Make a New Connection by Talking to a Complete Stranger

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell sits down and starts talking to a complete stranger about life and connecting with others.

Episode #9: When’s the Last Time You Sat Down with a Stranger?

Sara Guertin: Hi, I’m Sarah Guertin, a producer here on the show, and welcome to Distraction. Dr. Hallowell is traveling this week, but we wanted to share with you another one of the fascinating conversations he’s had at East Rock Coffee. As you probably know, Ned talks a lot about trying to move away from letting our electronics rule us so, for this show, we decided to fully illustrate the idea of connecting deeply with another human being. At East Rock Coffee, they discourage laptops and phones and, this day, we’re really, really glad they did. Here’s Ned talking with someone he’d never met before, Stanley Frost.

A Conversation Starter and Talking to a Complete Stranger

talking to a complete stranger

DR. HALLOWELL: Nice to meet you.

Stanley: Yes, nice to meet you. Your name is?

DR. HALLOWELL: Ned. Your name is?

Stanley: My name is Stanley Frost.

DR. HALLOWELL: Stanley Frost.

Stanley: My partner and I, Heidi, she’s lived in the East Rock neighborhood for, I guess, about 18 years. I’m a cruising sailor, and so I spent five years cruising in the Caribbean on a sailboat.

DR. HALLOWELL: How did you meet Heidi?

Stanley: We met, actually, at church, which is a good place to meet people if you want to meet spiritual people. She is much younger, a whole generation younger than me.

DR. HALLOWELL: How old are you?

Stanley: I’m in my 70s.

DR. HALLOWELL: In your 70s. Oh, so she’s in her…

Stanley: Early 50s. Well, when she told me she wanted to be with me, I said, “Well then, my love for you will always operate in the direction of making you more free,” and she said, “I will set you free.” Wanting to change someone always seems like a paradox to me, to want to change someone you love. I mean, what is it you love about them if you want to change everything?

DR. HALLOWELL: What did you love about her? You said it was a spiritual thing.

Stanley: She seemed kind of innocent, being so much younger than me and, of course, she was vulnerable, too. But she had a kind of inner strength that I admired a great deal, so I kind of thought to myself, here is a person who shows great promise. I’d like to see her develop. We kind of needed each other, I guess.

DR. HALLOWELL: Again, you said it was this spiritual connection, so how did that develop?

Stanley: She, of course, when we were together, we set out to do a new thing, a different kind of thing. We knew that the marriage we would have wouldn’t be by the book. We just threw out the book.

DR. HALLOWELL: Did you actually get married?

Stanley: Oh, yeah.

DR. HALLOWELL: In a church?

Stanley: Yeah. We’ve been married for 20 years, or maybe a little more. She, for her part, has been very understanding of my, well my gender expression, you would say. Even though I was a military officer.

DR. HALLOWELL: Really?

Stanley: I was in the military. In fact, I was blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade in Vietnam.

DR. HALLOWELL: Blown up?

Stanley: It took surgeons a whole year to put me back together. They did a great job. Well, you can see. I have all my parts pretty much. I mean, there are a few missing pieces that are still somewhere in Vietnam. It was a horrible experience, but I knew it was coming. I could sense it.

DR. HALLOWELL: You knew you were going to get wounded, blown up?

Stanley: Yeah. I knew that morning. On the way over there, I felt it. I said it in fact.

DR. HALLOWELL: Really? On the way over there, meaning you were at the…

Stanley: Yeah. We were attacking some North Vietnamese brigade that had come down from North Vietnam and, on the way over there, I said, in fact, a voice kind of came into my mind, and it said, “Today, you’re going to be hurt. You won’t die, but it’s going to be really bad, and the reason this has to happen is because, if you are not hurt today, you’re going to kill someone and, if you kill someone, you’re going to injure your own soul.”

DR. HALLOWELL: This voice, it wasn’t a hallucination?

Stanley: No.

DR. HALLOWELL: It was an intonation.

Growing Up and Moving to Maine

Stanley: I’ve had this before. I was born into a family of sheepherders in Wyoming. My mother’s mother was Oglala Lakota from that tribe that the French called Sioux, and she taught me the Indian ways.

DR. HALLOWELL: So your mom was Indian?

Stanley: No. Well, she was half, but she hated the thought that I might be raised that way, so she said, “No, he’s going to be raised as a Christian boy, a white boy, and all that.” That’s kind of how that background was.

DR. HALLOWELL: But from a sheepherder, how did you get to here?

Stanley: Well, see, that’s quite a story, too. I never knew my father until he got out of the army after the Korean War and, by then, I guess I was 8 or 9 years old, so I had already been raised by women, really, from my mother and grandmother, my aunts. As soon as my father came back from Korea and was discharged from the Army, my mother made him move me all the way to northern Maine. I mean, you couldn’t get further away from Wyoming and still be in the US, I guess. Actually…

DR. HALLOWELL: Your mom and your dad went together to northern Maine?

Stanley: Yes.

DR. HALLOWELL: With you?

Stanley: Yes. Actually, that was the first time I’d ever seen the ocean. As soon as I saw the boats, I said, “Oh, my God. Look how beautiful and graceful it looks,” so I told myself, “Someday, I’m going to do that.”

DR. HALLOWELL: A 10-year-old little boy. Looking at the oceans and…

Stanley: Yeah. For the first time seeing it. I mean, I’d heard about it. My uncles, who had been in the service, had told me what it was like, but I had no idea. I’d seen a couple of lakes, but small ones, so I had no idea.

DR. HALLOWELL: You went through school in Maine? High school?

Stanley: I went to college at the University of Maine in Orono. I was really the smartest kid in the whole state of Maine, actually, so I got a full scholarship to go to the University of Maine, so I went there. I studied chemical engineering for a while, but I couldn’t stand the summer work because, when I went to these places, chemical plants and stuff, I saw how badly they were polluting the environment, I just said, “I can’t do this.”

DR. HALLOWELL: That was before pollution was a thing. Nobody thought about pollution.

Stanley: Yeah. This was in 1963, so not so much. But I was a sensitive young man who was concerned about things. I saw what was going on, and it bothered me a lot. I wasn’t going to have any part of it, certainly not any part of it being my fault if I could help it, so I became disillusioned, and I said, “Well, I can’t do this anymore,” so I didn’t know quite what else to do, so I went into the Army.

DR. HALLOWELL: You enlisted?

Stanley: I did as a French interpreter, a linguist.

DR. HALLOWELL: You had not graduated from college at that time?

Stanley: No, not yet. I qualified so high on an Army language test that they sent me to National Security Agency which, at that time, was even more secretive than it is now. Now people know what it is. Back then, it was unknown, so there I was a linguist, and everything that they intercepted that was in French came to me.

Then, they said, “You should go to Officer Candidate School,” and so I did, but they sent me to artillery in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I got a commission and went to Vietnam and got blown up.

DR. HALLOWELL: Going into that battle, you said you knew.

Stanley: I knew. I knew it was going to happen way before, hours before it actually happened.

DR. HALLOWELL: This voice said, it has to happen or you are going to kill someone?

Stanley: Yeah, but that wasn’t the first time that ever happened. That happened to me many times.

DR. HALLOWELL: How old were you the first time?

Pneumonia Turned Into a Blessing

walk to school

Stanley: When I was about 11 years old, the school bus driver said that I had misbehaved, so they kicked me off the school bus, and I had to walk to school, which was only like two or three miles. It wasn’t far, but it was a very rainy spring, so I got pneumonia. One day, I was walking home, and I felt so hot and tired, I didn’t even do my chores when I got home. I just went to bed, and my father came in yelling. My mother came up and said, “What’s going on?” I told her, “I feel like my hair is standing on end.” He took my temperature. It was 106.4.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh my gosh.

Stanley: The doctor, back in those days, they made house calls, so he told them to stick me in a bathtub of cool water, and it came out I had pneumonia. He gave me penicillin and all but, while I was sitting in the bathtub, this voice came to me and said, “Even this, I shall turn into a blessing.” She said, “The people who did this to you were wrong.” It took six weeks for me to recover and, since I couldn’t go to school, I took that time and I thought, “Well, I will read the encyclopedia. That’s a good thing for me to do,” but I didn’t know the words, so I had to first read the dictionary, which I did. When I went back to school.

DR. HALLOWELL: You read the whole dictionary?

Stanley: First, and then I read the encyclopedias. When I went back to school, suddenly, I was smarter than my teacher, and that’s not always a good thing because it makes you have an arrogant attitude about things, but it was quite a thing.

DR. HALLOWELL: You’ve always had this voice.

Stanley: Yes.

DR. HALLOWELL: So you got blown up.

Stanley: Actually, the very first time I had that voice, I was 7 years old and I was on the prairie in Wyoming with the sheep, and my grandmother and the sheepdogs, the border collies and all. My grandmother said, “Go down over the ridge, and there’s a spring down there, and some of the sheep will still be watering down there, so drive them up.” I went down there and had my dog drive the sheep up, and as I was standing there, a bird lit in this bush, a little shrub there by the spring and, as it did, I sort of feel like I must have gone into some kind of a trance or something.

I heard it, or I didn’t hear it. It came out with my own voice with these words that I wasn’t saying, and I sensed that there was a feminine being inside me that was saying things. And she said, “I am the all-knowing one, a constant force for good throughout all time, and it is I who have chosen you, and it is you I have chosen to carry a message into the world and to bear a gift, and the gift and the message together form a single thing, so go now, and I will come to you again but, in the meantime, always remember who you are.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what it was.

DR. HALLOWELL: 7 years old.

Went to See a Shaman

Stanley: The bird flew off. My grandmother came down over the ridge on her pony and said, “What’s going on down here?” I told her what had happened and she said, “Oh, I think I know what this is.” She sent me to see a shaman that she knew and, this guy, he was her uncle, but he was an old shaman. He lived in a tent by the side of Route 30, which was the main road at that time. Before Interstate 80, that was how you got to San Francisco.

I went there, and I started to tell him about it, and he said, “No, no. That’s not how we do it,” so he said, “First, we have some things that we have to do.” So we gathered some sage and stuffed it in a pot, and we smudged around the teepee on the inside and outside. This drives out evil spirits.

Then he said, “Okay, now we smoke the pipe.” I didn’t know what was in that pipe, but I couldn’t, I mean, I didn’t smoke. I was a kid.

He smoked the pipe and then he got out the drum and then we drummed for a while and danced while we drummed. I don’t know if you know this, but American Plains Indians don’t pray. They dance. That’s how they get in touch with the spirit, so we did that for a while, and then he said, “Okay, now tell me what happened,” so I did. He said, “Oh, I know what you have to do.” And he told me where this place was. It was a hill, but in Wyoming, hills are mountains.

He said, “There’s a spring up there. You’ll be fine, but there’s no food, and he said, “You shouldn’t eat anyway.” I went up there.

DR. HALLOWELL: You walked up the mountain by yourself.

Stanley: Yeah. I went there, and it was, I don’t know, 15 miles or maybe 20 miles. There was a spring there. There was a cave and, inside from out of the cave was a spring. I got there, and I spent the first day just thinking. The second day, it rained. I had spent most of the day in the cave, but then the third day, I said, “You know, I’m going to have to start thinking about this because I’m getting really hungry.”

DR. HALLOWELL: You were only 7 years old. Wow!

Stanley: Yeah. I said, “Well, what did she say to me? Well, she said that there’s a gift, and it’s a message, and the two are the same thing and I’m supposed to carry this and deliver it somehow.” And I said, “Well, what kind of people have a message that’s a gift and deliver it by saying it?” I said, “Well, teachers do that, writers do that. There’s lots of people who carry a message that’s a gift, and it’s in words.” I said, “Well then, that must be what I’m supposed to be.” So I said, “Well, that’s going to have to be it because tomorrow I’m going back to that old guy and tell him I’m done,” and so I did. The next day, I went back.

DR. HALLOWELL: Back to the shaman?

Stanley: Yeah, and I told him what I had thought about, and he said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s terrific.” I said, “Okay, but what do I do?” He said, “No, it’s not like that. You go and live your life, and she will come to you at times and tell you what’s going on. She won’t tell you what to do, but she’ll tell you what’s going on and then you have to decide for yourself.” I said, “Who is she?” He said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about that. It doesn’t matter.”

So I did that and, at times, he was right about one thing. At times, I’ve had episodes where things have been really bad, really, really bad and, at those times, she comes to me and tells me what’s happening.

When I was working at an insurance company as an actuary, and I’d been there quite a while, I was managing a department there and everything, but my vision was starting to go bad. So I went to this doctor, an ophthalmologist, and he said, “Yeah. We think we know what you have,” and he said, “There’s no treatment for it, and it’s going to get worse but the good part is, you will never be completely blind, but you’re probably not going to be able to continue working either.” I went back to my office and I said, “Oh, my God, what do I do now?” She came to me and said, “Now, you will see things as they truly are.”

I realized that I worked for an insurance company. They have every employee benefit known to the mind of man, and I was going to benefit from every one of those things. I said, “Well, this really sets me free, doesn’t it?” That’s what I took that to mean.

DR. HALLOWELL: So you came back having been blown up, you completed college, and you got…

Stanley: I did graduate work in Mathematical Statistics before I went to work.

DR. HALLOWELL: Where did you do that?

Stanley: At the University of Maine.

Lived a Very Conventional Life

DR. HALLOWELL: Okay, and then you passed these rigorous exams. But after all this, you then led a very conventional, normal life. You were an actuary, you got married.

Stanley: Yeah.

DR. HALLOWELL: You had children.

Stanley: Yeah. Had children.

DR. HALLOWELL: Did that feel right?

Stanley: No. I felt I was hiding from something, actually. I mean, I was smart, and I could do the stuff, but it wasn’t really fulfilling. It seemed to me like, I’m just counting other people’s money. I’m not doing a worthy thing. I’m not helping people the way I really thought I wanted to. I felt unfulfilled.

DR. HALLOWELL: Did you dress like a conventional male?

Stanley: Yeah, oh yeah. Sure, sure.

DR. HALLOWELL: Suit and tie?

Stanley: Oh, yeah. Charcoal suits and maroon ties and wingtips, oh yes.

DR. HALLOWELL: The uniform.

Stanley: Oh, yeah, very much.

DR. HALLOWELL: You wore a suit.

Stanley: You have to dress like a Wall Street banker when you do this job. Yeah. I was good at playing the role.

DR. HALLOWELL: Did your wife know?

Stanley: No. No. I think she suspected, and I tried to clue her in.

DR. HALLOWELL: And how did it come apart? How did you break free of it?

Stanley: Actually, when my first wife realized that I was going to become blind, her family told her, “You got to divorce this guy.”

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh, jeez.

Stanley: “Because he’s going to become dependent on you, and you’re not going to like that.” So she divorced me. The strange thing is, I was always the one who was able to raise the children, help them, put breakfast on the table and make sure their clothes were clean and all that. After she divorced me and I moved out, one by one, my children came to live with me. I raised all of them.

DR. HALLOWELL: Then you left Aetna.

Hypnotism and Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Stanley: I left Aetna, and yeah. One of the things, remember I was telling you about when I was a boy, I said I would like to sail. That’s one of the things I decided, “This is what I’m going to do now.” Even with the visual impairment that I had, I said, “I can manage to do this,” so I did. I went to Annapolis Sailing School and learned how to sail and studied Coast Guard books and all. I learned how to sail boats, navigate, do all that, so what I decided to do. While I was doing that, I said, “You know, I feel like Jonah. I’m running away from my calling on a boat. This is not what she had in mind.”

I said, “What can I do? Maybe I can become a counselor or something for people.” I spoke to a fellow who taught in the graduate school of counseling, and he said, “You wouldn’t like that. You don’t have the patience for it.” He said, “What you want is something that’s going to help you change people’s lives. You want to reach inside their mind and flip a switch.” He said, “You have to learn hypnotism.”

So that’s what I did.

DR. HALLOWELL: You became a hypnotist?

Stanley: Yeah, and I learned also a technique called Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

DR. HALLOWELL: Sure, NLP.

Stanley: Which is a way of re-framing something so that a person understands it a different way. I mean, I can’t change what has happened to a person. What happens, happens. But I can make it mean something different to them, have a different meaning.

That’s what I learned to do. People would phone me, and they would just talk to me.

DR. HALLOWELL: Do you still do that?

Stanley: Yeah, I do. I do. I’m a coach for people, and I use these hypnotism and NLP techniques with people. I seem to have the gift for this.

DR. HALLOWELL: You obviously do.

Stanley: Because when people hear my voice, they trust me. That kind of trust is the thing that makes the whole thing work because, if I can get somebody to trust me, then they will accept the things I tell them as true. If I can suggest to them some different ways of looking at their situation, then they can begin to see hope.

DR. HALLOWELL: Do you think it’s just your voice?

Stanley: No. It’s my outlook on things, too, because I will never lie to them. I mean, bad things happen to really nice people, too, but I don’t look at that side of it. I say, because my attitude, always, my whole life, has been, life is an adventure. But the adventure doesn’t begin until the plan fails, and you cannot look at your situation and see how hopeless it is. If you want to be a helpless victim, then I’m not the person for you. I won’t commiserate with you.

I will tell you that, in every situation, there are possibilities. Nothing is as desperate and hopeless as you might think. You can take a minute to grumble about it, but then we’re going to have to move on, and we’re going to have to look at this situation the way it really is and see where the hope lies. What can you do now? What do you do now that …? I think I’m really good at that part.

A Spiritual Relationship

DR. HALLOWELL: You and Heidi, where does the hope lie?

Stanley: She supports me in this.

DR. HALLOWELL: Is she a teacher now?

Stanley: She is a teacher.

DR. HALLOWELL: The female part of you. You dress slightly like a woman.

Stanley: Sort of androgynous, but, yeah, right. Exactly.

DR. HALLOWELL: What’s that about? What’s the …

Stanley: I feel more comfortable this way. I feel like it allows me to express a side of myself or, actually, what I wondered is if it allows that female side of me that talks to me …

DR. HALLOWELL: The voice.

Stanley: If it allows her to express herself, you see.

DR. HALLOWELL: Do you have sex with Heidi? Normal sex?

Stanley: No, not really. No. No, no, no.

DR. HALLOWELL: Did you ever?

Stanley: Not really.

DR. HALLOWELL: So it was truly a spiritual relationship.

Stanley: Yeah, it really is a spiritual thing.

DR. HALLOWELL: Does she miss that at all?

Stanley: Well, she has lovers.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh.

Stanley: Boyfriends

DR. HALLOWELL: So you’ve worked out so she can have …

Stanley: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Our relationship is not really based on sexual desire. To me, that seems to get in the way. It’s a really powerful trigger in a human being. It’s so powerful that it has the potential of clouding the mind.

DR. HALLOWELL: So you have no sexual outlet?

Stanley: No, not really. No.

DR. HALLOWELL: And that’s fine.

Stanley: That’s fine.

DR. HALLOWELL: So it’s sort of like a priest or a celibate.

Stanley: Well, in a way.

DR. HALLOWELL: But you’re not resisting temptation. You’re just …

Stanley: I don’t have it. I’ve decided that my life, that’s not what I want.

Setting People Free

DR. HALLOWELL: So you’re fulfilling your mission from the voice that spoke to you at age 7 by setting people free.

Stanley: Yeah

DR. HALLOWELL: From fears

Stanley: Well, and all the negativity that they have. I had a woman who called me while I was living on my boat. I was anchored in St. John, I think, at the time in the Virgin Islands. She called to me and said, “A friend said you might be able to help me.” I said, “Well, what’s your name?” She said, “Laura,” and I said, “Okay. Well, Laura, what can I do for you?” She said, “Well, for some reason, I seem to keep dating these men who, they’re a bunch of jerks, and they’re assholes, too. Why do I keep doing that?” She was insightful enough, at least, to realize she had this pattern going.

I said, “Well, tell me a little bit, Laura, about how things were when you were growing up there as a child at home with your parents. What was that like?” She said, “Well, I was a cute little blonde-haired girl. My father doted on me, and I think my mother resented that.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, my mother used to say things like, you’re not really beautiful and nobody’s going to love you.” I said, “What do you mean? When did she say this?” Laura said, “Almost every day.”

I said, “Well, Laura, we’re going to slap a Band-Aid on this thing right now, because you know perfectly well that your mother could not possibly have known whether you were going to be beautiful or whether some man would find you beautiful and fall in love with you. You’re not going to know how your future life is going to play out. In fact, the whole time your mother was saying these things to you, it was as if she were holding a mirror up in front of her own face. She wasn’t even talking about you. She was talking about herself.”

On the other end of the phone, I heard silence for a long time, and then Laura said, “Oh, my God. The power of what you just said.” She said, “I can feel tingling all the way down to my fingertips, and I can feel the muscles of my face moving and changing.”

DR. HALLOWELL: You’ve really made good on that mission.

Stanley: The mother felt unlovable, clearly. That was it, and she had put the unlovability on her daughter. What I had done is put the unlovability back on the mother where it kind of belonged. And freed Lora from that.

DR. HALLOWELL: Right.

Stanley: She called me back about a month later, and she said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I have a friend who’s a psychologist. She’s been away in Australia for a whole year. She’s back now, and I ran into her in the store the other day. She said, “Oh, my God, Laura! You’re so beautiful! What’s happened to you?” Laura told her what I had done, and the psychologist said, “Oh, he re-framed this for you. How long did that take?” Laura said, “About five minutes.”

DR. HALLOWELL: You have a gift, for sure.

Stanley: Yeah, and there are many instances like that where we just don’t have words to express our new ideas.

DR. HALLOWELL: You’re a remarkable person, regardless.

Stanley: I’m glad you think so.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh, I know so. Thank you so much for connecting.

Stanley: It’s a pleasure to meet you. It’s wonderful to have someone interested in my story so that I can tell it.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh, my goodness! Who would not be?

Stanley: I’m writing a book about my experience because one of the things that I have to do is to make available to people, not only my own experience, but also what I know, what I’ve learned because what I have learned through my life, through my sacrifices, clearly, was not intended only for me.

DR. HALLOWELL: It’ll be a wonderful book.

Stanley: It’s for everyone to share. It’s a gift, and gifts are to be shared.

DR. HALLOWELL: Unwrapped and shared.

Stanley: Yeah, that’s exactly how I think about it.

DR. HALLOWELL: Thank you so much, Stanley.

Stanley: It was a pleasure meeting you.

connecting with others

Closing Statements

Sara Guertin: All right. We hope you enjoyed that conversation and connection. We thought it was fascinating here, but we’d love to hear what you think. If you did have a reaction to it or if you have a show idea or something else you want to tell us, reach out. You can call us at 844-55-CONNECT. You can go to our website at distractionpodcast.com, and that has all of the ways that you can reach us there. We really want to hear from you, so please contact us. Thanks for listening.

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “When’s The Last Time You Sat Down with A Stranger?”. Distraction is available on iTunes

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