I grew up learning to never talk to strangers. My folks, naturally concerned for my safety growing up in a large city, did a terrific job safeguarding me from abductors, Hannibal-channeling crazies and Boogymen. So great a job, that now, even though my yogi-tyke days are long over, I still sometimes struggle to engage with even the kindest soul upon first encounter.
Friendly fella behind me in the grocery checkout line? What if he turns out to be a little too friendly?
Grinning gal offering up a smoothie sample at Costco? Quick! Escape to another aisle!
Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating a tad, but you get the idea. It’s been ingrained in me to never talk to strangers. After moving across the country last year, I quickly discovered that it was time to break the pattern once and for all, or risk spending days on end having conversations with my bamboo plant (a fake bamboo plant, no less). Enough of this nonsense. Time to talk to strangers already. Fortunately yoga, and especially teaching yoga, has been the most natural path out of self-sequestering hell for me. In the safety of a yoga room, where judgment and ego-swelling are parked outside the studio door, I am free to chat it up with fellow yogis, who are always easy to find common ground with. How to break the ice? Mention the finer points of downward-facing dog and you’ve got at least an hour’s worth of dialogue to engage in.
Here are a few intentions this former pepper spray-in-purse carrying big city girl has set to make more pals in my new town:
- Get into the present. I’ve noticed that whatever crap is circulating in my head, engaging with a kind soul clears it out. Fast. I recall a few years ago sulking down 5th Avenue in Seattle between meetings, brooding over a personal situation/cantankerous client cussing me out/topped off with a bad hair day when a homeless man caught my sad eye and encouraged me to “smile sweetheart, it will all work out if you just put a smile on that pretty face.” He was so sincere, so engaged, and so encouraging I decided to break habit and follow his advice. I smiled, thanked him, and gave him a $5 bill, which he resolutely refused, insisting my smile made his day. Wow. Enough said.
- Learn. Ask someone, anyone, what they are smiling about. Smiling people are people I want to know. For whatever reason, I felt the urge to ask a smiling student after class what she was grinning about, and she shared that in that moment, she was just proud as hell of her son, an uber-cool music talent agent in NYC who just happened to represent one of the bands I was playing on my morning class playlist. Cool.
- Gain perspective. Hurricane Sandy quickly revealed the power of community. Neighbors all around rallied to gather food, clothing, money, and loads of love to send to those directly hit. People all over my FB page offered up showers, warm beds to hot meals to those nearby who lost power. The studios I teach at organized fundraisers and food/clothing drives. I grew closer to my neighbors through sharing how grateful we were to still have our homes intact. I also learned I shouldn’t wait for tragedy to reach out to them. I’m trying to smile and say hello to everyone I encounter at my apartment complex. Strangers into neighbors.
- When I’m too shy to chat it up with a harmless stranger, I just love up the dog! Everyone around here, it seems, has a dog. I used to have a dog, who recently passed and I sob daily over (read more here: 7 lessons my dog taught me about being a better yogi). I bond with dogs almost instantaneously, unless of course fangs are present. A friendly neighbor downstairs was a stranger until I noticed her two giant, proud mastiffs walking by her side. A big scratch behind their ears and I now have three friends – my neighbor, and her two adoring dogs.
I think my plan is working. Today I went for a power walk on the New Hope trail and smiled at a nice couple who smiled back. And wouldn’t you know, the woman gave me a hug and said, “you’re Shannon! I took your class last week and loved it! Great to see you!” Great to see YOU beautiful student, who made me realize friends are all around me, if I just open myself up.