Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Have a Conversation

Conversations can be about many things. Some of them may be approached in a superficial way, some may be explored deeply. Here is a brief guide to achieving depth in a conversation. It is not the entire answer to the question of communion with others through speaking, but it is a partial answer. It has to do with listening.

What we listen for while speaking with others relates to what we hope to hear. What we hope to hear has to do with the meaning we give to the act of speaking with others. We can hope to hear little. We can hope to hear much. We can hope to share little. We can hope to share much. These are choices the heart makes about how much to invest in a conversation with another. Some people make a big investment, some choose to be barely there at all.

The act of listening is an act of the heart. It is a choice for love and a choice for intimacy. It is the expression of the desire to see, to hear, and to know another soul, often but not always for the purpose of participating in the life and the healing of that soul.

When we listen in a conversation, we may perceive various layers of meaning in what we hear. Each layer is real in its own right, but some are more real than others.

At the top or surface level of the conversation, we can hear the content of what is being said. This content is like a garment one wears. It is the obvious outer level of what is being said.

At the layer beneath this, there is the layer of personal meaning – the meaning attributed by the other to the content of what they are saying. Conversations can be invested with passion and great importance, or they can be treated casually or indifferently. One can speak within a conversation as if one were telling a story about someone else, or one can be fully present.

At the layer beneath the above, there is the expression of personal identity revealed through the meaning given to the subject being discussed. This is not the deepest level of identity, but the way in which the conscious self of the other feels about the self and about life.

Finally, at the layer beneath that, there is the revelation of the soul wanting to find an avenue of expression. The desire of the soul to express through the channel of words does not depend upon the skill with which words are used or the clarity of expression. It depends more than anything else on the degree to which one experiences one’s deeper self and lives in the world with integrity.

Listening to another in a conversation can be the source of great reward. In a world in which love is paramount and in which none are strangers, it gains us access to the essential self or soul of others, and with that access we may find a way of loving better, sharing more, and of participating in the healing of the world more fully. These are the goals of the heart and they are the goals of life itself.

In the next part of this discussion, we can look at another part of achieving depth in conversations, namely, through the choice to be open and vulnerable.

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