A Great Conversation?


 A friend called the other day and the timing could not have been better. For I was in need of a great conversation.

 I had been unable to get much sleep the night before, which was, I think, related to a propensity to sometimes carry the world’s weight upon me. I’ve described such a struggle in the night as one of those occasions when ‘everything closed in on me.’ 

 But not, thankfully, for long. For on the phone the next day was a friend of some thirty five years, who consistently has a liberating effect upon me. 

 Which is that, upon conversing with him, I find that thoughts and feelings flow freely. 

 In great conversations with my friend, I so often find that I say what I didn’t know I could sayI feel what I didn’t know I felt. I know what I didn’t think I knew.

 He helps me, in other words, to locate my best self and to be it.

 Which is exactly how the great Irish philosopher/poet, John O’Donohue, described the upshot of a great conversation.

 Interviewed by Krista Tippet on National Public Radio just months before his sudden death seven years ago, O’Donohue said that in a great conversation -"you overhear yourself saying things that you never knew you knew.” 

 In other words, a great conversation is characterized by surprises and revelations. One exclaims in response: 'Did I say that? I didn’t know I could. I didn’t know that was in me!' 

 Another consequence of a great conversation, says O’Donohue, is "when you hear yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely find places within you that you thought you had lost.”  

 Which is to say that you suddenly remember some great memory, or an insight, or even a difficult period in your life that you’re now ready to look at with fresh eyes. All kinds of hitherto buried places are retrieved, relived and baptized.   

 You come away from a great conversation, says O’Donohue, with a sense that the two of you had entered "on to a different plane.”

 Through the absorbing dialogue, the two of you entered another dimension  and are left inspired, elevated and enlarged.

 Consequently, says O’Donohue - “such a conversation continues to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards.

 Now, the fuel for this level and quality of conversation can sometimes be a crisis of some kind. It could be that you’re up against something in your life. You're pushing against something. 

 But, quite naturally, you’ve been thinking: 'Why me and why now? I don’t want this and don’t think I can take it anymore!'

 But the demon you’re engaging, or thorn in the flesh you want to be rid of, may actually turn out to be the catalyst for the greatest conversation you’ve ever had.

 It could even be that the worst thing you’ve come up against will catapult you into some kind of liberating communion with another human being. And may be as well instrumental in the realization of both self and God. 

 The great darkness you’ve been pushing against is the darkness that precedes the light breaking through. 

 Now, again, we think that we’d prefer not to have something to push against. We are not very keen to welcome what O’Donohue calls "those old notions of growth and development that we need something to push against.” 

 Ours may be a protest against the idea that we need something to push against in order to grow.

 Ours may be the feeling or the wish that growth should be just delivered to us, without any effort or struggle. 

 We’d like, in other words, the blessing without the struggle in the night - thank you very much - and have no interest in climbing Jacob’s ladder, or engaging in an all night wrestling match.

 But it doesn’t work like that. Life doesn’t work like that. As the Buddhists say: Life is suffering. Which is the recognition that 'this is how it goes,’ or will go, before you know it.

 Expressed differently - the smoothness never lasts for long. 

 And that’s because, says O’Donohue, there’s "a dialectic going on.” 

 There are, O’Donohue explains, all kinds of "forces all around us," that are not so much kind, as existing to be an impetus and spur to growth.

 Which we would prefer, as I’m saying, not to be the case. We’d rather that there be a total absence of unkind forces. But, regardless of our protests - well - there they are.

 It’s how it is. And it's how it goes. As Saturday Night comedy queen, Gilda Radner, expressed in her book title: “It’s Always Something.” 

 It’s always something. There’s always something. There is always something to push against. It’s the rough around the diamond.

 And so, it’s out of that - out of the struggle - that the beauty comes. The understanding arises because of the friction within the oyster shell. The pearl emerges from the struggle, and not otherwise.

 As in my experience, there’s the struggle in the night followed by the great conversation. First the struggle, then the breakthrough into communion and understanding.

 It may indeed be our greatest need to experience the Light that comes from the inspired, great conversation.

 Instead of clashing with others through pointless, divisive monologues - the empty exchanges of each other’s well rehearsed talking points - you search for, and tap into, something deeper by actually communing with a fellow seeker. 

 "My real friends were the seekers,” said Jacques Lusseyran in his book And There Was Light.

 Jacques describes how he would find that because the entire orientation of his life was to search only for truth, beauty and goodness that “when people made friends with me, something rather astonishing happened to them. They were no longer satisfied with the kind of truth they were accustomed to.

 That is, having met Jacques they could never be the same again. They had tasted something higher. And, interestingly, they began to smell better. 

 For, as he writes in his book, when people do not engage in great conversations, their way of being with each other creates a moral odor. An unpleasant odor is emitted. A smell Jacques says that actually has a physical presence.

 As a blind man, Jacques was acutely aware of the foul moral odor that is emitted by people who don’t listen to each other and who don't recognize the Divine in each other. They create together atmospheres that stink. 

 Jacques writes about feeling all of his senses "bound and gagged" when with people who never engage in great conversations.

 Well, a great conversation is a great deodorant. When was the last time you had one? 


 Avaloketeshvara, Mirror of Four Directions, Margot Resigner