Recently, I have found myself aching for conversations of a different kind. I came to a startling realization that there are people who have been in my life for several years yet I don’t really know much about them. Sure, I may know what their job or field of study is, their general demeanor and personality, what’s their regular coffee order and more, and these are all good things to know about friends, but if someone were to ask me to describe said person, I would be forced to recount a rather two dimensional, surface-level narrative of who they are.
I want to know for example, what makes up their values and motivations? What stirs into their hearts the most genuine of joys? In what environment do they feel they can express who they truly are? What is something they are deeply fearful of? How did their childhood and upbringing shape them into the person they are today? What one word do the people in their life use to describe them? These are all questions I find myself veering towards.
Yes, suddenly bringing up such questions in the middle of casual conversation can feel forced, most likely very awkward and disjointed. But what starts as an awkward, stiff question taking a person by surprise gradually leads to moments of them coming to self-reflection, switching gears, pondering as they peel back the layers of themselves to come up with an answer to your question.
As I’ve started to put this into practice with the people in my own life, I can attest to the guaranteed awkwardness that comes with it all. But once the vulnerability and retrospection had been initiated with a question, I was surprised that every so often, I would see them continue talking and talking as if a faucet had suddenly been turned on as they expressed thoughts and realizations that had perhaps been unknowingly stirring around in their minds for however long. And within just a few minutes or hours, these end up becoming some of the most fulfilling conversations I’ve had with people than in the many years I’ve known them.
And so with this, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a poem, “The Invitation” that seems to capture the thoughts I’ve expressed so far and the posture I want to continually push myself to take on when talking with the different people in my life.
The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.