One of the absolute pleasures of working on this website is that I am able to connect with some phenomenal people. Individuals who have done unusual things, and in many cases made a contribution to important causes.
The connection to Mony came to me through my friend Sue Kenney who put me in touch with another kindred spirit. Just today I added another woman to my list of spiritually evolved human beings, and that was Danielle Lafond, who is setting up a non-profit community development program in a little town in Peru. So the circle of fascinating individuals keeps on growing.
Here is part 1 of Mony’s story (she is still working on the rest of the interview questions), who went from being a Microsoft sales executive to completing a pilgrimage on the world-famous Camino de Santiago, which made her decide to complete a 5000 km long Walk for Peace for 13 months through 13 countries.
1. Please tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, where did you grow up?
I’m originally Lebanese. My parents emigrated to Canada in the early 1960s. I’m the oldest of four children. I, my brother and two sisters were all born and raised in Canada. Until the age of ten, we alternated between living between Canada and Lebanon. I was educated in Lebanon, where I learned to speak English and French. When the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, the whole family moved back to live in Ottawa for good.
Mony in Italy
2. Please give us a bit of an idea of your educational and work background. What made you decide to leave your corporate career?
I have a Bachelor of Science (Biology concentration) from the University of Ottawa and an MBA from Queen’s University. I was originally trying to get into medical school, but after several failed attempts, I decided I was more interested in the business world and pursued the MBA. I started my career working for Arthur Andersen in their technology consulting group, and then three years later, moved to Microsoft where I stayed for seven years working in various roles in sales and marketing, mainly as product/marketing manager and account manager. I also worked for one year at the corporate head office in the US as part of a team focused on customer satisfaction.
In the last two years of work, I had been going through a lot of personal changes and was feeling the need to make a change in my life as a whole. It started with my divorce in 1998 which started me down the path of questioning how I got to that point, why this had happened to me, what my life was about. I went to a therapist but found it only answered part of my questions. It was a good start but I was searching for deeper meaning. My search led me to the self-help and spirituality sections of the bookstore. One book especially completed changed my life and perspective on how I saw the world and my place in it. It was Conversations with God Book 1 by Neale Donald Walsch. The book spoke simply and defined God as an energy of unconditional love that was around us and within us, waiting to be manifested through our thoughts and actions. That God spoke to us constantly through our feelings and intuition, and through signs, coincidences, synchronicities using all instruments so that we would receive the message. It challenged me to accept responsibility for my life, and not simply blame my circumstances on other people; that I was the creator of my life and not its victim. It spoke of sacred contracts before birth and the people and experiences in my life as opportunities for my spiritual growth. That to change my world, I had to change myself first.
I didn’t understand it all at first, but it rang intuitively true. I started trying to live what I read. I started being aware of signs, of people walking into my life coincidentally just when I needed them. I would read or hear something that was an answer to a question I had. I started meditating in an attempt to calm my mind and to allow my deeper wisdom to surface. I started practicing yoga, originally to stretch my body, but found the incredible openness and flexibility that it gave me, not just physically but emotionally as well. I started to look at all the difficult relationships and situations in my life more honestly, and tried to heal them. I became (and still am) vegetarian and found that it helped me feel physically lighter and more energetic. I took the lessons that I read to heart and tried to change my life.
I tried to bring my newfound peace and positive thinking into my work situations, but found the struggle too difficult. I was increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied with what I was doing, but was afraid to leave the comfort and security of what I knew. After an especially stressful period at work, and with all the personal changes going on, I finally decided it was time to leave. I resigned in August of 2000.
Mony in Croatia
3. After you left your corporate career, you went on a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. Why did you do that and what was your experience?
After I quit, I decided I needed some time off. I booked a one-year return ticket and started my travels in January of 2001, starting in Egypt and moving around Europe.
I had read about the Camino to Santiago before my travels and felt drawn to it. In June of 2001, I arrived in St. Jean Pied du Port in the south of France and took my first steps as a pilgrim. I was walking with the intention of trying to find clarity and purpose in my life. I wanted to live a life with meaning, doing something positive that contributed to the good things that I knew were going on in the world but were unknown and uncelebrated. I had always been attracted to the peace process in the Middle East. As a child, I would sit and listen as all the men sat and talked about the latest news from their homeland. I loved the political discussions and was always fascinated by what I heard. So I knew I was interested in doing something for peace, but I didn’t know the details of what that meant. In walking, I was hoping to receive some new details.
It’s hard to summarize in a few sentences my experiences along the Camino. I can tell you that I learned some important lessons. In the beginning, I tried to dominate the Camino, seeing it as one more thing to conquer. But the Camino quickly fixed that, giving me unbelievable blisters and pain that stopped me in my tracks as soon as I started. I had to leave my ego behind, and learn to open my heart. That was my first lesson and the foundation for doing a pilgrimage. As I walked, I saw that the Camino was alive and had its own rhythm. I needed to learn how to flow with it, not master it. Only then could I hear the wisdom. I learned to stay in the present and only focus on what was in front of me. I learned to walk slowly and in gratitude. I felt grateful for sunshine and for rain; clear blue skies and clouds; flat open trails and hilly mountains; solitude and companionship; strength and flexibility. I found strength I never knew I had, physical and emotional. I learned that I needed very little – a roof over my head, a warm sleeping bag, one change of clothing, and basic toiletries. I could wear the same clothes and eat the same food every day without question. I felt free in the simplicity.
I saw my fears presented before me through the many encounters I had. The majority can be summarized as one thing – the fear of standing out and doing something different, always worrying about what other people thought. I needed to release that fear before I could really receive what I needed. The Camino gave me the gift of seeing these fears and the opportunity to heal them. The biggest lesson I learned was that when I change, others around me also change. Although I had read that, it was not until I lived it that I saw its truth.
4. While on the Camino, you came up with the idea of going on a long walk for peace. I also hear that September 11 had something to do with it. How did that idea come about?
Really, it was inspiration. I was taking a break after a day’s walk along the Camino when I heard a group of pilgrims nearby talking. They were sharing their stories of the day when one of them said, “I heard that this Camino is called the Way of the Sword, of Strength. It’s where you battle your demons and find your strength. The way to Rome is called the Way of the Heart, the way of Love. And the way to Jerusalem is called the way of the Soul.” It was those last words that struck a chord deep inside me. I didn’t know what it all meant exactly, but I knew in that moment that I had to walk to Jerusalem, that it was the way of My Soul. It would take me until the end of my Camino before it would become clearer in my mind that I would walk to Jerusalem for peace, and that that would be my contribution to the peace efforts there. In the following two months, I had moments of absolute certainty where I knew that this was the way, mingled with bouts of anxiety and doubt, thinking this was the stupidest idea I ever had. My mind kept playing out its deepest fears over a woman walking alone on such a long journey through unfamiliar countries, cultures and languages. In my heart I was already walking and felt excited by the whole idea. But I deferred to my mind, feeling more confident in its wisdom than in my heart’s.
And then September 11 hit. I was horrified at what I saw. The subsequent American threats of retaliation and revenge only confirmed my belief that what the world needed now more than ever were people doing their part for peace, holding on to the hope that peace is still possible, even in the midst of the carnage and violence. I believed that people can do their part, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, to change the world. I learned first-hand on the Camino that when I changed, the world around me changed. I now had the chance to live it for real.
So, in a strange way, these attacks gave me the push that I needed. Not because I had overcome any of my fears. Or because I had any answers. But because walking was the only constructive thing I knew how to do. Walking to Jerusalem would be my contribution to peace. I felt empowered by the idea because it placed the control and responsibility for creating peace in my world and in my life back in my hands. On the Camino to Santiago, walking was my meditation, an inner focus reflected in an outer journey. With each step, I felt closer to myself, to the best part of me, the part that was open, trusting in the goodness of people, seeing their light rather than their darkness. That was the part of me that wanted to emerge and share itself with the world. That was all I could offer. Walking to Jerusalem would become my meditation, my prayer, for peace. With each step, I would attempt to find the peace within me and share that with the people I came in contact with.
Mony in Albania