Peter Jackson


Jessica Raschke


Bowral, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-mé


October 13, 2015

Peter Jackson: Calming the mind and body

Peter Jackson has lived a life of sliding door moments, as he reveals in this fascinating interview. From unassuming beginnings as a (trial and error) farmer and a (tried and tested) truck driver, he became a midwife, pioneered the Calmbirth program, and now works as a private subconscious mind healer. His heartfelt, compassionate and thoughtful manner is his true motivating force. He genuinely cares. And he cares in ways that are backed by the latest knowledge in neuroscience.

I had to meet Peter when I learned he designed the Calmbirth program and lives close to me in the Southern Highlands. Calmbirth was instrumental in enabling a much more peaceful labour with my second child. It worked. So it was a pleasure to personally say thank you and to learn more about Peter, one of the most unassuming and effective trailblazers I’ve met in a long time. 

Jess: Peter, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where were you born? What was your family like?

Peter: Well, I’m 73 years old. I was born in Sydney in 1943, the third of four children, and we lived with mum and dad in the suburbs of Lakemba. Unfortunately, my mother had leukaemia at age 31 and she died a month after the diagnosis, which threw things into chaos. At that point, in 1948, there was very little help available for single dads. My father’s brother and sister were occupied with all sorts of problems and couldn’t take us children on. So we all went to different boarding schools, which threw us into the wilderness metaphorically speaking. I was only five at the time. I remained in boarding school until age 11 or 12, and then my older brother and sister had come home, so I did the remainder of my schooling at day school. That was a difficult transition for me because in boarding school, life was so regimented, I guess in a sense I had become very institutionalised. I felt very confused at that time in my life. My schooling ended abruptly in about year nine.

When I was 14 the family decided to leave Sydney and purchase a farm with the intention of re-creating a more close-knit family to make up for all the separation in our earlier lives. We didn’t know anything about farming, but my older brother learned a bit about agriculture at boarding school. So, we thought, “This is not a bad idea”. I didn’t have a clue. We headed off and landed in Grafton on the north coast [of New South Wales]. We bought a farm about ten kilometres up river from Grafton, on Clarence River, and it was beautiful. I can remember spending a lot of time swimming in the river, the farm was a wonderful place to live.

We were on the farm for about seven years. Because we didn’t know a lot about farming, it was trial and error. As I said, my brother was the one who organised what we were doing. I was more the labourer, and dad was the foreman. We lived on very little money because there wasn’t a lot of money to be made on the land. And probably two years after we arrived my older sister left the farm to be married, so there was just the three of us. Anyway, we struggled there for a few years and we just weren’t getting anywhere. The property that we purchased had been overrun with cattle. The land was really in poor shape. It was depleted of all its nutrients. So, we struggled for a couple of few years, trying to make ends meet, milking a few cows and getting nowhere. So, we decided we apply for a Commonwealth Bank loan. It was only a very small loan, but sufficient money to buy a tractor, irrigation plant, and plough up about 20 acres of pasture to improve. This was one of the greatest life lessons for me. When the lucerne and the clover came up – in the area where we had pasture improved – it was yellow, it was spindly, and it looked terrible. So, we employed an agronomist to come out and have a look. He took some soil samples, and told us to put some potash and superphosphate, lime and trace elements on it. Now, those 20 acres were transformed in about six weeks. I often reflect on that time and the experience of the transformation of those pastures. Sometimes we all experience that depletion in our lives because of circumstances, and we need somebody to give us a hand, a few ideas to help the growth again. So, to me, it’s always been a very wonderful story.

At the time, we didn’t have a vehicle to get from Seelands to town, so we often used to go into town with the milk carrier and come home on the school bus. Whoever went into town had a suitcase of groceries to bring home. So, it was a Dad and Dave on the farm type thing. Time went on and I got to know the milk carrier fairly well, and he offered me a job. At around age 17, I started driving trucks and doing the milk run around the farms. We also transported spuds and corn, as well as the odd truckload of furniture. I started to take over the milk run when its owner was on holidays and then he gave me more work. During this time, I was playing football – I’d hitch a ride into Grafton on the Sunday morning, play football and come home and milk the cows on Sunday afternoons, so there wasn’t a lot of rest.

Jess: Not much time for leisure?

Peter: No, not at all. But towards my 21st birthday things began to change. The farm folded and I started to work full-time driving the milk truck and petrol trucks. I was living in town and met some other young people in the fellowship known as the young Christian workers. They would put on plays, which we don’t see a lot of today. It’s a pity because they were great fun. There was one play that I was involved in, New Moon, and that’s where I met Sue [Peter’s wife]. We had the lead roles and we started the romance on stage and continued it off-stage. I was restless and didn’t know what I wanted.

All my life has been trial and error.

Then I decided I would go to New Guinea in 1964 and do some voluntary work. I was involved in an organisation that sent lay people to assist the religious in what was known then as the missions. Because I had some experience on the land, they put me in charge of a coffee plantation. I didn’t know anything about coffee, but I learned <laughs>. So again, all my life has been trial and error.

I stayed there for 18 months and that was a really great experience, seeing how another culture lived and other fascinating things. It was just fantastic – all these native tribes and the headdresses and so on. It was very colourful. I remember one particular place where a lay missionary had done some wonderful work in increasing the yield of sweet potato – known as taro. I asked him one day how he did that, and he told me he just reorganised the way they planted it. Where others were getting a ton or ton and a half at the acre, he was getting seven and eight tons at the acre. So again, it was a learning experience and I employed some of the ideas where where I was. But I was still restless and, after 18 months, I thought, “Now, I’ll go back to Australia.” So, at that point, Sue and I were still together and it wasn’t long after that we decided to get married.

Jess: What did you do then?

Peter: I went back to driving trucks. So I worked in a service station as a grease monkey – oil changing, greasing cars. I didn’t have any qualifications as a mechanic, and in those days it used to be driveway service, so I’d be running back and forth. I remember sitting there one day and just trying to figure out, “What do I want to do?” and I thought, “Well, I like to gain knowledge because I’m a curious person”. I felt I couldn’t because I left school in second year, but I knew that I wanted to work with people. So I thought, “Okay, I’ll apply at the hospital as a wards man because then I’d be working with people.” And, during the New Guinea experience, I did have the opportunity to do some rough first aid. There were always cuts and things like that and I enjoyed bandaging somebody up and dabbing a bit of iodine here and there, and taking them to the hospital. I applied at Grafton Hospital and the person who interviewed me said, “Do you want to be a nurse or a wards man?” That question was a sliding door moment for me! Do you remember that movie?

Jess: Yes!

Peter: Now, at the time, it wasn’t part of my belief system that men could train to become registered nurses, but I wanted to give it a go. So the person who interviewed me sent me along to see the matron. During that interview, the matron agreed to employ me. But she said, “For you to become a nurse first, you will have to go back to school and do [what was called in those days] the nurse’s entrance exam to lift your education qualifications.” I said, “Okay.” So, I went back to school.

Jess: Was that at a high school?

Peter: No, I knew some of the Marist brothers that were teachers at the Catholic school in Grafton and I just rocked up there and asked them, “Can some of you guys give me a hand with some English and maths?” And it only took me six months because my brain was in much more of a learning state during that time compared with when I was at school. So, I got through the nurses’ entrance with no dramas and started nursing and, of course, I never looked back. The potential was always there and I don’t say this to skite, but I got the gold medal at the hospital. I got a high distinction in the final exams. The potential was all there, but it had been shifted sideways because of those early circumstances.


Jess: I imagine it was highly unusual for a man to consider nursing as a career option?

Peter:  Absolutely. It was a very unusual thing in the 1970s, and the terminology used then for nursing staff was very much based on the hierarchical structure of religious orders, that is, registered nurses had similar titles to those in the religious order. Everybody was called sister; when you passed your final exams to become a registered nurse, you were given a veil to wear and you were called “sister”! And so I coined the phrase, “Mr Sister”. When people phoned the hospital and asked to speak to the sister I would say, “Mr Sister, speaking.”

I worked for 12 months as a registered nurse at my training hospital, and I had really good working relationship with the matron there. She called me into the office one day and said, “Peter, I think you’d be good in the administration of a hospital.” Now, to do that, you need to know everything that goes on in a general hospital. So, you have to go and do your midwifery certificate. So that’s how I came to be a midwife. I never planned any of it.

In January 1976, Sue and I moved from Grafton to Emu Plains and I started work at Blacktown. And again, it was very rare in those days for men to become a midwife, I can assure you, I did receive some strange looks from time to time. It was an amazing year, although I came away from my midwifery training believing that birth was a medical and surgical problem for most women. The midwifery training was very grounded in the medical model and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it lacked the balance of the midwifery model, where midwives genuinely believe in women’s abilities to birth their babies.

Unfortunately, in medicine as in many of our institutions, there’s always a bit of a turf war going on between the midwifery and medical models of care. I worked at Blacktown Hospital, 12 months, and I did really well again in the final exams. But I think I learned more from mothers than I learned from the textbooks, just by talking to them. And I always had that ability to sit and say, “Well, tell me a little bit about your birth experience,” and to learn from their stories.

Jess: Did you find that you were enjoying it all? Were you feeling passionate about the work?

Peter:  Yes. It was fascinating and I had a general plan for what I wanted to do after my midwifery training. I said, “I’ll go and do six months of paediatrics and then I’ll go and do my psychiatric nursing certificate.” So I applied at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney for paediatrics. The door closed there, so I went from Blacktown Hospital to Morisset Hospital and completed my psychiatric nurse training in 1977/78. Well, that training and experience was really a mind and eye opener. There were about 1500 patients at Morisset then. Probably 350 were intellectually handicapped children, and some of those children/young adults were profoundly handicapped. There were other children/young adults that could look after themselves with a lot of guidance, but it’s really sad, when I look back, how they were placed into those institutions. There were also many psycho-geriatric patients there, several wards full of people with acute mental and or emotional problems, as well as a ward for the “criminally insane”. I spent about three months with the criminally insane, which was a fascinating part of the journey. I also worked for many months in the ward where we cared for people with drug and alcohol problems.

The patients often helped me during my time at Morisset, sometimes more than the staff members. I would often just sit down and listen to their stories and talk to them. The criminally insane ward was particularly heavily staffed, as you can imagine. The patients could be volatile in their behaviour. When I look back, I was more like a corrective service officer rather than a nurse. The patients were locked into their little rooms by about five o’clock in the afternoon. We used to do 12-hour shifts from six to six. But each day there was a one-hour opportunity for staff members to sit down and have a bit of a chat with the patients. I remember talking to about five or six of the patients one day. I asked all of them questions about their life journeys. I’d read all their clinical notes by this stage, and from reading their clinical notes and speaking to them I came to the conclusion and really believe that the often traumatic environment they had grown up in played a huge part in their illness and mental conditions. Yes, I can understand and accept that genetics play a part, however the evidence of today’s neuroscience suggests very strongly, particularly through the science of epigenetics, that environment also plays a huge part in shaping our health and mental stability.

Anyway, I remember asking my work colleagues in the criminally insane ward one day, “What do you reckon is the main problem was with these patients? What causes these people to lose the plot [metaphorically speaking]?” They all looked at me as if I had two heads and they just said, “They’re bloody mad. That’s all.” They had no empathy or gave any indication that they tried to understand where these poor people were coming from. I asked myself, “How could you really help somebody if you had that attitude?”

After completing my psychiatric nursing certificate, I went back to Grafton Hospital. By then I had obtained three nursing certificates, and the powers that be at Grafton Hospital moved me around to different areas of nursing and where the need was. I spent time as clinical co-ordinator in the wards and time in the School of Nursing. I was teaching mainly the third year students in maternal and infant welfare.

I was also seconded to a community mental health centre in Grafton for 12 months to take care of the community psychiatric position while the person who had been working in that position took 12 months leave. I stayed in that position for about 20 months.

Now, there were no real facilities other than the GPs to look after people with emotional and mental illness in Grafton at the time. We had a psychiatric clinic over at Lismore, attached to Lismore Base Hospital. When I started at the community health centre, everybody who walked through the door with some emotional problem was directed to me. In looking for more resources to help the people I was caring for, I became very interested in self-help groups. I encountered a lot of families where there were alcohol problems that were very disruptive to family life. So, I started getting interested in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and another self-help group called “Grow”. It was developed by a person who had experienced a nervous breakdown. He took the principles of AA, that is the 12 Steps, and applied them to helping people suffering from emotional and mental illness. He initially called it “Recovery” and later changed the name to “Grow”. Truly, the Grow program is a brilliant self-help program. So, I started some Grow groups, and I saw some wonderful things happening. Acknowledgement by the individual that they have a problem is the first step, no matter how big or what the problem is. The next step is to find a solution. “What are we going to do about it?” The self-help groups were a wonderful way of enabling people to overcome their limitations and begin to move in new directions by using and strengthening their inner resources.

Jess:   And I imagine that that was at the beginning stages of the self-help movement?

Peter:  Yes.

I often say that I’ve nursed people from a few minutes old right through to 102, and everywhere in between. I’m still full of questions.

Jess:   Again, that was new territory. It wasn’t really mainstream at the time…

Peter:  New territory, that’s right. So then an opportunity came up for me to work with the Grow organisation for a little while. Sue and I said, “Well, let’s do it.” We packed up and moved to Sydney. I worked there for a few years and decided I wanted to get back to nursing. I applied at Westmead. And again, another sliding door moment because the person who interviewed me said, “You’d be a good father figure in the adolescent unit.” So I gave it a go and it was a wonderful three years. I spent a lot of time on night duty. The patients in the adolescent ward were anywhere between the ages of 13 to 21, young people with a variety of health problems – appendicitis, motorbike or motor vehicle accidents, oncology, mental health problems, attempted suicide, anorexia. It was a diverse and busy unit. We had 29 beds and they were full all the time. And on the night duty shift there were only two nurses rostered, it was all go, go, and go. Of course there were some quiet shifts and I can recall spending time listening to some of the young people who had terminal illnesses, like cystic fibrosis or cancer. It was another great learning experience. I learned to simply listen to people, and I was totally amazed at the courage of these young people.

I often say that I’ve nursed people from a few minutes old right through to 102, and everywhere in between. I’m still full of questions. I have a picture at work of a little boy sitting in a chair with a book on his lap, and the caption says: “There’s no answers in life, there are only more questions.” And I think that’s pretty true.

After a few years, Sue and I looked at each other one day and said, “Look, we need to get out of Sydney.” At this stage our two daughters had come into the world. Both our daughters were adopted, and having these two lovely girls was a wonderful part of the journey. But we thought it’s too hot to go back to Grafton, and we always liked Bowral. So we moved here and within about ten weeks I had secured a job at Bowral Hospital. They said, “Where do you want to work?” I said, “Well, wherever you think I might fit.” The people interviewing me noted my midwifery qualifications. I was sent to the maternity unit and I stayed there for the next 17 years.

I asked the question, “In our care for women during pregnancy and childbirth, are we missing something? And, if so, what might that be?”

I began to ask more questions. I thought, “Why do some mothers have such a terrible time during childbirth and other mothers seem to birth their babies with less trauma?” Although I had been away from midwifery for some time I noticed that within the medical model there was still a lot of interference or managing of many mothers’ births. I completed an updated midwifery course at the College of Midwives to get myself back up to speed. And I kept going to pain management seminars because most mothers were saying to me, “Peter, its painful, it’s awful.” It didn’t make sense to me. I can understand that childbirth is going to be hard work. But it shouldn’t be something where mothers say, “I’m glad that’s over,” or “I’ll be glad when it’s over.” This can’t be what nature intended. I asked the question, “In our care for women during pregnancy and childbirth, are we missing something? And, if so, what might that be?”

Jess:   Childbirth is not really painful in the animal kingdom, as far as I know.

Peter:  That’s right, especially within other mammalian species of which we human beings belong to.

Jess:   They don’t scream through labour.

Peter:  That’s right. I happened to attend a pain management seminar in Canberra in 1994 where they devoted half a day to speakers who were complementary therapy practitioners. The presenters included an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a masseur, an aromatherapist and a hypnotherapist. Pennies began to drop for me during the hypnotherapist’s talk. Then my search into the world of subconscious mind therapy began. I applied to do a clinical hypnotherapy course and PSH training with two Australian clinical hypnotherapists and PSH therapists Greg Brice and Frank Wright.


Jess: PSH?

Peter: “PSH” is for Private Subconscious Mind Healing. It is an approach to subconscious mind therapy, which is based on the work of some really wonderful scientists like Dr Milton Erickson, Dr Edgar Barnett, and many other pioneers in the field. Both Erickson and Barnett realise the importance of privacy when working with people with emotional and or mental challenges. Brice and Wright picked up on this aspect and developed the privacy concept further. “Keep out of the person’s mind, there is no reason for you to be in there. Keep out. Why? You’re only going to apply your interpretation of the problem based on your life’s experience and learning and of course you could be entirely wrong.” The person I am working with does the inner work in the PSH model of therapy. What I do is provide the atmosphere, a safe environment, and some guidance for them to do what I call some creative reorganisation at the subconscious level. So, I did a clinical hypnotherapy course with the Brice Wright school of clinical hypnotherapy and the centre for PSH training. It took another 18 months of training to obtain my PSH therapist qualification.

I entered the world of subconscious mind therapy to find ways to help mothers have a better birth experience, and I wanted to work with those mums who encounter that horrible morning sickness that goes on all day. In medical terminology, severe vomiting during pregnancy is called Hyperemesis Gravidarum. We love jargon in medicine. These are the mums who usually end up in hospital with IV therapy for rehydration. So I did my research paper on Hyperemesis as part of my PSH training. I started to work with this new knowledge and skills and very soon I began to witness some amazing changes for the better in people. During my nursing training I was very grounded in analytical thinking and I had to learn to let go, to get out of the way. When people came to seek out PSH therapy, it was not about me, it was about them. Primarily a PSH therapist is a teacher of a skill; a teacher is only a guide at best. The question I generally ask when a person first arrive for help is, “What can I do to help you create something different?”

The mind body connection is now being verified in the work of neuroscientist Dr Joe Dispenza and cellular biologist Dr Bruce Lipton, as well as many other scientists. Yes, with all of the breakthroughs in contemporary sciences we’re really getting a much deeper understanding of the mind body connection. The mind controls our physiology; the body is subjected to mental processes.

As I gained more experience in subconscious mind work I cut down my work at the hospital from full time to 0.8, and then 0.6. In 1997, Sue went over to the US to do a course for 12 months and I followed her for about two and a half months on long service leave. That’s when I came across Marie Mongan’s HypnoBirthing program.

At the time I was still building more understanding of subconscious mind work; I was working with individual people with emotional problems. I was also working individually with mothers, preparing them for childbirth. At that time, I thought Marie’s childbirth program was a good idea. I researched her program to find a little bit more about it and began using the HypnoBirthing program. As time passed there were aspects of the program that were not sitting right with me. I realised that it didn’t have the underpinning of the science that I was familiar with in my nursing training. Marie’s program was a good one, but it just lacked for me a good foundation. So I started with that program, but then I talked to Marie about making some changes and she said no. And I understood that from her point of view. HypnoBirthing was her baby, metaphorically speaking. So, I said, “Okay, Marie let’s just agree to disagree and I’ll go my own way.”

And that’s when I wrote the Calmbirth childbirth education program, which is based on some of the ideas that I had learnt from HypnoBirthing. But it has much more contemporary neuroscience underpinning it, and the subconscious mind therapy aspect is taken from my PSH training. Cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson’s work and explanation of the normal physiological system in the body, which he called the relaxation response, also played a prominent part in the underpinning of the Calmbirth program. As time went on, I incorporated more work by doctors such as Joe Dispenza and Bruce Lipton, so the Calmbirth prenatal education program is built on a solid scientific foundation. As far as I’m concerned, all of the Calmbirth program can be explained by what we know about physiology today. The program is designed to teach mothers to use their inner resources to work with the birth and to help them understand the process of birth so they can help the baby into the world instead of resisting the labour journey. Mothers who resist the process of giving birth because they’re frightened will tense up and engage the sympathetic, flight and fight or survival response of their physiology, instead of the parasympathetic response. This enables them to create their unique birth experience no matter how things unfold.

Jess: And was Calmbirth applied in the hospital setting or did women need to come to you?

Peter: The answer to the first part of the question is no. Calmbirth has always been a privately run prenatal education program. But I was very fortunate that at Bowral Hospital I got on well with the majority of the staff and the obstetricians. I didn’t go in there with my guns blazing saying, “Hey, I’ve got this wonderful program.” Rather, I said, “Look, this might be helpful.” It was slowly, slowly, and then the doctors and midwives began to refer some people to me, and they could see the results. We’re now getting more and more people coming. One of the highlights of 2010 was when the Royal Women’s Hospital in Sydney contacted me one day and said, “Look, Peter, we see something very different in the mothers who have done your classes.” So they invited me to do a pilot study over 18 months, running or presenting monthly classes.

Jess: And the objective research came out with pretty solid data?

Peter: Yes, pretty solid data, and they want to do some more research now. RWH has recently increased the number of Calmbirth classes to 20 per year. Every weekend we have about 12 couples come to our Calmbirth centre at Mittagong for classes and when each couple introduce themselves at the beginning of the class, the vast majority say we came here because other couples or their OBGYN told us to come. Word of mouth is what brings most couples to our classes, and now we’re hearing a number of obstetricians saying to the mothers in their care, “If you want to do a class, go to Calmbirth,” because OBGYNs say it’s much easier to deal with a calm mother if a problem arises than somebody who’s out of control.

Calmbirth is not about how to birth; it’s about helping couples create the experience, no matter how that birth unfolds. The other research that I often speak about in my classes is that probably 85% of healthy young women can do this, but 85% of healthy women don’t know that because they’ve been inundated with so much negativity about childbirth for generations. So, it’s really about changing beliefs about birth out there in the community. I always emphasise to couples that birthing a baby is a hard day’s work, you will feel sensations you have never experienced before. Birthing a baby doesn’t have to be excruciatingly painful. We know now that if we get the cocktail of birthing hormones right, then the birth of a baby can be an amazing and positive experience for the couple and their baby. I often say to couples, your body is a chemist shop, and we in the medical model have to help you create the atmosphere, an atmosphere that is calm and intimate.

The mammalian principles of birth are simple. A mother will birth best where she feels safe and where her privacy is respected. When I did my midwifery training back in 1976/77, those mammalian principles of birth were not clearly understood. In a teaching hospital you often had 20 students watching a mother give birth! The mother’s privacy was not paramount, rather the education of the student midwives was. Also we separated the couples. Dads were never present at the birth and in hindsight I’m sure mothers did not feel safe under those circumstance. So the fight and flight system was activated in many mothers during childbirth instead of the parasympathetic system.

Jess: So you’re not doing midwifery any more?

Peter: No. At the moment I’m focused on Calmbirth classes and the individual work I do with PSH therapy. I see this approach to emotional healing as a great tool. I love Dr Joe Dispenza’s little saying, “You can’t go to the future while you’re hanging on to something from the past.” Yes, it’s hard to let go when something becomes an entrenched habit or a habitual way of dealing with emotional issues that were learnt during some earlier emotional trauma that happened in the past. People get stuck and so I help them to become very still and quiet. I help them go within, into the privacy of their mind, where with a little guidance the person can do what I call some creative reorganisation. Undoing the knots of the heart so they can be more at peace in the present. PSH allows people to move in a new direction, and over the years I have seen some pretty amazing things happen. Changes to the person’s whole perception of life.

Jess: What kinds of issues do people usually have?

Peter: Well, there’s a broad range, but probably the majority are very anxious, depressed, experiencing panic attacks. People who have grown up in very dysfunctional families and they’re really struggling because their foundations were laid in an unstable way. I get people wanting to give up smoking, which is amazing when they realise that they can do it.


I’ve worked with a number of children in pretty amazing ways. One little girl I worked with came down from Sydney, her mother brought her down because she was so frightened of going to school, refused to go to school, and her anxiety level was so high. She was only nine years old. Of course, everybody was trying to analyse what’s wrong. When people become anxious and filled with anxiety, there’s usually been some emotional disturbance or there’s some hurt which has changed their perception, and they become fearful, and it is the feelings that generate behaviour. We store beliefs and perceptions in the subconscious part of the mind, which releases the chemistry that allows us to feel the way we are thinking, so the next time a person is faced with what they perceive as the same fearful situation, the same chemistry is released from the brain just by thinking about it … the fearful feelings are experienced again and again and after a while the behaviour is reinforced. I worked with this little girl for two sessions. She wasn’t the best at sitting still. However, she did have a brief period where she closed her eyes. I also showed her some really simple things from the science of how we learn things and told her some stories with specific messages contained within them.

Her mother sent me a beautiful letter a month after the sessions. She said, “Abbey’s back at school and she’s written up on her wall the three things that she took from her conversations with you.” One was, “I’ve got to break bad habits.” Second, “I’m in charge of change in me.” How about that for a nine-year-old? Third, there was a little saying I gave her, “You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails.” I got a follow up letter 12 months later; the mother said this child is just blooming. Many, many people have given me wonderful feedback about positive changes in their lives following PSH therapy. It helped them begin to grow again and that’s what it’s all about, any therapy is simply a metaphor for change. Dr Bruce Lipton has that wonderful equation that I’m particularly fond of. He says, “Survival equals growth divided by protection.” It’s just a very simple equation. The more protection we’re in – when we are stuck in fearful negative emotions and are constantly in a state of stress – then the less energy we have to grow. If you have somebody who’s very anxious and frightened all the time, then that’s using up all their energy, and they’re frightened to do something new. People in that state of mind can’t grow anymore.

Jess: Now I know you’re still in the process of learning, so where to from here?

Peter: Where to from here? Well, I’m in a transitory period, I think. Our daughter, Karen, who is also a midwife, is taking over the administration of Calmbirth. I present weekend Calmbirth classes, usually two weekends per month. I don’t have any great desire to retire and sit on the porch and do nothing, that will drive me insane.

Jess: No. You’ve got a lot of energy.

Peter: Yes! What I’d like to do is continue to push the frontier in neuroscience and perhaps continue to evolve Calmbirth in terms of the subconscious mind work.

Jess: I’m interested in how people bring meaning to their lives in various ways, and usually that’s via some kind of spiritual pathway. A lot of what you describe is very much anchored in science and the rational, but you’ve simultaneously been very drawn to the more mysterious realms. You’ve been responsive to your own sense of empathy and care for the people that you’ve worked with. So, would you describe yourself as being spiritual at all?

Peter: Definitely. And it hasn’t been an easy journey. However, spirituality involves a search, one particular mystic succinctly expressed it this way: “Faith and love are like the blind man’s guides. Faith can be compared to our feet that move us in the direction and love is our guide.” Faith doesn’t give you the physical evidence. It’s something that you believe in.

If I go back right to the beginning of my spiritual journey, it was full of fear. There was a lot of fear instilled at boarding school. It was a Catholic boarding school and I’m certainly not blaming anybody at the time because that’s what the religious were taught to teach us. They were also fearful. One could compare it to the present day medical model, which is risk orientated. I came out of that experience very confused and feeble, but something inside me knew there was something different, so I kept searching. Over the years I also attended quite a number of spiritual events and read quite a number of books on the subject. Both Sue and I were drawn to the Carmelite tradition in the Catholic Church. Carmelite spirituality has much to do with what is called mystical theology. There have been some amazing people who have given us some amazing insights because of their contemplative lifestyle.

I have a great love of certain passages of scripture. My favourite is Corinthians 13: “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I’m simply a gong booming or a symbol clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness to move mountain, but without love then I am nothing at all… Love is patient and kind, it is never jealous, love delights in the truth and endure whatever come…” Of course there is more to the passage than what I have said.

Another passage, which helps me with my science, is from Psalm 139. To do with life in the womb. It has two beautiful verses in there. You know when I said to you that some people live a short time and some people live a long time? The psalm in a very poetic way describes the following: “It was you who created my innermost self and put me together in my mother’s womb. For all these mysteries, I thank you for the wonder of your works. You watched me as I was knitted together in the limbo of the womb, my days listed and determined, even before the first of them occurred.”

How beautiful is that? Call me a bit naïve but that is the only way I can make sense of why some people’s lives are short or have an early sunset, while others live longer and have a longer time before their sunset. The theme of sunset is expressed in another particular poem that I like in these words: “There is an energy in us which makes things happen when the paths of other persons touch ours and we have to be there and let it happen. When the time of our particular sunset comes our thing, our accomplishment, won’t really matter a great deal. But the clarity and care with which we have loved others will speak with vitality of the great gift of life we have been for each other.” To me, that sums it up very beautifully and succinctly.

Jess: It all boils down to love. It’s interesting that science and spirituality are slowly but surely making their ways towards each other, and the realisation that a lot of ancient wisdom which has been handed down through spiritual teachings and belief systems are finally starting to be proven true.

Peter: Yes, it is merging. One of the things that Joe Dispenza says that if you’re going to talk to a group of people, speaking from known science can often disarm the different factions you might have in your audience. If you start to talk about religion or spiritual experiences, then you may have different denominations in the audience you are speaking to. Then, immediately, you probably will create division. So I can see what Joe’s doing, and Joe is doing some wonderful work. There’s no doubt about it.

But I think I differ a little bit in that, if you are loving to people, if you connect with them, then that probably will begin to get them to ask questions. So then you might have the opportunity to explain it and answer their questions about spirituality, to explain it gently, not shove it down their throats <laughs>.

The most important thing is to connect with people.

Jess: Like building rapport.

Peter: It is. The most important thing is to connect with people. And if you do that, you’re got a chance then of helping them perhaps see things in a different way, but if you don’t build that connection, you’ve got no chance. And that goes for any institution or any self-help or healing profession. Unless you connect with the person you’re working with, you probably won’t achieve anything.

Jess: It seems to be that most people’s health problems have something to do with stress. So, it is stress – and stress is fear and stress is anxiety – I mean they have a very, very strong relationship to each other. It seems like the solution are things like stillness, quiet, love, connecting, all of these things, which is about feeling safe, I suppose. Feeling safe in life, rather than feeling stressed or put upon. It seems that all of the teachings, all of the traditions, and all of the science, all of it centres on the premise that if you’re stressed, fearful or anxious, the antidote is calm and feeling safe, feeling nurtured.

Peter: Well, physiologically, the survival response or what we commonly call the fight or flight response is revved up too high in our culture because we are driven. We’ve got to get this done. We’ve got deadlines. And our families and communities are more fractured. If we look at the last century, those two horrible world wars, those events just distorted the whole picture. So we are living more in survival mode. Physiologically, we’re all on hyper alert. Now, according to the science today, Joe Dispenza will say that what happens is we begin to wear out the genetic material, the same gene expressions keep firing because of our entrenched habits and beliefs. The genes then begin to produce second-rate proteins, and this is what makes us susceptible or vulnerable to many of the diseases that we are seeing today. So again, it seems to come back to that word stress.

On the other hand, as you were just pointing out, if we can enter into that quiet, that calmness and serenity, then the body has a chance to renew. And we start to send different signals to the body. The science of epigenetics suggests and demonstrates that we signal the expression of genes from the environment. If our perception of the environment changes, and we are less fearful or stressed, then the genes can express themselves in new ways. Our genes do not change, rather the expression of our genes can change depending on how an individual perceives the environment. If we’re firing the same negative thoughts every day, and we have high levels of stress, then we are wearing out that particular expression of the genes, so the proteins that are being made becomes second class. And that’s when we become more vulnerable to illness and disease. It all makes perfectly good sense.

Jess: Yes, it does. I’m envisaging a future where the science will be so much better established and mainstream that we will one day live in a more relaxed state <laughs>.

Peter: We got a lot of work to do <laughs>.

Jess: We do! Thank you, Peter.


* For more information about Calmbirth, visit

* Photographs courtesy of Hamish Ta-mé. For more information about Hamish, please visit



Trish McLoughlin


Jessica Raschke


Bowral, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-mé


June 11, 2015

Trish McLoughlin: Healing from what has passed

There are times in life when there is a real need for answers. If you are lucky, you would be blessed with the same gifts that the thoughtful and wise Trish McLoughlin has: a capacity for compassion and passion, a fine-tuned intuition, and an especially attuned ability for healing communication. Among so many things, Trish is a healer and a medium; she recently retired from funeral celebrancy. It has taken me a long time to get this interview here, but thank goodness I did. I spoke with her long ago on a breezy, sunny day in Bowral, and she has helped my life change for the better. Thank you, Trish. And here she is.  

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up and what were some of the milestone events in your life?

Trish: I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK, and I’m a twin to a boy. My mum had two lots of twins, and I have an older brother. So there were four boys and myself. There wasn’t a lot of money around, but we didn’t know that as kids. We never went without. We always had a nice home. My parents did say something about how one Christmas we had cornflakes. But who would remember that? Kids are not interested in the food. They’re interested in what Santa brought.

My childhood was just a normal childhood growing up in a loving household. I guess, looking back, as I got older, having four brothers no sisters was a bit of a challenge for me.

When I was 15, my father moved us from Newcastle in the UK where we’d all been born, to Leeds Yorkshire, because of his work. So from 15 to 19 my life was in Leeds again doing just the normal things. Going to work. I started off as a hairdresser but in those days you stood from 8 o’clock in the morning till 6 at night. If you had half an hour break for lunch you were lucky. After 2½ years my body just wouldn’t take it. So I went on to becoming a telephonist and receptionist, and that was the main part of my work for a long time.

I married when I was 21. The year after I was married, I was walking down the main street and there was an office with a big sign on the front: “10-pound poms. Migrate to Australia”. I can’t honestly tell you what happened, but the next thing I knew I was in there. My husband agreed. We were in London having all the medicals. Then I was on a ship in South Hampton going out to Australia.

We didn’t know anybody. We had 50 pounds in our pockets. And one of my aunty’s girlfriends was living out here with her family. Her husband was a managing director of a company, and they lived on the North Shore. They took me under their wing. I had my first daughter in Sydney when I was 23. Then I missed my family, so we went back to the UK. By that time my twin brother had come out, and I was back there two or three years when his marriage broke up. He wrote me this letter and there was this long yearning that I felt I needed to be there for him. So that drew me back to Sydney again. By then I had two children, a daughter and son. My marriage had fallen through, and through my brother I met his friend, John, who is now my husband. We have just celebrated 40 years together. So my life settled down here. My parents did come out for a holiday and, a few years later, they ended up living here.

There was a time when I went back again for another two years. In the time I was there, my father was already a spiritualist, and had been for a number of years. I have vague memories of being taken to a spiritualist church when I was 10 and then later when I was about 15. It didn’t really mean anything to me at that time.

Jess: That’s what it was called? A spiritualist church?

Trish: Christian spiritualist, yes, my father was a Christian. I went back with John for a couple of years. We had our third child, another daughter. It was then that I started to become more interested in what my father was doing. I went to church a few times. Never got a reading. Couldn’t understand why nobody ever came to me. Then I started seeing things and remembered that I’d seen things when I was a child. I had this particular dog that was like a golden retriever. It followed me everywhere, and it used to sit next to my bed. And I used to see other things. But I took it as the norm. I then got on with living my life, raising a family working, etc. But, when I was back out here in Sydney, my parents came out on holiday. By then I had set up my own meditation group. My father came and ‘sat’ with us. Not long after he’d gone back I had this dream on Remembrance Day—Anzac Day here.

I woke up at 6 o’clock. It was right on 6 in the morning. John was doing shift work at the time. In the dream, it was shown to me very clearly that I had a connection with Australia. I’d already been here once before. My parents today were my aunty and uncle in the dream, and my aunty and uncle—who I was very close to—were my parents back then. It was during the Second World War. So that’s how quickly, according to this dream, I’d passed over and came back again. So I knew then that I was meant to be here.

I think I was always destined to be here in Australia.

My father tells a story that his aunty, during the Second World War, had four boys. His grandfather, because she was divorced, didn’t want the shame on the family, and sent her out to Australia all by herself with four boys. The four boys did really well. One went back and said to my dad, “You’ve got to come out to Australia. The kids would love it.” My mum wouldn’t come. So my parents had had the opportunity after the Second World War to come to Australia. I think I was the forerunner, because had they come we would all have grown up here, and all put one of us has made Australia our home.

So I think I was always destined to be here in Australia. Unfortunately, by the time my parents came they were in their 60s. My father did meet people with his interests. By then, when he came out here, I was running this group. I was trying to practise a spiritual pathway with awareness. My father was often asked to speak on ‘platform’ in the spiritualist church, which just means being the speaker of the day for the service. He said, “The only way I’ll do it is if you allow Trish to get up with me.” So I did. I was terrified, because I was never a public speaker. I was actually quite shy. I wouldn’t even go into a coffee shop on my own at 19. But I had this immense trust in what I call spirit and spirit guides. I knew that if this was my opportunity then I needed to take it. And I did. And from then on we were asked to do ‘platform’ all over Sydney. Nearly every Sunday, actually, we were invited to speak, to be the guest medium.

Jess: So happened the first time you got up there on the platform?

Trish: Well, I was out the front of the church crying, first of all, because I was so terrified. There were two of us. My father never did readings. He said he couldn’t. So he always did what they call the address, the talk, and I did the readings. And I just trusted completely and went to the people I was drawn to, I do what they call overhead readings, so I don’t need an object, as in psychometry. When I was a child, when we lived in Newcastle, I used to take one of my younger brothers, one of the second set of twins, to church. I think I always had this connection with what I called ‘God’ back then—something greater than myself. And of course my dad, being religious, referred to that term ‘God’.

I think I always had a gift of clairvoyance.

I used to take my brother to church until one Sunday. I was only about 13. My brother was 8. Those were the days when the churches were packed. I couldn’t follow the psalms, and the man behind me pointed me to the right page. But, as I was leaving, the minister of the church pulled me aside and he said, “You don’t think you’d be better off going to Sunday school?” Well, I was disgusted. I never went back. It turned me off it completely.

I think I always had a gift of clairvoyance but because life took over when I was younger, and I had a change in marriage and was travelling backwards and forwards to England, it wasn’t the time to pursue any of that. Gradually, over time, when my father and I were doing our platform work in Sydney together I noticed that when it was my turn to get up to do the readings I was doing philosophy as well as the readings. Of course when my father died it was then my choice to continue on my own, which I did do, and still do.


Jess: So it was predominantly in a church setting for a long time.

Trish: Yes.

Jess: It still is?

Trish: Yes, although I don’t do as much as I did, but I still do it because that’s the opportunity that comes to me, apart from my public speaking at weddings and funerals. I did once get invited to what they called a psychic fair. This was in the days in Camden when they were very anti anything like that. There was a protest out the front. I’ve never found an opportunity or an avenue to do it anywhere else except when I’ve run workshops, or do private parties for readings.

I’m not comfortable with the word “psychic” and never have been. I see myself as a healer and somebody who empowers other people. 

Jess: To what extent are you using your psychic skills?

Trish: First of all, I’m not comfortable with the word “psychic” and never have been. I see myself as a healer and somebody who empowers other people. So I run a development group. The old term is spiritualism and development group. It’s meditation, teaching others how to recognise their clairvoyance, their clairsentience, their clairaudience—but through the connection that is from within themselves and being able to interpret that. And I see people privately. I also work three days a week in Picton and Camden at two different venues seeing private clients, and at home.

I guess over the years I’ve never been a big reader of books. Give me a fiction book and I’ll sit down for hours and read it, but this other stuff—the new age, spiritual stuff—I’ve never been a big reader of that. I do have lots of books in the house. If they’ve got a story to it, then I tend to want to read it. If it’s a personal story, I’m always interested in people’s stories. But I guess I know that all of the information or all the different perceptions that have come through me have come from within me. For instance, how I see our connection now is not something I’ve read in a book and I haven’t been told it. It has come from within me, through meditation and the connection with spirit, and life experience—a great teacher. Over the years all my work—as a receptionist and natural therapist, counselling, group facilitation—has all been working with people in a healing capacity. So, even when I’m up doing my readings in a public forum, I still see myself more as a healer. I do the clairvoyance and I do the mediumship, but I’m more interested in bringing peace into people’s lives through that work.

Jess: It is a bit of delicate balance, though, isn’t it, of turning into a performing seal and being authentic, really.

The best healers are the ones that work on healing themselves.

Trish: There is a lot of ego that takes over with this kind of work if you let it. For me there has to be a balance. You have to develop the spiritual side of yourself. I think that shows through in the quality of the work, whether you’ve actually developed that side of yourself. I’ve always believed the best healers are the ones that work on healing themselves.

Jess: You come across to me as quite low-key and modest, and perhaps self-contained. It sounds like you’ve tried to keep it under wraps in a way. Is it something that you reveal about yourself?

Trish: One of the things my father taught me early on was, “Don’t go around telling everybody because they’ll laugh at you.” And I don’t go around telling everybody. But in the right situation in the right setting I have over the years got better at saying, “This is who I am.” One of the things I teach people who are interested in getting in touch with a spiritual guide is this: in the Western world, we have five main guides. There is the American Indian, there is the Chinese, there is the monk, there is the nun and there is the Egyptian. When my husband started to sit in our meditation groups, he asked, “So, why is a guide not the shopkeeper down the road or the local miner?” And I had never questioned it, because that’s what my father had taught me and I believed it. So I decided to question it. And what came to me was that these five guides are symbolic. There are not hundreds of Indians running around up there. Their dress is all symbolic. The American Indian is symbolic of the healer within you. The Chinaman, the wisdom. The monk, the knowledge. The nun, peace. And the Egyptian, abundance. So if somebody gave you a reading and said, “You have a nun as a guide with you, that’s working with you,” that’s the aspect of yourself that is showing you that what you’re going through at the moment is teaching you inner peace.

You hear people in spiritualism talking about your guide going away. Then it might come back again. It never actually goes anywhere. It’s just a part of you, an aspect that keeps changing.

Jess: I don’t know much about the Christian spiritualist movement at all. Tell me a little bit about it, the best of what you know.

Trish: There is a Christian spiritualist and there is a spiritualist. I’m none of them now, because I don’t like labels. It was one of the things I dropped when my father had gone—not intentionally; it just happened. The Christian spiritualists still talk about Jesus. The spiritualists don’t. It is like any normal church service. They have a beginning prayer. They don’t have hymns, as such; they have uplifting songs. They have a guest medium. They have a reader. And they have tea and coffee afterwards. That’s the basis of it. And they have healing in between—hands-on healing. They have seven principles. It’s brotherhood of man, the communion of angels, personal responsibility for the here and after, retribution for all good and evil deeds done on earth, that kind of thing, they are not commandments just guidelines that they believe in. Spiritualism is a science and a philosophy.

It is open to anybody that wants to go. John and I ran the Campbelltown Spiritualist Church for two years. They had two services at the time. At that time my father had just died and I was still into the Christian beliefs. People had come from being, maybe, Catholic all their life, and they would come and say they felt like they had found home. Because there is no dogma as such. You take what you want from it and leave the rest. Most people that attend are initially looking for evidence of survival, and spiritual guidance.

Jess: Guidelines?

Trish: Yes. It’s not really any different. I had this very naïve outlook when I first started going, thinking that once you’d got to the stage where you were on platform you’d solved all the problems and you knew everything. I realised that that is not the case at all. It is an ongoing process. But there are people that go not for the philosophy, which is a reading in itself. They go for personal readings. Because they want somebody to tell them all the time what to do, how to make the changes. When is it going to get better? When am I going to meet Mr Right? That kind of thing. They have psychic days when they have readers in and they raise money. Over the years more healing techniques have come through to me, as with all my knowledge, through meditation and the connection with spirit.


Jess: What healing techniques are they?

Trish: [There is]one in particular that I used for a long time, and I used to give it to my friends and clients. When an emotion comes up—say, a bit of anger or anxiety—get a pen and write it down straightaway, even if it’s just, “I’m angry, I’m angry, I’m angry.” Because it’s like the sediment at the bottom of a pond coming up. Somebody has put their hand in and stirred it up, whether it’s something you’ve thought about, something you’ve seen, something you’ve heard. It’s stirred it up. And now it’s saying to you, “You need to let me go.” So writing it down takes some of the scum off the top. The more you do it, the more you’re able to see a true reflection of who you are in that water. I used that for a long time.

Not so long ago, just 12 or 18 months ago, I was sitting outside and I got this thought that whenever something comes up, just ask, “When was the last time I felt this?” You might not get the answer straightaway, but if you get a picture of something or you get a feeling of something and you can put a picture on it, even if it’s just a word, hose it down as if you were hosing dirt off a wall. “I choose to let you go now.” It works instantly. It doesn’t mean it’s got rid of it completely, because it will come back. But the more you do it, the less it comes back. I have been using that one for quite a long time. I have to say, I really am at the best place I have ever been in my whole life. The affirmation “I choose to let this go now” instantly removes the feelings of discontent however you name it, anger, disappointment etc. But if you continue to use it whenever a feeling comes up it eventually takes you to a place of peace and of course makes the necessary changes in your life. I always stress that it’s not like a diet, start one day and then in a fortnight’s time stop because you haven’t shed the ‘weight’ you want. And we don’t go digging, if you dig a hole to find out where the feeling is coming from, you end up digging another until you’re in a rabbit warren that you can’t find your way out of.

As children we are taught how to attend to our hunger, thirst and tiredness because if we don’t we get sick. But we were never taught how to attend to our emotions that are associated with some experience from the past, so we bury them, and the weight we gain is all emotions stored in the body. We don’t need to ask where is this feeling coming from, the very fact that we are feeling something says the unconscious already knows, it’s just reminding us that we are still living an old experience and that we need to let go now. It can be used when you are engaging in an old conversation in your head, that is stressful, or when you are experiencing physical pain. The greater challenge is to be aware and keep doing it, it’s easy to revert back to old habits.

My father used to say to me, “Patience is a virtue,” and I never, ever understood what that meant. But I finally understood what patience really means. It’s not about being patient about something you’re going to get in a material sense, something that’s tangible. It’s just about knowing that everything’s going to come when it comes, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t, and you just have to make peace with everything that’s around you. You kind of accept it, I suppose. Eckhart Tolle is one of the people that inspire me. I like to listen to him. His way of dealing with any emotions that come up is to notice it and to just breathe through it.

And my husband inspires me. He came from a Catholic background and, like a lot of men, didn’t want to know about what I was doing, but listened in the background. He has got to a place in his life where he is totally accepting now. Coming from a big family with even less money than our family had in Glasgow, they came from the scarcity mindset. He has changed all of that, and it’s just fantastic. We both say that if we ever had to choose a way of life it would be a Buddhist way of life.

Jess: Do you practise Buddhism in any way, shape or form?

Trish: I practise Buddhism in terms of mindfulness and present moment awareness. I taught mindfulness. I introduced awareness to this women’s health centre where I used to work for 10 years. I’ve run it for groups, families, individuals. Yes, I try to practise it as much as I can every day.

Jess: Do you have a regular meditation every day? Do you meditate every day?

Trish: No. I meditate when I feel like I want to do it, but the mindfulness, all the present moment stuff, is a day to day, moment to moment thing. So you don’t have to sit for half an hour. It links all of that up, if you like. While I’m waiting for you I might be just sitting here looking around. While I’m driving I might be just with my thoughts, or being aware of my breathing. I get a lot of my peace just getting in touch with this, and just being at peace means more to me than anything else, really.

Jess: So your husband is Buddhist?

Trish: No, not Buddhist but he definitely practises the mindfulness. He works in a job that can be quite stressful at times. He’s aware of the techniques. He practises in his way—which I think is fine. The fact that he is doing something with it is fine. All my three children are intuitive. They don’t practise it the way I do. They’ve got young families, and they know the tool is there when they want to use it. They just use it differently.

Jess: How were you doing it when you had young children?

Trish: At the time, I wasn’t doing it as well as I’m doing it now. My meditation would be through yoga and going to church. At night, I would sit down to write; get inspiration and write. Then in between times I’d just sit quiet. I worked full-time. I used to run my own massage and reflexology business, as well as full-time work. Then I had—this is when my children were a little bit older—two groups I was running a week, and I was doing platform at church as well.

Jess: Does it now make sense why you were drawn to Australia? I know there was that connection with your aunty and uncle. Is there anything deeper, something other than that?

Trish: No.

Jess: You’re not quite sure?

Trish: No. I’ve often wondered. Is there something I’ve missed? No. I’ve thought about that myself sometimes. I’ve given up on it, really, because I think you can drive yourself round the bend trying to work it all out.

Jess: You might have to stick with the “patience is a virtue” mantra.

Trish: That’s right. It may be that I’ve had to meet certain people. I had friends down in Robertson, and, one in particular, her life has changed dramatically since I started teaching her. We and others sat together for five years, every week. Maybe that’s the reason. Who knows? Maybe if I hadn’t come back I wouldn’t have met John here. And of course—sorry, I missed this bit out—three of my brothers are living over here now. I always make the joke that I came over here to get away from everybody and they all followed me. I’ve got one brother in England. He and I get on really well. I saw him last year. I went over to surprise him. He is still happy over there. Who knows? I really don’t know. Whether it was just to get my parents out here. Whether it was to help us have a better life. I don’t know.

Jess: Actually, now that you’ve talked it through, it sounds like there are plenty of reasons why you ended up here!

Trish: One of my first jobs over here was as a telephonist in Australia Post in Martin Square. You know the big building there that’s now converted?

Jess: Yes.

Trish: My father has a photograph of one of his cousins standing outside that building. There’s definitely been a connection. A lot of spiritualists believe that there’s another life, and you leave your body, and you go and live with your family. I don’t quite see it like that now. They believe that there’s reincarnation and you can come back and that your life is planned, it’s destined, that God will provide. My philosophy of God is just love. It’s not a figure. It’s love. My interpretation of the soul is just the essence of who we are that makes us feel what’s right for us. To know what’s right for us. To see what’s right for us. It’s that light that we all connected to. I often use the analogy of a candelabra, there is the centre piece, God, the universal light, then the individual globes that are us, but still connected to the centre piece.

Funnily enough, on my way down here I was listening to Richard Fidler. I missed half of it, but he was interviewing a Quaker teacher, and she said they’re very much like the Buddhists. But she didn’t believe that there was anything. “We’re just nature,” she said. “We’re born into this world. We live this life. And then we die.” That doesn’t quite make sense to me. I can’t see the point in that.

The important thing is that we live our life in a way that is bringing peace into this world.

Jess: I think in Buddhist belief there is not necessarily a soul, because we are interconnected. Reincarnation isn’t necessarily the way it works.

Trish: For me it is hard to know. I don’t think it really matters whether we know or not. I think the important thing is that we live our life in a way that is bringing peace into this world. Because for me the outer world—your environment you live in, what’s going on in your life—is a reflection of your inner world. That expands out to the rest of the world. We can’t sit back and say that what’s happening in other parts of the world has nothing to do with us, it has. I think we have to take responsibility to be here in the now and realise that what takes place in the world is a reflection of how we all live our lives, what we think, do and say. Enjoy life, but find peace and compassion and love. I don’t think that can happen when people are in conflict. That’s my mission, my passion… I don’t know where it will ever take me. But I put it out there. It’s my mission to help the people that cross my path—if they want it. I never push it on anybody.

Jess: So that happens in your private practice, it happens at the meditation groups and workshops?

Trish: Yes. I have a girl at the moment that’s only been coming six weeks. Where I am there are [only] one or two street lights, so it’s quite dark at night-time. She was coming with her aunty. She suffers anxiety terribly. I’ve known here for 13 years, and I didn’t know that she suffered anxiety. Two weeks ago when she came she had to come on her own. The other thing she doesn’t like is my drive. As you back out it sort of [curves] a little bit. She backed in so she could drive straight out. She’d been scared of doing that. I said to her, “Did you realise that you were able to drive out there in the dark, without much lighting, and back into the driveway by yourself?” She said, “Yes”. I said, “See how far you’ve come in just four weeks.” I just think that’s wonderful. Now she will pass that on, eventually. She has a son who’s very anxious. She’ll be able to pass on her learning to somebody else.

Whereas I know people who I’ve trained over the years whose vision is to be on the world stage and have a name. Hopefully they do. They work really hard at it, though. Because for them it is more about the name and being known. And, yes, at one time I thought it would be good to be more popular. But that is all long gone now. I can do as much sitting here as I can with a group of people. It’s nice to work with people face to face. It’s nice to be able to go out there knowing you’ve made a difference on the day. But, yes, I’m happy doing what I do.

Jess: One of the other things you do is the celebrancy work.

Trish: Yes. I fell into the funerals because of my public speaking, and friends knew me. I did a funeral for a friend. And then my father died, and I did his. Then my mother, and I did hers. Somebody suggested I do it as a profession. So I did a course to polish off the things that I didn’t know. I had my Certificate IV workplace trainer certificate. I then started working for a registered training organisation and was teaching celebrancy. I’m a teacher. I know I am. That’s inherent in me, whatever I do.

Somebody said to me, “Why don’t you do weddings?” I realised I had to do it because it got me a teaching job. I stopped after 13 months because I was away all the time. You do a lot of work outside of that, like any teaching job. My work as a celebrant now is mainly funerals, which again is a passion, I see it as an honour and privilege to be a part of a family’s life when they are going through so much grief, and entrusting you with such personal information.

Jess: Do you find that there is an overlap between the spirit work and the funeral celebrancy work?

Trish: It’s a very fine line, and I would never cross that line with families. Although I might be seeing you because your father’s passed over, if I saw him, I would never tell you that. What I can do is pick up is what they’re (the deceased) telling me about their personality, which helps me gain rapport with the family. They might say, “I was very dry.” And I will say, “Did he have a dry sense of humour?” They’d say, “Yes, he did!” And, “Did he love being in the garden?” “Yes, he loved the garden!” So it helps me gain rapport with the family in that sense. That is the only way, really. Obviously I use the opportunity to send them healing.

Jess: It’s another form of healing, isn’t it?

Trish: Of course. Yes, that’s right.

Jess: Giving people the opportunity to farewell a love one.

Trish: Yes, to say goodbye to them. The good thing about civil celebrancy services is that the family get the opportunity to create the service they want. The only downside to all of that is that a lot of them are at crematoriums. The time is limited, they only get a certain amount of time. If you want more time, you have to pay more money. As I say to my families, half an hour is long enough, otherwise you get people repeating themselves and families are going through enough.

Jess: How was it doing your father’s funeral and your mother’s funeral?

Trish: I got up to speak at my father’s and I felt and heard him behind me. My throat had gone so dry. My parents had only been in Sydney seven years, and there were over a hundred people there. He just said to me, “You’ve done this many times before.” What I teach people who are doing a eulogy tribute now is what I learnt back then. When you’ve written it, read it, reread it and read it again, until it desensitises you slightly, so you can do the job on the day that you’re there to do. Same with my mum’s funeral. The company that my brother works for, his boss came to me afterwards and he said, “Trish, where do you get the strength from?” I said, “I don’t know. It’s just who I am.” I have a job to do and I just get on with it. Then I’ll grieve privately later on. I think having the belief that they’ve gone to a better place and that I still have that connection is what it helps.

I actually wrote what I think is a profoundly beautiful verse from my mum after she passed. I can send it to you, if you’d like to see it. You might not like it. It’s fine. You don’t have to use it. It just came through me. It’s not something I could sit and put down on paper now.

Jess: Yes, I know what you mean. I’m very interested to see it [the poem can be read at the end of the interview].

Jess: Do you chat with your parents now?

Trish: No, because I have the belief that if you’re coming to see me and if you’re constantly getting told that your father’s around you then you haven’t detached emotionally and there’s still some healing to be done. So for me they’re part of me. I know they’re around somewhere. I don’t need them in the same way I used to need them. I’ve detached emotionally from that. So, in a sense, once you detach from those emotional past lives, they become part of you, and then you become more whole. It doesn’t mean that they don’t come around in times of need, and it doesn’t mean that once you have healed from that emotion that they ‘leave you’. They are part of you, part of the whole.

Jess: It sounds like you’re in a very good place.

Trish: I’m in a really good place, yes.

Jess: Is one of the brothers who are over here in Australia your twin? Is your twin brother here? Does he have similar capacities?

Trish: Yes.

Jess: I’m just going with the stereotype stuff!

Trish: He does, but he doesn’t use it. I’m extremely lucky because I took the opportunity when it was there. I think because I had always seen as a child. But my brother … we’ll know when we’re going to ring each other. I’ll know when he’s sick. Usually when he’s sick I might have a bit of a cold or something like that. It’s very rare that I get sick. I have found so much peace at this time. Although I know that will keep changing as I let go of ‘stuff’.

Jess: Thanks so much, Trish.


My Mum

Written by Trish McLoughlin at the time of her mother’s death in 2006

No restrictionsfloating in space

Being cushioned, wrapped up in lace,

Not needing to talk, or even to listen,

Quietness, silence, memories I keep.

Nurtured and cared for, blessings abound,

New understanding and learning I’ve found.


Days are for living, night is for sleep,

All of those things in my mind will I keep.

Memories of loved ones, and times gone by,

All a part of me now, and soaring up high.


This is the freedom that comes with a loss,

Time and memorial cannot be cost.

If I could have one thing that gives me your face

It would be the encounter, yet to take place.


For now I will cherish your love and your life,

Now you are where you have chosen, somebody’s wife,

Take care mum, I love you—you will always be mine,

My mum, my friend, a keeper of time.


* Photographs courtesy of Hamish Ta-mé. For more information about Hamish, please visit

* Interview very kindly transcribed by Jane Aylen. For more information about Jane, please visit


Petrea King


Jessica Raschke


Bundanoon, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-mé


November 25, 2014

Petrea King

Petrea King: A profound quest to live

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone as determined as Petrea King to support people who have experienced grief, trauma and illness to reconnect with the sense of peace within themselves. Petrea herself knows how to do this after ‘conquering’ several traumatic life events. Among them was being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in her early 30s. She was told that she would be dead by Christmas, which was three months away. And yet here she is now, at age 63, telling her story and inspiring others with her wisdom, compassion and heart from her base at Quest for Life in Bundanoon, New South Wales.

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about your early days? Where did you grow up and what are the milestones that led to where you are now?

Petrea: I was born in Brisbane and moved to Sydney when I was five. I was the youngest of three children and I had two brothers, one being 18 months older than me. His name was Brenden and he was a chaotic presence in our home. He exhibited ADHD 20 years before anyone knew what it was and he spent his childhood falling off the roof, breaking bones, decorating the house with lipstick, clinging to my mother and she mostly had to carry him everywhere. Being a little younger than he, I tried to be as invisible as possible, to have no needs. For me that became second nature just to disappear and not have any needs. For instance, once when I broke my arm it took three weeks for my mother to hear that my arm was very sore and needed treatment. I just didn’t have a voice and was so used to being invisible.

Brenden told me before he was 10 that he had to take his own life by the time he was 30. I immediately took that on as the reason for my existence. “That’s why I’m here, I’m here to keep Brenden safe.” I adored him, but I also found him really challenging, scary and difficult. He was incredibly bright, gifted with music, art and creativity.

Suddenly the whole physical world became completely insubstantial and there was this blinding light that was far more real than the physical world.

When I was seven I had a profound spiritual experience when I was just running in the garden with my pet dog. Suddenly the whole physical world became completely insubstantial and there was this blinding light that was far more real than the physical world. I could see through the earth, the house, my dog and the trees. The only way I can describe it is to say it was like seeing the hand inside the glove; the glove being everything that was material but the hand being that which enlivened everything. While it was a very powerful experience, I didn’t discuss it with anyone because I don’t think I even had a language to do so.

When Brenden reached his teen years he went into major depression and he was hospitalised on and off for years. He took awful drugs which turned him into a zombie and he also underwent electric shock treatment. I found everything that was happening to him to be totally awful and I felt responsible that I wasn’t able to help him. He attempted suicide several times before he did finally succeed in Kathmandu when he was 32.

When I was 11, I grew 23 centimetres in one year. My knees swivelled in and started dislocating and I was unable to walk without constantly falling. After months of physio, I left school at 13 and entered hospital where I virtually spent the next three years having a dozen corrective surgeries and learning to walk again. The surgeon cut my legs at the femur and turned my lower legs outwards. Then he cut the tibias and turned my lower legs inwards, as well as transplanting the tendons under my knees and shortening some muscles while lengthening others. After one of the surgeries I was in traction for nine months because the femur wouldn’t unite and my doctor said that I would never walk again. After so many months in bed, my legs were like two white hairy sticks attached to my body and, even with all my willpower, I could not move either of them.

However, when I was told I would never walk again my steely determination kicked in and so, every night between nurses’ rounds, I would unhook myself from the traction unit, get out of bed and, taking my weight on my arms, manoeuvre myself around the bed. I could feel my bones grinding together and this dislodged the plate and screws holding my femur together, but the bone completely united in three weeks. I returned to theatre to have the plate and screws removed as they were lodged in the muscles by my nightly activities. Of course, the doctor wondered how and why my bones had suddenly healed albeit slightly crookedly but I was too scared to say what I’d been doing at night for fear of criticism or punishment.


Because of the unspoken spiritual experience I had at seven and then this hidden life in hospital, I developed a split reality of being someone very privately to myself and the ‘me’ that I kept highly polished for everybody else. In our family, no matter what awful thing was happening, we always coped and we never talked about how we felt, we only talked about what we thought.

Jess: You kept up appearances.

Petrea: Yes, the attitude in our family was that we could (and would!) all cope with everything. I think this stemmed from never wanting to be a ‘bother’ because Brenden was being a much bigger bother! It was as if Brendan had ‘bagsed’ being a worry to the family so there was no point in competing with him on that. As a child and young teenager I felt quite depressed and overwhelmed by the way the world seemed to me. Why is it such a painful place? How come I have food while kids in Africa don’t? How come I’m going to heaven because I heard about Jesus and yet those children will burn forever because they didn’t hear of him? Why are humans so cruel to one another and to animals; so thoughtless about nature and the environment? I couldn’t bear a God that allowed such suffering. So I sacked that God very early on when I had the experience of seeing beyond the material world. That had been such a profound experience for me and I knew I was more than my physical body.

During my hospitalisations I had several out-of-body experiences. I suffered with really terrible cramps in the leg where the femur wouldn’t unite. The cramp would start in the toes and move right up through my leg into the hip. By then, I would usually pass out with the pain and I would find myself on the ceiling looking down at my body. From there I could see my body going through the motions of the cramp but the ‘ouch’ – the pain – went out of it. It was very confusing; I knew I wasn’t my body because I was watching it going through the pain yet ‘I’ was alright and felt I was beyond the pain.

While in hospital I devoured all the books in their library, which was housed on a trolley that squeaked as it was wheeled around by volunteers. I would listen out for the familiar squeak of its wheels because new reading material was on its way to me! I read Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Thomas Merton, Aldous Huxley and the Bible among many others on animals, nature and astronomy. I devoured every encyclopaedia and studied the dictionary to learn words so I could beat my grandmother at Scrabble – which we sometimes played for hours. This is where my education and vocabulary really came from – these books and writings – and playing Scrabble!

Jess: So a lot of philosophical and mystical writings.

Petrea: Yes, as a child and then teenager I was really curious about life. I was trying to find answers to all the great questions about existence. I taught myself to meditate when I was 17 and it has remained a constant in my life ever since.

After recovering from the dozen operations and teaching myself to walk again I went into nursing, which of course was too physically demanding for me after so much reconstructive surgery to my legs. Within a year, I had damaged my spine and was confined to a back-brace. It was during this time of again being laid low by my body that I was raped by a ‘friend’ at a church fellowship meeting. I was lying down resting in the bedroom of the house where we regularly met when this man overpowered me with his strength and desire. If I had called out for help, it would have been provided but I didn’t have a voice. I was just so used to being quiet, to not being a bother, not rocking the boat, disappearing somewhere else beyond the pain, beyond the humiliation and the fear. I felt, “You can do what you like to me, I’m not here”. It was some years before I told anyone about that experience as I had felt it was my fault because I didn’t call out for help. I didn’t even think of it as rape because I was to blame.

At 18 I ran (limped!) away to the country as I felt defeated by life and relationships and I craved the stillness and solitude I found in nature. Nature made far more sense to me than people did! I worked in western Queensland outside of Cunnamulla and from there I went to NZ for a year, then Holland (where I used a lot of LSD!), then England for another couple of years finally returning to Australia at the age of 24.

I wanted to understand the relationship between food, lifestyle, the mind, our attitudes and health as I intuitively knew that there was far more to healing than just what we eat and drink or how we exercise.

Because the arthritis in my legs impacted quite heavily on physical activities I voraciously consumed information about diet and lifestyle and the positive impact they might have on my health. I’d become a vegetarian at 17 and undertook a number of lengthy fasts, sometimes just with water or freshly made juice. On my return to Australia I again went into nursing but then decided to study naturopathy, massage, homeopathy and herbal medicine. I wanted to understand the relationship between food, lifestyle, the mind, our attitudes and health as I intuitively knew that there was far more to healing than just what we eat and drink and/or how we exercise and the medical approach, which always seems to be shutting the gate after the horse had bolted! I knew the mind had a lot to do with health. I noticed how different my body felt when I meditated rather than when I felt overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, self-loathing and despair. However, no amount of meditation helped me deal with these powerful and overwhelming emotions. I knew how to escape them by meditating but meditation didn’t resolve the underlying self-loathing that permeated my life.

Quite soon after returning to Australia I met Leo who was soon to become my husband. We married and had two beautiful children, Kate and Simon. Unfortunately though, my husband was violent and the marriage lasted about eight years before its rather sudden ending.

Brenden was always a little bit ahead of me making a mess of his life. We used to talk about living on the edge of a ‘black hole’. The black hole was where despair, anguish, anxiety and melancholia lived and he and I always seemed to be teetering on the edge of it.


Jess: You mentioned there were three children in your family. Can you tell me about your other brother?

Petrea: I have an older brother, Ross. Everyone in the family had a relationship to Brenden, but not really to each other because he was such a huge presence in our home. When Brenden died my older brother Ross and I decided that if we were going to have a relationship, we would have to get to know each other. Ross lived in the US for 20 years where I often visited him but he’s back here in Australia now, even though he still spends quite a lot of time working there. Even though we are very different from each other philosophically, it is a very loving relationship and we have grown closer over the years. We’ve been very supportive of each other as our parents have aged and we focus on what we have in common.

After I completed my naturopathic studies, my husband, children and I moved to a community in America so we could do our yoga and meditation teacher training. We had been there for just four weeks when I thought Leo had gone for a long walk, but he’d actually gone back to Australia with all our money leaving me stranded with two small children in a geodesic dome! Brenden had recently taken his life and I was feeling overwhelmed by grief, loss and trauma.

Not long after Leo left I became very weak and ill and I was soon diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and was told that I would be dead by Christmas, which was three months away. My very first reaction was relief because I felt in many ways that my life was a constant struggle and I was so weary of having to keep up appearances when really I felt hopeless and helpless.

my daughter, who was seven, sat on my bed and said, “Mum, you’re sick. If you need to meditate to get well, I think you should go back to America.”

My mother came to America to pack us up and she brought us back to Australia. I had been offered experimental treatment in the US – which I couldn’t afford – and I needed to be looked after by someone so this fell to my mother who cared for me. Kate and Simon went to live with their father as I was too sick to look after them. After about three weeks my daughter, who was seven, sat on my bed and said, “Mum, you’re sick. If you need to meditate to get well, I think you should go back to America.”

Jess: What a wise little soul!

Petrea: Yes. Her words came as a great shock as I felt that I had come home to die and she was sending me away. It was a very difficult decision but shortly after I returned to California and from there travelled with the head of that community, Swami Kriyananda, to Italy where he was teaching. It’s a longer story but finally I landed in Assisi and stayed for several months in a monastery built around a series of caves that St Francis and his disciples had used for prayer and meditation.

I had many disciplines to keep my mind focused on the breath or the mantra to avoid experiencing any of the feelings that would arise. So finally, in the cave it all came unstuck and I wept for weeks.

Each day I would spend up to eighteen hours a day in the Grotto of St Francis. It was there that I realised I’d used meditation for many years to avoid my feelings. I had many disciplines to keep my mind focused on the breath or the mantra to avoid experiencing any of the feelings that would arise. So finally, in the cave it all came unstuck and I wept for weeks.

Jess: That’s a relief to hear!

Petrea: Yes, I meditated, prayed and wept, meditated, prayed and wept.

Jess: So that was very healing?

Petrea: It was very healing. The old priest, Father Ilarino was amazing as he took care of me, shopped for me, cooked for me. I think he was worried that he had this pale, skinny, divorced Anglican holed up in his little Catholic cave. I think he thought I might die in there and he was determined I wouldn’t die in his precious Grotto! The first night he dragged me upstairs to sit at this ancient table where he put in front of me a meal with meat in it, a goblet of wine and a big chunk of white bread. As a naturopath I’d been saying for years, “The whiter the bread the sooner you’re dead.” I hadn’t eaten meat or hadn’t drunk alcohol, wine, tea, coffee or anything like that for 15 years. So it was like my whole belief system was there on the platter. I realised it was far more healing to be grateful for what he’d lovingly prepared for me – a stranger – than for me to say, “I can’t have what you’ve lovingly prepared because my belief system says no”. I realised that I knew zip about anything. For all my studies, my qualifications, my understandings and knowledge, I knew nothing about love, about trust, about letting go.

Jess: It was all good intentions and heart from him.

Petrea: Exactly. So it was the first dismantling of my beliefs. I knew how to live my life if I clung to those, but the thing I couldn’t do was trust in life. “I’ll do it myself” was the dominating feeling. So instead of that I started to practice seeing that I was in the palm of life/love/God, and there was nothing I could do that would ever separate me from the realisation of that except what was going on in my own head. There were a lot of tears and grief shed in that little Grotto. The whole experience was incredibly humbling because I was lovingly cared for by complete strangers.

Jess: You’re here now, so I assume the diagnosis was wrong?

Petrea: Well time passed, and as I dismantled everything and wept all of the tears over trying so hard to get it right, to measure up to some impossible self-imposed standard, I felt stronger and better. There were times when I was in a morass of self-pity where I felt totally unworthy and unlovable. I was so ‘me’ focussed. This is how low I had become: one day I was sitting outside the cave eating grapes when this blue and black butterfly landed on my knee. I squeezed it a drop of grape juice – and sat there feeling miserable. After a while another butterfly alighted on my other knee and I thought, “I’m good for something! I’m a good place for butterflies to land on!” That’s how sick (in the head!) I was at the time. I realised I’d just become this black hole; I was completely self-absorbed, I was my own universe and I couldn’t see past it. I was always obsessing in my mind about not being good enough, of being a failure, a loathsome person and yet I could see so clearly that that would perpetuate my suffering. I felt trapped in my own miserable mind!

Jess: I guess you were encouraged implicitly by your family to be self-contained. When you’re self-contained where else do you turn to look, except at yourself? It’s hard to escape the parameters of your own existence.

This was the task I set myself to, liberating myself from self-hatred and judgement.

Petrea: That’s true, it’s not easy but what else is there to do but liberate ourselves from this kind of sick thinking? And this was the task I set myself to, liberating myself from self-hatred and judgement. So when I came back after several months in the cave, I desperately wanted to be with my children and I wanted the peace that I had come to, to remain. I wanted that peace in my relationships; I wanted that peace to remain with me in all aspects of my life. I knew that peace was not dependent on being in my body. My preference was to live but I wasn’t addicted to having to stay alive, because I knew peace was not dependent on staying in my body.

So I returned to Australia, saw my doctor and had extensive blood tests. He told me I had zillions of baby red blood cells and that I was in an unexpected remission from leukaemia. He assured me that leukaemia would return in a few days or weeks. I suspect one reason I may have developed leukaemia was that I had hundreds of x-rays as a teenager. Portable X-ray machines had just been invented and I had one every other day to see if the bones in my legs were uniting.

Jess: All of that would kill anyone off quickly!

Petrea: Yes, I think my immune system took a serious dip due to grief, shock and despair. I have found since that many people suffer an illness several months after a shock or grief.

Those of us who have had many shocks in life know that life can change in a phone call, a breath or a conversation and it’s never the same again. We know that life can change in a moment.

I found living with uncertainty very challenging. When you know you’re going to die there are things that you need to say and do and I’d done and said all of them. I had my Will and financial affairs in order. I’d made tapes and letters for my children for the future. I had my whole life all packed up ready for the big ‘trip’… and then the plane got cancelled. How much do you unpack? How much do you live as if you’re really going to be here? Then I realised that everyone is living with uncertainty, they just don’t know they are. Those of us who have had many shocks in life know that life can change in a phone call, a breath or a conversation and it’s never the same again. We know that life can change in a moment. But a lot of people don’t know that until it happens to them.

I lived in this place of great uncertainty until my mother said to me, “Have you thought of working, dear?” I rang Marcus Blackmore from Blackmores and he told me, “Forget what the doctor said. There’s a doctor in Mosman looking for a naturopath to go into practice with him. I’ll introduce you.”


So I went into practice with Dr Emmanuel Varipatis and within the first two weeks, the first person with breast cancer came in and the day after, the first person with AIDS came to see me. Both of them had been told that they wouldn’t see Christmas, which is what I’d been told fifteen months earlier. I felt they were fellow travellers in the transit lounge of their lives and my question to people has always been, “What is it that stands in the way of you being at peace?” Sometimes it was diarrhoea and I’d adjust their diet and use herbs to alleviate that symptom. It’s hard to have peace of mind if you don’t have peace in your body! After the symptom was relieved I would ask again, “Now what is it that stands in the way of you being at peace?” “I’m not sleeping.” So we dealt with that using meditation or visualisation or herbal relaxants. “Now what is it?” “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know why I’m here; I don’t know what my purpose is; my relationships are in tatters, I want peace, I need forgiveness.” These were familiar issues for me and these clients began to help me understand and in time, articulate the inner human journey we are all on, the journey to peace and wholeness.

“Who am I? What am I doing on the planet? Am I living the life I came here to live? If not, why not? And what am I going to do about it?” Those were the questions I had grappled with and they had been the driving force in my life.

The conversations with clients got ever deeper. The more I was just present – without judgement, creating a space for the unutterable to be spoken – it seemed to be profoundly helpful for my clients. I provided a safe space in which people could utter the anguish or give expression to whatever was causing them distress. “Who am I? What am I doing on the planet? Am I living the life I came here to live? If not, why not? And what am I going to do about it?” Those were the questions I had grappled with and they had been the driving force in my life.

It is interesting that we often talk about what is second nature to us without ever wondering about our first nature, our essential nature, before we took on the fears, anxieties, limitations and beliefs that impel our behaviours.

Even now, thirty one years later, I often sit in a circle of people with extraordinary stories. Stories about illness, traumas, disasters or diagnoses, we call them the Ds – drama, disappointment, diagnosis, death, divorce, disloyalties, disfigurements, disasters – there are lots of Ds! And when you bump into these Ds in life, everything that’s second nature to us doesn’t work. So it might be second nature to drown our sorrows, to drug ourselves, to fill ourselves up with so much busyness that we don’t have time to feel. It might be second nature to blame other people for our misery, to resent other people’s happiness. But this D, whatever it is, causes us to realise that, whatever has become second nature to us, no longer works. It is interesting that we often talk about what is second nature to us without ever wondering about our first nature, our essential nature, before we took on the fears, anxieties, limitations and beliefs that impel our behaviours.

Jess: “Second nature” is such an off the cuff phrase. What happened to the first nature?

Petrea: For me the purpose of human existence is to relinquish everything that has become second nature to us so that we reveal, experience and live, in our first nature, our essential nature, which is home to love, compassion, wisdom, insight and the source of our creativity … all of those wonderful qualities that we sacrifice the moment we project into the future our fears, worries and anxieties or we’re consumed by resenting, blaming or the shaming of our history.

Jess: It’s a relinquishing of the persona.

Petrea: It’s letting go of all mental constructs or beliefs born of our wounds. Once we’ve let go the construction there’s just the moment and our place in it. The less we construct the better because then we experience the moment with freshness and without judgement.

People travel from all over Australia and beyond to the Quest for Life Centre to find a safe place in which to utter what has been unutterable and, once heard and deeply understood, they are in a position to learn practical skills for managing their life and its challenges. It puts them back into the driver’s seat and allows them to live with a profound sense of meaning.

Jess: I should take a few steps back and ask how Quest for Life came to be. You were working in Sydney as a naturopath for a while working with a colleague of Marcus Blackmore’s and then…

Petrea: Then I worked from home because I started support and meditation groups – ten a week! –and we had over 200 people in our sunroom each week. I worked for a couple of years with prisoners with HIV and AIDS in Long Bay jail and at the Albion Street AIDS centre conducting support and meditation groups.

In the very first cancer support group I ran there was a woman with breast cancer named Kay and her partner Wendie. I didn’t know Wendie so well, but Kay came to support groups for several years. In this time she grappled with the highs and lows of her illness and finally her impending death and the leaving of her three beautiful children and her beloved partner. Before Kay died she told Wendie, “When you’re over the worst of the grief, go and see what you can do to fluff Petrea up because who looks after her?” So Wendie became a volunteer and, before long, my partner of now 22 years.

Jess: She’s still fluffing you up!

Petrea: Yes indeed! We are very fortunate to have each other. In 1995 Wendie and I moved to Bundanoon. Bundanoon picked us as we were really looking to live somewhere on the coast. One weekend we returned to Sydney via Bundanoon and it just seemed to us that this is where we were meant to be.

Jess: Bundanoon has a very homely feeling about it.

Petrea: Yes. We weren’t sure if we could keep doing this work because who would come to Bundanoon? I commenced my practice again in a rented house as we had decided to no longer work from home. It needed to be our sanctuary, our place of replenishment. The following year, this beautiful guesthouse on nine acres came on the market for $1.5 million. The Quest for Life Foundation, which I had established in 1989, only had $15,000 in its account. I had always dreamed of providing a safe place for other people who were distressed by the events of their lives. One of my clients gave me a slip of paper with someone’s name on it and said, “If you’re serious about purchasing this place then ring these people.” Wendie and I meditated and prayed about it and finally made that phone call. These wonderful people who have always chosen to remain anonymous enabled Quest to purchase and refurbish the buildings so that they were suitable for our use. We opened in 1999 and have been busy ever since providing retreats for people living with life’s great challenges of cancer and other chronic illnesses/pain, grief, loss, trauma, PTSD, depression and so on.

The aim of each program or retreat is to help people actively contribute to their health and wellbeing and establish peace of mind. It’s about living today well. The capacity of the human spirit to embrace great suffering is just extraordinary and is very inspiring to witness.

Jess: I guess there’s always that little kernel of growth within painful experiences that can be embraced. There is always an opportunity.

Petrea: Otherwise your suffering gnaws away at you until you deal with it, or it embitters you, or it kills you. We can feel as angry, miserable or depressed as we need to, for as long as we need to, because what happened to us may well be a terrible thing. But we all recognise that staying stuck in that place of anger, depression or misery isn’t going to help us to find peace.

Jess: So what happens when people come to Quest? What kinds of changes do you see? I imagine there are many cathartic moments?

Petrea: It’s not particularly cathartic; it’s more about the inner journey. People’s tears are always welcome, but there’s a lot more laughter than tears. There’s a great power of possibility in a group of people who all understand suffering even though their suffering may be born of different causes.


We have very experienced teams of six that work on our retreats. There are two facilitators, two support people, a trained counsellor and a massage therapist on every program. The first part of the retreat focuses on helping people to feel safe. We often encourage people to stay on the property if they’re feeling emotionally fragile. The food at Quest is fabulous and much of it comes from our organic gardens. The retreat starts at 4 o’clock on Monday and concludes with lunch on Friday. We talk about the journey of being human which is based on neuroscience, epigenetics and an understanding of a holistic perspective. We discuss sleep, nutrition, the role of exercise, switching off the mind, living mindfully, forgiveness, making meaning of suffering, managing our time, communication strategies, and a host of practical strategies that equip people to deal more effectively with their challenges.

As babies and young children we were all enculturated into our families where we learned the, “I’ll be happy when…” story and the judgement of others who our family believe are less than us, more than us, different from us, whether that is about religion, culture, sexual orientation, intelligence or lack of it, socio-economic backgrounds and so on. We also adjust our behaviour according to the dynamics of our own particular family. For instance, we may become the responsible one, the peace maker, the sickly one, the black sheep, the bright one, the dumb one, the pretty one, the brave one and so on. All of that information has gone in by the time we are three years of age, long before we have the ability to articulate any of it. It hasn’t been absorbed in a conscious way. It is an unconscious adaptation into our environment. We secrete an inner chemistry of neurotransmitters – which are chemical messengers – according to how we feel moment by moment. These chemicals of our emotions influence every cell of our body so, in our retreats, we talk about the science around that. It may become normal to feel a particular way, it becomes second nature to us to feel that way and we set off in life hoping that we’ll be happy at a future time when things look different from how they are in the present moment. We take our beliefs, attitudes and judgements into every encounter as they have become second nature to us. Then when we bump into a D in life and everything that is second nature to us doesn’t work. It might be second nature to you to drown your sorrows, to isolate, to blame others to resent other people’s happiness, to sleep all the time or not sleep, to over or under eat and we finally realise, “Something’s got to change, and it’s me. I can’t change what happened – the D – what I can change is how I’m going to respond to it.” So we look at the neuroscience around that. Meditation and mindfulness are important factors in allowing us to live more in the present moment.

Whether it’s about self-realisation, revelation of the soul, however you like to think of it, to me it’s all profoundly spiritual work.

Jess: Given The Soul Spectrum looks at the soul, would you describe that essential part of yourself as the soul?

Petrea: What’s really creative about what we do is that it’s all commonsense, grounded, and backed up by good science. For me, everything we do is profoundly spiritual work because it’s about relinquishing everything that’s become second nature to us; it’s about realising our essential nature, our first nature – before we took on the limitations, beliefs and attitudes from our childhood or from life’s adventures. So whether it’s about self-realisation, revelation of the soul, however you like to think of it, to me it’s all profoundly spiritual work.

I work with people who may not want to hear about the soul. They may be feeling disheartened or even desperate for peace but we often need someone to witness our anguish or begin to move through our rage or despair before we’re ready to hear about peace. I avoid any language that might close anyone down or cause them to react. What matters is that people feel profoundly heard and that someone ‘gets them’. I’ve also learned through long experience that people have their own best answers and, if we provide a safe non-judgemental environment in which they can begin that journey, they will discover their own best approach to the situation or challenge they are facing.

Jess: It’s about not alienating anyone…

Petrea: The important thing is to find a common language where we can talk about what is profoundly important. So whether it’s working in a jail, in Parliament House, with doctors, with street kids, with judges … how can we talk about what really matters in a way that no one glazes over or feels that they haven’t been acknowledged and heard in some meaningful way.

Jess: So where to from here?

Petrea: Initially my vision for this place was grander than what we’ve been able to achieve. I would love to have people living on the property; I would love to see a healing centre here where we can have a range of therapists and counsellors; I’d love to see a meditation and yoga hall that’s a dedicated quiet space; I’d love a day centre where people could leave a relative who is unwell or frail so that they can do their shopping or whatever, but I don’t think that those chapters are my work. Wendie was 70 in January, and I’m 63, so my work over the next three to five years will be to make this place sustainable into the future with more people holding the vision for Quest.

Jess: I’m sure there will be a way. Thanks very much Petrea.

* For more information about Petrea King and her work at Quest for Life, please visit

* For more information about Hamish Ta-mé, please visit