HOUSE RULES AT THE RETREAT
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