Ten Thousand Continuous Conversations
A month or so ago, I hit a wall. Actually, the wall hit me. A wall of voices - voices responding to my calls and questions, voices with requests, voices shouting things about floods and fires and the newest political scandal and asking where their homework ended up and if their jeans were dry from the laundry.
The noise was all around me, but particularly prevalent online. Being very active on Facebook, I'd collected quite a few conversations that I'd been unable to finish. Private messages, comments left to which I hadn't responded, tags asking LISA WILSON to please respond.
On top of this were emails - discounts from craft stores that I wanted to take advantage of before they expired, notes from teachers about what the kids were doing in school, check-ins from friends, motivating messages from newsletters that, at one time or another, I'd subscribed to in order to uplift and inspire me.
On top of all of THAT were the voices I could actually hear outside of my head: my kids asking for help with projects, my husband telling me about a schedule change at work, neighbors delighting me with stories of their recent vacations, friends responding to my requests for tales about their daily lives.
I had ASKED for these voices.
I had WANTED to hear them all.
But I couldn't.
And amidst all of the noise,
not only was I unable to hear the conversations that I had asked to have, I was losing the one voice I needed to hear the most:
So I jumped off of Facebook without a warning, stopped checking email, and turned down the volume on the noisiest voice of all - the guilt voice. (You know the one - that voice that says if you DON'T check social media or email or that voicemail or follow up with your friend or your mother or your child's teacher that EVERYTHING will fall apart.)
I felt the weight of those ten thousand continuous conversations rise off of me.
If for only a few moments, I could breathe again.
This was the time around the holidays. I had multiple conversations that I needed to keep having. From planning family get-togethers to deciding if it was worth getting Echo Dots or that extra stocking stuffer for the kids, I had to keep talking and certainly needed and wanted to keep listening. As much as I hated walking away from valuable online conversations and turning down potentially valuable in-person ones, I needed to be able to hear what was happening right in front of me.
Or perhaps I needed to be able to hear what was happening within so that I didn't lose my sanity and my ability to listen.
Either way, it took several weeks before I felt calm enough inside to return to even thinking about rejoining some of the conversations. In some ways, the weight of returning was enough to keep me away. The thought of all of the, "I'm so sorry for the delay"s, and "I apologize for not being in touch sooner"s that I wanted to offer was exhausting.
But in between all of the parties and gift-giving and cleaning and grocery shopping, I'd still been listening to the conversations in my mind. And, keeping ego in check here, there were some really good conversations going on. Things that I wrote down in long, rambling thought-spills, things that I recorded via voice recorder as I was driving, insights that came from who-knows-where that woke me out of an almost-asleep state and demanded to be recorded. They were GOOD, and I knew they could have value in helping me and others live better lives.
I've often thought about what would happen if I died tomorrow (from a spiritual practice, not a depressed morbidity). I've thought about what would happen to these perspectives, these valuable thoughts that are collecting dust in old journals and notebooks. All of these unique ways in which I've seen life, these poetic moments that could make someone else smile, these must've-come-from-a-divine-source insights into life itself...what would happen to all of them? Journals would most likely get tossed along with the rest of my no-longer-needed items.
Years of life, perspectives only I will have, will be unshared - and thus lost forever.
If that thought didn't light a fire under my butt, I don't know what would.
But the whole, "what would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?" only lasts so long. We consider it, and then live through tomorrow and the next day and death becomes once again just a far away concept.
The decision to keep listening, to keep talking, to share that which would otherwise be lost forever - had to be an ongoing choice. Fire lit ... now it was up to me to keep it burning.
And this is how I'm doing it.
This is how I'm existing in peace amidst those ten thousand continuous conversations. The conversations in which I WANT to participate.
It's an ongoing practice. Will it work long term? I don't know. But these five things are working for now, and that is what matters.
1) Letting go of guilt.
This comes up every single day. I feel guilty for not sending the birthday card, for not responding to the email, for not asking in more depth about my husband's day at work. But I become aware of the physical sensation of guilt, take a breath, and return to a peace with what is (not what I expect it to be). The guilt swells again, I become aware again, breathe, return, repeat. I send what I can, respond when I can, and breathe through the rest.
2) Building my own energy with alone time.
An authentic conversation - whether it is a 2-sentence or 2-hour conversation - requires energy. Each time I say, "thank you" to a friend online or the barista at Starbucks, I mean it. I want to say it as deeply as I feel the gratitude (as much as I want to actually feel the gratitude!), and to do so requires a presence, and requires that energy to be passed over to the other person.
I've discovered that when my responses start becoming surface responses (in social conversations, just chatting about the weather with friends, getting bored with conversations with my kids, being unable to respond to FB messages because it feels like I've said everything already), I am depleted of energy. The more depleted I am, the more time I need. (I'm an introvert - I "recharge" by being alone.) For the past several weeks, I've been sneaking away for journaling time, a short drive here or there, and trying to absorb as much beauty as possible (podcasts, looking outside, truly looking into my loved ones' eyes, pondering quotes that move me, etc.). I've been recharging. As long as I keep up this practice, I can keep up the practice of authentic conversation.
3) Responding instead of pondering.
Many of my online conversations pile up because I don't respond immediately. Part of this is for practical reasons: I read a lot of them on my phone, and I despise typing via that phone...so I wait until I'm at home in front of the computer. (*side note - I'm looking into a portable keyboard to connect to my phone to overcome this issue. I'll let you know how that goes.)
But the other part of not responding is because I'm, 1), pondering the words that will create an appropriate response and never actually responding and, 2), I'm honestly anxious about how my response will lead to more conversations to which I have to respond...an ongoing circle. My solution for now (beyond the keyboard), is to just respond. No thinking about if there are other, better words to use. Just typing, or in person, using those vocal cords, to just respond. Life requires this ongoing energy exchange. It won't always be "perfect". It just asks that we show up and participate.
4) Finding inspiration.
It is easy to get stuck in the same circles. We see the same people most every day, drive the same routes, have the same conversations. When I'm trying to have authentic conversations about ANYTHING, it is the creative nature of the give-and-take that creates a vital conversation.
We've all had the "how-are-you-I'm-fine-how-are-you-I'm-doing-fine-weather-is-crappy-isn't-it-sure-is-ok-have-a-nice-day" conversation over and over. I have a choice to respond in that manner, or to create conversations that I WANT to have. (*side note - those conversations aren't BAD. I just don't want them to be the only thing I discuss, lest those ten thousand conversations become exactly the same.)
To actively create conversations, I need to feel inspired and in touch with the types of things that I want to discuss. I WANT to know about my kids' days. I WANT to chat about creativity with friends. I WANT to discuss spirituality woven into mundane life, to talk about the meanings of movies I just watched, to discuss the pain and suffering and dark sides of life that we hide day-to-day. I want to talk about crochet and journaling and yes, even laundry and what type of coffee is best. If I live a life that puts me in a rut, I can't contribute very much to the conversation. When I am feeling energized and inspired, I can add far more. I've been reading more books, listening to OnBeing, taking more photos (which helps me notice and be inspired by the world around me). I'm changing the conversations by being the creative force behind them.
5) Fewer conversations.
This seems like the most obvious, but is actually the most difficult to do. I have no interest in talking less to friends and family. I actually want to know MORE about what is going on in their lives. I have no interest in talking less about things that matter to me - I actually believe we all need more time spent conversing about those things. And Facebook? Yes, it is one place to tackle - but it is also where I find some of my most valuable conversations. So where I've had to start is in my own head. Through journaling and dumping it all onto a page, to meditative walking where I start to turn down the volume on mental noise, to simple awareness throughout the day of my own thoughts ... I have to start where I am with the conversations I can control.
This is where I am, and it feels good - if not challenging on a daily basis.
May you find peace with the conversations around and within you, and may you find the strength and energy to creatively engage with those that enliven you.
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