'We try and still the mind and focus on the heart'
For starters let's focus in on that name. Nirbhasa Magee. It comes from ancient Indian scriptures and translates loosly as "the light that shines from within to do good things for the world or good things for other people." The Nirbhasa part of it that is!
It's the kind of name, it's easy to image, that could belong to a white-bearded guru of some kind; a philosopher steeped in old Indian wisdom and lore.
Nirbhasa Magee (or Shane as he was originally named) doesn't have a white beard and neither does he particularly want to convey himself as some kind of sage, mentor or counsellor but there are some valuable insights the Summerhill man has learned about himself, and the world, during his 41 years. Insights he is happy to share.
Someone who swears by the beneficial effects of meditation, Nirbhasa says that one of the most recent, and profound, lessons he has learned - and one that could be of great help to people in these strange days - was picked up in recent weeks while he took part what was, by any stretch of the imagination, an extraordinary event.
He spoke to the Meath Chronicle last Wednesday (4th November) the day after he had completed in Salzburg what is surely, indisputably one of the toughest, roughest hardest races in the world - the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race. It's an event he calls "a real journey," when both the body and the mind travel far in just about every respect.
When he talked he was basking in the luxury of a well-deserved rest after the race that involved him running, or walking, a double marathon everyday for close on two months when he basically consumed his food on the move and survived on about four or five hours sleep a night.
"The race started on the 13th September and basically you have 52 days to complete the distance, 3,100 miles. I think my official time was 51 days and nine hours and maybe 40 minutes, or something like that," he said down the line from Saltzburg.
"The race course was made up of a loop of just over a kilometre and 14 metres so every day on average you had to do 92 laps,or 59.6 miles, to ultimately make the 3,100 miles, that was the objective.
"What actually happens in the first week or so is that your whole body adjusts and then after 10 days or so you realise God, 10 days is a long time. You've still got six or seven weeks to do, it's then the mind comes into play.
"You really have to go beyond the mind and get in touch with something deeper and at least for me that's the great thing about this, it really brings you to a place where you have to find something very deep inside yourself and connect with that, I guess what I would call the soul."
Nirbhasa Magee - who has a PhD in theoretical physics from Trinity College, Dublin - is single and works as a self-employed web designer. These days he also lives in Reykavik. Iceland is a country he moved to in 2013 to become a carer for a close friend who became ill and who has since passed away. Despite that harrowing loss Nirbhasa says the experience of caring for his friend was something he found very enriching.
The Summerhill native comes across as a perfectly balanced, intelligent, affable, happy, good-natured person always ready for a laugh yet he was willing and eager to put himself through severe strain and pain in order to complete the Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race.
This was the fourth time Nirbhasa had completed the event leaving the obvious question hanging in the air. Why? Why put yourself through that kind of torture?
"You actually learn a great deal about yourself, participating in this race, which was probably the hardest of the four I've done. It's almost like your a different person coming out of the race than you are going into it, there's a definite process of personal change and transformation that takes place, a process of personal growth. You really have to expand yourself to get past the problems that you face."
And what was that profound lesson the Summerhill man learned while he was pushing his mind and body to the limits? What message did he come across that could be of use to those struggling through a pandemic.
"I wouldn't feel qualified to be a philosopher, I'm just an ordinary person but one thing I learned in this race is that I need to be kind to myself and not beat myself up because I couldn't go faster or I couldn't match whatever the best time was.
"Now is the time to just love yourself and appreciate everybody else around you. If somebody rears up or whatever, if there is tension, if there are flare-ups, these people are also going through stuff as well. Now is the time to be just kind to yourself and everybody else. In a way I'm like preaching to the converted because you see so many examples of people out there who are already doing that.
"In a way the last week of the race was the best because by then I had accepted I had tried my best and I was happy with that."
Nirbhasa Magee is the oldest in a Summerhill family of five born to Jim and Annette Magill. He went to school in Kilcock. From there he moved on to study physics in Trinity. When he looks back on his childhood he reflects on what were very happy formative years.
"My dad is a builder and we have a small farm in Garadice which is fantastic. It was great for us because when we were young, and other kids might be looking at the TV, he would take us down there to do jobs and I think that gave us the importance of a work ethic. I told him years later how grateful I was for that because I just had the best parents in the whole world, a fantastic kind of upbringing and to this day I'm just incredibly grateful for that."
From early on Nirbhasa became interested in meditation. Some friends in Kilcock dabbled in it. He said he'd give it a try and became fascinated and intrigued by the possibilities it offered. He also developed a huge interest in long-distance running and completed in marathons.
Around 2003 or so he says he felt he could "go deeper" into the whole process of meditation. He went to pre-meditation classes organised by the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Dublin. Since than he has continued to meditate, seeking the path "to the top of the mountain."
He even officially changed his name from Shane to Nirbhasa, an indication of his commitment to the while philosophy of meditation, although, he adds, he is known to his parents as Shane - and always will be.
He points out there are many forms of contemplation. One in particular he likes is what he terms the "meditation of the heart" where the focus is on the middle of the chest and not so much on the mind with deep breaths in and out part of the exercise.
"We try and still the mind and focus on the heart and when I tried it first I immediately started to have very strong life experiences straightaway. I really felt, wow, I'm really going places with this kind of meditation."
So what does he do to acquire that state of happy mindfulness? He outlines a few steps he found works for him. For starters he likes to get up early, "before seven" and take in the peace of the morning - what the writer Thomas Hardy called "the non-human hours."
Then he seeks to focus and appreciate what he has in life. "I just try and feel gratitude for just being alive - and I've got so many things in life to be grateful for. It's a very powerful way of feeling good about the world especially with all that information coming at us in the world, you can see things very negatively, whereas if you are feeling gratitude for a couple of minutes it can be very positive. It's really about balancing the world, you see the world as it really is, the good things and the bad."
It's clear Nirbhasa Magee has found a great contentment through meditation. He has also found a new awareness tackling the Self Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race, one of the toughest events in the world - and despite the pain, the torture of body and mind, you feel he would do it all again tomorrow.