surrendering mental control. One of the main techniques on my CD Relaxation for Sleep is to focus your mind on the soothing power of the breath.

Yoga Nidra

When it comes to improving the healing quality of your sleep, the most powerful gift from the yoga tradition is undoubtedly the deep relaxation practice known as yoga nidra or psychic sleep. All my relaxation CDs are based on this technique. I believe it to be a Therapy of the Future.

The secret of success with the practice is to do it on a daily basis, preferably at the same time and the same place. If you are having problems sleeping it makes sense to do a yoga nidra practice last thing at night and to have your recording on hand to use during the night if you are in the habit of waking up and not being able to get back to sleep.


It is now well understood that a daily practice of sitting meditation is a powerful antidote to the build up of stress and anxiety. Meditation is much more than a tool for pacifying for the mind however. Regular practice brings you closer to your spiritual source or essence. You become more fully who you truly are and are able to flow creatively with the vicissitudes of life, rather than reacting negatively to them.

On a more mundane level, a daily meditation practice can help to give you the skills to be more objective about your problems. In meditation you observe your thoughts rather than becoming caught up in them. You begin to develop what is known as a ‘witness consciousness’.

This allows you to adopt the attitude ‘this too will pass’ when you are in the grip of emotional upheaval. Taken into your marrow bone, absorbed as an attitude of mind, a ‘this too will pass’ attitude can make even the most distressing situation less painful.

When it comes to using meditation to help serious sleeping problems, we do meet a catch 22 situation however. Most people find it difficult to meditate at the best of times. If you are tired and irritable through lack of sleep it is well nigh impossible. The challenging word discipline comes in at this stage.

Making the effort at the same time and same place each day even for only 5 minutes is better than nothing and you will be surprised how soon you are able to lengthen the time of your sit and how addictive the practice will become.

Please note, meditation is not a replacement for yoga nidra. Ideally the practices complement one another. If you are having problems sleeping your priority would be a yoga nidra at night. Meditation would be your morning practice. I discuss the differences between the practices in my article Therapy of the Future.


In the second half of the 20th century a saintly woman, who became known as Peace Pilgrim, abandoned all material comforts and spent the last 25 years of her life walking across America in the name of peace. When asked how she could account for her spiritual courage and tenacity she always replied ‘I don’t eat junk food and I don’t think junk thoughts!’

These days there is a great deal of controversy over what constitutes a healthy diet. It makes a great deal of sense, however, to avoid stimulating foods for a few hours before retiring. This means eliminating all caffeine, alcohol and sugar. From personal experience I would also suggest avoiding foods containing artificial colourings, preservatives and spices.

There is an old saying, breakfast like a king, lunch like a servant and dine like a pauper. Your body does not need the job of digesting a big meal in the evening. Eating late may make you feel sleepy in the sense of less alert, but it is counterproductive to restful sleep.

The Power of Ritual

To help to give your brain the message that it is time for rest, I strongly recommend that you ritualise your bedtime preparations. Before lying down in bed and doing your yoga nidra practice, put in place a routine of restful activities.

These may include an evening walk, a warm shower, a relaxing ‘night cap’ of herbal tea while you read something uplifting for your soul or simply reflect with gratitude on the positives in your life while enjoying your ‘cuppa’. Burning some soothing aromatherapy oil and lighting a candle by your bedside can all help to bring you into a receptive state of mind for your yoga nidra.

Experiment with your routine until you find one that works for you. If possible turn your attention to it at the same time each evening. Consistency is a key element of success.

And, remember, nature intended us to go to bed shortly after sundown just like the animals do. The restoration processes that go on in your body are biologically geared to early nights: “Early to bed, early to rise , makes you healthy, wealthy and wise!”

A Night Time Mantra

In the words of the Buddha: Be vigilant, guard your mind against negative thoughts. In all the great spiritual traditions this is understood as being especially critical before sleep and before death. Reciting a mantra can help to discipline your mind and keep anxiety provoking thoughts at bay. A mantra does not have to be given to you by a spiritual teacher.

It is simply a phrase or a few words strung together which you repeat to yourself over and over again to calm your mind. You can make up your own. It doesn’t even have to be meaningful, although it is nice if it resonates with a spiritual aspiration. For example ‘In stillness I AM’ or ‘My soul is love’ or simply ‘All is well’

Sleeping Space

It is undoubtedly true that some spaces are more conducive to sleep than others. If your disturbed sleep persists seriously consider repositioning your bed or try sleeping in another room.

Some people are very sensitive to electromagnetic radiation. It makes sense to keep it to a minimum in the vicinity of your bed. The bedroom is not the place for televisions, phones and computers.

Very importantly sleep in complete darkness or as close as possible to it. Light inhibits the relaxation response in the brain.

Natural Sleep

Sleep is a great healer. To stay healthy and serve us well, our body and minds must be given adequate rest time. Given the increasingly stressful nature of our everyday lives, it is very understandable that so many people find themselves having to use sleeping pills to achieve this.

As a onetime user of mogodon and valium, I can vouch for the fact that drug induced sleep is nowhere near as beneficial as natural sleep with its cleansing dreaming and its waking clarity. I urge anyone suffering insomnia or unmanageable levels of stress to persevere with drug free strategies, especially yoga nidra and meditation.

I realize of course that the roots of insomnia can often lie very deep in the unconscious; unresolved grief, chronic fear or repressed trauma of one kind or another. If this is the case then it makes sense to combine your yogic practices with professional counselling or psychotherapy. Do not underestimate, however, the power of daily yoga nidra to dislodge and gradually dissipate even deepseated anxieties.

One of the many practical gems offered in Buddhist teachings is the understanding that negative experiences can be welcomed as opportunities for self transformation. Try seeing your insomnia as an invitation from the universe to deepen your self understanding and self nurturing. It could prove to be the catalyst for significant changes in your life. If it moves you to do a daily yoga nidra and a morning meditation that is definitely a positive outcome!

The Benefits of Yoga Nidra and meditation are subtle, cumulative and holistic, bringing about a gradual integration of body, mind and spirit. Not only will you sleep better but you will think better, play better and discover a whole new level of health and well being.