Between 1998 and 2002, I worked at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, more commonly known as the Gawler Foundation, after its founder, Ian Gawler, who himself was diagnosed with cancer and went through his own personal journey of healing himself.
It was here that I started working with people dealing with cancer.
People from every state of Australia (and from overseas) came to attend programs and retreats and I was honoured to meet hundreds of wonderful people.
One of the main features at the Gawler Foundation was the ten day ‘Cancer Retreat Programs’, which happened, on average, about once per month; with up to 40 people attending each program.
Generally, half of these would be people dealing with cancer and the other half were their carers or support people.
On these ten day programs, there were several main features that were shared, taught and encouraged.
These were: the practice of meditation, a good (vegetarian) diet, good nutrition, a sense and practice of good health and well-being and a very positive mind-set. Lots of fun and laughter was also encouraged!
I was initially employed as the organic gardener to look after the vegetable gardens, orchard and other parts of the 100 acre property, however, I soon found myself involved in many other roles other than gardening.
I deepened my own journey into working with people dealing with cancer each week as I got more involved with the programs.
One of the highlights for me, and there were many, was to build a big bonfire down by the river under the magnificent Manna Gums for each program and facilitate an evening of ceremony, which often included singing, didgeridoo playing, fire twirling, story-telling and some sort of letting go or cleansing processes for all of the guests.
Other highlights over the years were working on a children’s program, facilitating meditation sessions, sharing insights and education on organic gardening, food and nature and offering didgeridoo healings.
Being on the Management Committee for a couple of years and being in the company of, and being a student of several internationally renowned teachers, such as Ian Gawler, Caroline Myss, Rabbi Laibl Wolf and Sogyal Rinpoche, was a wonderful way for me to get a deeper understanding and education about meditation, cancer and other related topics.
Over this period of time, I became a vegetarian, learned how to meditate more deeply, took on more of a leadership role in my work and learned how to be more compassionate, patient and understanding of people’s needs, challenges, fears and concerns.
It was during this time that I started my study to become a holistic counsellor, psychotherapist and trainer. I knew that I wanted to work with people and the three and a half years at the Gawler Foundation was a good platform to do this.
Even though I did not have any physical cancer to deal with in my own body, I became very aware of aspects of my life that needed changing or healing. By addressing many of these issues and challenges I feel that I averted or prevented myself from getting ill.
Working With People Dealing With Cancer Taught Me So Much
For me, the lessons I learned from other people going through their own journey with cancer gave me the insight, courage and determination not to go there myself.
Prevention became my tool. Over the years I have studied, worked with and gained much more understanding of dis-ease.
Now, at the age of 52, and 14 years after leaving the Gawler Foundation, I still choose to live a life that involves a good healthy, mostly organic vegetarian diet, regular meditation, drinking lots of alkaline water and having lots of joy and fun and a very positive mind-set.
These things are the key to my health and well-being and it is partly what I like to teach and use as an inspiration when working with people who wish to improve their life-style.
What I have come to understand about cancer is that it is very individual for each person. Each person has their own unique journey with it and hardly ever is the journey or the results or end game the same.
I have seen very aggressive cancers heal fast and other so called minor cancers take people over the threshold into death. I have witnessed people laugh, cry and scream at their cancer.
I have even laughed and cried with them myself. Cancer is not always a curse, it can also be a blessing and can help people to change their lives for the better, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
One of the things that I liked about Ian Gawler’s approach and philosophy was that it is good to die well. Part of the retreat work for the participants was to be prepared for their death; whether that was going to be a short or a long time in coming.
Getting things into order and preparing for our death makes sense to me and whilst at the Gawler Foundation I was given a huge lesson in this from a young man of seventeen.
This young man arrived at the foundation after being diagnosed with cancer and given only a short time to live. He was a fun, intelligent and ‘enlightened’ soul. He seemed to have worked through the fear of death and was focused on dying well.
During the last few weeks before his death he gathered a few mates and male relatives and built and designed his own funeral ceremony. Right up until the day of his passing he was active, even with his frail and failing body, with his mates on the snow or out on his motorbike.
His funeral was conducted as he instructed, with music and his mates on their motor-bikes following his father’s ute down the road with him inside the coffin on the ute tray.
I was privileged to receive a small container of his ashes several days after the funeral and found the right moment to scatter them around the tall majestic Gum trees down by the river at the Gawler Foundation, where he and I often sat and talked.
There were many other special people that became my ‘teachers’ over the several years of me being there, with Ian Gawler being one of them. His focus and drive and sense of purpose are the things that I remember most and these have been something that I have learned to instil deeper into my own work.
I remember times when I would sit and watch Ian facilitating a group and feeling the longing to do the same myself. This became a reality for me with Ian bringing me in to facilitate some meditation sessions and other group work for the people attending the retreat programs.
My view on cancer now is that it is something to be aware of and not fearful of and something that can arrive in anyone’s life uninvited at any time.
However, I also believe that by living a life with several key principles and daily actions, such as meditating, having a good healthy and nutritious vegetarian diet, being physically fit, drinking lots of good fresh (alkaline) water, having a positive mind-set and having lots of joy, fun and laughter in one’s life can help to prevent it from arriving.
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Adrian Hanks – Life Mastery Coach