Stranger 78, Day 78 – Meet Zach, the “New Man”

Stranger 78, Day 78 - Meet Zach

As the counter reaches 100, I’m leveraging this journey to connect with the people I see often but haven’t talked to. These are more “warm” Strangers, as no doubt they’ve seen me before many times.

Today is onesuch Stranger to whom I’ve wanted to get to know for a while now. He came to a meditation class weeks ago, and has been a staple to that class and several other yoga classes I take. In between meditations in class, we have discussions, and he’s always participating either asking a question or sharing how the meditation affected him. He always had a confidence about him, so I was interested to learn who he was. Happily, he agreed to be today’s Stranger.

Meet Zach, 28

Who are you?

He smiles and laughs for a moment. “Man! I’m not 100% sure how to answer that question.”

“I’m kind of looking for who I really am, if that make sense at this point of my life. I’ll kind of give you a sense of who I am, what got me here, you know?”

“I had a really big substance abuse problem for a big part of my life. I couldn’t get off drugs. I probably started trying to quit using drugs probably about five years ago. My life was just real horrible, as you can imagine. They kept sending me to, I guess, 12-step like-AA-based recovery. That wasn’t very effective for me. I was introduced to the idea that — well, I guess, addiction is a mental disease, right? It’s all in your mind — your cravings and all that stuff that goes on. Well, if you could change your thoughts, if I could control my thinking, then maybe I could train myself to quit using.”

“So, that seemed to be really effective when I started trying to do it. Just trying to catch negative thoughts, bad thoughts. I learned to be able to change them… thinking of the world in a positive way. I’be been clean maybe 10 months now. I’ve never been clean this long, but when I’m 27 years old, and I look in the mirror ‘I’m a junkie, I haven’t accomplished anything in my life’ that just makes you want to use more. When you learn to look at yourself in a positive light and thinking of yourself in a positive way, then you feel better about yourself. You don’t have the urge to maybe stick needles in your arm and do all that shit I was doing for so long.”

“So, I started coming into this belief that our thoughts are so important… changing my thoughts has had such an impact on my life. Somebody actually told me –you know, I was looking into the internet and stuff like that — meditations is really like training your brain. I’ve gotten to where I really enjoy it, so here I am in meditation class. And yoga! I’ve always liked working out, you know? Physical activity… that’s like meditation and working out. This has all been really helpful to me.”

“I didn’t even know, man. Even something new that’s hitting me is I started going to meditations at the Buddhist Monastery down the street right down Dresden.” He was telling me about how much it all surprised him. “There’s a whole religion that’s based on this. Based on suffering is nothing more than thoughts in your own mind. Your state is ‘perception is reality’. That’s really cool to me. So, I’m thinking. I’m really intrigued into learning more about Buddhism, and take that interest to a deeper level.”

“Yeah, man…” he laughs.

“So right now, I’m not a drug addict anymore! But I spent my whole life as a drug addict. I started using when I was… smoking weed, eating pills and stuff when I was 13/ 14/ 15 years old. So, it’s like I’m learning who I am now because I’m not that anymore. But I’m not 100% sure who I am or what I’m going to do or whatever. It’s been a beautiful experience.”

“I hope that wasn’t too much.” No way, Zach! This was great, and I appreciated you sharing with me and others. Know that there are lots of people who will appreciate who you are NOW, and lots of people who will look to you as their inspiration.

Thinking about how you started thinking more positive, what were some of the keys to thinking more positive when most everything seemed negative at the time?

“Therapy helped a lot. I actually got introduced to therapy and seeing a therapist. He was the one who told me to look up various people on YouTube. There’s a guy named Wayne Dyer.” Zach tells me a little bit about what Wayne is about before chiming in, “As goofy as it may sound, I don’t sit there. I can’t ever bring myself to do it like some people say affirmations to themselves in the mirror. It probably works!” He laughs. “But I just can’t foresee myself doing it. Maybe one day. But it’s not my jam. But I don’t know…”

He pauses for a moment and asks me to repeat the question.

“Okay, for myself, just realizing the negative thoughts when you have them. So, I use examples to show people and share my experiences.” He thinks of an example.

“Okay. If I think to myself, ‘man, I’m 28 years old, and all I’ve got is like a beat-up car or a room in a house that I rent and a job that doesn’t pay that great, you know, I can think about that as negative. Or, I can come back, and I realize I don’t like to think that way because it’s not comfortable. It’s not a happy way of thought. I think to myself, ‘man, I was homeless a year and a half ago. And now, I’ve kept the same job I’ve spent X amount of time in. I’ve been getting paid a lot more when I started the job. Look at the progress I’ve made!’ And think, ‘man, if I continue making progress, and like, I’m going places’, you know? You can look at the same situation in two different lights. The more you realize… you kind of train yourself to, over time, be able to look at it in a positive way.”

“Your thoughts create your future, you know? If you’re thinking in a positive manner, you’re going to have a more and more optimistic future.”

If there’s something that you want in your life that you don’t have, what are you going to do starting today to get that? (Thanks to John, Stranger 77)

He takes a deep breath and looks up thinking. “Whoa, this is hard.” He repeats the question slowly, “If there’s something I want in my life… that I don’t have…”

He thinks for a little longer leaning against the wall.

“Just listening to my gut, and know I’ll end up getting it if I need it. Do the nice, right thing, man. Does this make sense? They call it path of least resistance. I believe that if I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and thinking how I need to think, the universe is going to put in place everything that I need to be whole.”

He admits, “I’m not 100% sure what it is that I do want. But I know it’s coming to me, if that makes sense.”

“And, once it’s apparent to me what I do want, action. Put action behind it. You know what I’m saying? Wake up and act the role in which that’ll take me to get what it is that I do want. Like, if I want peace, come to this class or the monastery. Now, I put action behind like everyday. I meditate everyday because it helps. I go to the yoga class or go to the gym. Do the shit that helps you. If I want to do something with my life or go to school, college, but I don’t know.” To Zach he’s deliberate and puts action into what he wants to do/ achieve especially things like meditation and yoga which have helped him a great deal.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Ask them to describe a time they were truly happy.”

He explain why he wanted to ask that question, “by doing that hopefully it makes them happy.” That is, Zach believed that recalling a truly happy memory would trigger a recall, and thus, feel that same happiness in that moment. Wow.

After the handshake.

This was perhaps a shorter meet as we had limited time at the yoga studio before the studio needed to close. (I asked to extend the time so I could meet Zach.) However, we were able to stand around a little bit longer afterwards to just chat. He was very interested in what I was going to do with our conversation, and what this journey was about. As I explained to him more about how I wanted to inspire connections, he understood more and more of my inspiration. He also started to appreciate and want to read the stories of the other Strangers. I shared with him that no doubt others will read his story, and people will be inspired by his story. People will connect to his story in ways he and I didn’t even know, and may never know. That’s how many Stranger stories have meant to others.

I want to point out how great it was to spend a few minutes to listen to Zach. He left the building before coming back to share with me how spending just a little bit of time with each other could mean a lot. I’m paraphrasing a little (a lot) here. However, I think he genuinely recognized the opportunity to be had if people were to just take a few minutes to recognize people around them. I shared wth him that that is exactly the point of all this. It’s about inspiring connections and cultivating a stronger community.

Also, Zach’s question was good, but I didn’t really think too much of it having heard it in a similar form before. However, I was taken aback when he added why he wanted to ask the question. He wants tomorrow’s Stranger to not just share a happy moment, but he wants the Stranger to feel that happy moment again — to relive it. I thought that was powerful because, sometimes, we ask to know. Heck, sometimes I ask Strangers questions to know and to continue this 100 days journey. Yes, I want to inspire connections, and I want people to feel connected. However, Zach wanted to ask to inspire a feeling. Let that sink in for a moment. When you ask someone a question tomorrow, or when you say something (maybe even just a hello), how do you ask it? Do you ask just to greet someone because that’s “courteous”? Or do you ask a question so that the other person feels something — feels happy. Feels sad.

Perhaps I’m excited about Zach’s share because he explicitly said it, and it’s resonating in my head like a gong being struck. It’s calling to attention how I’m interacting with others. Like Kathleen, the Women’s Mentor (Stranger 60) who shared how men tend to interrupt women. I want to say I don’t, but her explicitly sharing makes me that much more conscious of my conversations with women (and men). It’s one of those shares that keeps me honest.

So meet Zach. No longer a Stranger.

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