This past weekend, I went on a Freshman Retreat in Cape May. It was a weekend of reflection, new connections, and laughs. While the retreat as a whole was moving, one particular activity, a walk on the beach, impacted me greatly.
I’ve done dialogue walks in the past, where I have gone on a walk with someone who I don’t know too well. Some have been guided with questions, others with the only instructions being to allow each person to speak, and to actively listen.
I have always found the act of a dialogue walk to be comforting. When you go on a walk with someone, your body is moving, and for me, many times this act of motion translates into the words I share.
The fact that my body is in motion allows my emotions and thoughts to also move to a point where I feel more comfortable sharing what is on my mind.
When you are having a “normal” conversation, you can see the other person’s face and reactions to what you say. However, when walking, you are not directly facing whoever you are talking with, so there is less frequent eye contact. Less judgment is emitted and again, it is easier to say what I may not otherwise share.
The walk I took this weekend was no different, and had a particularly great impact because of my current circumstances. Being at college means constantly meeting new people and seeing new faces every day. It means forming friendships without knowing whether they are lasting ones or are simply ones of association.
In a new environment, it is natural to want to surround yourself with people, and while that aspect may be easy, the difficult part is figuring out if you are surrounding yourself with the right people. It is even more difficult to decipher when your friendships that may have started surface level can go deeper.
The dialogue walk allowed me to go past small talk and instantly form a deeper connection with someone.
However, this doesn’t just happen: forming that connection requires opening up. I went into the retreat with the intent to have an open heart, and this carried on into the dialogue walk, where I chose to be my true, authentic self.
I feel like a lot of the conversations I have at college are guarded. Everything is so new and you never know how people may react to the things you say.
I have always been an advocate of vulnerability, but putting this into practice is easier said than done.
On the walk, I let go of the need to keep up appearances and was honest. I took a risk, and I am grateful to say that it paid off- once I took that step to share something close to me, she instantly felt compelled to do the same. My partner had similar experiences as me. Finding that connection was inspiring.
The conversation that followed has stayed with me over the past few days. I hadn’t realized how private I had felt the past couple of months, how much I missed letting people see exactly who I am.
This does not mean I am not real with the people I encounter every day, just that there is a certain level of closeness I know I have yet to achieve with people.
I feel so much freer. Opening up with those around me may take time, but having such a positive experience with someone I didn’t know too well is encouraging, and I am going to continue to trust the process.
So, if you ever find yourself able to, take a walk with a stranger.
I promise it's not as weird as it sounds. And while on that walk, just be yourself. It's worth it.
To the stranger, now friend, I went on the walk with, thank you for listening, for being receptive to my thoughts, and for sharing in return. It is so appreciated.