I’m not a guru. And, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been mistaken for one. I wouldn’t say I’m anti-guru, but maybe I’m guru-dubious?
Here’s a spoiler alert: When it comes to figuring out the important questions, like how to live a better life or how to accomplish something worthwhile, you won’t learn it from a guru. You’ll learn it from your neighbor.
I’m talking about conversation. Gathering with small groups of people, on a regular to basis. To talk. To listen. To have a conversation.
Conversation changes everything. The big problem we fail to grasp in the world today is that we don’t have enough good conversations. Conversation has been destroyed by elements of social media, and a trend towards isolation. In turn, we are robbed of our ability to understand nuance and to flourish with each other. The gift of conversation is so close, but we’ve buried it. We’ve forgotten, become distracted. It’s gone missing, subsumed under shallow disagreements and digitally induced dopamine hits. I have definitely fallen prey to this disease.
I am in the generous middle of middle age (aka my mid 50’s). I’m not sure many of us arrive to this station in life without having been hit by a few sledgehammers of reality. Shit happens. It’s life. For me, the darkest corners would be fits of depression, overcoming and coping with addiction (sober 14 years), some bad life choices, and the tragic death of my close friend.
The good news is the worst things that happened to me wound up being the best things that ever happened to me.
I have been on a quest. Corny, but true, it’s a meaning quest; What the hell am I doing here? How can I help the people around me? How can I live a more fulfilling life?
I too have read all the books – and you know the books I’m talking about. “Ideas” books, religious books, atheists books, self help books. From Sapiens to The Power of Now, from Gladwell to Godin. I too have heard the talks – from Brené Brown to Amy Cuddy to Jill Bolte Taylor. I’ve listened to different podcasts like Rich Roll and Tim Ferriss. I’ve seen all the documentaries, from Forks Over Knives to I Am. The list is very, very long.
I enjoy these experiences, they aid me. I learn.
But the biggest, the most helpful, the most profound, the most consistent, the most reliable tool in my life has been a circle of people gathered for conversation. Ordinary people who share their personal truths. I’ve found that good conversations don’t need gurus. The conversation itself becomes the teacher. It brings out the best in us. We support each other and we question each other. We contemplate practices, we share successes, we share failures, we share doubts. We extend a hand when things go sideways. We own up to each other when we have gotten off track. The group calls us back.
Sometimes conversation is the gift of saying something stupid. I hold a thought inside. I come to believe in it, it consumes me at times. And then, I say it out loud. Now I see it, I perceive it. Together we observe it. It changes form. I am now able to take it forward, or discard it and move on.
It’s a kind of magic, which I call “neighborhood”.
I hope you will hear specifically what I am saying. Consistent conversation with groups of people changes everything. I’m part of something. To be sure, I learn. Maybe more importantly though I feel guided, aided, motivated, supported, trusted.
I’m a member of a few groups in the neighborhood. One of my groups is with people who live right near me. The others are with people all over the US and Canada. The groups have been the antidote to my feelings of emptiness and isolation. They have kept me on track and connected me with neighborhoods all over.
More than this though – conversation takes me forward. Conversation takes groups of us forward.
And because I found this was something that was missing in my life, I made a place online where others can try it. It’s a virtual neighborhood where real people gather to have meaningful conversation. I hope you’ll join us.