The Life of Lifeflow
Recently I decided to go browsing on the Internet to see if I could find the house where the seed of Lifeflow was sown, and I found it – 69 Bakewell Road, Evandale. When I returned to Adelaide on my teacher’s suggestion after spending four years in Europe, which included a year’s retreat in Assisi, this was the house I moved into, sharing the rent with a couple of friends.
My teacher, Namgyal Rinpoche, had simply said to return to Australia and get a position in a university – which I did. This was in 1978, and so my first job was at the Elder Conservatorium at Adelaide University. My annual salary was somewhere around $16,000, and in the following year our landlord offered to sell me the house for $16,000. It seemed a modest house in a modest suburb, but it is now described as an elegant, Edwardian style home and was just sold in September of this year for $1,012,000. This shows the staggering changes and inequalities that have developed in Australia over the last 40 years. A house that could be bought then for a year’s salary now costs around 15 times a good yearly salary.
I had no intention of letting anyone know of my training in Buddhism, let alone any idea of creating a meditation centre. But the students somehow found out what I had done and a few of them asked me to teach them meditation. So about six of them met in my living room once a week, and this was the seed that grew into the Lifeflow Meditation Centre of today.
In the same year the singing teacher at the Conservatorium asked me to play piano for a lesson with one of his students. He described the student as a farmer who could have been an opera singer because his voice was so good. His name was John Thorn, and we instantly became friends. He told me that he had a house on his farm in the Riverland which he offered to me to use for meditation. He said if I didn’t take it either the animals would move in or his sons would knock it over, so naturally I said yes.
The Kurlana Sanctuary – the Gut of the Centre
Coming straight from Europe I got an incredible shock when I saw the house – sitting in the mallee country looking so desolate. But we got to work on it and, when John also gave us the 1000 acres scrub block over the road when he sold the farm, we ended up buying the house too. This became our Kurlana Sanctuary.
I like to think of this as the gut of the Centre: it’s on the ground, earthy, and takes you straight into your body and your instincts. At Kurlana you live with the wild animals and birds and experience how vivid and rich the natural world is and how we are an integral part of it and so totally dependent on it. I have done all my retreat work there and many of our teachers have done a lot of retreat work there too.
The Incorporation of Lifeflow
By the end of the following year our little group had grown so large that we had to look for a bigger house and so we moved to a beautiful, two-storey house on the corner of Jeffcott and Ward Streets in North Adelaide. This was our home for the next five years. One of our members gave us money to establish a share house, which was a very fashionable idea back then. I hesitated, sought my father’s advice, which I took, and so in 1981 we decided to create an incorporated association to make sure that any money given to the Centre was held transparently by the association. Lifeflow was then officially incorporated and now we are celebrating its 40th birthday.
Tara Hills – the Heart of the Centre
Namgyal Rinpoche came to teach in Adelaide the following year, found out about the money, and insisted that we buy a retreat property. And so now all my fears were being fulfilled. As I said, I had never wanted to create a centre, and now it was being thrust upon me. This is how our retreat property, Tara Hills, came into being.
I like to see Tara Hills as the heart of the Centre. It’s where people can easily step out of their busy lives for a while, get in touch with their bodies and the beautiful natural environment. They can also open to the naturally blissful state of their bodies and feel, often for the first time, what it is like for their minds and bodies to be truly in harmony.
The Lifeflow Studio – the Head of the Centre
Tara Hills became the centre of all our activities for many years while we rented a room in the city for public classes, until eventually we were able to buy our studio at Frewville in 1999. I like to see this as the head of the Centre – the place where we meet people in their day to day lives and share with them the tools of mindfulness meditation so that they can learn to negotiate their own emotions, as well as all the situations that they find themselves in, much more skilfully.
This is where we provide our courses and non-residential retreats so that they are easily accessible to everyone. These courses and retreats were developed after our Centre nearly collapsed in 1997. We then realised that we had to build a new teaching structure because the one we had inherited from the tradition did not work in our secular, open culture.
It is extraordinary looking back over the decades and realising how many tens of thousands of people have had their lives changed by learning and incorporating the knowledge and techniques that we teach into their daily lives. Many of them we don’t even know about until some years later they come back to learn more and tell us how much their lives have been changed.
I think of a few of those I know personally: the young woman suffering from panic attacks so severe that she was unable to leave the house. Within a few weeks she was able to go shopping in the supermarket without suffering any of the debilitating effects she had experienced previously. Of the teenage girl feeling suicidal who learnt to accept herself and start to feel true appreciation and love for her own body. Of the young man whose hands were covered in dermatitis which no-one could cure and of how, when he let go of the guilt associated with what he had been taught about his sexuality, the dermatitis completely disappeared. And also of the people who had severe life-threatening injuries from car accidents who made full recoveries, and those with chronic pain who successful managed, and in many cases, found relief from their pain.
I think too of those people who suffered from sexual, emotional, and physical abuse as a child and then completely turned their lives around, freeing themselves from the trauma that they had lived with through their whole life. And I also think of those who suffered from lifelong anxiety and depression and who discovered how, by using the tools of meditation, they were able to become free from these debilitating states. As well, I think of the people I have known who faced death without fear, surprising the medical profession by choosing when to let go rather than being kept alive painfully and artificially.
The Teaching – Well-being, Personal Growth, Developing Wisdom
Our Centre is unique in that it not only teaches the meditation and mindfulness tools for health and well-being but also for personal growth and developing wisdom. Carl Jung was the first to discover what a valuable tool meditation is for personal growth. It’s when people are searching for a way to get to know themselves better, and looking to open up to the possibilities in themselves that they haven’t explored, that they become interested in the further levels of our courses.
And the same happens with those who are seeking a spiritual path to wisdom, awakening or enlightenment. Our centre provides an integrated, graded pathway to fulfil this aspiration and, when I look back, it is truly surprising how many people over the years have attained the insights into our human consciousness, called awakening or enlightenment. We have begun to document this and have discovered that 60 people, some just through attending our courses, have reached these attainments.
One of the truly unique things about our Centre are our teachers. Our teacher training ensures that all of them have attained insight and that they embody, to the best of their ability, what they are teaching. And people feel this and are inspired by it. We humans learn best from other people in a direct relationship with them, because so much information is absorbed unconsciously about how a person behaves and feels, and our own bodies learn from this. It’s how we embody what we learn, and this is an important part of the Centre’s teaching. This is known well in music, sport, and business, where everyone understands that you need a teacher, a mentor or coach to develop your skills, but it is not so well known in the meditation world.
The overall thing people learn from our teachers is how to totally change their perspective of themselves, their lives, and the world around them. This is the revelation that comes from meditation – the ability to open up our view beyond our habits and normal perspective: to see our lives, and all life more clearly, and to open our hearts more fully.
This has been summed up well by a Zen master from centuries ago who said, “The way is to know yourself”. This is exactly what Socrates said, and it’s the path to personal growth. However, he went further and, summing up the path of wisdom, said, “To know yourself is to forget yourself”. This is how we open our perspective to a more open view instead of being trapped in the thoughts and ego that define and limit us. We then discover what the third point he made means, “To forget yourself is to know all things”. We are able to be truly open to everything and to the world around us – experiencing our embeddedness in them, understanding that we cannot live separately from them, and realising that our true self interest lies in seeing and feeling ourselves as an integral part of them.
Founder, Director Lifeflow