Alison Canavan, west cork, dzogchen beara, retreat, sogyal rinpoche, meditation, buddhist retreat

Its #MindfulMonday again and this week is a very special Monday for me as I have just returned from Dzogchen Beara in West Cork, where I have been on a meditation retreat for the weekend with Sogyal Rinpoche. Rinpoche is a world-renowned Buddhist teacher from Tibet, and author of the highly acclaimed The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which I read when my dad passed away and it helped me to make sense of my grief and it also helped me to heal and understand the human condition better.


I have been working really hard and I really needed a weekend of meditation and teachings. I now know when I’m entering what I call the danger zone and warning lights come on letting me know that I need to act to prevent myself slipping bad to my old ways and into a world of anxiety and depression. Over the years this has become increasingly easier as I get to know myself better and become more comfortable in my own skin.


My old way of dealing with these issues was very simply to go out and drink my head off leaving me with the “fear” the next day along with some free gifts of depression and anxiety. After 20 years that became frustrating and incredibly boring and its nearly a year now since I’ve had a drink and let me tell you it’s a very different world.


I’ve been making changes very slowly during the past few years, which is the only way they become part of your daily life. Making too many big changes quickly usually leads to a feeling of frustration as you try to keep up and then end up disappointed when you can’t keep up and revert back to your old ways.


What we need to remember is bad habits took years to develop and they will take quite a considerable amount of time to break.


I went looking for something this weekend, answers to problems and daily frustrations but what actually happened was that I left something behind and I’m glad I did. I was desperately trying to get rid of my negative thoughts, tiredness and patterns that just don’t serve me anymore.


We are all constantly changing and I was reminded yet again this weekend to be kinder to myself and to understand that as a human being as I evolve and grow I will reach hurdles and obstacles but as long as I’m willing to work through them I have the incredible opportunity to really learn and grow. I was reminded once again that happiness is an inside job but a job well worth putting the effort into.


So this week be kind to yourself and take time to just be in the moment. It’s these small changes that will move you forward to becoming the most complete you that you can be.


Ali xxxxx #becomplete


My mum recently sold the house and one day when we were clearing out 36 years of hoarding she handed me a newspaper article from 2012. “I want to go there one day,” she said and just like that she left the room. I looked up the website details and it looked like heaven. It’s a place called Dzogchen Beara in West Cork offering some peace and tranquility away from this sometimes chaotic and crazy world. As I looked at the website I got incredibly excited to see that Sogyal Rinpoche was in Ireland for 10 days and they were offering a weekend retreat in three days time. I called mum and she has absolutely no idea why I was so excited or indeed what the hell I was rambling on about. The book I kept saying to her, the book I read fifteen years ago, he’s here. It was at that point I think she wanted me to go for the weekend in case I was having a mental breakdown.

When I calmed down as I do like a bit of drama, I explained to mum that Sogyal Rinpoche wrote the book, The Tibetan book of living and dying. Its now 20 years old and will still be relevant in another twenty years because the content is timeless. Every one regardless of background and religion should read it. It has many lessons in it relevant to all of us during our lifetime and for me its an incredibly thought provoking book that made me look at meditation in a new light and develop my own compassion for others and to try and look at death differently. The book teaches us that everything in life is transient and if we don’t come to terms with that we will always struggle and hold onto things or indeed people when we should let them go.

This book has taken me on a spiritual journey through some incredibly difficult times and no matter how many times I read it I learn something new.

I headed off to Cork on my own which was exciting as it was the first time I have been away completely on my own since I had James and all I could think about was sleeping without getting kicked in the face by a toddler. I arrived tense and quite stressed as recently a couple of my business ventures were showing signs of failing and I was upset because I had put my heart and soul into them. I was becoming impatient and angry and needed space to think. On Saturday afternoon as the day was progressing I began to feel quite emotional. Listening to the teachings from Rinpoche was stirring a lot of uncomfortable feelings inside me. I thought of my dad, my sometimes pained and fractured family and when I returned to my B&B I sobbed so hard I honestly thought my insides were going to come out. I returned the next day slightly speechless as I began to feel a change within myself. Again I felt emotional but I gave in and allowed myself to actually feel and work through my feelings. We meditated for quite a while and as the day went on I really felt a sense of peace within myself. I also realized how much of my own “stuff” I hadn’t dealt with. Sometimes in life we move on so quickly after traumatic and sad events. We live in the future almost constantly from the minute we get up till the minute we go to bed. When we go to bed we worry about the next day and all day the next day we worry about next week or even next month.

This was the first retreat that I had been on where I was introduced to meditation with my eyes open. This made me quite uncomfortable in the beginning but made so much sense towards the end. Tibetan Buddhist Meditation is about being present in the moment and having your eyes open ensures you are present. You don’t look at any one thing, you look or gaze but without focus. You see things but you are not really involved. I learnt a few key simple steps, which are that during meditation you need to sit still, speech silent, have the natural flow of the breath and the mind at ease. You should also keep your mouth slightly open as if you are about to say Ahhh. The main thing during meditation is to not block your thoughts. Acknowledge them but don’t follow them. Think of it like watching traffic and then all of a sudden you see a Ferrari and are tempted to follow it, don’t, let it go by!

The biggest addiction we have in modern society is negative thinking and meditation can help with this. It has been scientifically proven that meditation can alter the structure and function of the brain, which is called neuroplasticity. It activates a part of the brain associated with positive emotions. Even when you are not practicing these areas are sill lit up proving that mental training does affect the mind.

The mind really is the root of everything. It’s the creator of both happiness and suffering. Buddha says that all our fear and anxiety comes from a mind that’s untamed leaving me with one thought. Why not try meditation? Its free and just 10 minutes a day can transform your life. Driving back from Dozgchen Beara I felt different like my energy center had changed. I felt emotional but calm as I reflected on a three-day retreat that has probably changed my life forever and for that I will always be grateful. #meditatewithali
Over three million copies of the Tibetan book of living and dying have been printed in thirty-four languages, and the book is available in eighty countries.  It has been adopted by colleges, groups and institutions, both medical and religious, and is used extensively by nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals. For more information on retreats