Unexpected gifts

I spent New Year’s Eve at a tiny, run down Buddhist monastery in the heart of the Devon hills.

While I was there I met a man called Pete. Pete lived and worked at the monastery. He’d suffered a head injury years ago and spoke very slowly and quietly. I had to lean right in to hear him. He took a long time to express himself, and at first I tried to avoid him- because I wanted to be alone.

But he told me we should talk, and cornered me after lunch on New Year’s Day. He had a scrappy little dog who followed him everywhere.The dog jumped on my lap and slobbered over my shirt. Pete spoke, and I leaned in. He talked about his life, and how different the world seemed after his head injury.

Beautiful-almost dreamlike, he explained. He described how blessed he felt to no longer possess a strong, intellectual mind. “If you are too intelligent, too clever”, he said, “you can miss the point of everything entirely. The logical, thinking mind seems interesting, but it is the seed of illusion and self deception.” He clasped my hand and looked me in the eye. “In the meantime” he said, “the heart is unheard, and the real beauty of the world passes you by.” I sat with Pete for a while. We didn’t speak much after that, but we were happy together.

And then it was time to leave.

At home I unpacked my bag, and in it I found a tattered book that I did not recognise as my own. A collection of stories by Herman Hesse.

I opened the sleeve and a handwritten note tumbled out. “Follow your heart”, I read aloud. “Love from Pete.”