Part of my reason for going down was to give my heroic mother a short and long overdue respite.
The punishing train from Heuston, got us to Cork at 2.30pm, but thanks to a wonky sat nav, and a city driver, who himself had never been that far into west Cork, it was 7.30 pm by the time the fluttering prayer flags, announced our arrival at the spiritual care centre.
The elegance of the place instantly swept away any aches I had from that days travelling, not to mention the discomfort of a body that had to be practically prised out of the chair come bedtime.
The (then) manager, Matt P****ick, told me that most of the people who come to the centre, view it as a pilgrimage. Just by getting there, I could see part of the reason why this may be so.
It is majestic, the seagulls and the quiet lapping of the waves. What a wonderful place to pop your clogs! A beginning of quietness, at the far end of our country.
Such an accessible oasis is not somewhere you would expect to find on a cliff top, in the jaggedly remote Beara peninsula.
I was no cynical angry victim, to be labelled and dismissed as such. From my gnarled life experiences, I had bursting questions, which sadly found no real answers down there.
My degenerative disorder has floored any aspirations of independence, I may once have had. Now I find myself grasping at the paid and timed assistance of other people, for so many basic things.
I was born with FA, supposedly sentenced in the womb. How could I have consciously summoned such a life, at such a young age? As for what mind/body imbalances a child with leukaemia has manifested in there short lifetimes……
Well, you get the gist. After a while beautiful, sometimes comforting words, begin to sound hollow and ultimately insulting.
Jealously I watch people walking around under their own steam, presumably being able to shower and use the toilet independently. It feels to me like such a robbed luxury now, by an unidentified assailant.
Under the law of Karma; am I and those around me, in even worse physical states, paying the price of whatever bad things we did in a previous life? It is the crux of my frustration and anger, that will endure and tarnish my stay there.
Observing the laws of Karma, I must have done everything wrong and nothing right in a past life. I must have led a life that would have made Hitler himself blush (or salivate with envy). Does not the silencing of the mind, really create other monsters?
This is my insurmountable difficulty with Buddhism. Is the serene gently smiling face of the Buddha just a veneer? Is there a vicious scowl and reproachful tongue somewhere there too?
I buy Sogyal’ dvd “The way to inner peace and Contentment” and hear him talk about dis-ease, as arising when the person is not at ease with their mind.
I must have been born with a profound disconnect. I often feel like a hapless bystander in a mind/body brawl. The victor changes constantly and unpredictably.
The meditation room is beautiful, but I don’t know if its a sign of how far away from the notion of deities I have travelled, but the room casts no particular reverential spell over me.
The breath taking view which it holds, and which I would appreciate constantly didn’t change that. When I look at the Buddha, I see a young guy with no scoliosis, finely behaved balanced limbs and with just maybe a little too much time on his hands.
Apart from dipping into the teacher’ book, I also brought a copy of Augusten Burroughs book “Dry”. I found absolutely no contradiction between switching between sacred inspirational writings, and the autobiographical writings of a gay guys journey through rehab.
I found that his humorous reflections, won out time and time again.
The front lawn and the planned meditation centre plus prayer tower/stupa (which you circle three times for your prayer request to be heard and permitted by the divine almighty). If only it was this easy.
It still smacked of a desperate attempt at rejecting reality. A concocted Pavlovian-esqe exercise, stamped with the apparent authority of time and repetition.
As we inched our way into the current meditation room/dining area, I got my first real look at some of the regular visitors, who stay either in the main house or in some of the guest cottages nearby.
I had a mental picture of them as being youngish, eccentric and with a searching neediness about them. In my interactions and observations of them, those thoughts were confirmed.
A guy uprooted himself from his cross legged meditation of the crunching ocean down below, allowing us go pass. I was told he was nearing the end of a year long exercise. Year long! What mental debris, needed that much contemplation?
We had our own eating section, and the strictly vegetarian food just kept coming. Thankfully I can still navigate food to mouth (usually).
When you live in that basic a world, the idea of inner peace and enlightenment, of bringing the mind home seem like notions from an attainable galaxy.
One of my big issues with all organised religious traditions, is their preoccupation with sexuality. In my mind whatever is suppressed or repressed is just not healthy. So I was glad to hear that Sogyal Rinpoche has openly gay students.
Its surprising how much the day can open up, when the usual anchors of t.v and internet are subtracted. It was a welcome relief in many ways, but for me a short time in such an environment was enough.
I was beginning to feel like a prisoner, unable to go outside without a team of help. I found that for me there was no problem in quietening the mind for meditation. Maybe that’s a disturbing sign of just how empty it has become!
In the last guided meditation, I looked out through the floor to ceiling windows onto the Mizen headland, with a keen sense of the vastness of time and our tiny roles in all of this life.
Surrounded by Tibetan red, it was a good safe feeling not to have to think about hoists, dependency, a locked pelvis and an escalating embarrassment over all the things that I have never done, a feeling which lingers always.
I looked around at the other people in the room, and wondered what was going on in their heads. What had brought them here and was keeping them here.
I met an Australian guy in the book shop, who had been here for over three years. He didn’t look mentally bereft to me. This very grey blustery place was still appealing to him, somehow more than fading memories of Aussie colour.
Have I a long way to go in this meditation experiment? Yes. Does it have all the answers? No.
One of the apparently unanswerable questions I asked down there is “isn’t living too long more to be feared than dying too young”. What passes for “living” here is an insufferable joke, in many ways.
I didn’t really get an answer to what happens to the souls of the brain dead or the mentally handicapable (thanks Glee, love that word). The notion of this earth as one big sorrowful journey, that we have to endure is a bit much too.
Are they in what Christopher Hitchens would have called “the death business? Milarepa said “The only thing you should be worried about, is the uncertainty of the hour of your death”. What about concentrating on squeezing every drop of fun out of living?
It seems more and more obvious to me that both heaven and hell are present, in the here and now!
The Buddha said that we are all essentially perfect, and that enlightenment is within all of our grasp. Its really only a question of peeling away the layers of confusion which is part and parcel of living.
Its still an issue for me, whether these are just richly loaded verbal food for the mentally voracious, or annoying platitudes. As we pulled out early on Thursday morning, dormant mobile phones sprang noisily back to life. Meaning, purpose and tools for enrichment are obtainable closer to home though surely.
PS: Paddy’s day 2012: My mother came in this morning and said she feels great. This is a word that has been missing from her vocabulary for years. Maybe someone is listening after all? Or maybe unexplained situations and overthinking, are a really head wrecking combination?