As I’ve shared before, I am (almost) always up for a new adventure. I like exploring and my curiosity about people and places guides me forward. But something I consider nearly as important to me is getting together with other people and talking about subjects that matter. Whether they are friends or just acquaintances, the opportunity to get beyond the superficial and connecting with my mind and heart is intoxicating. Surprisingly, this last week here in Mexico, Thom and I participated in three different discussion groups that left me feeling as full and satisfied as a gourmet five-course meal. That got me wondering if others feel the same way I do and if it is so gratifying, why isn’t it more common?
To begin with we were invited to our first conversation by a man we met just days before. The man, who I’ll call Rick, explained that he was leading a group in Authentic Relating. Neither of us had heard of the organization, but based upon his explanation it sounded like it could be interesting. Thom and I have encountered dozens (hundreds?) of different processes through the yeas and unless it is an immediate “no” for either of us we normally say “why not” and try it at least once.
According to Rick, Authentic Relating is a practice that allows people to get together and connect with others in deep and meaningful way. The process is generated by exercises or games led by a facilitator. On the evening we attended Rick explained the “game” we were going to play was called “The Hotseat.” During the hour and half, each person would take the hot seat and everyone else is encouraged to ask that person anything they wanted. You don’t have to ask anything if you don’t want, but you also don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to even if asked. In fact, you can lie if you want to. Obviously if the intention is to get to know each other and connect, honesty is probably the best course of action.
The number of people present determines the length of time each person is in the hot seat. And the facilitator also monitors the time spent on each question giving everyone a chance to participate if they choose. In our group there were nine plus the facilitator himself which gave us each six minutes. Everyone participated and nearly every question was answered. It was amazing that in an hour and a half this group of strangers became friends with each having authentic stories to tell about their lives. It was more enjoyable than I even anticipated. Of course, different facilitators suggest different “games” so who knows what will come out of it if we attend again.
The second discussion is one that is held weekly here in Ajijic, MX by the Lake Chapala Society. Led by a person named John, the group attracts about fifteen men and women every week. Sitting around a long table, the topics covered are generated by attendees emailing them to John beforehand which he then sends to everyone before the meeting. The tag line for the group is: “Intelligent conversation with intelligent people about topics that concern us all.” We’ve gone to four of them and are impressed by how diverse and interesting the people who attend are, as well as the variety of topics we cover. While politics is usually not the subject at hand, it often pops in when discussing other issues and it is refreshing how respectful everyone is of differing points of view. This group has been one of the highlights of our time here in Ajijic.
We attended our last group yesterday afternoon. I had been hearing about the concept of Death Cafes for several years now and when I learned there was one here in Ajijic I asked Thom if he was interested as well. No, it has nothing to do with Halloween or advertising a mortuary—instead it is an organization that has been meeting in groups officially since 2011 to talk about dying. The premise behind the group is to provide safe and open spaces where people can talk about something that affects us all—sooner or later. Their actual mission statement is, “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
The Death Café here in Ajijic is held at a local coffee shop once a month. While there is never a cost and all facilitators are volunteers, they do recommend drinking tea or coffee and eating snacks as a way to make the meeting relaxed and casual. First about 20 of us gathered to hear the ground rules like no cross talk, no advice unless solicited and just about any topic is acceptable. We then broke into smaller groups of four to six people to discuss everything from expectations, fears, legal matters, euthanasia, and anything related to the topic of death. There was laughter, sadness, some good insights and support.
One thing is for sure, talking about a serious subject like death strips away anything superficial and unimportant. There is no goal for these cafes other than the space to talk freely about dying. Gathering with others who are honest about their concerns and experiences is liberating for everyone in attendance. If we aren’t dealing with the subject yet—either in our families or with ourselves—there will be a time when these types of conversations could be the most important that any of us will have.
After a week of getting together with others for “authentic relating”, discussing “intelligent topics” and then meeting and talking about death you might be able to tell how gratifying the week has been for someone like me. That’s when I asked myself, “Why don’t I do it more often? And as it turns out, research shows that while most of us crave the sort of meaningful connections that come out of such encounters—we usually avoid them. Or we just end up chatting about things that don’t matter.
Why is that? According to the research done in 2021 by the APA (American Psychological Association)* people resist deep conversations with strangers for two reasons. 1) They are (wrongly) afraid that others aren’t that interested. And 2) we tend to overestimate awkwardness and fear vulnerability. But as this study reveals, when people did initiate deep conversation the listeners were far more satisfied with the encounter than with mere superficial topics. The study also showed that people were more interested in those willing to go deep and that it often triggered the same response in the listener. What it basically showed is that people want to have deeper and more meaningful conversations with each other but we are often too hesitant to start.
This last week helped to remind me that sometimes being a part of a local discussion group is a sure way to meet and connect with others that care equally about deep conversation. They are out there if we look with intention. Since we’ve been here in Ajijic for about a month now, we have met and connected with more people than we usually do back home. Perhaps because I love it so much, it might be SMART to seek out similar gatherings (or even start one of my own) so that conversations that matter can be more and more part of my life. How about you?