I don’t talk much on the phone. That’s what I used to say before I stopped using messaging tools like What’s App. Since then, I have been making an effort to pick up the phone when someone calls me. Smile. Yesterday, I got off the phone after talking to a friend living in The Netherlands, and I was reminded of the intricacies of creating and sustaining conversations.
Although young, the friend has that precious ability to appear interested in what you are saying or feeling. I am shy. He is shy. Together, we should be dumbstruck, but I find myself talking more because he asks questions, is curious, and then listens to the answers. These are precious qualities. I have found, over the years, that we are losing the art of conversing. The art of sharing and the art of listening.
A couple of weeks ago, during the middle of the weekday, I met another friend who had taken the day off work. As I came to the restaurant, my friend was busy working on her laptop. “Sorry,” she said. “Just one email.” That email took more than 20 minutes probably, which I used nibbling on papads and reading my book. Then, we spoke for a while, but my friend was distracted by the phone, receiving calls that she felt she could not ignore. We met. But did we speak? I came back wondering. It wasn’t her fault because I have had wonderful conversations with her before, but we don’t grasp the precious nature of time.
The next day, a friend of mine came home in the evening. For a while, we looked at the friend’s photos of a trip to Goa on Instagram. Then, as evening turned into night, we left the phones and just sat together and spoke, cozy as beaver rats. “You are one of the most confused, muddled heads I have ever come across,” he admonished me gently. I laughed. He always gets the inanities of myself. I scrap with him for his remarks and snarl at his observations. We giggle about old times, and I receive the special brand of philosophy only this friend can dole out. We spoke into the wee hours of the night, sharing confidences and memories of the friendship we have shared since 2006. It was conversation. Connected.
As I came back from my third Vipassana retreat on Sunday, I was surrounded by thoughts of the past and remonstrances and regrets from a time that doesn’t exist anymore. I am not a super-duper calm compassionate person. The more I meditate, the more my neurosis and insufferable pain comes to the surface. I didn’t talk to anyone once the period of silence ended at the retreat. I didn’t feel like speaking. It took me a day to resume the rhythm of just what we call as ‘normal’ conversation – the ebb and flow of hungry words that we chomp in our need to feel ‘connected’. That’s when I thought of conversations. A lot of people I see online crave ‘good conversations’ but are we good conversationalists? How can we create connections that matter when we meet?
- Don’t use the phone. Seriously. Nothing in life is going to collapse if you don’t answer the phone for an hour. Exceptional circumstances are just that – exceptions.
- Meet with the intention to listen. Our intent to listen is fading with each passing connect on social media. We are used to likes and comments as our way of communication. We don’t listen to listen but to instead offer already our next words. Just throw what you think you want to say and just listen. Take it in. A person is giving you their time and sharing their words. How precious is that!
- Ask questions. It shows that you are genuinely interested. Don’t just ask vague questions. But ask with the intent to know more about the person with you.
- Remember the small details. Do you know that your friend’s Mom likes rasgulla? Or that she hates the color green? These things matter. Bring it up and watch the conversation transform.
- Don’t be afraid to share. I am guilty of this many times. I don’t think that anyone would be interested in what I have to share. So, I clam up. But, a conversation should not be one-sided. It takes a certain degree of love for ourselves to share.
And every time, remember this: Memento Mori. Time passes us by. As we grow older, we find there are fewer people we can truly connect with and talk to. Don’t let them go. And the richest, most beautiful conversation is also the one you have with yourself. When we are comfortable being with ourselves, we find it easier to open the space in our hearts.