I want to add a friendly voice to those clamouring at Ian Gawler – it is a sad thing when someone, who found himself at the edge of death yet is still alive 40 years later, has to defend himself from those who have never touched the void and have never done anything to help others understand that to live well and healthy is their own responsibility, and the only means by which they themselves can help to ameliorate illness, along with whatever medical treatment they also receive from professionals.
He has commented that, if he did not have cancer but only TB, the chemotherapy he was treated with, in suppressing his immune system, would have enabled the TB to make an end of him. That is pretty compelling. But the argument ought never to be made at all.
Every public health care system in the developed world is worried at the billions spent on a purely medical response to illness, when healthy living could prevent some illnesses, reduce the risk of many, and better manage most of the rest.
As the founding secretary of the Gawler Foundation, I never once heard Ian recommend anyone to quit their doctor or abandon medical treatment. I have certainly heard him encourage people to maximize their own psycho-biological resources to help themselves at the same time. Who could possibly be offended by that?
My time with Ian prompted me to pursue undergraduate psychology studies, followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Psychology at La Trobe. That is an academic discipline where health is defined as a “biopsychosocial” issue – which Ian teaches from experience. That is the model which inspires people.
Men feared witches and they burnt women
They say Ian is “charismatic”. I always wonder what that exactly means.For those who understand yoga-speak, I would say, “He has the shakti”. Maybe it comes from a few different things. One might be that he never seemed disabled by his illness.
For instance, although he walked on crutches, he would always open the door for me, prompted by his middle class manners. You’d expect, though, that the two-legged person should open the door for the crutch-walking person… well, wouldn’t you? It never even occurred to most of us to think of him as disabled at all. Except once, perhaps, and I remember the occasion because it was rare. We were walking down some stairs, and he asked me to carry something for him as he needed his hands to manage the crutches on the stairs.
Ian teaches meditation mostly by guided imagery, while my approach is still-mind. Yet, because he is gifted – has plenty of shakti – when he would take people into a visualisation, they would move past that into sublime stillness. In a room full of people, or even a public hall, the depth of that silence and stillness was profound. Many found the experience life changing, while a bit of imaginative mental activity can’t do it. (If you come to me, you just have to get it by the hard work of practice, practice, practice!)
Room of light
And here is the strangest experience I had with Ian. I had a transcendent experience while awake and not even meditating. Suddenly I was standing with Ian, who – his body whole, no crutches – was opening a door for me. The door opened into a room full of white light, and I stepped in. It was a light full of peace and potential, and love, and was an invitation to what lies beyond the ups and downs of ordinary life.
Prejudice and Reason
Prejudice announces itself in many ways, but it is always ugly. I think it is entirely reasonable that Ian claims to have survived cancer. It is only prejudice against his teaching, that health and well being are important in managing illness, present or potential, that brings on attack. “Men feared witches and burned women” said US Justice Brandeis, quoted in Al Gore’s book The Assault on Reason. It seems to me that a real person, in this case, Ian, is made to suffer when prejudice attacks reason.
If you would like to read Ian’s comments on his “Inquisition” you can check out his blog Out on a LImb