A retreat made me evaluate how much has changed in the last six years

When everything fell apart, I fell too but I fell on my wits, I fell on an inner strength I never knew I had, writes Louise O’Neill

A retreat made me evaluate how much has changed in the last six years

This weekend I went on a yoga retreat to Dzogchen Beara, the Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, managing to be utterly wild while devouring you in its silence at the same time. I go on a retreat there at least once a year, usually around this time.

January is a month of intentions and resolutions and I go to Dzogchen Beara for help in sticking to my own.

1. Meditate every morning for at least 10 minutes. (This is going well, actually. I want a medal.)

2. Control my phone usage rather than having it control me. (No comment)

3. Give up sugar. (Ehhhh.... Weakness, thy name is Louise.) But somehow, when I’m in Beara, all of the above seem possible. Indeed, they seem easy.

As I drove down there on Friday afternoon, I remembered my first retreat. It was March 2012, and I had just moved back to Ireland after a year abroad. My boyfriend and I had broken up, I didn’t have a job, and I moved back in with my parents in Clonakilty for “a few months” until I figured out what I was going to do with myself. I was broke. (Broke, but not poor. I had a home to live in, food to eat, parents to support me. There is a huge difference between the two.)

I was using all the money I had received for my birthday to pay for the retreat, and I’d had to beg a lift down there from a stranger because I couldn’t afford to pay for the petrol a four hour round trip would cost. At dinner that first night, the others asked me for my story, and I eagerly told them about Elle and New York, feeling like that lent me some legitimacy.

I was interesting, once, I wanted to tell them. I had a plan. I knew where I was going.

“And what are you doing now that you’re back in Ireland?” one woman asked me and I faltered. Embarrassed, I told them I was writing a book, a novel that I had started three weeks previously.

I had maybe 15,000 words written at that stage. They were encouraging, but we soon moved on to other topics of conversation. That night I went to bed and I couldn’t sleep. What was I doing with my life?

It was a strange experience to arrive back to Dzogchen Beara in 2018 and to find a well-thumbed copy of that same book, Only Ever Yours, in their small library.

I’m used to coming across my novels in unexpected places but there was something about this that sent a shiver up my spine. It made me evaluate how much has changed in the last six years. Because I’m ambitious and horribly impatient, I always want my life and my career to move faster, to be perfect; to follow the exact route that I have meticulously planned out in my head rather than allowing it to unfold naturally.

But as I thought of myself in 2012, walking the cliffs and throwing my head back to the heavens, begging the universe or god or whatever was out there to send me a sign that this book would be published, that I hadn’t made a huge mistake leaving New York, that I wasn’t wasting my time. I wanted a guarantee that everything would be okay. And this year, as I walked the cliffs again, I stared at the vast expanse of sea and sky, and I realised I was still wishing for that guarantee.

Two things stuck me. The first was how little I’ve changed, regardless of how outside circumstances have shifted.

Even though everything I asked for seemed to have come true, I still felt the same inside.

A bit worried, a bit unsure; searching for proof that I would survive all of this. It doesn’t matter where I went, or who I met, or what happened to me - I still brought myself and all of my fears and doubts with me.

But the second thought I had was much more comforting. I was reminded to be grateful for everything that I have in life, for all the luck and good fortune that I’ve received, rather than constantly looking for more, more, more.

I wanted, in that moment, to surrender all of my anxieties about my future to the universe, to a power greater than I am, and to tell It to do what It will with me. Because in the end, I simply have to let go. When I first arrived on the Beara Peninsula six years ago, I thought my world had crumbled around me and I was scavenging for the broken pieces whilst building my new life.

When everything fell apart, I fell too but I fell on my wits, I fell on an inner strength I never knew I had. I fell on this idea for Only Ever Yours, and I kept falling for that idea, returning to my laptop every day. I didn’t give up. And it was only now, as I stared at that copy of my first novel in that small library, I realised that what I had been looking for, what I had always been looking for, wasn’t elation or excitement or ecstatic joy.

I had been looking for peace. And I was still looking...

Dzogchen Beara
Dzogchen Beara

LOUISE SAYS

READ: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. How to describe this book? Mermaids. Gossip. Courtesans. London High Society in 1785. It’s all of that and much more. An absolute gem of a novel.

GO: One of my New Year’s resolutions was to go to the theatre more frequently and the news that Hedda Gabler (one of my favourite plays) is coming to the Gaiety Theatre from the 6-10th of March has left me over-joyed. Tickets on sale now.

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