PERCHED on the edge of a cliff overlooking Bantry Bay, Dzogchen Beara, the Buddhist meditation centre in Allihies, West Cork, is blessed with its surroundings.
Conducive to meditation, the centre has had a particularly busy summer, says Derek Corr, a meditation instructor at the centre, who also is in charge of communications and fundraising there.
“Meditation seems to be very popular at the moment,” he says. “It has a little bit of science backing it, making it more accessible. There’s work being done on the effects of meditation on the brain.”
Over a typical year, thousands of people come to Dzogchen Beara to meditate. At an average-sized retreat, there would be 30, 40 or 50 people.
As to why meditation is being practised by so many, Derek says that time has become a bit compressed for many people.
He said: “With our concept of time, it feels like we’re running from one thing to the next. Finding space in our day is incredibly difficult. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in modern life about what to do, trying to be at everything while having different responsibilities in our lives. It’s about trying to find some quality time.”
That, says Derek, is exactly what the intention is behind meditation.
“We’re trying to find space, calm space and quality time for ourselves. And it’s not just for ourselves. It benefits the people around us when we are fundamentally calmer and more relaxed.”
Clients include a lot of professionals such as managing directors, health care nurses, doctors and psychologists.
There are a lot of different types of meditation.
“The mindfulness one is quite popular. It’s not one I’m particularly familiar with myself. The type of meditation we do here is basically from the Buddhist tradition. We often call the meditation we do for the public ‘calm abiding meditation’, It’s about quietening and settling the mind.”
Many people find it hard to switch off. But that’s not necessarily a problematic starting point for meditation.
“There’s a perception about meditation that you’re going to have no thoughts while doing it and if we have thoughts, then we’re not doing it right. Or you might say — ‘I’m getting distracted. Meditation isn’t for me’.
“But that’s not quite the right way to look at it. It’s more about getting familiar with how we are and how busy our minds can be. Instead of seeing that as failure, it’s an important first step. We slowly try to find a way to settle our mind and calm it.”
For more see www.dzogchenbeara.org.
Sonja Velic, originally from Serbia, came to Cork to volunteer with Cork Simon, helping the homeless to get back to work or study. It was her work experience for a psychology degree. She had started meditation when she was 18, influenced by authors such as a spiritual teacher called Osho, and Eckhart Tolle, whose book,, resonated with Sonja.
“As a psychologist, I had a natural tendency to be analytical about the mind. Meditation, for me, was just an act of mental hygiene. I started looking into. I didn’t really know what meditation was until I went to Thailand and found a retreat. That was five years ago. In Thailand, I had the privilege to be instructed by Buddhist monks called Theravada. They explained that meditation is basically a state where the mind is at standstill, focused and peaceful.
“The techniques to achieve this that the monks were teaching were focused on breath and a mantra, which is repeating a certain word or sentence. There are also visualisation techniques.”
Sonja says we need to meditate “because the nature of the mind is to constantly think, think, jumping from one unfinished thought to another.
“Meditation helps us to gain control over the chaotic nature of the mind and to live a life that is more simple and present and allows more of a sense of contentment.”
As a teacher of meditation, connected with the World Peace Initiative (WPI), founded in Thailand in 2008, Sonja has to renew her certificate every year. To do this, she has been returning to Bangkok for a month-long retreat every January.
“The idea of the WPI is that if we have inner peace, then we can create outer peace. To achieve world peace, we need to start with the individual. To maintain my certification, I need to deliver a certain amount of workshops to different organisations.”
As a psychologist, Sonja gives self-development workshops, combined with meditation. She is invited by NGOs or non-profit organisations such as ‘Dress for Success’ to facilitate workshops.
“What brings people to meditation is stress and feeling overwhelmed and having anxiety or mental health issues. Anyone can meditate if they come with the right attitude. But for people with mental health issues related to schizophrenia or bipolar depression, or intense psychotic episodes, it’s not recommended.”
Sonja will be giving meditation sessions from this month at the Yoga Loft on Monahan Road from 7.30pm-8.30pm. See www.sonjaroche.com.
Michelle Gupta of ‘Embody Harmony’ is half Indian and will be doing a retreat in India later in the year “to bring me back to my roots”.
Speaking about her work she says: “Through my brand, I try to embody health, harmony and happiness. I have trained in and teach meditation and Tai Chi.
“For me, right now, I very much follow Buddhist teaching but in a modern-day sense. Currently, in Ireland, you could use a lot of words for meditation such as ‘prayer’ and ‘concentration’.
“It’s very much using your mind in a quiet space so that you can connect to how you’re feeling and what’s going on with you.”
Michelle says there are a of lot meditation techniques and forms including transcendental meditation. She favours ‘Loving Kindness.’
“It is basically about connecting to somebody in your mind that makes you feel great about love. It could be a child in your life.
“You might want to wish loving kindness on others as well as yourself. It’s a lovely way to spend ten minutes. It can make you feel loved and loving. You can extend to a friend who’s having a hard time.”
Mindfulness is, says Michelle, very much meditation in day-to-day life.
“It’s not necessarily just a question of sitting in a quiet place with a candle burning for 15 minutes in the morning or evening.
“It’s also about being able to spend 90 seconds during the middle of your day when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, to just be able to calm yourself down and slow yourself down.”
Often, Michelle is asked if she gives one-to-one meditation classes.
“But I don’t really do it that way. What I think is really important is being in a group, sitting around and learning meditation techniques. I also feel you really need to be able to learn to connect to your physical body. That’s why I combine movement and meditation afterwards. People ask for it constantly.”
Michelle has been living in Cork for ten years now. She left a stressful career in fashion in London and trained as a holistic therapist and instructor.
She says that, sometimes, people who come to her classes talk about having the chance to zone out at them.
“But I say that meditation is not about zoning out. It’s about zoning in, noticing your body and your feelings.”
Contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.