On the Great Dividing Trail – no division!

“Isn’t all that walking boring?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that, and I understood the question. After all, walking is just…well…walking. It’s slow, repetitive and not particularly cool or sexy.

All I can say is no, it’s never boring for me. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s exhausting. But I’ve never found it boring. My mind, which can judge activities and label them as interesting or dull, is lulled by walking, and even at times released by it. Walking gives my mind a freedom it achieves nowhere else, as I describe in the book.

My compañero from the Camino Francés sent me the following words from teacher, poet and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. I love them because they describe a state I long to achieve in all areas of my life. I trust that it might one day be possible, because I can achieve something like it when I walk. See if you can get your mind to attend to every word. It’s not easy.

To my mind, the idea that doing the dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in warm water, it really is not so bad. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have a cup of tea, the time will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles! Each bowl I wash, each poem I compose, each time I invite a bell to sound is a miracle, each has exactly the same value. One day, while washing a bowl, I felt that my movements were as sacred and respectful as bathing a newborn Buddha. If he were to read this, that newborn Buddha would certainly be happy for me, and not at all insulted at being compared with a bowl.

So, in direct answer to the question about walking, and begging forgiveness from the wise teacher, please consider the following, knowing that your mind will try even harder not to attend!

To my mind, the idea that walking is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing it. Once you have put on your dusty boots, and loaded your pack onto your back, it really is not so bad. I enjoy taking each step, being fully aware of my foot on the earth, the landscape, and each movement of my chest as I breathe. I know that if I hurry in order to get to the finish line, the time will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The steps themselves, and the fact that I am here taking them, are miracles! Each kilometre I travel, each song I sing, each time I let my arms swing past my hips, is a miracle, each has exactly the same value. One day, while walking, I felt that my movements were as sacred and respectful as bathing a newborn Buddha. If he were to read this, that newborn Buddha would certainly be happy for me, and not at all insulted at being compared with walking.

I hope the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, and my compañero, will not feel at all insulted at my rephrasing of that beautiful text.

Chop wood. Carry water. Wash dishes. Bathe newborn Buddha. Walk.


Peace was the wish made by my amigo in Baños de Montemayor.


It was a wish made by many of us at last week’s conversation with Tony Doherty. If you’d like to view the YouTube clip of that, please bear in mind that we take up the first 75 or so minutes of the 100 min total. Also bear in mind that our conversation took place the day after George Pell’s press conference about the abuse of children within the church, and as a result the talk is coloured by that.

The last thing I ask you to bear in your wonderful mind is gratitude – to all who read these offerings, and in particular, to all who attended that night. It was humbling – and painful – to hear some of your stories afterwards, and I am walking with you in my heart.

Paso a paso. Step by step.


19 thoughts on “Of newborn buddhas and dusty boots

  1. thankyou!!!!!!!!!!!! in the past until i just read your post NOW i have always loathed doing the dishes (walking forever? OK! dishes? yerk!) but now i will attend more exquisitely to my dishes – i guess you’re saying everything has elements of grace and beauty, everything is buddha.
    love your book and your posts,

  2. I don’t know if I will ever get to feel about dishes the way I feel about walking, but standing at the sink does make me focus on my hands, and feel gratitude for them, in the way that walking makes me praise my calloused feet! And both are meditations of a sort, though I rarely fly when washing dishes.
    That said, a pigeon has made a nest outside the kitchen window, and so all things domestic are transformed by the cheeping of those baby birds.
    Miracles abound. It’s the ordinary everyday ones that stop my heart.
    Grace everywhere, as you say.
    Thanks as ever for stopping by Nancy. I love my village!

  3. I was wondering if you had ever thought about getting “Sinning Across Spain” translated into Spanish and trying to get it onto the Spanish/South American book circuit ?
    Or do you think the beauty of the book would get lost in translation ?
    I think if it was translated properly it would be a winner in the Spanish market.
    Maybe Italian,French and Portuguese (Brazil) as well ?
    And how about an Audio book version as well,so walkers could listen to it while they walk the Camino…or just around their local park and pretend that they are walking the Camino.-)
    This book deserves to be on a lot more shelves around the world,as it is truly the poetry of life.

    1. Oh Darren, aren’t you kind?
      There is some initial talk about an audio book, I believe. I’d love that, because of course I love radio! As to a Spanish translation – I really don’t know how it would go because a lot of it is a reflection on the particularities of Spain, which may not seem so interesting to a Spaniard…
      Can’t tell. But I will check with my agent. I am a bit loose around the business end of things!
      You are lovely to have such faith in it. Thank you. “The poetry of life” will sit quietly with me for a while, making me smile.

      1. Re:
        “…a lot of it is a reflection on the particularities of Spain, which may not seem so interesting to a Spaniard…”

        I think it would be interesting for them to read about how outsiders viewed their country.
        Would you think a book about a Spaniard’s travels through Australia telling the story from their perspective would be worth a read?

        As Proust would say –
        “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,but in having new eyes.”

        I would wager on it being a success.

        1. Of course you are right. I’d love it! Maybe I’m just being too narrow in my thinking. Live larger peregrina!!
          I like that wager of yours…

  4. I tried to post an earlier comment,but a message came up saying it was duplicated.
    I think WordPress may have filed it to your trash can…not to say that it doesn’t belong there.-)

    1. I think I got it. If it is that one above, I am VERY relieved it was not trashed, or I’d have missed that glorious compliment. Shall I savour it again…the poetry of life?
      Thanks for such a gift to end my day.
      No trash from you!

      1. No,that’s not it.
        It was about the You Tube of you and Tony Doherty and how much I enjoyed watching / listening to it while assembling a bookcase in my study at the same time.
        It was also about the tragic suicide of footballer Peter Jackson (who I used to watch play football for Souths Brisbane when I was a teenager)
        ” It would later be revealed that as a fifteen year old Jackson was abused sexually by his football coach. This secret caused him to suffer from depression and to use drugs and alcohol throughout his life to try to combat it. In November 1997 Jackson shocked the Australian rugby league community when he died, alone in a cheap hotel room, of a heroin overdose. His death was later used as a powerful image in the year 2000 in a radio and television campaign to raise awareness against child abuse. ”

        Your compañero’s tragic story reminded me of Pete’s struggles with the issue raised in the talk.
        I never realized until reading the Wiki article on Peter that we were the same age.I hits home just that bit harder to me now.

        1. So many accounts of sexual abuse suggest that it results in self harm – whether by drug and alcohol abuse or self harm and suicide. Tragic. The stories are only beginning to unfold, I fear. So much grief.

  5. What a wonderful reminder to treasure the everyday. Appreciate. I do like the concept of being in the moment, in the now. It brings to mind Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’.
    I also agree that your book should be reaching a far wider market.
    But I’m glad I have a dishwasher!

    1. Ha!! Perhaps you can apply the exercise to stacking it!
      Yes, Thornton Wilder knew something didn’t he? Wish I’d seen the Sydney production a few years back.
      Thanks for kind words and support. I hope the book will keep walking into people’s worlds. X

  6. Lovely post Ailsa thank you.
    This week we have been doing the dishes under the stars as we travel 3 states.
    The best experience with the gentle sounds of canvas flapping and wild life in the distance and the smell of the harvest.
    Building store houses of memories.

    1. Wonderful Brian. A great time of year to be traversing this astounding land. Out there among the twisted trunks and birds without wings. Travel safely and listen well. Hope you sight a falling star above the suds.

  7. This may be one of the most important reminders I receive in a lifetime to slow life to a pace that allows for the taking of pleasure from the successful performance of a simple or complex task.

    1. The original is so powerful because it can be applied so broadly, but he goes to such a simple, humble task. Perfect. Thanks for stopping in Fletch. Lovely words. X

  8. Ailsa, I am bearing your post in mind as I iron a basket load this morning in muggy Queensland . I am taking pleasure in each crisp and smooth shirt, dress, pillowcase etc and can confirm it does slow your mind to attend to such a task. I am even enjoying the smell of it, sunshine and heat in every fold.
    I also am following the advice of the writing sisters who say to break each day’s tasks into 25 minute segments via a “tomato” timer ( as opposed to an egg timer).
    You might enjoy their blog, if you don’t already know it. http://writingsistersblog.wordpress.com/

    Next task is washing the car then mulching the garden, then I reward myself with lunch, cup of tea and a book. Kind of like doing penance!
    Hoping your days are good.

  9. Hi Julie,
    We are sweltering today, in training for a 38 degree day tomorrow in Melbourne. Penance indeed. That is too hot for walking – even for me! I am off to a writing event tonight in crumpled linen because the thought of ironing is too horrible – do you think you could carry my ironing sins for me?
    I love that – sunshine and heat in every fold!
    Tonight I get to introduce Helen Garner to a room full of her admirers – none bigger than me. I have spent hours putting together my notes for this task. Clearing the clutter where I can. Heroes make us strive, I guess – and she has me in my most stringent editorial mode!
    As my reward I am now going to investigate the sisters tomato. Thanks for giving me a treat to end the day!
    Enjoy the feel of crisp cotton on the skin. Lovely!

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