One of my favourite books is McCarthy’s Bar and Pete McCarthy is one of my favourite authors, one of the few you know you would have liked to have met. When I heard of his death in 2005 it was like hearing of the death of a friend. I have visited a lot of the places he visited, and Dzogchen Beara, the Buddhist Centre in West Cork more than once. It doesn’t come off too well in McCarthy’s book, understandable too. Buddhist Centres tend to attract people who are in trouble or in transition or who are struggling with ego problems so Scary Man from McCarthy’s book is more the norm in these places than otherwise. Buddhist Centres tend to be seething masses of issues and this means that rather than finding the peace and happiness you might expect, you will often find turmoil, hostility and major ego clashes.
A NOTE ON GUITARS:The one thing I used to dread about visiting the hostel at Dzogchen Beara was the guitars. There used to be multiple guitars lying around and it was not unusual to be sitting reading quietly when someone would burst in sit down beside you and grabbing a guitar start into the latest Kumbaya carry on. This would induce in me a fierce internal struggle regarding the advisability of wrapping a guitar around someones head while yelling “Kumbaya up your arse MotherFucker!” in a Buddhist centre. Mostly I just left the room. I am happy to report this time that the guitars are gone having being replaced by hand drums which no-one seemed interested in.
Having said that there are positives too. The Hostel is housed in a tiny old cottage. The bunks are basic. In the communal area there are no TV or PCs, just sofas, cats and a big wooden kitchen table. Outside across a stretch of grass is a panoramic view of Bantry Bay. There are two meditation sessions offered free daily, one in the morning in the wonderful Shrine Room overlooking the sea and one in the afternoon in the new Spiritual Care Centre further up the cliff with an even better view of the sea and some funky meditation cushions that I seriously covet. At €15 a night, if you are poor but need a break, its is definitely worth checking out. Anyway, I thought, before my latest visit, that I could write about Dzogchen Beara and expand on Pete McCarthy’s report, maybe offering a more positive view. In the end I fear its Petes account that will come out of this looking positive….
I arrived on a Saturday night and headed into the kitchen. I located a staff member-which can be difficult as they tend to look the same as the guests and there is a volunteer program and volunteers can often be less familiar with the place than the guests. I was told sure, take a bed, pay when you leave. Actually she was very vague about paying which is sort of typical, but nice. When I arrive into Dzogchen Beara I am often reticent about being too friendly. I am not unfriendly but I try to remain self-contained at least until I can figure out what current interpersonal dynamics are at play.
A few years back I was here and fell into chatting with a guy who had just split with his girlfriend. He offered to share some of his food with me and I shared some back. We sat at the table with some others. Soon enough he was propositioning me with sex. I removed myself from his presence as much as possible but he continued to pester me for my number for the rest of the evening. He was also bizarrely denigrating to me, as if he had plastered the toxic relationship with the unfortunate ex-girlfriend onto me. I had known the guy a couple of hours and I could already see why his girlfriend was of the “ex” variety.This is what I mean about Buddhist Centres and people’s issues. That time I cut my visit short. So now I am more wary.
On Saturday evening in the kitchen I became aware of a middle-aged man who apparently was staying for a week. I could immediately feel that this was a potential Sucky Sucky person, someone who wants to hijack your attention and take up your space. I decided to avoid him, which is difficult in such a small space. There weren’t many other guests. A middle-aged blonde lady who did her angel cards at breakfast and like myself was aware of respecting people’s space, left the morning after I arrived. There were two very sweet, pretty girl volunteers who smiled at me all the time and moved languidly around the hostel doing their chores as if joined at the hip, literally. They would stand at the sink together and then move as one to the cupboard. On my third day, the powers-that-be had managed to separate them, hoping to get the work of two people out of them, I suppose, and I found one of them sadly and uselessly sweeping the kitchen in the afternoon and I felt terribly sorry for her. They both had a naturally sweet energy about them. It was like having two teenage angels around.
There were various other employees and guests of the centre floating in a and out for conversations and tea during the rest of my stay. On the Saturday night I noticed a handsome man sitting on one of the sofas and beside him a beaky, serious woman, less well-worn than him, I would have to say, was curled up facing him, her full attention on him except for a few furtive glances at the other girls in the room. She needn’t have worried. I had already decided to ignore Handsome Man out of sheer bloody-mindedness because he very obviously so expected not to be ignored and the Teenage Angels, I could tell, just viewed him as yet another Old Person. I felt sorry for Beaky though, and glad I wasn’t in that position all caught up and off kilter over an inattentive lover. We’ve all been here girls and who would want to be there again?
My plan for my visit had been to meditate a couple of times a day, and spend the rest of the time, lolling, reading, strolling, drinking tea, dozing and petting cats. This worked pretty well for the Sunday when I fell asleep on the couch all be-catted and be-booked. If you don’t like cats by the way, this place is not for you. I don’t know how many there are but they take their lolling seriously. The centre does try to keep them outdoors but if there are cat lovers around you can forget that. On Saturday night, one of them climbed into bed with me, causing no little alarm. I carried her downstairs, while trying to put on my sarong, and eventually had to put her down, keeping one hand very lightly on her neck, while making myself decent with the other. Like a good Buddhist cat she didn’t move but really it would have made a strange scene if anyone had caught me, half-naked and bending over a cat I was holding by the neck.
ASIDE:The book I was reading was Lennox by Craig Russell. I am afraid I am a bit of a noir afficionado but the market is so flooded with shite these days that I was greatly surprised to come upon this one, which is just brilliant. Lennox is set in 50s Glasgow, our anti-hero is war-damaged goods and walks a precarious path in the shadows of criminality. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and blood and guts-which was a perfect counterpoint to my surroundings and the unashamed hard-boiled language was a joy. An example:”Smalls had obviously adopted a design motif that could best be described as Early Shithole”.
Gradually, Mr. Suckys energy was making itself known. I never saw him make any attempt to absorb himself in anything, which, I found sort of weird. I never saw him pick up a book or write or draw or make anything, including meals. The only thing that he did do was patrol the cottage looking for victims.
Sometimes he would don his little red hat and wax jacket and zip it up to the neck and go outside and slowly patrol the grounds coming back after ten or fifteen minutes to carefully hang up his little hat and coat on their hook again and continue the indoor patrol. I would see him through the window, when I returned from walking, sitting there, on the sofa, waiting, a glass of water in hand, his glasses reflecting the blank light of the overcast sky, reminding me of Fat Laura of The Flat From Hell(shudder!)but that’s another story….
This man, it was apparent, wanted ATTENTION. He didn’t however, reckon with my formidable powers of self-containment (otherwise know as ignoring people), and soon I could feel the bewildered resentment coming off him waves. Maybe I was imagining it, or maybe, like The Monkees would have it….”It’s a Little Bit me, A Little Bit You…”
Mr. Sucky was successful with some of the other denizens of the centre. He followed Handsome Man around the kitchen as he(Handsome Man) was making dinner one night, even following him into the tiny pantry, talking all the while. Mr. Handsome was entirely unphased by this, probably having had an entire lifetime of being followed into pantries. As I watched, yet again my heart went out to Beaky as I knew that she, like me, was the type that could rot to dust in a pantry waiting for someone to follow us in.
Another guest arrived on a Monday, a harmless enough girl I suppose but blessed (or cursed)with the voice of Miranda Richardson as Queen Bess in Blackadder. She and another employee kept Mr. Sucky busy as they listening to him holding forth about Rosicrucians and he had previously lectured two other employees about the Second World War. I was happy for him and, though I found his vast knowledge of various subjects slightly suspect, I thought, surely he has enough attention now?But, worse was to come….
On Sunday sometime, when I was lolling on the sofa with a book and a cat and a cup of tea I became aware of another presence sitting at the end of the kitchen table. Just sitting. This was Sucky Sucky person number two who we will call Henry the Hummer as he hummed in a high-pitched and tuneless manner nearly all the time and again, like Mr. Sucky, never made any attempt to entertain himself. It was Mr. Sucky and Henry the Hummer who would see my visit cut short.
Henry started talking to me when I was eating at the kitchen table on Monday morning. Initially he just sat looking at me, smiling oddly- I think he may have been trying for benign and enlightened. He then tried a few questions but I have to say his accent was odd. He claimed to be from Cork, he sounded like he was from Liverpool and I couldn’t really understand him. He could have been affecting Anglo-Indian of course. Anyway I didn’t really get involved too much and he ended up sitting looking at me eating, something which he repeated throughout my visit. The poor boy was aiming for the worldly, relaxed hippy vibe with one of those woolly hats and a smile I think he though was warm but looked down right weird and squinty. The vibe was destroyed by the tuneless humming his OCD leg bouncing.
You might think that Mr. Sucky and Henry the Hummer would get on like a house on fire and they did initially but it wasn’t long before I noticed that they were pretty much ignoring eachother, each probably thinking how self absorbed the other was. It got to the point that on Monday afternoon as I reclined on a sofa avec cat that I half opened my eyes to see Henry Hummer, on the opposite sofa, sitting bolt upright looking at me, or at least straight ahead while Mr Sucky sat on the third, perpendicular sofa bolt upright, staring straight ahead. Both were silent. Very peculiar.
I decided to carry on regardless though, and attended the morning and afternoon meditation sessions. On Monday morning, the session was in the Shrine Room and led by one of the old hands at Dzogchen Beara. Just after we had started, four people came in late, a middle-aged, slight blonde woman with and three rangy and very fit young men. Fair play to her, I thought, before bringing my mind back to my breath. I was impressed that though they had been late and the young men weren’t obviously practised at meditation, they sat quite still and this immediately marked them out as “Not Irish” for me. (Sorry but you know we are a nation of fidgety children). German I thought, or Dutch.
I put them from my mind and I continued with the meditation. As I sat with my eyes soft, a wood lice(louse?) hove into view, labouring across the carpet which must have seemed to it like a vast endless desert and I glumly thought, that is what my life is like, stumbling across a never-ending neutral coloured carpet, just enough pile to make things difficult, not enough pattern to make things interesting and not another wood lice in sight. This is why you meditate of course. To get a perspective on your life that you truly didn’t want.
At the end of the session, the leader, or the Old Dog as I shall call him, gave us a spiel about the centre. When I say us, I mean he smilingly addressed it solely to the two pretty volunteers who smiled and nodded sweetly at what must have seemed to them an impossibly old being that looked a bit like Yoda. When he had left, the blonde woman and her harem stayed around as did the pretty volunteers, probably for the very good reason that wanted to get a shot at something that didn’t look to them like an animated prune. I myself stayed on to do a bit more meditating… 😉
The boys attention, for the most part, was respectfully on the woman, whom I now imagined to be their mother, though the three were physically entirely unalike. They were all well over six foot. One was dark and arabic looking, one blonde and pale and one had sandy hair, glasses and the strong features of Michelangelo’s David. They must have all been around 20 and though their youthful energy, that constant need to move, was apparent, they moved slowly and respectfully, waiting on what I surmised was a woman with impeccable taste in sires. Under their watchful eyes she filled out a form for prayers for the dead and then went and stood at the window, staring up the wild coast towards Bantry where she could be seen wiping a tear or two away. She returned to them gentle and smiling and they toured the room together talking softly, admiring the pictures of the various Lamas. Then they took their leave, quietly and respectfully, this polite, handsome, grieving family..
….a half an hour later, this fantasy, like all my fantasies was blown apart when I returned to the hostel to find them having tea. She was holding forth in a cockney accent on what Ireland was all about to the three boys she very obviously hardly knew. At least one, probably two, were German and one was American.
Initially my admiration for her was intact but as the conversation wore on and she giggled and simpered I got pretty close to throwing up in my tea.
On language:”I did latin in school!Can you believe it!So boring!(Giggle!)”.
On Industrial Metal bands: “Now, Rammstein for instance, I love the tunes but I can’t ‘ear the lyrics though I know they are about serious things, init”-
One of the boys who got word in edgeways, did his bit for the destruction of my Handsome But Grief-Stricken Family Fantasy with the comment..
“French, it is a faggot language”(general merriment).
In the middle of this crew, completely ignored by them, sat a delighted Henry the Hummer, like a scabby, ricket-ridden dog at Crufts, all twitchy and grinning. After they left, Henry announced to the room at large-which consisted of me, ignoring him..
“They were nice people!Strong energy!”Indeed Henry.
And I was left none the wiser as to what she was doing travelling around Beara with three Adonii(?). Was she an (over)friendly B&B owner?A country prostitute?A rich hirer of escorts?A West Cork pimp who press-ganged unsuspecting tourists into sex-slavery?More importantly, could I have gotten a three for two deal if I had overcome my shyness?Who knows, but I guess you have to admire her chutzpah.
At lunch time that day, Mr. Sucky made his first approach to me when he arrived into the kitchen and immediately went over to check on the pasta I was cooking. Now as I say, everyone at this place can be a bit raw and this includes me. A lot of issues can rise up close to the surface.
One of my many issues is that I have a massive red button right in the middle of my chest. I was born with it as my poor, unfortunate parents will tell you but it was nurtured by having to put up with three older siblings and said parents trying to boss me all the time. (The unremitting sound of my childhood is NYANYANYANYA…though I’m sure that’s not what they were saying ). Don’t worry though folks, your heroine got her own own back by taking it out on the little brother…Hah, take that!(Sorry about that Johnny:/)
Anyhoo, printed on this button is DON’T BOSS ME!!!!in big black letters. Checking on my cooking comes firmly under this buttons’ remit. I quietly told Mr. Sucky that it was been taken care of, but it was too late. The Cranky-O-Meter had immediately been turned to 8, at the very least. It was ten minutes after this that Henry ran into the kitchen..
“Meat!I smell meat!Theres no meat allowed in here!”.
Having been primed by Mr. Sucky, I half snarled, half yelled..
“It was a joke!” he said.
“Some stupid Joke!”I yelled. Which shut him up.
And so ended my last conversation with The Hummer.
Things eventually came to a head with Mr. Sucky later on the Monday when he decided to take a stand and put me right, so to speak. He came and stood in the kitchen, as I made my dinner, legs firmly apart, hands in his stout little pockets.
“How long have YOU been coming here?”, he says.
“A few years” I say, continuing making dinner.
“And how often do you come here?” he asked
“Every now and then I say.
“Well”, he said triumphantly” I have come here for TWELVE years for a week in the Spring and a week in the Autumn EVERY year.”
I felt at this point I was expected to fall to my knees and…(you fill in the blanks there reader dear). I did not do this. I felt like asking for the dates of his future stays but I thought that might end up being too much like a conversation and he might think I was interested. Wrapping a guitar around his neck might have been good for a while but would have given him too much to be annoyed about and there were no guitars handy so all I said was…
“Yeh, its great isn’t it” after which he retired, confused to the sofa.
As I made myself a post-meal cup of tea before retiring to bed at the ridiculous time of 8pm to avoid any more pain, I looked up at a smiling picture of the lovely Dalai Lama and silently asked…
“How do you do it?Put up with all this?”
Then I realised that’s why he is the Dalai Lama and I am me and I remind myself to never think of starting a religion as it would be very, very small. And then I think I already have started a religion and it has a congregation of one. Me.
The next morning I lay in bed and thought about leaving, two days early. I realised any of the problems I was having were at least half of my own responsibility and I briefly considered staying on and exploring some of my issues. Then the much stronger thought arrived..”Feck that shite, life’s too short, I’m buggering off” and I stripped the bed and left taking only a few more flea bites with me than I had arrived with. As I passed through the empty kitchen on my way out I swear the Dalai Lamas smile was even wider… 😉
AFTERWORD:Well folks it looks like Pete had better things to say about Dzogchen Beara but I suppose he did get a free meal with wine out of his experience. However cynical all this sounds and despite anything I have said here, I will visit again. I have met great people there, from Becky from New Zealand to Niall(I think) the mad artist from Dublin to Paula from San Francisco and the various nice people I have done retreats with. I guess the annoying people make for more enjoyable writing. I have had good times here and benefited from my stays. Its a beautiful area with lots to see(I saw my first Basking Sharks from the garden in front of the hostel). The hostel makes a great and very cheap base for exploring the Beara peninsula.There are also cottages to rent as well, which is what I may go for next time. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist or take part in any of the meditations or that. Just don’t go during a retreat maybe or for a week in the Spring or the Autumn…