Two years ago, I joined a Hong Kong Science Park delegation to participate in a Geneva exhibition. While there, I met a Sri Lankan professor who radiated energy like an elastic band pulled taught and his appearance further reinforced this visual. He personifies everything I’ve come to feel about Sri Lanka: genuine, inquisitive and bubbling over with enthusiasm about the country’s future. Serendipitously, my Airbnb hosts were a warm Sri Lankan family, who also welcomed him into their home. This gave us the opportunity to build a foundation for friendship. We celebrated Sri Lankan new year together, which is where I got my first taste of both the food and culture.
This wonderful experience stuck with me. Last November I applied and was accepted to a Vipassana meditation course in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Afterwards, I had the chance to reunite with that professor. When I told him about my meditation experience, he immediately called his close friend and shared my recent experience. Without hesitation, this stranger graciously offered me free accommodation at a retreat he had designed and built in the Ella jungle. This magical place was beyond any expectation and I demanded to meet and thank the person who had created such a perfect experience.
Back in Colombo at the tail end of my journey, I had the opportunity to buy this person a cup of tea. The elegant, ex-military businessman seated across from me did not feel like a stranger. I knew him through the experience he created in Ella, which he had obviously crafted with love and care. Even his staff exuded the same, authentic vibe. We shared stories, meditation experiences, and future plans. That hour passed in an instant and left us wishing for more.
Most people are surprised to hear that I booked a return flight to Sri Lanka based on this hour-long conversation. From my perspective, I can’t imagine wasting a chance to spend time with anyone with whom I’ve had such an immediate and strong connection. It has taken me years to learn to trust my gut again, but every time I do so, I am repaid in spades. While I still feel an obligation to justify decisions to my mind, I’m finding it easier and easier to let my gut lead the way. A wise friend explained that the brain unpolluted by thought is the gut, because the mind cannot think of or perceive what comes so naturally. I’m still wrapping my head around this idea and lack the vocabulary to express it well, but it feels true.
This recent trip to Sri Lanka was no different. The hours we spent talking passed inexplicably fast. I learned more about his growing family, near-death experiences during the war, and dreams to share meditation’s benefits with a wider audience. He helped answer my questions about the relationship between creativity, innovation, invention and Buddhism. We discussed his struggle with detachment and coming to terms with death. Within minutes, we began to discuss ways in which we could collaborate. By the second day I was already reviewing my calendar to see when I might return.
Most of the close friends I’ve met in the last 7 years are as a result of similar chance encounters and I know I’m not alone. Over time I’ve learned that feeling of connection is precious. I pro-actively seek ways to explore these connections and nurture blossoming friendships because I think building and maintaining them as an adult is so important. Luckily, many of my closest friends live in two geographic areas. I’m grateful to have the resources and flexibility to see them, but I also make it a top priority and create opportunities to make it happen. Who knows how this collaboration might evolve, but I will continue to nurture this and other connections the universe gifts me.