A NEW form of social gatherings is developing in our capital city in the past few years. Rather than pursuing a hobby or learning a specific skill, the people who come together are doing so to explore ways to live healthy and full lives, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON
The Buddha Bag meetings are one such gathering. It was founded by Paul Congdon four years ago. The initial meetings were held in the Buddha Bag shop in Jervis St, Dublin and the name stuck.
"I wanted to be in a group of like-minded people where we could talk about and learn about things. I felt there wasn't an interested audience in the pub. I met the guy who runs the Buddha Bag shop and he said we could meet there free," explains Congdon, who had given up work in advertising to start the holistic health magazine, Positive Life.
Starting off with four or five people at the weekly meetings, the Buddha Bag now has a regular attendance of about 40 people. They currently meet on a Thursday evening in Oscailt Integrative Health Centre, Pembroke Road, Dublin 4.
“We’ve had people come to talk about reiki, dream interpretation, astrology. We’ve also had music, poetry and comedy evenings,” he explains. The only cost is the €10 admission.
American holistic health practitioner Tindaro Curione is a regular at the Buddha Bag meetings. “It’s a place where people with different philosophies can meet up and be comfortable. You can be yourself and speak freely. It’s also a great place to network and socialise. And for people, like former alcoholics, who need to step out of the mainstream culture for a while, it’s a nice alternative to the 12- step programme which is safe and free from drugs and alcohol,” explains Curione.
Maya Benharroch is another Buddha Bag regular. “I had just moved here from Israel and I’d no friends. Well, that all changed because of the Buddha Bag. I got hooked from the start both by the topics and the people who attend. It has widened my horizons and led to a big growth in my life,” she explains.
The multicultural dimension of the meetings is, according to Congdon, a reflection of the new Ireland.
“We have people of all cultures come to the meetings. The meetings are non-denominational and there’s no political agenda,” he adds. There are no membership fees and anyone can join and be kept up to date with topics planned for meetings through the website www.buddhabag.org.
Italian life coach Max Leone started another sort of healthy living social club when he first came to Dublin in December 2007. Simply called “The Meet Up”, these meetings initially promoted life-coaching skills but have grown into weekly public talks held in a Dublin hotel.
“My philosophy is that you have to do whatever you can from where you are standing to get to where you want to in life,” says Leone, who gave up work in the information technology sector to become a neuro-linguistic programmer and life coach.
“I decided we’d hold the meeting in a hotel rather than in a healing centre because I like to create these kind of conscious living events in normal places.
“In pubs, people think they are talking to each other but most of the time, they aren’t. At these evenings, we have a speaker and then afterwards people can talk together which creates a sort of community,” he explains.
Piano tuner Martin Walsh is a regular attendant at Leone’s weekly Meet Ups. “The main reason why I go is that it’s so easy. It’s good to get out and meet people. You can look online and see if the speaker interests you and then it’s only €15 to hear people well versed in their fields. I heard about the evening through a friend. I think it’s something that hasn’t quite been discovered yet,” he says.
The idea of creating new forms of community is central to these new social gatherings. Many people feel that community was something that got lost during the Celtic Tiger years in Ireland yet the yearning for it remained strong.
Martin Giannini organises dance workshops, health and yoga days at the Cultivate Centre in Temple Bar.
“I think there is a swingback towards community in our global culture. In the 80s and 90s, we were all so me, me, me and we’ve had enough of that. Community is clearly where we have to lead from in a future of economic and environmental uncertainty,” he says. “Part of it is the need for resilience but it’s also about learning from peers and friends.”
This style of spreading knowledge and wisdom in informal ways is also reaching the corporate world through such tools as World Café and Open Space dialogue.
“These are approaches that are more self-organising and have a greater degree of respect for the people talking,” explains Giannini. “They tap into the phenomenon of collective intelligence and the convergence of ideas which is a whole other growth area.”
www.buddhabag.org and www.meetup/com/consciousliving