Mindfulness has helped me heal, and connect to Ireland again
Kevin Clancy started hosting free mindfulness sessions online during the Covid-19 pandemic
Kevin Clancy with his wife Vicki on their wedding day in Gougane Barra in 2019. The couple experienced a miscarriage followed shortly afterwards by the death of Kevin’s father, which he wrote about for Irish Times Abroad.
I set myself up in a corner of our sitting room in Sydney. The laptop is propped on a cushion in front of me. On screen, a painting of Gougane Barra, where my wife Vicki and I got married last year, is visible on the wall behind.
Bit by bit, the regular faces pop up on Zoom. Some sit with us daily. Others’ visits are less frequent, but everyone is welcome. There’s some brief chit chat, then the sound of a bell brings stillness and I begin to guide our participants through a 30 minute meditation. There are people who dial in from Ireland, Australia, England, Scotland, Russia and Finland. We’ve added another volunteer teacher from Singapore this week who will bring with her a following from Asia.
I decided to do a course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in early 2018. Vicki and I had gone through a challenging six months, after we experienced a miscarriage followed by my father’s death. I thought the programme might offer some tools to better manage our grief.
I loved it so much that I decided to train as a mindfulness meditation teacher, and qualified earlier this year, just before the Covid-19 pandemic to hit. In late March, a group of fellow graduate teachers and I came together and decided that people, confined to their homes and in many cases feeling isolated, might benefit from the opportunity to meditate on a daily basis. Anam Chara Mindfulness was born.
The term Anam Chara (or Cara) was popularised by the late Irish author John O’Donoghue, who used the phrase as the title of his 1997 book about mindfulness and Celtic spirituality. Its translation to English is “soul friend”, and it captured perfectly what we were trying to achieve with our daily sittings.
What has surprised me most about this venture is how much it has connected me back to Ireland. Friends and family members from home regularly join the meditations, allowing us to relate in ways we’ve rarely done previously. Sitting in stillness with someone thousands of kilometres away is about empathy and an implicit shared understanding. I’ve found this space, devoid of language, creates an uncommon sense of presence and connection. It can feel magical, at times.
One of our teachers sometimes does a mountain or lake meditation, using these symbols as metaphors to encourage reflection on inner experience. You’re invited to consider the glassy calm of the lake’s surface in good weather, for example, but also its depths which remain largely undisturbed, even when the wind and rain is battering all elements up above. I’m always reminded of the beautiful, rough terrain of the Cork and Kerry mountains, or the gentle sound of the lapping water in the pond at the Marina, near where I grew up in Cork City, its borders carefully patrolled by watchful ducks.
This pandemic has brought such devastation to many and I, like thousands of Irish people scattered around the world, have worried about family isolated and vulnerable at home. It has also brought a reminder of the important things in life. In my case, meditation has helped to solidify this hierarchy. I’ve learnt a new way to connect with home.
To join free teacher-led meditations six days per week, see anamcharamindfulness.com