How to Start a Conversation (Project)

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In the depths of winter, I began to yearn for conversation. Not posting or tweeting, but talking face to face. Not the quick “Fine” tossed off in response to “How are you?” as we rush off to do the next thing but deep conversation with thoughtful answers and full listening. I was hungry for it and invited other women to join me in my search for nourishing dialogue.
We formed what we then called the Winter Conversation Project. A monthly gathering to get us from the bitter cold temperatures of January through the dregs of mud season in April. It was a small group, eight women who all knew me but did not necessarily know one another. The ground rules were simple. Meet once a month for two hours in the evening with one woman designated to come up with questions to be answered in turn. There was to be no chit chat when we started. Rather, we got right down to business each time. There was to be full confidentiality in the group (no hearing what you said repeated by someone in the grocery store), interruptions were kept to a minimum and there was full, engaged, active listening by each woman.
The questions ran the gamut from telling our life story in four minutes (yes, there was a timer), thoughts about death and how we want to be remembered, feelings about our families, how we felt about our bodies, the hardest life lesson we ever learned, which fictional character we most admired, memories of childhood and, yes, sex. We’ve shared stories, feelings, tears and laughter. The words “I’ve never told anyone this before” and “This is the only place where I feel heard” came up many times. We walked away each time energized, almost dazed, by the discoveries made about ourselves and each other through the simple act of conversation.
As mud season receded and spring flowers bloomed, we quickly decided there were many more questions that we wanted to ask and answer, so we became the Women’s Conversation Project. We eagerly anticipate each gathering, sometimes making notes about the questions ahead of time or asking family members how they would respond. As our trust deepens, so do the questions.
Amid a world of social media where perfection is manufactured and carefully groomed, we have created a safe place to share our imperfections and have learned that by doing so we have allowed our truest selves to shine through. It has taken courage and commitment to get to this place. The conversations that we have shared have fulfilled the hunger that I felt that winter day and have nourished the mind, body and soul of each of us. It is not just the words, though they are powerful and reveal much about us. The gift of listening, with openness and non-judgment, completes the circle and makes one feel truly seen and valued. Ask the question, then listen. That’s all that is required to start your own conversation project.

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