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Healing an Anxious Society

“We used to live in a society. Now we live in an economy” 

Hugh Mackay, AO

Two million Australians were suffering from anxiety last year alone, and one in four of us will experience an anxiety disorder at some time in our life. Why? Has society’s relentless pursuit for individualism, wealth and power contributed to this situation? Are we neglecting the importance of social cohesion in our local neighbourhoods and communities? Have we forgotten that compassion – a concern for others – is the great antidote to anxiety?

You are invited to join us for a one day journey into the heart of anxiety. Share your experiences and insights with an innovative, growing community. Brainstorm individual, local and global solutions to heal an anxious society and create a better future for us all.


Keynote Speaker

Hugh Mackay
Hugh Mackay

Hugh Mackay AO

Hugh Mackay is a social researcher and bestselling author of 19 books, including his latest, Australia Reimagined, published in 2018. He has had a 60-year career in social research, and was also a weekly newspaper columnist for over 25 years.

He is currently a patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre and an honorary professor of social science in the University of Wollongong.

Workshop Facilitators

Mario Fernando
Mario Fernando

Professor Mario Fernando

Towards a Culture of Compassion Through Authentic Responsibility

Why can’t we continue to deny the needs of the other? Can we be more compassionate? How? What does it mean to be human? Informed by an ethic of responsibility in authentic behaviour, in this workshop we will explore how we can be less anxious and more compassionate.

Tom Halbert
Tom Halbert

Tom Halbert

Turning Points and Healing an Anxious Society

What ‘aha’ moments HAVE YOU HAD in dealing with anxiety? What ‘aha’ moments COULD YOU HAVE in dealing with anxiety? These ‘aha’ moments are turning points in our journey with anxiety, the modern crises, and life. With these turning points we ourselves then live differently and change then happens.

Having ‘aha’ moments is a natural talent of all humans, and in this workshop we will improve our skill level and capability to access this natural wisdom. This is done through developing knowledge (like Humanistic Buddhism), mindfulness, insight, intention, question and practise.

Our question: what story do I have to tell around healing anxiety?

Turning points stories are a hero’s journey, inspiring by their nature. Telling our turning points story is a powerful gift to ourselves, others and to society. We will make a difference by telling our story and we may choose to share it. Check out the Turning Points Project on facebook, which now has some 26,000 followers.

Meg Hart
Meg Hart

Meg Hart

Conversational Leadership
Encouraging bigger perspectives and kinder connections in an age of anxiety

Anxiety shrinks our view of ourselves, of others and of the world. One of the best antidotes to anxiety is engagement, “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world” as Joseph Campbell put it. This is the way of the bodhisattva who fearlessly faces the reality of our inescapable interconnectedness and seeks opportunities to contribute to our shared wellbeing. 

It is through courageous conversation that we most fully engage with life. From the Latin, conversari, ‘to turn to’ or ‘keep company with’, every conversation we engage in offers the possibility of keeping company with others, expanding our perspective and turning together toward a more enlivening, less anxious conception of what it means to be human. The quality of our conversation matters more than ever in this age of disengagement, self-absorption and unrealistic pursuit of certainty that Hugh Mackay documents in his research. 

In the workshop we’ll use a World Café-style exchange to hone our skills for courageous conversational leadership at home, at work and in our communities

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill

Professor Stephen Hill AM

If You Don’t Mind, I Don’t Matter

Hugh Mackay’s message is very clear. Our social world is increasingly fragmented, lonely, and a threat to the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us. We need a culture shift in the direction of compassion. Social change happens when we ourselves live differently. Stephen’s Workshop will explore how to make this happen – from our own actions and from within our own immediate subjective social world.

At the Core is ‘mindfulness’.

Seriously paying attention to the people around us, seeing, feeling, their loneliness and isolation – even if hidden behind apparent ‘normal’ life. Focus of Attention is to help the other feel that they ‘matter’. This requires truly ‘listening’ – hearing and responding without one’s own agenda getting in the way. How do we do this?

Focus of Action is then to build ongoing connectedness – acting together. People are attracted to a clear ‘vision’, more than a ‘need’. How do we gather them around this vision?

Stephen can assist in this Workshop exploration from direct experience as his pre-retirement job was in a senior field position in the United Nations based in Asia, where much of his work was helping communities to empower and build themselves but where Step No. 1 was learning to ‘listen’.

Elizabeth King
Elizabeth King

Dr Elizabeth King

Leadership in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world
An Australian story, a global problem, a compelling motivation

“If Australia is to maintain national competitiveness and generate growth and jobs, organizations need to navigate through a phase of increased uncertainty and ambiguity, disruption and change”.

Leaders are being challenged in many ways as they seek to prepare their organizations for disruption in the context of massive social change and reduced personal support. Mindfulness when embedded in Buddhist philosophy is unsurpassed for leaders with a desire to generate profit whilst contributing to social purpose. The quality and character of leadership impacts the wellbeing of society so healing an anxious society requires us to heal an anxious workplace. This workshop invites you to consider how you might lead differently – both personally and professionally, to contribute to a calmer community.

David Rooney
David Rooney

Professor David Rooney

Healing our Anxious Workplaces

Anxiety and depression are linked disorders and are common in modern workplaces. According to the World Health Organisation, there is a pandemic of depression. Research also suggests that mental health outcomes in workplaces are poor and that how work is organised and managed contributes to this problem. Neoliberalism (including economic rationalism) is identified as underpinning this predicament through its concentration on individualism, competition and performance measurement.

Professor David Rooney will share his research knowledge and his first-person experience of anxiety and depression in his workplaces. We need to be able to talk about anxiety and depression at work and this session will include structured dialogues to develop ways of talking about the problem to heal Australian workplaces and to find ways for individuals to better cope with working in anxious workplaces.

Venerable Juewei
Venerable Juewei
Sue Sumskis
Sue Sumskis

Venerable Dr Juewei and Dr Sue Sumskis

Reducing Suffering with Compassion, Community and Chan
Recovery begins when we can attend to the wound with compassion and patience.

Living with anxiety, big or small, is challenging. We may feel powerless and find the world a treacherous place to live in. The Dharma can become a powerful source of refuge, when we need it most. In this workshop, we will begin with an acknowledgement of our suffering and understand possible causes and conditions through the engagement of both body and mind. We will practice metta meditation together and form a community of strength and support towards one another. Finally, we will learn to replace anxious feelings with Chan (single-minded) wisdom of the goodness that is already in our innate transcendental nature.

Please join this workshop only if you are prepared to openly share a (potential) situation with others and support others on a journey of discovery.

Venerable Miaoyou
Venerable Miaoyou

Venerable Miaoyou


Worries and anxiety are signs of the modern times.

The purpose of meditation is to gain clarity, observe and untie the knots that make us anxious. Emotions arise which are all normal and part of being human.

Mindfulness is to be present in the moment and the practice allows us to be in touch with our thoughts and feelings, and understand that they will pass and change. There is nothing to fear, and the practice will strengthen and empower us on the journey of self discovery and healing.



Michael Murphy

On Stephen Hill’s “If you don’t mind, I don’t matter”  

Stephen Hill led the participants in this workshop in a discussion how we can address the issue raised by the keynote speaker Hugh Mackay of living in an increasingly fragmented and lonely society. In order to shift toward a more compassionate culture, how can we change the way we live? The discussions began with the ways in which participants experienced social fragmentation and isolation. Many of the examples involved the infrastructure of social life: the prevalence of digital interactions, job mobility and the increase in casual employment, the layout of workspaces and the reliance on cars for transport. Suggestions for responses included forming groups based on common interests, having the empathy to truly engage with other people, walking to shops in order to interact with more people or even just trying to smile and acknowledge others throughout the day. Some participants noted the need to be mindful to notice when others do not want to engage with us, particularly when we are strangers. Examples were cited of friendly encounters with strangers that quickly evolved into requests for money, and feelings of fear by women when approached by men in situations where they did not feel safe. There was a lively discussion of the use of the internet and social media. Whilst participants agreed these technologies are now entrenched as part of our lives, there was also a recognition that the way these technologies are employed have a social and moral valence. The final issue raised during the workshop was the relationship between individual actions and larger social groups. How can communities of practice be grown? The participants wrapped up by discussing using compassion (acting without self interest) and crossing cultural divides to inspire change beyond themselves as individuals. The parting question from Stephen to the group was: “What will you do tomorrow?”

Chris Villy

On Mario Fernando’s “Towards a culture of compassion through authentic responsibility”

Mario’s workshop was small and intimate with nine participants. This was actually a great size as everyone was able to contribute and the feeling in the room was comfortable and friendly.

Throughout the session, Mario often drew the conversation back to the theme of the day: Healing an Anxious Society. I believe everyone in the room left that day gaining some insight with something to follow up.

The workshop was structured by having three groups of three people in discussion groups. We were then asked questions such as: What does it mean to be human? Why are we anxious? Each group had to come up with three reasons for each question. This format created a friendly and lively conversation.

The format drove to the message that Mario wanted to bring home: The ethics of responsibility. That is, as humans we have ethics and compassion built into us and by unlocking this key and tapping this resource there would naturally follow through a reduction in anxiety; in both ourselves and those around us. The ethics of responsibility in broad terms is seen as a relationship between ourselves and those around us and our duty of care to respond to the needs of those around us. Mario posited this in terms as an interactive and personal relationship with the “Other” in which the “Other is higher than me yet poorer than me.” Note that “Other” users a capital “O”. “Higher than me” is referencing the fact that the “Other” is taking all my attention and poorer than me is referencing that the “Other” is in need of my assistance. Very interestingly, this tied back to the keynote speech in the sense that the keynote speaker, Hugh Mackay AO, stressed that modern societies need to have individuals responsibility towards each other. Hugh used the model of the neighbour.

Personally, the big take away for me, or “Ah-ha moment” as Tom Halbert would say was this: Mario stressed that to be authentic to myself, I needed to get a few things straight. Firstly I needed to know who my actual self is. Then I needed to know what my ideal self is. I then needed to look at the gap between my ideal self and actual self and reflect on how big that gap is and what do I need to do to close the gap. In this process, it is very important to define my values, articulate that clearly to myself and then use that understanding in the context of the actual and real selves. This process, when followed through will lead to a reduction in anxiety as a very large part of the problem is not being authentic to myself.

Here ends my summary of Mario’s workshop. I highly recommend this workshop and would encourage people to attend this workshop as it was extremely beneficial.

Ben Campbell

On Elizabeth King’s “Leadership in the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigious (VUCA) World“

How can leaders better navigate an increasingly complex world? In this workshop, facilitator Dr. Elizabeth King introduced participants to the concept of VUCA, or the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity characteristic of so many workplace environments. Participants were asked to consider their own work environments and the costs of VUCA on their lives. Many responded by saying that it leaves them anxious, helpless, stressed, and deprived of joy. As a potential remedy for this situation, Dr. King introduced a Mindful Leadership Development Index, which outlines ways to employ mindfulness in the face of VUCA. In the workshop, participants were tasked with envisioning their ideal work environment, identifying pain points that exist in reality, and then thinking about how mindfulness can help them embrace and grow from VUCA, as opposed to becoming anxious from it. The workshop ended with participants sharing their goals with fellow participants.

Magali Goriand

On Meg Hart’s “Conversational Leadership: encouraging bigger perspectives and kinder connections in an age of anxiety”

Through an interactive process and tapping into Buddhist wisdom, Meg Hart walked us through how to encourage bigger perspectives and kinder connections in an age of anxiety. There are difficult conversations to have, and transforming them into a positive experience for all participants requires some leadership, and courage, and acknowledgement of the virtue of collective wisdom. Leadership should not be seen as the monopoly of one individual, but shared. Taking the time to be present, listening more without trying to convince, demonstrating patience, understanding the others’ point of view help tackle difficult topics. Importantly, in a conversation, there is an inflection point where you can make a choice between a conflictual or a collaborative path. Mindfulness, healthy ego, and non-attachment to outcomes are important qualities to manage difficult conversations. Groups engaged in conversations about the characteristics of a healed and healthy society and formed a mandala with their findings.

Stacey Weng

On Juewei Shi/Sue Sumskis’ “Reducing Suffering with Compassion, Community and Chan”

In this workshop, the Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths were applied in dealing with anxiety in the modern day context. Participants were able to 1) define what anxiety is in their own terms (First noble truth: acknowledge suffering and its purpose), 2) identify the external conditions and internal causes for the anxieties and just observe and be with what arises rather than battle, judge or get caught up in it (Second noble truth: find out the causes and conditions that lead to the suffering), 3) learn that there is a place of quiet, known as Chan, Buddha nature or the quiet of emptiness, and with Prajna wisdom, we can “stay in the eye of hurricanes” despite the chaos all around (Third noble truth), 4) It is something we can all access with loving kindness, compassion and a community (Fourth noble truth). Throughout the workshop, participants practiced mindfulness techniques such as breath counting, body scan relaxation, and loving kindness meditation, as well as “buddy therapy” to help create the right causes and conditions for managing anxieties in everyday life, so we can all “wake up, get up and light up” our own lives.

Bruce McKenzie

On Tom Halbert’s  “Turning Points and Healing an Anxious Society”

The workshop opened with Tom inviting participants to think about ‘ah-ha moments in their life and recall what happened, what was the story associated with the moment. Working in pairs participants shared their stories. Tom then introduced the workshop to Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. Tom stressed how the Presencing advocated in the theory created a mindset conducive to recalling and telling stories. In allowing ourselves to let go of the busyness in our minds we are able to become more aware of the moment and to focus our full attention on the activity of that moment.. During the workshop all participants spent some time under Tom’s guidance to practice the Presencing technique. He then introduced a second exercise for participants to recall moments in their life where they experienced ‘relief from anxiety’ and then share stories of those moments. The activities created considerable conversation about storytelling and its value, in dealing with anxiety but also as a technique to address many other life challenges.

Fred Neville

On David Rooney’s Healing our Anxious Workplace

First, Professor Rooney led our group down a path of general familiarisation and personal recollection of how the toxic way work is often organised in modern-day workplaces contributes to widespread anxiety and depression. As well, he shared his own personal experiences of anxiety and depression, which likewise were triggered by a growing realisation that work was steadily eroding his own sense of inner-being. Participants shared similar sentiments about their personal work experiences. Yet, there can be a better way of coping, that potentially lessens mental anguish at work. Small working groups chose actual work experiences to case study a possible new paradigm for a more peaceful kind of workplace co-existence, founded on basic Buddhist tenets. Not surprisingly, their key conclusions were consistently the same. The view was, that sustained mindfulness practice enables empathy towards others thereby lessening misunderstanding and being judgemental. This gives rise to compassion and through the wisdom it nurtures provides the skilful means to engender kindness and goodwill into the workplace. In summary, a conscious creation of engagement and mutual respect through trustful well thought out conversation.

Michael Minehan

On Venerable Miaoyou’s Mindfulness Practice and Workshop 

Participants were invited to express what they hoped to gain from the workshop. Their responses included, calmness, stopping the chatter in the mind, increased clarity/focus and feeling more in control. As the focus was on anxiety they were also asked what makes them anxious. Responses included worrying about things associated with home life, work and the various stresses that occur as a part of life in society in general. Many had concerns re their varying emotions ranging from happiness to anger and sadness & depression. It was explained to the participants that the purpose of meditation is to gain clarity through “insight” thus enabling us to observe and untie the knots that make us anxious. Emotions arise which are all normal and part of being human. Through our continued practice we develop the Mindfulness to be in the present moment allowing us to be in touch with our thoughts and feelings, and understand that they will pass and change. There is nothing to fear, and the practice will strengthen and empower us on the journey of self discovery and healing.

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