Conversation-The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction


Cultivate the potential for deeper connection in every conversation.

"To think of conversation as a sacred art challenges us to imagine all the conversations in which we participate, from the acquaintance we run into at Target to the dialogue for which we've spent weeks in preparation, as a potentially sacred conversation."
—from the Introduction

We often find ourselves distracted and overwhelmed by a constant stream of information and demand for connectivity. Now more than ...

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Conversation - The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction

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Cultivate the potential for deeper connection in every conversation.

"To think of conversation as a sacred art challenges us to imagine all the conversations in which we participate, from the acquaintance we run into at Target to the dialogue for which we've spent weeks in preparation, as a potentially sacred conversation."
—from the Introduction

We often find ourselves distracted and overwhelmed by a constant stream of information and demand for connectivity. Now more than ever, we need to develop our capacity for greater presence in our daily lives and relationships. One of the best ways to do this is by improving the quality of our conversations. Dr. Diane Millis offers us inspirational stories, insights and spiritual practices from many faith traditions to increase our awareness of the deep, natural holiness waiting to be unlocked in our everyday encounters.

This resource is a catalyst for anyone who would like to enrich seemingly ordinary conversations as well as for leaders in educational, ministry and corporate settings who want to:

  • Increase their capacity to listen deeply
  • Become more self-aware and attentive to others
  • Learn how to move beyond conventional topics to exploring purpose, meaning and values in conversation.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An important book ... that can help us recover a vital but endangered everyday spiritual practice.... Reading this book was like having a true conversation with the author, and with myself, one that will help me share its gifts with the larger world."
Parker J. Palmer, author, Healing the Heart of Democracy, Let Your Life Speak and The Courage to Teach

"Beautiful ... in so many ways.... I am deeply grateful that this book appears now, when its wisdom and practices are most needed to restore the sacred to our relationships."
Margaret J. Wheatley, author, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Perseverance and Leadership and the New Science

“Moves beyond the technique of conversation to focus on the heart-and-soul experience of intentional, sincere human connection.... Will be a trusted companion for those walking the inner path of dialogue.”
Robert R. Stains Jr., senior vice president, Public Conversations Project

“Be prepared for a journey into the heart of relationships. [It] affirms the holiness and life-giving nature of conversation and offers excellent reflection questions and practices to guide us on the way. This book touched my soul.”
Kay Lindahl, co-founder, Women of Spirit and Faith; co-editor, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power

“This is a book you will linger with—as you do, after a meal, over a cup of coffee, when the conversation is as nourishing as the food.”
Sharon Daloz Parks, co-author, Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World; former associate professor, Harvard Divinity School and Weston Jesuit School of Theology

“Exquisite.... Diane Millis writes with the grace, wisdom and caring of a wise and skillful spiritual director, leading us all to touch the sacred within ourselves, within others and in the midst of all of our conversations.”
Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, St. Paul, Minnesota

“A beautiful book filled with exquisite insights, practices and stories. They illuminate our heart and mind and awaken us to Presence.”
Imam Jamal Rahman, author, Spiritual Gems of Islam: Insights & Practices from the Qur'an, Hadith, Rumi & Muslim Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart & Mind

“Integrates the author's intensive study of spiritual guidance with her personal and professional experiences [and] offers both inspiration and practical guidance to restore the art of conversation as a sacred activity.”
Dr. Aostre N. Johnson, professor of education, Saint Michael’s College

“Plunges us into that holy space from which we can connect with God, with ourselves and especially with others at a depth we would have thought impossible. Our conversations will never be the same after reading this book—they will be infinitely richer.”
John Backman, author, Why Can’t We Talk?: Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart

“Diane Millis knows that our conversation reveals us to others, and, done right—caring more important than understanding, talking balanced with restraint and periodic silence—reveals to us depths we didn’t know we have. She has learned much from others, and shares her own practical wisdom, most forcefully and poignantly demonstrated in the transition from 'broken apart’ to 'breaking open.’”
Patrick Henry, retired executive director, Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research; author, The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the Marks of God’s Grace in the World

“Profound ... teaches us how conversation—listening, speaking, and even silence—can help us genuinely connect to others and even ourselves through our hearts, deepening our relationships, recognizing God within us and God between us.”
Sara Hacala, author, Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude, and Attitude for a Polite Planet

Spirituality & Practice - Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Diane M. Millis is founder and director of the Journey Conversations Project, a partnership of educators and other leaders dedicated to preparing and equipping people to facilitate conversations for discovery and discernment. She is also an inspirational speaker, organizational consultant, and spiritual director specializing in the fields of spirituality, communication, and family studies.

This timely, practical, and inspirational paperback is a volume in the SkyLight Path Series "The Art of Spiritual Living." Millis laments the loss of true presence due to our reliance on digital devices to keep us connected. Face-to-face conversations enable us to go deeper with sharing that explores our heartfelt yearnings and truth. To accomplish this we are called to encounter the sacred within ourselves, within others, and between ourselves and others. A foundational goal of these three-dimensional conversations has been expressed long ago by Douglas Steere in Gleanings: A Random Harvest:

"To 'listen' another's soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another."

For Millis, the best word to describe the essence of the sacred art of conversation is "namaste," the Sanskrit greeting which has been translated as "the divine in me greets the divine in you." We were very happy to see the author's emphasis on noticing as a way of praying along with her discussion of creative individuals who have modeled this approach for us, such as novelist Frederick Buechner, poet Ted Kooser, and photographer Jim Brandenberg.

We were also impressed with chapters on cultivating attention, receptivity, and compassion through conversation. Millis concludes with three substantive appendixes that offer contemplative practices for conversations, more guiding principles and questions for appreciatively focused dialogue, and conversation catalysts for sustaining conversations over time.

Library Journal
Millis (founder, Journey Conversations Project) has tackled an unusual topic in spirituality: conversation. We think of conversation as an element in democratic governing or an ornament to society, but Millis makes a good case for using conversation to approach the sacred in the self and others; she shows how to enlarge the element of the sacred in dialog, with examples from many traditions. VERDICT An interesting and truly multifaith approach to a topic of broad application (we all talk!); good for reading groups and retreats, as well as individuals.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594734748
  • Publisher: Skylight Paths Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/1/2013
  • Series: Art of Spiritual Living Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 180
  • Sales rank: 427,386
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Diane M. Millis, PhD, is founder and director of the Journey Conversations Project, an educational organization dedicated to cultivating the art of conversation in our technological age. She is also an inspirational speaker, organizational consultant and spiritual director specializing in the fields of spirituality, communication and family studies. She facilitates personal growth workshops and retreats at colleges, congregations and corporations throughout the United States.

Diane M. Millis, PhD, is available to speak on the following topics:

  • Practicing the Sacred Art of Conversation
  • Discerning a Heart-Centered Path
  • The Inner Path of Leadership
  • Workplace Spirituality
  • Group Spiritual Direction: Accompanying One Another on the Journey

Click here to contact the author.

Rev. Tilden Edwards, PhD, is founder and senior fellow of the ecumenical Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation and author of eight books on spiritual life.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix
Introduction xiii

Part One
What Is the Sacred Art of Conversation? 1

Chapter 1: Encountering the Sacred Within 5
Practice: Entering the Cave of Your Heart 10
Practice: Listening to the Conversation in Your Heart 11

Chapter 2: Encountering the Sacred in Each Other 13
Reflection: Souls Who Have Made Us Wiser 17
Practice: Tending One Another's Light— Holding, Beholding, and Being Held 18

Chapter 3: Encountering the Sacred Between Us 19
Reflection: Increasing Awareness of the Sacred Between Us 24

Part Two
Gateways for Conversation 25

Chapter 4: Listening to Your Life 31
Reflection: Steppingstones on the Journey 40

Chapter 5: Noticing and Naming What Gives You Life 41
Reflection: Nurturing Awareness of What You Hold Sacred 49
Reflection: Looking at the World with the Eyes of a Poet 50

Chapter 6: Discerning a Heart-Centered Path 51
Reflection: Listening to Your Inner Guide 60
Reflection: The Thread You Follow 61

Part Three
Practicing the Sacred Art of Conversation 63

Chapter 7: Practicing Attentive Presence: Listening Within Before Speaking Out 69
Practice: Three Deep Breaths 75
Practice: Centering on the Breath 76

Chapter 8: Practicing Receptive Presence: Welcoming All That We Encounter 77
Reflection: The Three Gates 85
Practice: The Welcoming Prayer 86

Chapter 9: Practicing Compassionate Presence: Going Within Before Venturing Out 89
Practice: Offering the Gift of
Contemplative Questions 100
Practice: Sacred Holding 102
Practice: Compassionate Abiding 103

Conclusion 105

The Sacred Art of Conversation in Community: Creating Occassions for Contemplative Conversations 111

Appendix 1: Cultivating Contemplation and Compassion in Community through Journey Conversations 115

Appendix 2: Appreciatively Focused Conversations at Home and Work 127

Appendix 3: Conversation Catalysts 131

Notes 139
Suggestions for Further Reading 147
Acknowledgments 151
About the Journey Conversations Project 153
Credits 154

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