Respect the heart of it…

Our friend Susie returned last week from a 900km, 7-week trek across the Pyrenees, proudly completing the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. To prove it, she had her ‘certificate of completion’ and the two-sided pilgrim’s passport, stamped in every town she walked through. The documents impressed me, but not as much as the stories she told about the pilgrims she met and the adventures she had.

Susie decided to walk the Camino during one of my Dharma workshops where we discussed how it takes effort to realise our truth. I had asked everyone to remember a time when they did something that challenged them and how they felt when they succeeded at it. I then suggested that each of us set a personal goal that would require real effort to complete. It should be something that would inspire, enrich us and stretch us, that would create a powerful memory linked to what is deep and true in us. Susie decided on walking the Camino.

At lunch she explained the challenge of walking it. “Tears, fears, blisters, twenty-mile days, cold, heat, sun and rain and iffy food (in places) were some of the hard bits,” she told us with a smile on her face.

“But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was uplifting, inspiring, thought-provoking and at times mysterious — even revelatory. The memory will stay with me forever. And there were blessings. Lots of them.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“I met a group of Franciscan friars, dressed in their hooded habits belted by long white cords and rosaries. I walked with them and their group of pilgrims for a few days. One day they said they would stay behind for a while at a nearby monastery. As we were about to part company, the oldest of them, a gentle and grave monk they called Father, wanted to bless me. He folded his hands, as did I, and said prayers in what I think was Latin while drawing a cross on my forehead. It was a simple gesture that left me in tears. I felt as though I had momentarily stepped out of time. My anxieties about the future and the laments of my past disappeared, leaving me calm and in the pure moment of the present. I felt a gentle love and validation from him, as though I was deeply seen. He then humbly made his way toward the mountains.”

“Beautiful! Any more to tell?” I asked.

“There are many. A peculiar one that comes to mind relates to the Dharma principle of respect.”

“Go on.”

“One hot day I struck up a conversation with a likeable woman who, two weeks before, had walked out of her workplace to start her retirement and spontaneously drove to LAX to buy a ticket and flew to Biarritz to walk the Camino. We talked for a few miles before she decided to be alone.”

“Was she American?”


“Why does she come to mind?” I asked.

“She kept looking at stones on the ground while walking. I asked her ‘are you a geologist?’ She laughed and told me she was a lawyer.”

“What are you looking at?”

“‘Hearts! Here and there. Everywhere I walk I’m seeing them around me.’ She then pardoned herself and dashed off, leaving me with the feeling that I had inadvertently intruded on a private reverie.”

“That’s it?” I wondered aloud.

“Well, no. After she left, I kept walking and started looking for hearts, but couldn’t find any.”

“The power of suggestion,” I offered.

“Maybe. I thought that too. But that didn’t stop me from looking for heart shaped stones. Didn’t find one.”

“What happened then?”

“Just as I started thinking that she was a most eccentric lawyer, she reappeared. I told her I couldn’t find even one heart shaped stone. She looked surprised and bending down, picked up what looked to me like an ordinary stone and inspected it closely. ‘No. It’s there. See it? This stone has a heart, just like all the others. Don’t you see, they all have souls, just like everything else. And they all deserve our respect!’”  

“I walked alone for the remainder of the day puzzling over what this strange lady meant. It finally dawned on me that she was literally seeing ‘a heart’ in everything and in everyone. It reminded me of the Sanskrit word namaste which you told me means ‘the divine in me sees the divine in you.’”

“The experience stayed with me for days as I meditated on the power of respect to shape our perception. My initial reaction to her way of seeing was that she was in woo-woo-land. But now, I understand the beauty and wisdom of seeing the world with a deep respect like hers.”

“I then remembered the monk and my experience of his blessing. I think he saw the heart in me. My soul. And that is what brought tears to my eyes. From that experience I can say that respect has the power to change the world.”


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1 Comment

  1. Susie Draper

    This is a beautiful post, Michael. Thank you. The pilgrimage appeals to me but then I am reminded how illness and the way to health is in itself a profound pilgrimage. Respect for every aspect of the steps taken and fellow travellers. 🙏🏻


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