HOUSE RULES AT THE RE­TREAT

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD - A DISHONOURABLE SUR­REN­DER

The first rule I be­came aware of was that there were none. Bud­dhism isn’t re­ally about telling you what you can or can’t do. They don’t de­mand that you leave your smart­phone aside for the few days, but I much rather they did. That thing fol­lows me ev­ery­where.

You don’t have to sit in the Lo­tus po­si­tion for the med­i­ta­tive ex­pe­ri­ence ei­ther, which could be in­tim­i­dat­ing and even off-putting for the novice. Tried it; didn’t like it. There are no tele­vi­sions in the bed­rooms, but there is a flatscreen in the li­brary of the Care Cen­tre. It was on one evening and I flinched. A big orange Trump was bom­bast­ing for all he was worth. I could have done with­out that. While they teach med­i­ta­tion they en­cour­age chat, too. The kitchen area in the Care Cen­tre, where you can make up your own break­fast or snack from a full fridge, was where we tended to de­brief. Okay, gos­sip. And while al­co­hol doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily sit well with the med­i­ta­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, and Bud­dhism rather frowns on it, glasses of wine were clinked by the more con­tented mem­bers of our class on at least one oc­ca­sion.

But I can’t say by whom. That would be telling. unique isn’t un­in­ten­tion­ally di­luted. Some­times less is more. Most of those who travel up the nar­row, grassy en­trance, flanked by del­i­cate silk prayer flags dec­o­rated with Ti­betan bless­ings, aren’t much in­ter­ested in Bud­dhism.

They may come to re­spect it, but re­ally they make the jour­ney there pri­mar­ily to un­lock some of its per­ceived an­cient wis­doms which they can then put to use in their busy ev­ery­day lives. Sort of spir­i­tual shop­pers, try­ing out dif­fer­ent ideas in search of that elu­sive some­thing.

Be­tween short med­i­ta­tive ses­sions we again sit in groups of two or three and share ex­pe­ri­ences or per­haps even small in­ti­ma­cies prompted by themes sug­gested by our in­struc­tors. I no longer find this awk­ward. Some oth­ers are in­creas­ingly ef­fu­sive and find the talk cathar­tic. Oth­ers still re­veal a lot by say­ing very lit­tle but ex­press­ing it wisely.

We are tasked with pick­ing apart the very con­cept of con­tent­ment. To most of us it sug­gests reach­ing a plateau of ac­cep­tance or mak­ing peace with your lot.

But those with a more chal­leng­ing view of the world, and their place in it, re­gard con­tent­ment as some­thing of a dishonourable sur­ren­der.

We also ad­dress im­per­ma­nence and the dif­fi­cul­ties peo­ple slip­ping into mid­dle age and out the other side have with change, loss and a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion of their own mor­tal­ity.

Dzogchen runs 32 re­treats an­nu­ally, rang­ing from those on grief to re­la­tion­ships and work stress to con­fi­dence build­ing. But such fo­cused and in­tense med­i­ta­tive work­shops are not for every­one.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can sim­ply book in, stay, mind your own busi­ness and con­cen­trate on be­ing mind­ful. That way you can drop in or out of the daily med­i­ta­tion ses­sions if and when you please. No­body even needs to know you are there. Many of those on our course have trav­elled alone. Oth­ers ar­rive and share with friends. Some oth­ers come as cou­ples and, hap­pily, leave as cou­ples, too.

There is a mix­ture of both ur­ban and ru­ral, men and women, those still work­ing and many re­tired. Con­sid­er­ing the time of year, a gen­er­ous smat­ter­ing are both pri­mary and se­condary teach­ers, some of whom plan to bring mind­ful­ness right into their class­rooms.

One thing we all have in com­mon is a cu­rios­ity about the place, its mag­i­cal lo­ca­tion and a yearn­ing to see if this poly­the­is­tic re­li­gion of the east can reach the parts of us that more fa­mil­iar western creeds sim­ply can’t.

But it is a jour­ney on many lev­els, some of them lit­eral. Those of us driv­ing from greater Dublin spend nearly six hours of our lives we will never get back on the road south. On an is­land this small, there are few treks that ask as much. At one point I de­spair of ever get­ting there and won­der, have I imag­ined the place.

I even man­age to lose my bear­ings in Mac­room out­side Cork city, which isn’t easy. My sat­nav falls silent, as if in some med­i­ta­tive space of its own. I, on the other hand, don’t feel mind­ful at all.

But you have to be lost be­fore you can be found. Who knows what I might have un­earthed in Gar­ranes. At the very least the quest has been ex­hil­a­rat­ing. I may even be back.

in our On The Road se­ries: Kim Bie­len­berg tries out some quirky glamp­ing

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