What is conversation, and how can it be a way of creating transformative change in your life? At its most basic level, it's a two-way path, a respectful give-and-take requiring that both participants feel free to express what they're noticing and experiencing.
A recent post by my colleague Linda Graham, MFT, introduced me to Sherry Turkle's book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, in which Turkle explores the qualities of dedicated, person-to-person conversation that enrich people's work and lives. Such talks include the right not to say everything perfectly, to stumble at times, to hesitate as a new thought comes through, perhaps stimulated by something the other person has just said. Moments of shared quiet and reflected feelings are also very much part of a rich conversational flow that may seem at times to meander, but is actually diving deep into what is productive and necessary for authentic change to happen.
Authentic conversation is valuable in the moment it's happening, and also in the ripples it extends into the lives of those in the conversation— and beyond. Consider the fascinating ways in which Japanese artistic techniques influenced European and American artists and art from the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries (as I learned at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco's recent exhibit, Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists).
This global conversation came about, in large part, through the freedom to exchange new ideas and artwork among merchants, artists, and writers traveling to, and from, a Japan newly opened to trade and cultural exchanges with the West. As with all generative conversations, transformation happened because the participating artists— notably, the Impressionists and Whistler— began interacting in bold new ways with color, diagonal lines, and the Japanese angles of view with which they were now in contact. From this came the daring leaps of imagination that created radically different types of painting masterpieces never before seen in the Western world.
The coaching conversation, too, is an opportunity for connection that expands people's visions and ability to move forward in new ways. In partnering with a coach, a person engages in a new way of speaking with someone that frees their their hearts and imaginations to explore new ways of perceiving situations they couldn't see before. That, in turn, can lead to unexpected possibilities and desired changes.
Below, for example, is a coaching conversation I had with Frances, a retired professor in her mid-60's who was considering a new career, moving out of the home she'd shared with her beloved husband, and coping with a broken foot. It was a transformative experience for my client in that she achieved an attitudinal shift that was very helpful to her in handling the significant changes she was going through.
Frances) I'd like to explore today what it would be like to live in internal peace.
Eve) What would it be like to live in "internal peace"?
F) (Pause) The more I don't "do," the more I improve my search for internal peace. Living without my husband, being by myself consciously in the dining room where we spent so much time together. I can no longer run from myself. Not being able to move well physically can be a blessing. I'm forced to learn more deeply about myself.
E) I'm feeling so much presence in your dining room now. What is it that you feel about the dining room and your husband as you make plans to move from the house?
F) In the dining room, he and I would share intellectual things together. He read Shakespeare to me. Though I've run from the dining room for the past years since my husband died, now that I'm spending time here, I'm having some of my best memories of our time together. (Pause)
E) A room of love and connection. Now that you're not running from this, what's important about being here for you?
F) (Pause) For one thing, the dining room is the warmest room in the house. During this cold month while my foot heals from the surgery, I've come here to be warm.
E) You've been attracted here by the warmth. What is it to feel the warmth in this room?
F) I can be silent and focused on my body without being physically and mentally uncomfortable. I'm totally me here. I feel I can enjoy being there because I'm physically warm. Warmth plus soothing means peaceful. I have here a sacred sanctuary. There's beauty here in this place, and love that my husband gave this to me. Nobody can take this from me. (Pause)
E) What can you visualize now about how to carry the peace and beauty with you, wherever you go?
F) I can see the river outside coming through the valley. This is the image I want to take with me. The river sold me on this house when my husband bought it. I love it. (Pause)
E) What is it that you love about the river?
F) (Pause) A sense of flowing and movement. Transformation. Water moves on, and is never the same, impermanent. The river goes by but stays. Letting go is not giving up. I need to meditate, allow these thoughts to come and go. Making sense and not making sense. Just being. Instead of dashing around all the time.
E) You're not dashing now.
F) (Laughs) That's right, and I'm at peace with that for now.