The Conversation

I met Patti at a conference. We arrived on the first evening amidst Stanley Cup fever – our city’s team was in the finals, and most people were skipping dinner to watch the first period of the game. I sat down next to her in front of the television – not because I’m much for hockey, but more because I figured it would be more festive to hang out with the sports fans.

She turned to me and lit up when she saw my pink hair. “Oh!” she said, reaching out a hand towards my face. “Can I touch your hair?”

“Sure,” I replied with a chuckle.

“I never do that,” she said, and I believed her. And we started to talk.

Patti has led an interesting life. A Buddhist chaplain now, she spent a couple of decades as an oil and gas broker. High rollin’ stuff. Now she works with a wide array of people, including people struggling to survive in Vancouver’s downtown east side, university students, corporate teams, and the people who drop into the twice-weekly morning meditation & oatmeal sessions she holds in her beautiful Gastown studio.

I’m not a Buddhist, and I don’t practice meditation regularly – though I keep trying to get in the habit, because I’ve noticed that incredible things happen when I do it.

I do most of my work in the technology field, and Patti doesn’t really live in that space.

We connected, though, so we’re trying to figure out where that connection might lead. We’ve been keeping in touch and throwing ideas around.

One day, I was telling her about a workshop my business partner and I facilitated, where we guided participants through a process of defining their “online footprint.” We were trying out an idea for how people could take charge of their relationship with social media and make more conscious decisions about how they were communicating online, both personally and professionally. We asked them to think about questions like, “What parts of your life are totally off-limits online, and why?” and, “Are there topics you would feel comfortable discussing at a work-related cocktail party, but would not discuss online? If so, what are they and what feels different about those two contexts?”

The goal was to help people clarify their boundaries, in an effort to help them feel more confident carving out a place for themselves in the online sphere that felt safe.

Patti listened to the questions with great interest. And then she gently suggested that clearly defining one’s boundaries requires a significant depth of self-knowledge – so what questions could we ask that would help people identify where their real boundaries lay, rather than the false boundaries imposed by fear?

That question has lingered with me. Months later, I’m still sitting with it. I think it has something to do with asking the right questions, as Patti suggests. And I also think it has something to do with contemplative practice – real, body-aware, breathing-in-and-out exercises that allow us to ground and centre ourselves before acting.

I’m deeply curious about this question – of how we can help people have a more self-aware, mindful and fully engaged relationship with technological tools. This blog is in part an attempt to carve out some deliberate space to explore it. And to continue a conversation.