I would like to introduce you to my youngest brother Michael. A creative and passionate soul.

He was a beautiful man with a big heart and a ‘missing him’ ache still rises at times when the world reminds me of the richness his presence gave to my life..

Michael is my inspiration for what I call the ‘street level’ aspect of my pilgrimage.

As I travel around in the 8 locations helping spread the dharma I will have opportunities to connect with people from all walks of life.

Before Michael died a few years ago,  every fortnight I would visit him in a block of flats that was full of people who tussled with life – addictions, mental illness, prison time. Michael’s struggle with schizophrenia made those visits difficult in many ways.

Walking up the steps to his door, listening to violent arguments behind closed doors, people passing me on the steps and suddenly vomiting blood and others sitting outside talking rapidly with words that made no sense- all regular occurances.

I regret I was a silent witness often in the early days. I didn’t have the strength at the time to do anything other than see my brother, spend time with him and make sure he was okay. After he died my family put on a barbeque for the guys in the flats. Many of them had befriended and helped Michael as he became sicker.

We wanted to thank them. We told them we would provide everything for the lunch. However, when my family arrived, the guys had put together a few dollars to buy paper table clothes for the rotting picnic tables and had put some bowls of nuts out to share. The tenderness of these beautiful acts of generosity in such an physically ugly setting was deeply moving.

I will never forget a speech one of the guys made thanking my family ( my parents, my daughters, their partners and children) for spending time with them. He shared what it was like when people crossed the street rather than walk close by them.

So having my wonderful brother Michael in my life gave me the unexpected gift of regular opportunities to begin learn to look people in the eye and smile even if there was an initial sense of wanting to pull back.  Really he was teaching me the third stage of the metta bhavana- the development loving kindness.

I discovered that if I continued to give in to any slight sense of aversion then I would, in all likelihood, miss many worthwhile moments with fellow human beings.

So I will remember this lesson whilst on the pilgrimage.

Yes I will be wise and of course my aim is to stay safe but already there is a smile when imagining those moments meeting wonderful human beings I don’t ‘know ‘ yet.