This morning, before meeting my 70th stranger of the day, I went over to my 65th stranger of the day‘s home for a group meditation session. His name is Marshall and he leads daily sessions out of his home. There were seven of us who showed up. It was a beautiful, well-lit home with plenty of windows and strong hardwood floors.
We sat on cushions in a circle around a candle. Before the session began, we passed around some sheets of paper, a pen, a bowl, and a lighter. We each wrote down the name of someone we wanted to wish well and honour, and then burnt it in the bowl, as a way of honouring them. It was a completely new experience to me but I embraced the ritual and immersed myself in the atmosphere. It was a calm and relaxed space.
Then, Marshall spoke some words of guidance and encouragement before instructing us to commence forty five minutes of meditation, sitting in silence. Forty. Five. Minutes. Context: I didn’t get much sleep last night and I’d never meditated in that way for that long before. It was intimidating but I was excited to give it a try and challenge myself in a safe space.
It was a challenging experience but one of clarity and peace. I’m glad I went and I plan to go again sometime.
Then, later today, I went over to Vancouver’s Co-op radio station to be interviewed about this project I’m doing! It was a lot of fun to be interviewed by the F Word Media Collective. There, I met Shilpa who was also being interviewed today.
It was fun to bounce ideas off of each other and to learn about her inspiring story. I just had to ask her to be my stranger of the day.
Shilpa is eighteen years old and just graduated from high school. This is her second week of university at Simon Fraser, where she’s studying psychology and women’s studies.
In her final year of high school, she was enrolled in a social justice class where she learned about gender inequality and oppression, specifically oppression in the form of rape culture. It was something that just didn’t quite sit right with her. Growing up, she had felt the weight of her gender, and had been told to put her emotions in second place to her male peers. At a young age she became aware of the very real gender unequal society we live in. She acknowledges that oppression often exhibits itself in subtle ways, while at other times in more obvious ones. But in both circumstances, she believes that we can fundamentally do something to change rape culture.
And she’s living proof that we can make a difference. Combining her love of theatre with her newfound passion for social justice, Shilpa wrote a one act play on rape culture which she performed so boldly all on her own in May. She was wary of how the audience would respond but was pleasantly humbled by an outstanding ovation. Today, I got to see and hear her perform it live and she left me watery eyed. It really resonated with me.
Her piece on rape culture touched on the profound ways in which our society perpetuates a lack of trust between people. In a gendered sense, many women find themselves unable to trust men, while many men in turn find themselves feeling unworthy of trust as a result. In general, gender aside, this lack of trust is truly pervasive. It’s a vicious and unnecessary but systemic cycle, and it has manifested itself in our society quite prevalently.
Throughout these past 70 days, I’ve noticed just how much we lack trust and openness in our communities. From the technological walls we build around ourselves, with our headphones and cell phones, to our eyes we so actively hold back from meeting another’s gaze on the streets, candid conversations are often avoided. But at what cost?
At the same time, I’ve noticed how simple it is to counteract these behaviours. A simple “hello” can break down barriers and show people that it’s okay to trust one another and to engage in conversation. It won’t hurt you. But disengaging from conversation and building community could. The more we connect with one other, the safer and happier and healthier our communities become.
I’m so grateful that Shilpa does the work that she does. Her piece reminded me of this very important aspect of my project, and brought me even closer to the work that I so strongly believe in.
Shilpa’s advice? “Just be yourself!” And don’t be afraid to introduce that unique and wonderful self to the people around you, strangers or otherwise.