Embodied Conversation: What is it and Why is it Important?

Shifting Conversation for a More Connected World

In a society where disconnection is rampant and we seek belonging and inclusion, the practice of Embodied Conversation invites us to be more present in conversation. It asks us to look at our learned, often unconscious, patterns and challenges us to bring a more whole version of ourselves to the table.

All our lives we have all engaged in conversations. Since before we could talk we listened in on conversations the adults in our lives had and as children do, observed and absorbed what was going on around us. How does dad do it? How does mom do it? How you learned to approach conversation, and how you currently are in conversations was profoundly affected by the people you grew up around and the culture you grew up in.

Add in our own personal life experience along with the normal human panoply of gifts, shadows, passions, woundings, loves, fears, biases, wisdom, and blindspots, and you soon realize that we show up to every conversation with plenty of baggage. These old habits, spoken and unspoken expectations, and our cultural beliefs as to what common courtesy is supposed to look like all inform our conversations.

And then there are our own wants and desires. Why are we participating in a given conversation? Are we there to make a good impression? Generate business? Learn something new? Find love? Discover a sense of belonging? Or perhaps reaffirm old shadows and beliefs about the world?

Because each person at the table has their own cultural leanings, learned patterns, wants, and desires, we find ourselves pushing, pulling, defending, hiding, attacking, checking our cellphones, spacing out. Each conversation is a microcosm of a bigger world. A stage we act upon. It’s a wonder that we ever get past talking about the weather!

Stop. Take a deep breath and let it out. This is the first step to Embodied Conversation or for that matter, any mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword but in defense of mindfulness, 1) there are no shortcuts and 2) it works.

Mindfulness is a practice relatively new to the West considering it’s been around for thousands of years and is foundational to much Eastern thought and philosophy. Unlike a lot of other things in our convenience-filled lives, there are no magic pills, shortcut-gimmicks, apps that can do it for us or some new sustainable-plant-based-ultra-mindful-brain-protein super powder that will somehow allow us to bypass the work and outsource our way to more a mindful state.

The only way to mindfulness is to practice mindfulness. And with practice comes challenge, struggle, discomfort, distraction, and all the other reasons we find to not practice. But with patience, persistence, and continued practice (say, for the rest of our lives?), we become more able to abide in a more mindful state and reap the benefits of which there are plenty.

For the Western evidence-based mindset, there exist innumerable clinical studies proving mindfulness to correlate with positively affecting numerous psychological and health variables including (but far from limited to): stress, anxiety, depression, disordered eating, substance abuse, as well as aiding in life satisfaction and fulfillment.

Embodied Conversation calls for us to take our mindfulness practice off the cushion and into our everyday conversations be they mundane, intimate, confrontational, or profound. It challenges us to be more present in these conversations bringing more awareness to how we show up (or how we don’t show up) for ourselves and others.

The concept of “showing up” is big but it also calls into question our agency within conversations. What does it mean to show up for ourselves in a conversation? If we’re being talked at, lectured, not being seen what are we to do? Do we walk away? Interrupt and talk louder? Or do we passively take it?

In a world where we’ve been made more aware of issues like inclusion or unconscious bias, how do we lean into conversations and stay present, maintaining our integrity when the dialogue moves into challenging territory?

And what if the conversation is simply boring? The people you’re talking with aren’t necessarily boring but the conversation is lagging and bogged down in the netherworld of small-talk. How do you create openings that expand conversations inviting the others to go deeper? How do we literally shift the conversation?

It starts with being mindful of what’s going on within ourselves. We learn to listen better – not just with our ears and brain but with our eyes, heart, and bodies. We learn to step more fully into conversation mind, body, heart, and dare I say, soul? And when we are more present within ourselves and conversation we also begin to claim deeper agency over shifting the conversation.

Embodied Conversation is a practice being developed by Culture Shift Agency in conjunction with BreakBread World. To learn more about upcoming Embodied Conversation events and training visit breakbread-world-events.