I participated in a three month online Conversational Leadership program with the poet, David Whyte. earlier this year.
David’s first invitation was to ask, ‘What conversations do you want to stop having?’ It struck a deep chord within. What conversations do I want to stop having?
Having just finished 14 days at home in isolation, I contemplated this question and it became clear as to where I would turn my attention. This was all an act of Grace and perfect timing. I live a life of independence, care, compassion, choice of work that I love, creativity and have a partnership that has many gifts. However, the metaphor I would use for the conversation that I wanted to stop having, is that of a fridge that rattles in the background, you adapt to a noise, even find silence in the noise, and yet when the fridge and the rattle stops, there is a sigh of relief at the true silence and stillness.
One of the key moments in connecting with the conversation I wanted to stop, was leaning into the relationship to my vulnerability. The acceptance of it, the welcoming of it, not as a weakness but rather as an opportunity to step into it. It felt like a relief to turn toward it as if finally, I was ready.
The steps in the self empathy practice from Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the Ongo program, came to mind when I went deeper into this question, What conversations do I want to stop having?
Taking a few breaths with each question helped to ground and centre myself and fostered within me a sense of curiosity and kindness for this particular conversation I was internalising about my partner and which, of course, was manifesting in our way of being together. It was an old and familiar one and yet not on the front burner, rather just humming in the background.
I could choose to justify the thinking – there was a list of why I would think like that and make for a very good court case or, I could listen to the voice that wanted to fix the problem – if I do strategy A and he does B then all will be well…. and so on.
Just being with this vulnerability, this call for change, for leaning into stopping an old conversation, just as it was, in all its rawness, pain and sadness, I felt a depth of care, curiosity, welcome and relief. ‘Here you are’. It was a time to review our 24 year relationship. I received empathy with a trusted friend twice before I broached the topic at hand.
This question and the self empathy practice combined, opened me to the conversations that were really calling. Conversations that were tough and touchy yet, clear and generous and welcomed by both of us. They revolved around the centuries old theme of sexism and power and how they were subtly still manifesting in our relationship even after 24 years.
We are still in relationship, we are still in conversation and open to any outcome and there is a quietness that is heartening at a very deep level. I have grieved and celebrated. The silence is deepening and so is the love and our mutual capacity for being in honest, courageous conversations.
Can you relate to this? I share this in the hope that it is supportive in the work that we share and the path we all walk together in relationship to ourselves and others.
As David Whyte invites us, What is the conversation you wish to stop having?