Meeting strangers in the shadows

DAY THREE

3rd January 2014

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Three days in and I have already stumbled across an awkward fact: I have been living a sort of half life, barely breathing and for the most part in the shadows.

Following my enlightening day yesterday with Fred, I resolved this morning to be present with every person I met today. My plan was to focus, breathe and where appropriate, smile, when I met someone.

It turns out that it is rarely inappropriate to smile at someone. Or so I found today. Perhaps if I was hanging around a funeral home it might not be the most socially acceptable behaviour to trot around between the viewing parlours with a huge smile on my face.

But today, I found that looking people in the eye and smiling genuinely led to more unexpected outcomes. The genuine bit is important. People can smell fake a mile away. If you are genuine, people feel your energy and warmth through your body language.

Today it occurred to me that I have been missing something pretty significant in the way I live. I seem to work through my day, ticking off the boxes and rushing from one thing to another. It’s rare that I stop and savour the day. By that I mean, savour everything that happens in my day: the people, the food, the joy of actually living and breathing. It’s more of the ‘being present’ stuff, but today I endeavoured to step it up a little. Today I wanted to really see the people around me. And I have to say that I was pretty surprised at what I haven’t been seeing.

I am surrounded by interesting and amazing people! Seriously! I suspect I have been all along – they didn’t just pop up around me today. By the end of the day I received some solid financial advice, had some heartfelt conversations, was told that I am part of the nicest group of people in the community (this by a man who I didn’t think knew our names), had a few smiles back, a friend cry on my shoulder, was given a free coffee, and was hugged…quite a bit actually. It was a busy day. It was also a day full of wonder and moments that I am seriously grateful for.

All I have done is stop and think that if this person was dead before midnight, then I want to make the most of the time I have with them. Sometimes this can only be a fragile few minutes. Sometimes it’s hours. Today I even had a text message. My intention is the same whether I am with a friend, a colleague or a complete stranger. I’m finding myself stopping and considering my responses more carefully. I’m looking for opportunities to make the other persons experience, even if it is just for a few minutes, something special. Something meaningful.

Today I did this with a smile, and it led to some unexpected and beautiful moments. It also led to some unexpected realisations. If this is what happens when you live in the present, what exactly have I been doing all this time? And what exactly is possible in this life. After all, I have only been living like this for three days.

I also have to laugh at my naivety on day one, thinking I would need some strict boundaries to protect myself. The truth is that the more I try to give the more I am learning about my own life and the more I seem to be getting back.

As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

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