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Ainslie Meares on Meditation

Ainslie Meares (1910-1986), an unorthodox Australian psychiatrist, placed meditation at the center of his therapeutic treatment. Meares believed that meditation was most effective when pared to its essence, as simple stillness, rather than as a meditative technique.

The biographical note from his book "Life Without Stress" reads:

He worked for thirty years as a psychiatrist and used meditation extensively in the treatment of psychoneurotic and psychosomatic illnesses. In 1976 in the Medical Journal of Australia, he first reported on the regression of cancer following intensive meditation. This step away from orthodox medicine's cancer regime of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery, brought him into direct conflict with the medical profession. However, in 1981 the Lancet published his findings on regression in the absence of any orthodox treatment and eventually his meditative techniques became accepted by the medical profession as a whole, with the exception of the oncologists. Dr. Meares was the author of thirty books on both technical and popular aspects of psychiatry...

In "Life Without Stress," Meares dissects the nature and causes of stress, then prescribes meditation as the antidote. Here, I'll liberally excerpt from the book's chapter on meditation, which gives an overview of his pragmatic approach:

The key to our management of stress lies in those moments when our brain runs quietly in a way that restores harmony of function.... First, there are many different forms of meditation in which the brain functions in quite different ways. I have abundant evidence to show that the form of meditation which I am about to describe is much more effective than other forms in restoring the harmonious brain function that relieves stress.

In classical meditation as in yoga, in Zen Buddhist meditation, and in the meditation as practised by the early Christian mystics, the thought processes of the mind are helped by will power concentrating on some object or spiritual concept. The mind is active, striving to attain and maintain this ideal. In the meditation that I would advise you to practise there is no striving, no activity of brain function, just quietness, a stillness of effortless tranquility.

This is not the tranquility of drowsy somnolence. The mind is clear but still. At first, until the meditator has learned the art of letting his mind run in this way, there will be moments of stillness, but these are soon interrupted by the intrusion of thoughts. Do not try to dispel the thoughts by actively driving them from the mind. Just let them be and they will fizzle out, cease, and stillness will come again. Then thoughts will recur. And again, if they are let alone, the stillness that we want, will become longer and longer.

At the start this process will come and go, very much like the natural rhythms that are all about us, night and day, the tides, our very heartbeat. There may be a tendency for the beginner to get cross with himself with the recurring thoughts. This, of course, brings the meditative process to a halt.

Another error, which may befall the beginner, is a tendency to examine the situation. 'How am I going? Am I doing it properly?' Of course, any enquiry of this nature involves activity of the mind, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid. At the start it is best just to let ourselves experience a sense of being. Just being. Not even being in the room. Not even being alive. Just being. This state of mental activity, or rather inactivity, is a step towards the real stillness of mind experienced in full meditation.... We are seeking a form of relaxation which arises in the brain itself....

In classical meditation the meditator is taught to be constantly aware of his breathing. The breath goes in and out, in and out. The awareness of it means that there is continuing activity of the mind. which means that this process produces a type of meditation quite different from that which I advocate. There is another point. The awareness of our breathing gives the mind something to do, and so reduces the intrusion of thoughts. This makes meditation easier. So those learning to meditate easily fall into the habit of stilling their thoughts in this way. But if we are meditating with awareness of our breathing, our brain never achieves the quiet stillness which is so effective in restoring harmonious function and so relieving stress....

These same principles apply to the technique of visualization.... The main problem that leads people into visualizing is that the inexperienced see it as something practical as opposed to the rather mystical idea of stillness. Visualization is an easy technique as it gives the meditator something to do. This overcomes the initial difficulty of the meditator learning to let his mind run in stillness, but it leads to an inferior type of meditation.

It does not require long periods of meditation to obtain relief from stress. Ten minutes twice a day has produced dramatic relief in some hundreds of people who have consulted me professionally....

As we learn to meditate in this way, it soon becomes a pleasant experience. It is something to which we look forward. This comes with the ease that there is about it. There is no making ourselves relax, no making ourselves meditate. It is all very simple and natural. That is why we soon come to like doing it. Then we come to feel less stressed, and our motivation for our meditation is further increased.

Besides, there are many fringe benefits! The effects of successful meditation flow into our everyday life. Although we may initially have been meditating to control stress or some psychosomatic illness, there are many side-effects, and they are all positive, and all good. They include inner peace, better interpersonal relationships, clearer thinking, increased work capacity - even tycoons agree on this, better sexual relationships due to less tension, absence of disturbing dreams, and smoother physical reactions often shown in better performance in sport.

One of the patients Meares successfully treated for agoraphobia, Pauline McKinnon, went on to become a therapist. Like Meares, she employs meditation as the core of her treatment, calling it Stillness Meditation. Here's an excerpt from an article on McKinnon from the Australian newspaper The Age:

McKinnon says her technique is no technique - no mantra to forget, no breathing rhythms to fumble. After eight years of high anxiety, McKinnon discovered the "stillness" meditation devised by renowned Australian psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares 20 years ago. It worked for her and now she's keen to spread the word, through her book, In Stillness Conquer Fear, and her classes - McKinnon even teaches squirmy primary school children to chill.


Ainslie Meares' books are out-of-print but can be ordered from Alibris

Pauline McKinnon's book "In Stillness Conquer Fear" at

Pauline McKinnon is quoted in an article on dealing with stress


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March 16, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink


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