The music was deafening, the table was packed; I could feel the sweat pooling on my forehead. And there we sat tucked away into a corner, our bodies perpendicular as they hugged onto adjacent edges of our table. We yelled, asked twice, even thrice, “Can you repeat that?” Gradually the loud environment slipped away, and time faded as we dipped deeper into each other’s internal worlds.
We conversed about a shared zest for life, disappearing cultural diversity, and what all this traveling business is about anyway.
When a dull moment came to the conversation, I asked her what she did back in Germany, back in “normal” life.
She told me she’d been selling ice cream as a side job to pay for her travels. Nothing seemed particularly odd about this; over the past 8 months, I’d met countless seasonal workers – those living on the fringes of societies and the edges of a paycheck, earning just enough to fund travel.
I started to imagine how this conversation might differ if I met her while she was working in an ice cream shop:
“Would I view her differently?”
“Would we have formed a similar intellectual understanding?”
“What about all the immigrants, villagers, and laborers I’ve had deep conversations with, how have my internal labels shaped those experiences?”
It’s human nature to label; it helps us to process information. Though, in the process we take unique people with distinct personalities, and place them into shallow boxes based on singular traits such as religion, sexuality, nationality, race or profession. As a result, we view people, as how they “should be”, rather than who they actually are.
It’s a process of dehumanization in which we lose details and depth, personality and uniqueness; where we disconnect from our shared human sentience.
It’s more sinister than the innocuous example of a girl selling ice cream. Internal profiling is what allows us to discriminate African Americans as criminals or opposing religions as enemies, without actually knowing what they stand for, or who each person is.
But conversations can serve as lucid windows allowing us to see people for who they are rather than the labels we impose. Sharing our words offer us the opportunity to dissect our internal profiling, and deconstruct our mental programming.
I’m no master. But it’s a practice I have been working at in each and every conversation.
When one travels, you have no past history, no mutual friends, and no prior foundation to build relationships from. Thus, your words are imperative to connecting with others. In fact, they may be the only devices you have to form connection.
Conscious Conversation; beyond just words.
Listen Intently Instead of Talking Immensely
Maybe the most important part of conversation occurs not when we’re speaking, rather when we’re listening. Listening is our portal into different worlds, it’s our access point into the mind of another; it’s how we learn about the person who we are conversing with.
But it’s not just about listening; it’s about how we listen.
Fully Listening to Others
There is an aspect of listening which asks us to be fully with the person who is speaking.
Often when we listen, we mentally hold on to our responses, it doesn’t matter how much more talking is done, we have made up our minds on what we’d like to say.
When this occurs, we are no longer engaged in the conversation at hand. We may still be listening, but more to our internal chatter, rather than the spoken word. We’ve picked off a small part of the conversation, decided our response, and shut down to the rest.
We can practice an imagery technique to help us re-engage with the conversation at hand, while also remembering what it is we’d like to share. First, we see the response that is stuck in our mental space. After recognition, we can place the thought in a mental box, and move it aside. This helps us first to develop an awareness of our current headspace, and then to create more capricious minds.
Silence is a powerful tool. It permits all participants to develop their thoughts more fully and to speak from a place of conscious thought, rather than knee jerk reaction.
If we are always jumping over every gap in conversation, we are not only jumping over empty space but also the previous spoken words. We minimize the full potential of understanding that may be available to us.
The need to always speak limits our ability to hear.
When we fill all open space with words it may stem from a discomfort with silence, but these emotions can serve as our teachers. They can portray to us that we may be talking out of anxiety, and remind us to allow for spaces of silence.
The skill of silence comes with the ability to consciously pause and step back. The easiest way to learn is by simply having a sincere interest in the words being spoken to us.
When we have a down moment in the conversation, we can reflect: Is there something we can learn from the exchange? Is there more to be told?
With silence, we show others that their words are important and we’re willing to take the time to listen.
Keep Reactionary Emotions As Emotions
Throughout a conversation we feel a plethora of emotions. It’s natural human instinct to have feelings, and emotions in response to the words directed toward us.
There is nothing wrong with having emotions, but problems may arise if we allow fleeting emotions to dictate permanent actions.
When we react from our emotions, we allow them to linger; we allow them to have unnecessary occupancy in our mental space. We may develop emotive lenses and self -justifying prophecies to fit the theories our emotions have created.
But we can always return to clear footing. We can always respond from a more grounded place.
To do so, it starts with awareness of the existence of the emotions, and a realization of their temporality and normality. These realizations can give way to neutrality – we can understand their presence as neither positive nor negative – they just are. When we develop this understanding, we develop acceptance, and where acceptance goes, attachment and control leave. We no longer need to react, and thus the emotions are able to move through our mind as quickly as they entered.
At this point we are able to return to neutrality, objectivity, and potential understanding.
Both People Should Be Giving and Receiving
I was once told that we should view our experiences in life as 50% students and 50% teachers.
Though, when one person acts as a teacher there is unilateral transmission. It can seem as someone is imposing his or her will. Of course there are times when one person can offer more than the other, but we need to realize the other person also brings distinct knowledge to offer us. If we are playing teacher, we may belittle the learner, and rob ourselves of the chance we have to learn.
A side effect of always being a teacher is we may unconsciously reverberate things back to ourselves. We take what we are being told and contextualize it within the scope of our experiences. It’s like reading a book to find the next pages are not a continuation of the plot yet rather from a different novel entirely.
If we truly wish to learn about others we must let them stay in the domain of their experience.
To do so, first we need to realize the distinctness that both people bring to the conversation.
Are we aware that the person on the other end also has a unique story with special skills and problems, that they also contain similar depth to their life?
Once we have this realization, we can set clear intentions for our conversations: whether that be to learn about another, the world, or ourselves. These intentions allow us to check in, and see more objectively if our actions are incentivized by ego, or rooted in sincere learning. In the process of setting intentions, we develop a capacity to align our intentions to our words and actions. And importantly, we hone a capacity to be truly interested in the people we exchange with.
Often times our conversations are within the rigid boxes of transactions. We may become focused on solely obtaining a desire from our exchanges, and thus our words become limited to devices as to extract these desires.
When our conversations are solely transactional, our minds become one-pointed. While it may help us achieve what we’re looking for, the person we’re speaking to loses their depth. And we lose our opportunity at potential friendship, learning and understanding.
When our conversations are transactional, our relationships are transactional.
When we notice we’re acting out of transactional lenses, we can change the course by asking the person on the receiving end how they are, how their day has been going, and maybe even for a recommendation. When we do this, we express a willingness to open our minds and go beyond transactions. As a result, we may learn something new, be more informed about a service, or gain a friend in the process.
Conversations ask us to listen intently, instead of talk immensely, to be relaxed with our judgments, yet intense with our attention.
Conversations are a practice, and with any practice we won’t achieve our full potential if we aren’t consistently working at it.
I don’t expect, nor do I want people to take my word for it. I am no teacher; the real teachers in life are the experiences we have as we attempt to put the pieces together.
I hope my words can serve as guides - that they can encourage my readers to explore and discover their own conscious structure through their own experimentation.