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Meeting Others As Strangers

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

How to let go of frozen views and encounter others with Beginner’s Mind

By Diane Eshin Rizzetto JUL 24, 2022

“At every meeting we are meeting a stranger.” —T. S. Eliot, from The Cocktail Party (I,iii)

T. S. Eliot’s words resonate in my mind as I catch myself dropping a comment to my husband about someone we both think is “not very reliable.” How do I know what this person’s been up to since we last met? Why do I choose to freeze his image in my mind by faulting him as unreliable? What have I hung on to in the interval since our last meeting? When we choose instead to meet others as strangers, our hearts are open to possibility and change.

Zen teacher Robert Aitkin Roshi reminds us that “a so-called fault is a weak place where character can change.” Many years ago, when I was a single mother, I worked in a paper box factory and as a cocktail waitress to support myself and my children. At one point, I even lied my way into a job as a legal secretary. But it wasn’t long before my boss figured out that I didn’t have half the office skills I claimed to have when I applied for the job. Instead of berating me or outright firing me, he responded by finding a way to help me. I believe that what he saw in my deception was what some people call chutzpah, and that, if channeled correctly, it could help me overcome many of the obstacles I would face in the future. If he had frozen his perception of me as a person who lies, then he might not have given me the opportunity to move past that perception.

I did not realize all this back then, but perhaps a few of the hundreds of students I have met as strangers over the last thirty years will have benefited by my boss’s willingness to meet me with openness and possibility.

This article is adapted from Diane Eshin Rizzetto’s book, Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion, published by Shambhala Publications.

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