Feature

Sr Stan warns of the overuse of technology and the need to ‘be present’
Korko Moses plays the tin whistle at the Howth ashram.

Chai Brady

People dread the thought of being without their iPad or smartphone for even a few minutes, and with constant stimulation it’s rare anyone takes time to reflect.

Or so one nun thinks, as she takes action to stop people becoming “overcrowded and overwhelmed” by offering a place where Facebook and Twitter are not allowed.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy (Sr Stan) has expressed her concern about the role technology has in today’s society, as people find it harder to just “be present”.

“You see it all the time, every minute, you see it on the street, people bumping into you because they’re on their phones, people on the Luas and on buses all the time checking their phones,” she said.

“There’s no space in their heads or in their lives for anything else, we all have a stillness within, and a place of beauty, and we need to be able to connect to that.”

Sr Stan began helping people in need decades ago, and continues to do so up to this day. After first establishing the homeless charity Focus Ireland she created the mindfulness and meditation centre The Sanctuary in 1988 – a place where people can find peace in Ireland’s hectic capital city.

“I had a dream that there was a place in the city where you could open a door to a place that was beautiful, a place that was quiet, peaceful and still. And I found the site, and I built a sanctuary,” said the Kerry woman.

The practice of mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular, especially in Irish schools with many, such as John Scottus School in Dublin, asking children to pause in between classes and meditate in the morning.

Sr Stan told The Irish Catholic she has used meditation for many years as a means to find stillness, and to go on an inner journey, ultimately helping her to understand her relationship with God.

Ashram

Several years ago she travelled into the depths of the South-East of India for three weeks. During her time there she attended an ashram called Dhyanavanam, run by a Jesuit priest called Fr Korko Moses who she described as a man of prayer and a man of silence.

Ashrams originate in India, and are places of spiritual retreat, much like monasteries. 

While the majority of ashrams in India are Hindu-based, many are Christian or interfaith and welcome people of all faiths and beliefs.

The Indian holy places were brought to prominence in the western world when The Beatles visited an ashram in Rishikesh in northern India in 1968. 

 They are places of solitude, were many go to meditate, enliven their faith and to experience a simple life away from external distractions.

Sr Stan was so taken by the experience she decided to bring it back to Ireland, along with Fr Moses, and for the last six years Fr Moses has returned to Ireland to help guide an ashram in the Stella Maris Retreat Centre, which overlooks Dublin Bay in Howth.

“If I experience, and I find something good, I want to share it with others and that’s the way I’ve worked,” Sr Stan said.

“I found it very good, and I said this would be fantastic for people who really want to go on an inner journey, who really want to understand their humanity and their relationship with God whatever they call God, and the meaning of that.

“When you experience stopping, and taking time to take stock, and really just being with yourself, and discover yourself in a new way, and learning then to meditate to enter into your inner life and inner journey, it’s a new experience and something that stays with you.

“It’s a way of reconnecting with yourself and your spirituality, and when you leave you take it with you. One of the important things in life today is people learning to stop and to step back and just be present.”

Sr Stan admitted that although some of the advancements in technology are “marvellous” people need time away from it, therefore nothing is permitted in the ashram. Phones are allowed to be brought but aren’t supposed to be used, and iPads and even books are off the menu. This is to make sure people are being fully present.

Meditation

The Christian ashram will open again this year from Friday June 30 to Sunday July 30, and although the majority of people who visit the ashram are from a Christian background people of all faiths, genders and nationalities are invited to take part.

Attendants will be guided in meditation and peaceful activities by Fr Moses who is inspired by Christian and Eastern tradition.

With a capacity of two dozen people there will be a mix of yoga and meditation with vegetarian food starting from 6.30am, and each day ends with participants sharing how the day went for them.

Overnight residential costs are €85 per night, and €80 per night if the booking is for five nights or more. It is €500 for seven nights residential while a limited number of one day places are available for €55. 

Sr Stan added: “Most of us live on the surface of life, we’re always going and doing things and we spend very little time reflecting on who we are, and reflecting on our inner journey. This is the chance to do it, and do it with help and with direction so it’s a wonderful experience.”