On Saturday, I set out from Dzogchen Beara, a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center, on the Beara peninsula. I set out for the Derreenataggart stone circle, just outside of Castletownbere. New friends from the Tibetan center dropped me off in the village and I walked thirty minutes up a narrow road, past cows and sheep, to a pasture. I turned around at one point, convinced I was going the wrong way, then still trying to use my phone to orient, I realized I have headed the right direction after all and turned back around.
Arriving at the stone circle, the sun was still rising through the clouds. The yellow light cast across the field illuminated the pheasant who was pecking at the ground. I made my way toward the stone circle at the center of the field, through the farm gate and the ground was wet with rain. My feet sank into the wet ground and my socks were drenched before the ceremony had even begun. I paused at the edge of the circle of stones and asked permission to enter. The stones silently accepted me into the circle. I placed my bag next to a small flat circular stone in the center and then set out to find branches to create a ceremonial sit spot. On the edge of the grassy pasture, there’s a windbreak of trees planted by farmers next to a creek and I pick up a few branches from the ground.
I drag the branches back to the stone circle and set them up in a human-body-sized rectangle. This will be where I sit for the next eight hours. November in Ireland means that rain is an inevitability. The sky is clear, but I don’t know how long that will last. I sit down on the center stone and settle in.
I watch a raven land on the highest tree branch along the row of pines and then fall over, hanging by his claws upside down when the branch doesn’t hold him He hangs upside down for a while, just accepting the moment, then rights himself and calls out in song.
I see a flock of blackbirds swarm over the field, darting around each other as if dancing. They frolic in the sky swooping up and over each other and then just as quickly as they arrived, they are gone.
I wonder why I am there. I notice my breath. It seems to be my favorite activity these days. I’ve sat in meditation retreats before, but this is different. I am alone in the human sense and embraced by the land. There are no bells, no cushions, no schedule, just my own longing for something unnamable. To get out of this bubble of self-concern and relax into the wider dream of the earth. To break open the shell of defensiveness and spill out, like a raincloud burst open. To belong to something larger than self-preservation. Here in this circle, I don’t feel alone. I feel the embrace of the land and the ancestors who once held ceremonies in this very place as a palpable presence. I wonder what it was they did when they sat on these stones. Did they dance? Sing? Cry? The stones refuse to tell me but look on at me with a curious gaze.
Sitting still comes easily to me after so many retreats. I know that sitting still is not actually still. It is full of movements. Currents of inner tides fading in and out. The way breathing slows down and feeling returns to the aching frozen regions of my body. And here, I invoke another dimension in the silence — deep time. Stones embody this time. Where the linearity of time becomes a wrinkle circling around on itself and the bottom drops out of the present moment revealing one single flash that contains the entire circle. I invoke deep time and shift from being in an inner world looking out on what’s outside me to a world where I’m dreaming and dreamt by the earth at the same time and everything is a window onto a wider soul. This is the ceremonial time of these hours.
I have longed for this moment for so long that arriving there brings not grief, but just an expanse of inner quiet. I lay down on the wet ground and feel the earth. It’s cold. There’s no escaping the body’s discomfort. Then it starts to rain. I’m not running away anymore. It floods me. Little rivers pour over my face and into my lap. I’m too cold to laugh or cry. I’m just drenched. Then, it’s over. The sun crawls out from behind a cloud.
I gaze up toward the sun with gratitude and open my lips in song.