The Last Two Days’ Challenges: Singing Birds A-Flock

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“If the heart stays a green tree, singing birds will flock,” a young salesman told me last night, in his friend’s fabric shop in Thekkady. Over the past two days, I picked two lovely challenges (one from Becky Straw and one from Becky Tanenbaum) which were like MiracleGro for my green tree.

Both challenges center on people: living a day on just the suggestions of others and spending time with a stranger on a deeper level. Turning over my decisions to the suggestion of another person was amazingly freeing, and alternately terrifying. Based on the suggestions of others, we ended up at a simple homestay in Thekkady, having a nice Indian meal amid tourists and locals, and getting some serious Ayurvedic care… and we spent today at the whims of our driver, who crafted a plan that included everything from elephant riding, to spice walking and boat riding, to ancient martial arts and dancing. Had I been in charge, a lot more energy would have been wasted on deciding and planning, and we probably wouldn’t have done half as much… or have been truly present for each activity.

As we went through our day, I kept my eye out for my chai victim. I ended up having meaningful conversations with 3 strangers (no beverages exchanged due to locations), instead of a simple 2 minute meet and greet. On our spice walk, we talked, tasted and walked with a fantastic family from Dehli; on our hugely touristy and snail-paced boat ride, we laughed with two sisters and their families; and walking home from dinner, we got into the philosophical realm with a young salesman (surprise!) who turned out to be particularly provocative and charismatic. What touched me most was that each conversation ended in an exchange of information, a heart-felt invitation to visit, and sincere suggestion that I call if I need anything while in India.

There is so much that can happen when a casual conversation is taken beyond formalities, when a stranger is taken beyond face value, and when the boundaries of fear and control are tested. It’s easy to overlook the opportunity to connect with someone, whether it’s the rigor of a focused schedule, the lure of a text message or the fear of a freakazoid. Taking time to connect with new people takes work, but my day was infinitely rewarding as a result.

An eye opening experience, and hard to detail, so instead I’ll share the top five things that may have made my tree a little bit greener:

1. Smiling, complimenting others (and posing for photographs!)

2. Asking naive questions with genuine curiosity

3. Treating each encounter as an opportunity to learn something new

4. Replacing thoughts of judgement and control with those of open-mindedness and adventure

5. Sharing my own insecurities, hopes and fears

Perhaps these can apply not just to strangers but to any relationship to make it deeper and richer… I’d love to hear what keeps your trees green.

Thanks for the great challenges, Beckys!

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