Title: Living Calm in a Busy World: Stillness Meditation in the Meares Tradition
Author: Pauline McKinnon
Publisher: David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne, 237 pages
Reviewed by: Louise Gilmore
In the early 1980s a young wife and mother, who had been almost non-functional from the debilitating effects of severe anxiety for eight years, leading to agoraphobia, stumbled into the rooms of Melbourne psychiatrist and mystic, Dr Ainslie Meares.
Pauline McKinnon had exhausted all avenues of help then available and did not really have much faith that this doctor could come up with anything better.
To her surprise, Dr Meares began teaching her to meditate. The system he taught was his own, developed after years of exploring a wide range of therapies for anxiety, and finally triggered by his contact with a holy man in Nepal.
It was so simple that it took McKinnon and a group of fellow client/students at least 16 weeks of regular meetings to make sure that they were not trying too hard or complicating it with unnecessary assumptions about what meditation should be.
Meares learnt as he taught and eventually refined his technique to a system now called Stillness Meditation Therapy. In his later years he taught mostly by example, sitting silently with his clients and from time to time touching them reassuringly on shoulder or arm. Meares was opposed to explanation because he believed that it made people’s minds too alert – the opposite of what he was trying to achieve.
McKinnon gradually found herself entering a state of effortless calm and peace and her symptoms began to abate. In time and with his support, she not only recovered, she began to share the technique with others. She became his greatest ‘disciple’ and advocate.
Today she runs the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre in Melbourne and works as a family therapist, incorporating this form of meditation with her own clients.
This book positively pulses with her fervent belief in the theraputic benefits of stillness meditation. She wrote it with the intention of making a timely contribution to the challenge of anxiety, acknowledged as one of the most pressing health problems in our society today.
She has resolved what I imagine was her major problem: how to write a whole book about a meditation system that is simple, natural and ultimately about doing nothing, by leading us gently through Ainslie Meares’ life and work, marking the 25th anniversary of his death and noting key research into the health benefits of meditation.
It’s not until a third into the book that we reach the description of the stillness meditation process itself. McKinnon is meticulous in explaining it, because, unlike some other teachers and systems, she believes that people can learn it themselves if there is no teacher available and she wants to give her readers all the tools to do so.
It is direct and specific, so that people who are new to meditation can take it step by step. For more experienced meditators, it requires what might be the more difficult task of unlearning their technique-based practices.
There is a chapter on the role of the teacher, which is one of the most heart-based I’ve ever read. Under headings such as ‘the teacher provides confidence’ or ‘the teacher takes care of the meditator’, McKinnon explains how and why good teachers hold their students in a space of shared profound rest while at the same time offering professional care and encouragement.
The rest of the book covers FAQs, difficulties and obstacles and describes what life could be like if lived with the peace and calm generated by stillness meditation. There’s a chapter on teaching it to children, followed by case histories and the reminiscences of people who were taught by Dr Meares himself.
This is a generous, sincere book, well worth reading and following for people who suffer from anxiety and its array of side effects and symptoms themselves, or who know people whose lives and relationships are affected.