How Hungry Are You? Connect With A Stranger In 20-Minutes Using The Power Of Personal Story

Mary and me. First gathering, A Year To Live 2015-2016. January 2015. Against The Stream Meditation Center. Santa Monica, CA

Mary and me.
First gathering, A Year To Live 2015-2016.
January 2015.
Against The Stream Meditation Center.
Santa Monica, CA

“I was twelve when I started panhandling.”

Mary sits across from me, bright-eyed and cheerful in a hot pink stretchy shirt. She tells me she, too, went hungry as a kid. She too had a mother who was suicidal. Who checked out from her motherly duties. Who forgot to feed her kids.

So Mary panhandled.

As she speaks — without a trace of self pity — a hot tear slides down my face.

I don’t lose eye contact. Don’t wipe the tear away. Don’t say a word.

“So years later I’m living in the Bay area, and I’m tired of being depressed, you know? I’m sick of being sad my whole life. I take up skateboarding. I love it. Never felt happier. One day, I wipe out and break both my wrists. It wasn’t such a big wipeout. That’s weird. A few days later, I’m back at work and I high-five a co-worker — and break my hand again.”

Mary pauses. Sucks in her breath.

“The doctor tells me I have early onset Osteoporosis. From malnutrition as a kid.”

My heart breaks with her hand.

“I’m not even 30.”

My cheeks are wet. I still say nothing.

I can’t.

Mary and I are strangers. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me.

We met a few minutes ago, here at Against The Stream Meditation Center in Santa Monica, California.

Both of us are part of a group of 30 odd people who’ve committed to *A Year To Live. It is a yearlong Buddhist meditation practice based on the book by Stephen Levine — A Year To Live: How To Live This Year As If It Were Your Last. His son, Noah, founded Against The Stream.

Our facilitator, the seasoned and calm Mary Stancavage, gives us an exercise in Deep Listening.

Sit in front of a stranger and tell your life story. In 10 minutes. If you’re listening, don’t say a word. Don’t nod. Don’t smile. Simply take it all in. Be present.

Be present.

One of the hardest things for us to do, in our world of constant distraction. Be present. So many of us are numbed out to feelings. Overmedicated. Checked out. Scattered.


I don’t choose anybody. I trust the right person will come to me. The one who needs to hear my story to unlock theirs.

So I told Mary my story first.

It’s my job to be vulnerable. That’s what a leader is today. I told the stark truth of my personal story. The early hunger. The yearning. I also told the triumph on the other side. As I told, tears slid down Mary’s face.

Now Mary is finishing her story. It’s no accident we found each other.

The clock ticks. A few seconds remain.

“So for me,” says Mary, “death is real.”

Her ten minutes are up. I stand, hug Mary tightly. We slide back to our spots around the circle. But I am not the same person.

Neither is Mary.

Each encounter has the potential to change who we are. On a cellular level.

When we tell our stories true. Unvarnished. Warts and all. We open up the possibility for others to share the story that needs to come out.

We give permission.

In this simple way, we can not only connect with strangers, we can give comfort.

The comfort of strangers.

I believe that the better we get at story telling, the more we do it with strangers — the stronger we build a matrix. A community. The more hope we have.

Story is foundational. Message is foundational. When we make these clear, and claim them, we come home to ourselves.

Look at the photo again. Our faces are rinsed clear with the tears. From being heard.

From being seen.

Sometimes, for the first time.

This goes for how we connect with leads, customers and Ideal Clients, too. People know when you’re faking. If you don’t truly care, people sense it. So crack your own heart open. Then invite someone else to do the same. In that way, we can connect. And both be bigger and make more impact than when we are alone.

How hungry are you? I see clients falter when they don’t have an urgent need to earn. Or if they simply lack the hunger. Have you ever been truly hungry? Take some time and re-live that hunger. Feel it. Let it fuel you.

P.S. Try the Year To Live 10-minute storytelling exercise with a stranger. Maybe at a cafe. Maybe a museum. A yoga class. Somewhere quiet. More contemplative. Safe. Let us know what happens.

IF that’s not possible — try this. Simply be more present for a stranger who appears in your daily life. Ask them their name. Music to everyone’s ears. Ask them something about how they are. Listen deeply. Give them a hug. Adjust their tie. Or adjust their scarf. Simple touch is pure magic.

P.P. S. Mary and I are yearlong partners for A Year To Live 2015-2016. If that’s not fate. She told me she always wanted to write. A week after the first gathering, she says she wrote up her experience. She says she’s not going to stop.

Don’t you stop either.
We need you.

*Did you know that according to scientific studies, contemplating death daily is one of the most powerful and rapid ways to increase your happiness? That’s why I plunged into A Year To Live. I want to live life to the fullest. I want to make the biggest impact I can while I’m here on this earth. I want to reach my potential, leave a legacy — make a dent in the universe. Smiling all the way. How about you?

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8 Responses to How Hungry Are You? Connect With A Stranger In 20-Minutes Using The Power Of Personal Story

  1. Maria Gonzalez February 1, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    I have written a book that speaks to death and dying as I have an illness that will eventually take my life. The book has touched many people and I am now speaking at various community centers about the stories in my book, including my own.

    We are all dying, from the moment we are born, we start to die. To embrace this reality opens us up to the richness of living in the now and I am so grateful for every day I wake up and thank the Mother for yet another day here.

    I worked in Hospice, before going into medicine and oftentimes, saw and attended those who were actively dying. This happened on a daily basis and it changed me forever. When I was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer, it was a shock, but now, a few years later, I do not live in my disease, I live!
    I do not think about my death every single day, as I have integrated it into my being and I choose to be alive and thriving in this moment.

    I have read S. Levine’s book and it is, indeed, powerful. It was not the catylist for my book, however, but it allowed me to be fully present to those who were actively dying when I was with Hospice. I do think about my death, but choose to NOT live there on a daily basis. I choose to LIVE in the now, knowing, on a cellular level, that I, like everyone on the planet, will also die. I do know that I will not suffer! I know that for a fact, esp. thanks to my knowledge of the horror that some people go through because they denied death, as our entire society does (with exceptions, of course).
    I hope you have read my book and will give me feedback! It does take a village, to quote Hilary and I hope I get feedback from you, Rachel, as I was in your course. You mentioned knowing I had written a book, but I wonder if you read it…

    Thank you for allowing me to express my feelings and thoughts about this very important issue.


    Maria Gonzalez

    • Rachel February 8, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

      That is wonderful you’ve written your story and are speaking to community centers about it! What a strength you have. I know, too, how powerful your writing is. Full of lyricism, depth and heart. What a pleasure it was to have you in the last Fire + Flow: Your Money Making Story bootcamp. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your stunning writing.

      I didn’t realize you’d worked in Hospice before going into medicine! Sounds like you’ve done an incredible job integrating that experience into how you live fully, every day. You are a force of nature. How cool you’ve read Stephen Levine’s book! And that it helped you be present in your hospice work.

      Thank you for sharing so openly. I’d love to talk with you about your book and desire for support. Feel free to shoot an email to to set up a call.

      Meanwhile, thank you for your moving and deeply felt comment. You are a testament to triumph over challenge and diagnoses.

      Yrs in truth,

  2. Gitte Melnick February 1, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    What a story. I am still thinking about it!
    I met you at Suzanne Evans “Be the Change” in Las Vegas las year and hope to see you again soon. You also made an impression on me, I visited you at your booth. Monica Kenton told me to go and meet you and I am happy I did.
    Hope to see you soon again …

    • Rachel February 8, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

      Gitte! How lovely to hear from you!
      That is the highest compliment indeed — when you are still thinking about a story.
      I’m so glad it made an impact.
      Do you use story in your business?
      Of course I remember you! Loved meeting you at Be The Change in Vegas. So appreciate you visiting the booth and doing the One-Minute Memoir. I hope to see you again soon too. How generous of Monica to send you my way. How have you been!
      ‘Til soon, Gitte!

  3. Monica February 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    As usual Rachel, your way of telling story completely captivates me. This post has so much depth to it. The power of sharing and witnessing completely. The idea of living life to its fullest while being aware of death. The entrepreneurial journey and the realization that is much more than just going through the motions. Thanks for always being real and sharing from the depth of your soul. You constantly inspire me to speak my truth.

    • Rachel February 8, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

      Monica — deep bow and curtsy from the canyon. What a generous comment. You make me blush. You encourage. You remind me why I do what I do and are an intimate part of my entrepreneurial journey. You set such an inspiring example of entrepreneurial power, rooted in your truth and your shamanism. I’m honored by your words. So glad the story captivated you. It certainly did me. I couldn’t stop thinking about Mary. That encounter. So I knew I had to write it. As for the living life to the fullest by being aware of death — it is challenging. I’m in the first month of the practice — and experiencing certain resistance. Within, and without. Some people balk. And — I know that I am making decisions in a bolder way than I did before. So important to dig beneath the gestures, uncover the motivation for the motions. Thank you for seeking and speaking truth. You are a gift.

  4. Tara Pogoda February 1, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    Listening is powerful.Notice your heart beating and how it beats without needing to do anything. No effort. Notice your breath and how you breathe without needing to do anything. No effort. And, just let yourself hear without needing to do anything. No fixing. No resisting. No push. No pull. No effort. Just like your heart beats and you just breathe — without any effort at all.

    • Rachel February 8, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

      Listening is indeed powerful! What a gorgeous, poetic rendering Tara. Thank you for posting. So yes, listening is natural. And, you’d be surprised how many don’t do it. Or who don’t know from nor practice Deep Listening. Especially in our distracted, overmedicated Western world. Similarly with breathing. I know I have had to remind myself to breathe at certain points in my life. When I was anxious. Focused on the future. Not the here and now — that you so eloquently describe. What I love is how I get the chance to show up for clients with full breath, not shallow. With Deep Listening, not distracted half-listening. How we all get a chance to show up for our loved ones in this way as well as our clients. The new breed of Creative Entrepreneur is a steward of connection. A return to simplicity. A flow — like you capture so artfully in your comment. I can’t wait to participate in your Women’s Leadership Summit, Tara! Deep Listening is a critical piece to the modern leader.

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