So, What Should We Talk About?

Each day that Peace House Community is open, we host a “meditation” for our guests, volunteers and community members. It isn’t meditation in the traditional sense; we focus on one topic and discuss it as a group to help us understand each other and develop a great respect for the people and world around us. The discussions last 20 to 35 minutes, and it is one of the hallmarks of our community.

Sister Rose Tillemans founded PHC with the intention of giving a forum to marginalized women and men who were generally ignored by the larger society. She also wanted to promote relationships in a safe context, making individuals feel comfortable with exploring their own thoughts and feelings in a supportive setting.

Having been at PHC for a little over a year now, I’ve come to respect Sister Rose’s wisdom in weaving a deliberate time of reflection and sharing into her vision. The discussions have opened my eyes (and I know from speaking with others that they have had the same experience) to people and situations that I would otherwise have completely overlooked.

Among the topics we’ve covered in the last 15 months have been:

  • Tell us your name, why it was given to you and how you feel about it
  • What is the happiest song you have ever heard
  • What do people who have never been homeless need to know about being homeless
  • How prepared are you to survive a natural disaster

Unfortunately, just reading these topics on the page doesn’t do them justice. As I typed them I realized how much they sound like the conversation starters you might find on tables at a corporate networking event. And yet, when you discuss topics like this day after day and become comfortable sharing yourself and accepting what others have to offer, the questions become something more than trite questions. When 20 or 30 people come to one of these questions together, the questions open doors to multiple ways of viewing and responding to each other’s life experiences. The results are wonderful.

Of course, not every meditation works out as planned. On some days the group just doesn’t have a lot of energy. Occasionally the discussion goes well off course, like when I asked what people should have buildings or lakes named after them and we ended up discussing gun control legislation. But even these discussions build bonds, as we learn what issues are important to each other and recognize that sometimes silence is more important than speaking.

Being an introvert with some autistic tendencies, I sometimes have difficulty starting conversations with people and getting to know them. I am thankful for people like Sister Rose and events like the meditation time that deliberately make human connections a priority.

This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.