The Right Kind of Conversation

We do not talk to each other mindfully aware of what we are doing.

Our talk revolves around news, weather, sports and commentary/opinion. When we talk about ourselves it is in the spirit of “look what has happened to me.” “I’m getting married, look at my engagement ring.” “I just lost my job, and don’t know what I’m going to do.” “The kids are doing great—let me tell you what they just did.” “The kids are doing terrible—you won’t believe what they just did.”

Our talk to each other is about the drama of life, of our life. We can’t get away from how good it is, or how bad it is, what is happening, and what we hope will–or what we are afraid will—happen next. The drama consumes us. Without it to talk about, we would have nothing to say.

Talking about what we talk about saves us from having to think about what we are saying (Or hear what we are saying), or about what we say in response to what is said to us. We say what we always say. The conversations we have today were the conversations we had yesterday, and the ones we will have tomorrow. We speak to one another in a trance state, hypnotically, mindlessly, going through the social ritual of reaffirming our place in the group by reenacting the rite of membership: “I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re all okay. Let’s do this again tomorrow, or maybe this afternoon.”

In order to be authentic, genuine, natural, original human beings, we have to have what we need in order to be who we need to be in each situation that arises in our life. We find that only in a community capable of engaging us in the right kind of conversation–a dialogue that brings our heart/soul/mind into the conversation, and engages us with our heart/soul/mind and our two lives: the life we are living and the life that is ours to live.

The right conversation is one in which those who are engaged in conversation are understood—and understand themselves–through the experience of being understood. When we make ourselves plain to others, we make ourselves plain to ourselves. When we become transparent to others, we become transparent to ourselves—and are “transparent to transcendence,” to use Joseph Campbell’s phrase. If you want to wake someone up, understand them in a way that allows them to understand themselves, by being listened to in a way that enables them to hear what they are saying.

Understanding ourselves is the prerequisite for moving in the direction of wholeness and integrity and sincerity, for coming to terms with how things are and how things also are—and how things need to be.  In other words, understanding ourselves is the prerequisite for growing up, and being who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are. We do not grow up without consciously moving from who we are/were to who we need to be to be who we are on the way to being who we are yet to be.

Carl Jung said, “We are who we have always been, and who we will be.” The work of growing up is understanding this, knowing it to be so, and living to be conscious of who we are, and of who we need to be, in each situation as it arises. We need a community to talk this over with—to allow us to talk ourselves into being who we are, and who we need to be.

When we dream, we dream about how it is with us—about how it is with us and our work, the work we came to do. Each night’s dream is a mirror reflecting how it is with us, our life and our work, here/now. As we work to understand our dreams, we work to understand ourselves, and to bring ourselves forth as it is appropriate to the occasions of our living. How many times during a week do you talk with other people about your dreams the night before? And, they to you about theirs?

When we talk, we have to talk about how it is with us, and our work, the work we came to do. We have to talk about how we are working with the conditions and circumstances of our life in order to accommodate ourselves to our working conditions, so that we might do the work that is ours to do, within those conditions and circumstances.

We have to talk about our balance and harmony, and what the destabilizing forces are at work in our life and how we might counteract them in restoring our equilibrium and homeostasis, in doing what needs to be done.

We talk to better understand what we have to say, and to understand what we are saying. It takes the right kind of community to listen us to the truth of who we are, of what we are doing, and what we need to do. We will never get it all said. There is always more to be said than has been said. Everything we say opens the way for more to be said. The deeper we go, the wider grows the world we are discovering, and it is always as though we are just beginning. The need to talk ourselves into greater understanding will be with us always.

Joseph Campbell’s comment, “Reflection on experience leads to new realizations,” guides us through our inner dialogue and our external conversations. As we say what our experiences are with our situation in life and with the work that is Our Work, we expand our understanding with new realizations. The more we talk, the more we discover what we have to say.

We are forever caught between the demands, requirements and restrictions of our situation and the work that is Our Work—and have to work things out between the often mutually exclusive requirements of both worlds. Our situation is the field of action, the canvas upon which we bring ourselves forth to share the boon of our being with the time and place of our living.

Our Work is what we are to do in the field of action, to bring forth who we are, offering the gifts we have to give, as blessing and grace upon the here and now of our living.  In doing that, we have to square ourselves with the contradictions and conflicts between the two worlds. There is the world of space and time, mortgages and dental appointments, speeding tickets and over-drawn notices. And, there is the world of instinct and intuition, nudges, hunches, flashes of insight and understanding, overwhelming encounters with meaning and purpose, wonder and radiance, and the aesthetic arrest of numinous reality. These are the worlds of Logos and Mythos. And we are to integrate the visible world of physical/somatic reality with the invisible world of spiritual/psychic reality.

We are to “take care of business” with regard to the two worlds—the world of our stiz im leben, our setting in life, and the world of our heart, soul and mind. We are to be who we are within the terms of life operative in this physical world of our birth and death. Between birth and death, we have a certain amount of time to come to terms with who we are—the truth of our own unique being—the “I” that only we can be—and with the facts of our life—the limitations and restrictions that shape and limit the expression of who we are.

We have to find ways to work it all out. We have to work with the givens of our time and place, and of our spiritual qualities, values, gifts, perceptions and ways of being, in producing a life that we can be proud of within the age and culture of our living.

This is called Walking Two Paths At The Same Time. We have to take care of business on two levels. The baby needs to be changed and fed, the dog needs to get to the vet, we have a project report to make for our job, and duties and obligations to meet, all related to our setting in life. And we have to live there in certain ways—in ways that take into account the gifts, art, genus, original nature and innate virtues that are ours to bring to life in our life—in ways that do the work that is ours to do in, and around, the demands of our setting in life.

We cannot relax this tension. We must bear consciously the pain of our twin responsibilities. We cannot r-u-n-n-o-f-t and join the circus, or the circuit of like-minded-world-renouncing-communes, or conversations, where we repeat our mantras, and wait for the world to end.

When we talk, we have to talk about our work, and our setting in life, and the difficulties we are having getting them together. Our setting in life is the matrix within which we do our work. It is necessarily difficult because the real work here is to grow up.

Our work will grow us up if we do it within our life setting. If we r-u-n-n-o-f-t to do our work, we abandon our work, and remain stuck between worlds, but a citizen of neither, repeating our mantras, our truisms, our trite, worn, sayings that lose all meaning cut off from our setting in life.

Our conversations are necessary to keep our “feet to the fire,” and help us do the work that is ours to do in the time and place of our living. If they are helping us escape, deny, discount, discard either the work, or our setting in life, they are doing harm, not helping us maintain the tension, and work with what must be worked with on the two levels—they are not helping us “work it out” at all.

Thus, we have to think about what we are saying. We have to talk mindfully with people who are capable of receiving what we have to say, and respond mindfully to us. The right kind of conversation connects us with the work that is ours to do within the setting of our life—and forces us to consider how we are working with the things that face us in a day, in bringing the eternal things forth, deepening, enlarging, expanding who we are and what we are capable of, and growing up.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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