Tuesday, December 19, 2017


The Biblical story of The Wise Men is an interesting one. It’s a story very rich in symbolism and meaning.

There are some who would question whether any man can truly be said to be wise. I have an interest-based opinion on that matter, so I will express no view, except to say that although the Biblical account of the story refers to the persons as ‘men’, there may well have been at least one woman among them. But does it really matter? No.

The Bible does not say there were three of them. That is simply an assumption, in light of the three gifts presented to the Christ child—namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh. I will have more to say about those gifts shortly, but even if there were three wise (wo)men, one of them may well have presented two gifts with one of the others presenting the third gift. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.

We are not told the names of the wise persons, although church tradition tells us that their names supposedly were Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar. Although at least one church tradition says that the wise persons were kings (Melchior being a king of Persia, Balthasar a king of Arabia, and Gaspar a king of India), the Biblical narrative does not say so. They may have been rulers of Arabian states but it’s more likely that they were magi, wizards or astrologers and, so it is said, members of the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. Suffice to say that these people were on a journey—a journey in search of truth and wisdom. They were following a star—and no ordinary star at that.

So, we have the image of wise men following a star, attending upon the birth of someone famous, and presenting gifts to the baby. This, my friends, is the stuff of myth and legend, but that does not mean that the story is not true. Myths are not not true. Myths have their own level of truth and meaning, and this story is no different in that regard. The births of other famous persons—real or imagined—were hailed by wise men or aged saints who presented gifts to the newly born. I am thinking of the Buddha, Krishna, Rama and Mithra, for starters.

The star was, of course, the Star in the East. Esoterically, a star symbolizes some spiritual truth, at first dimly perceived. The East is where God is. The source of all life, truth, power and love. The Star in the East is the morning star, the first gleam or dawning of truth. For some, for example, scientists, the star is the light of reason. We need such people in our world, now more than ever. There should be no place for superstition. For others, the star represents hope and aspirations. They are important as well. Others consult the stars for guidance in their lives. I see no evidence or good reasons for doing that, but that is just my view.

The wise persons were in search of something greater than themselves. Relying perhaps on a combination of intuition, insight, reason, knowledge and wisdom – the last two things are not one and the same – they knew that a great event was taking place in Judea. Furthermore, they were prepared to follow their star wherever it led them. Are you prepared to do likewise?

And what of those gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh? Gold symbolizes that the Christ child was a king; on a deeper level, gold represents the light of truth as well as the gift of wisdom. Frankincense denotes Christ’s divinity; on a deeper level, it symbolizes the sweet fragrance of sympathy, empathy, compassion, self-giving, understanding and healing. Myrrh is one of the spices used for burial and thus is a kind of prophecy of Christ’s death; more esoterically, myrrh symbolizes the love that sustains and heals. 

Some have interpreted the three gifts a little differently. For example, some commentators see the gifts as representing our three-fold human nature, with gold denoting our material (i.e. physical) nature, frankincense our emotional nature (i.e. our hopes, wishes and aspirations), and myrrh our mental nature (i.e. mind or intellect). However the gifts are interpreted, the really important thing is this—it is incumbent upon us to give of ourselves to others. We find ourselves to the extent to which we give ourselves away, in self-giving to others and to a cause or power greater than ourselves. Millions of people have found that to be true in their lives.

And what of the Christ child? Literal-minded Christians see that child as synonymous with Jesus—and he alone. However, I see the Christ child as denoting more than just Jesus. A ‘child’, in sacred language and literature, represents a spiritual idea or truth as well as indwelling power, potentiality and inner light. The Christ child, of course, is no ordinary child but represents our inner potential, our real self—what the Apostle Paul refers to as the ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27). The Christ child represents the person, as yet unborn, that you are nevertheless capable of becoming and being. When the Christ child is born in us, we awaken to our real self.

The birth of the Christ child takes place, not in the crowded inn of materialism and worldly values and opinions, but in a humble, receptive and childlike manger. There is so much meaning in that alone.

Once the wise persons had attended the birth of the Christ child, they returned to their country ‘by another way’. When a person has experienced a truly life-changing experience, in which they discover their real self, they are never the same again. He or she is permanently changed—for the better.

In summary, here are five important ‘lessons’ from the story. First, the wise (wo)men were wise because they were following a star, wherever it may have led them. Secondly, there is no limit to the number of people—men and women—who are capable of becoming and being wise. (In my view, that’s partly why the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were of them.) Thirdly, those who are wise bring forth gifts—parts of their own human nature offered in sacrifice and love to a cause or power greater than themselves. Fourthly, wise men and women are on a journey—a journey of self-discovery. Fifthly, once a person finds the ‘Christ child’, they always embark upon another way of living—a new and better way of living characterised by sacrificial self-giving, love, compassion and service to others.

May you have the spirit of Christmas which is peace, the gladness of Christmas which is hope, and the heart of Christmas which is love.




Thursday, December 7, 2017


Recent research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that mindfulness meditation is an effective antidote to the phenomenon of the worry of waiting, whether waiting for exam results, medical test results or whatever.

The research involved 150 California law students who had taken the bar exam and who were awaiting their results. There was a period of some four months between the exam and the date on which the results were posted online. The students completed a series of questionnaires in that four-month waiting period. During that waiting period the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week.

It was found that the practice of mindfulness meditation helped to postpone the phenomenon of ‘bracing’, which we do when we prepare ourselves for the worst. You may well ask, ‘What’s wrong with bracing? Surely, it’s a good thing to hope for the best while preparing yourself for the worst.’ I’m not so sure of that. If bracing sets in too early in the waiting period, most of us will start to worry … and worry … and worry.

Now, here's something especially interesting. The study shows that even 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practised by the participants, was found to be enough to ease the stress of waiting.

We all worry, some of us more than others. The English word ‘worry’ comes from the Old English word wyrgan and Old High German word wurgen, both meaning ‘to strangle, to choke’. When we worry, we strangle ourselves, so to speak. Actually, not so to speak, but well-nigh literally. Worry is very bad for the body, the mind and the spirit. People say, 'I'm sick with worry,' or 'I'm worried to death.' Do they really know the truth of what they're saying? People can literally worry themselves sick--and in some cases even to death. Corrie ten Boom wrote, ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.’ That’s so true, my friends.

The regular practice of mindfulness, as well as mindfulness meditation, helps one to accept, and not resist or fight against, our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and, as J Krishnamurti [pictured right] used to say, ‘On the acknowledgement [that is, acceptance] of what is, there is the cessation of all conflict.’ Got that? All conflict—whether physical, mental or emotional.

I used to think that whenever a negative thought—say, a thought of anticipated or feared failure—entered the mind that it was necessary to substitute for that negative thought a positive thought. That works for some people but it is not necessary to do it. Simply observe the negative thought. Give it no power. Don’t resist it. Just watch it arise and vanish, for it will not last long. Bracing yourself for the worst is generally advocated by Stoics—and it definitely has its place. When? Later. Don’t brace yourself too early, lest worry set in.

Journal reference

Sweeny K and Howell J L. ‘Bracing Later and Coping Better: Benefits of Mindfulness During a Stressful Waiting Period.’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017; 43 (10): 1399 DOI: 10.1177/0146167217713490

Saturday, November 18, 2017


One of my perennial themes is the elusiveness of the self, and the notion that self cannot change self.

Now, we use the word ‘self’ in two different senses. First, we use the word to describe the ‘person’ each one of us is---the ‘real you,’ so to speak---and that is a most legitimate use of the word. However, we also use the word to refer to what we mistakenly perceive to be our real identity. Let me explain.

We perceive life through our senses and by means of our conscious mind. Over time, beginning from the very moment of our birth, sensory perceptions harden into images of various kinds formed out of aggregates of thought and feeling. In time, the illusion of a separate 'observing self' emerges, but the truth is that our sense of mental continuity and identity are simply the result of habit, memory and conditioning. Hundreds of thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences—in the form of our various likes, dislikes, views, opinions, prejudices, biases, attachments and aversions, all of them mental images—harden into a fairly persistent mental construct of sorts.

This mental construct is, however, nothing more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’ or ‘selves’) which are cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way that appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own. The result is the ‘observing self', but it is little more than a bundle of remembered images from and out of which further thought and new imagesyes, more of themarise.

In an earlier post I wrote about one of my favourite authors and philosophers Albert Camus, pictured. On a recent trip to France – well, on the long plane flight from Australia to France and, two or three weeks later, back again – I re-read two books of Camus, namely, La Peste (English: The Plague) and Le Mythe de Sisyphe (English: The Myth of Sisyphus). Now, there were a couple of passages in Le Mythe de Sisyphe on the elusiveness of the self that I must have overlooked when I last read the book. I will quote from the English translation by Justin O’Brien:

Of whom and of what indeed can I say: ‘I know that!’ This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. …

Camus makes the point that we can only perceive life through our senses and by means of our conscious mind. We are in direct and immediate contact with both external reality and internal reality, but what about the so-called ‘self’? As Camus says, the moment we try to ‘seize’ this self, or ‘define’ or ‘summarize’ it, it evaporates. Who is the self that is to seize, define or summarize the other self? Are they not one and the same? They are indeed. The Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti often made that point. What's more, the idea in our mind that there is some ‘thinker’ or ‘thinking self’ within the mind is fallacious. There is no thinker apart from the thoughts. There is only a person in whom thinking is taking place.

Yes, there is only thinking, and it is the thinking that creates the mental construct of a self and of a notional, but not actual, thinker. The latter is, well, illusory in the sense that it has no separate, independent, and permanent existence apart from our thoughts or the person each one of us is. Yes, the thoughts, or rather the thinking, come first, not the so-called thinker. It is the process of thinking that creates the idea of there being a thinker. Actually, the thinker (that is, the ‘thinking self’ in our mind) and the thinking are a ‘joint phenomenon,’ as Krishnamurti used to say. They are one and the same. Krishnamurti wrote, 'When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing?' Camus understood this. In his Carnets, 1942-1951 (Notebooks, 1942-1951), Camus wrote that he was ‘happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched’. Well, why resist it? We are indeed both halves of this joint phenomenon.

Now, back to Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Camus writes:

… I can sketch one by one all the aspects [the self] is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up. This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled. …

I agree with There is the self that knows, the self that judges, the self that gets angry easily, the self that takes offence, the self that cares, and so on. These are, as Camus points out, all ‘aspects’ the self is able to assume. But what do all these selves add up to? The answer—nothing. We cling to the self as self. We even manage to convince ourselves that we ‘belong’ to that self, that we really are those myriads of I’s and me’s that make up our waxing and waning consciousness. However, when we get right down to it, these selves are simply a manifestation of cognition by which, in conjunction with the senses, we apprehend the phenomenal world.

Camus then goes on to say:

… Forever I shall be a stranger to myself. In psychology as in logic, there are truths but no truth. Socrates’ ‘Know thyself’ has as much value as the ‘Be virtuous’ of our confessionals. They reveal a nostalgia at the same time as an ignorance. They are sterile exercises on great subjects. They are legitimate only in precisely so far as they are approximate.

Camus says that we will forever be a stranger to ourself. I beg to differ. Each one of us is a person—a person among persons. In that regard, I am greatly indebted to the writings and ideas of the British philosopher P F Strawson who, in his famous 1958 article ‘Persons,’ articulated a concept of ‘person’ in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed to it.

Yes, each one of us is a person among persons. We are much more than those little, false selves---all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’---with which we tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom comes when we get real, that is, when we start to live as---a person among persons.

You need not be a stranger to yourself. You can get to know the person that you are. It isn’t easy. It takes time. A lot of time—a whole lifetime, in fact. So, how can we get to know ourselves, that is, the person that each one of us is? By self-observation—that is, observation without the observer. You see, there is an 'observer' when we operate from our conditioned mind, that is, from the self that judges, the self that likes this, the self that dislikes that. Where there is an observer, there is a distorting lens which experiences, processes and interprets---and distorts---all that happens in our lives through an amalgam of thoughts, feelings, images, memories, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and biases---all of which is the past and for the most part conditioning. I love these words from P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous), who is quoting his teacher George Gurdjieff:

Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes, He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening. By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light onto his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness. And under the influence of this light the processes themselves begin to change.

By all means, observe your anger. Observe what you instinctively like or dislike, or judge or condemn. Watch your various selves in action. Learn from them. But never identify with them. They are NOT the person that, in truth, you are.


Sunday, October 8, 2017


Mindfulness is playing an ever-increasing role in sports training and success in sports of all kinds.

Mindfulness and meditation have been identified as key contributors to the Richmond Tigers’ ability to find emotional balance this past season and win the AFL grand final.

Here is a link to an insightful article by Tom Cartmill published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

On a related matter, for those who are athletes or coaches, I thoroughly recommend the recently published seminal text Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement: Mental Training for Athletes and Coaches by Drs Keith A Kaufman, Carol R Glass and Timothy R Pineau and published by the American Psychological Association. I am honoured to be mentioned and quoted in the book as one of the few who has written on the subject of mindfulness and acting

What, you may ask, is the relevance of acting to sport? Well, in recent years sports psychologists have been turning their attention to the various mental strategies used by actors and developing ways in which those strategies can be used by those who play sport. 


Sunday, September 10, 2017


It is with considerable sadness that I report the passing to higher consciousness of my good friend, Dr John L Martin DC FICCA FIACA, pictured. John  affectionately known as 'Dr John'  passed on at 5.05 am on September 9, 2017, aged 78.

Dr John Martin was born in Tyler, Smith County, Texas on July 11, 1939. He grew up in Tyler, the ‘Rose Capital of America’, a city named for John Tyler, the 10th President the United States of America. He attended John Tyler High School, Tyler TX; Tyler Junior College, Tyler TX, 1957-59; San Antonio College, San Antonio TX, 1962-64; and Texas Chiropractic College, Pasadena TX, 1960-64. He travelled to China in 1987 to study and observe acupuncture methods. He was a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), a Fellow of the International College of Clinical Acupuncture (FICCA), and a Fellow of the International Academy of Clinical Acupuncture (FIACA), and also had other qualifications in health care.

A chiropractor of several decades experience (in his later years, the owner/clinician, Barton Creek Chiropractic, 1990-2006; Contemporary Health Care, 2008-2014) as well as a clinical acupuncturist, John brought applied kinesiology (muscle testing) to Austin TX and was an instructor and mentor at Touch for Health, Kinesiology Association (under the auspices of Better Health for Everyone Naturally, 2014 onwards). He delivered a paper titled ‘A New Method of Determining and Correcting Acupuncture Imbalances’ at the 37th Annual Touch for Health Conference held in Chicago, Illinois in July 2012 and hosted the 39th Annual Touch for Health Kinesiology Association Conference held in Austin TX in July 2014. He taught Touch for Health classes to hundreds of Austinites and many others as well.

John was a Past President of the Texas Chiropractic Association (1989-90), as well as its sometime Secretary, a Past President of Travis County Chiropractic Society, and a Past President of the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations (COCSA). He was also a Past Chairman, Academic Affairs, Texas Chiropractic Association Board of Regents (also serving for 6 years on the Board of Regents). For a while, he was also President of the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners (TBCE).

Dr John Martin and my wife Elspeth. San Antonio TX. April 2000.

Most notably, he was a member of the Commission which produced the Guidelines for Chiropractic Quality Assurance and Practice Parameters (‘Mercy Guidelines’) (Aspen Publishers, 1993; Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2005), being one of only 35 chiropractors selected internationally to co-author the chiropractic industry’s first Standard of Care. In addition, he was co-author of the Texas Guidelines for Chiropractic Quality Assurance and Practice Parameters  and a longtime editor of the Texas Chiropractic Association Journal for which he wrote many articles over the years. He attended the World Chiropractic Summit in London UK in 1987 and was also a highly respected expert witness on chiropractic standard of care in malpractice litigation (see eg Williams v Heuser Chiropractic, 2004 WL 100462 (Tex.App.-Tyler, 2004)). 

With his wife Kay, John was a longtime member of Unity Church of the Hills, in Austin TX, at which he facilitated various seminars and workshops on natural stress reduction and other subjects. John was a liberal Democrat who knew quite a few Democrat Governors of Texas. An Eagle Scout, he was also heavily involved in the Boy Scouts of America and loved the great outdoors. John's passion was hiking at Philmont and he led 20 treks. He guided and influenced boys and young men through his work with the Boy Scouts.

Dr John Martin outside the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.
Austin TX. March 2000.

In early 2000, during my sabbatical from teaching at UTS, Elspeth and I spent several weeks in Texas with John and Kay, also touring the states of New Mexico and Louisiana. I was studying the use of complementary and alternative medicine in recovery from addiction. We were based at John and Kay's home in Austin and they were both gracious hosts and knowledgeable tour guides. John was proud to be a native-born Texan. I will always remember the time he took us over the Texas State Capitol at night. It was a memorable evening. Another memorable occasion was when John took Elspeth and me to San Antonio to go over The Alamo. Another Native-born Texan was selling and autographing copies of his book inside the building. I remember John talking for some time to the author about Texan history and the Battle of the Alamo, in which even some Australians fought. The Aussie flag was one of many in the grounds of The Alamo. Anyway, the author inscribed John's copy of the book, 'From one native-born Texan to another.' 

Then there was the visit to the LBJ Presidential Library, the old French embassy, the Governor's Mansion, the Law School of the University of Texas at Austin, Texan restaurants (one being the Catfish Parlour), Lake Travis, Texas bluebells, worship at Unity, complimentary chiropractic sessions (even in a restaurant in San Antonio, when I was in considerable pain from a cervical headache), et al ... Yes, so many happy memories of my UTS sabbatical spent there.

Dr John Martin and his wife Kay. The Oasis, Lake Travis. Austin TX. April 2000.

Shortly after Elspeth and I came back to Sydney, New South Wales from our time in Texas with Kay and John, it gave me great joy to be able to facilitate John's registration here in New South Wales as a chiropractor. He was an admirer of Australia's system of universal health care and was very angry that America's system of health care was so deficient, inefficient and costly. He wrote an editorial on this very subject in the Texas Chiropractic Association Journal, advocating the introduction of a system of universal health care in the United States.

Dr John Martin really advanced chiropractic and its holistic advantages. He was a truly amazing healer and teacher – and a very good friend. So many people have expressed on social media their love, appreciation and thanks to this wonderful man in the short time since his passing.

John lived his life fully and his adventurous spirit will be missed. I am proud to have known him.

I am relieved that John is now out of pain. He be greatly missed. He has returned to the ineffable undiffused Light, from which we all come and to which we all ultimately return. Ever onward, ever upward.

Our loving hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to John's widow Kay, and his children Glennece and William and grandchildren Jason, Matt and Hannah, at this sad time. 

. A 'Celebration of Life' service for Dr John Martin will be held at Unity Church of the Hills, 9905 Anderson Mill Road, Austin TX, on Saturday, September 30, 2017, commencing at 11.00 am, with sharing time to follow. The family has requested that donations be made in his name to Unity Church of the Hills Bell Memorial Fund.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


A new pilot study published in the Journal of Attention Disorder suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. 

MBCT is a structured, 8-week program that combines mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

In this pilot study the researchers enrolled 31 ADHD participants in an adapted form of MBCT, obtained self-report questionnaires, and interviewed 24 participants. The study found that mindfulness therapy significantly reduced ADHD symptoms and improved areas of executive functioning, self-compassion and mental health.

A larger trial is needed, but the small study is part of the emerging evidence that mindfulness therapies could play an important role in the treatment of ADHD.

A review published in May 2017 found that MBCT was a useful adjunct therapy to standard medication treatment of ADHD in young adults. Of the 12 trials published in the last 5 years, the majority have shown a reduction in ADHD severity with the addition of MBCT to standard treatment. There have been other studies which have made similar findings. (See ‘RELATED POSTS’, below.)

More research is needed in this area. However, the studies done to date suggest a promising and emerging role of mindfulness in the treatment of ADHD.

Study: Janssen L et al. ‘The Feasibility, Effectiveness, and Process of Change of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Adults With ADHD: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study.’ J Atten Disord. 2017 Aug 1:1087054717727350. doi: 10.1177/1087054717727350. [Epub ahead of print]


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