My last conversation was a gift.

Débora Barrientos
9 min readApr 13, 2021

A couple of months ago, I went to a training. We were a small group with Peter Block. It was an entire Saturday session.

Peter Block offers a process to transform communities through different but connected conversations (six). The conversation’s main objective is to create belonging within the group. This is done by placing a question at the centre as a starting point rather than offering an answer. Certainly, listening with care and kindness is the core skill that you need to go through this process. But it is not any listening. It is about the 4th level of listening that we practice with Theory U.

Peter Block says, “If we want a change in culture, the work is to change the conversation. Or, more precisely, to have a conversation that we have not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world.”

I use this conversation technique in my work with the aim of transforming the narrative and procuring organizational, group or social transformation. But, I don’t do that without the tool that encompasses my whole work. I use this process with Social Presencing Theater (SPT) practices. This means that we explore and sense with our bodies the stories we are telling, the emotions we are feeling, which have driven us, patterns that we are repeating, and the current narrative. We give “body” to something that is already there. We make visible with our bodies wisdom that already exists in us. From there, we open up a broader range of more sustainable possibilities. This is a whole process where we use up our body and mind. It is not one or the other. It is always both. Never only one. But with this work, we learn to use our mind in a different way and to build a genuine connection with our body. Since emotions have a psychological impact on the body and mind, it is crucial for me to work with body and mind intelligence from my approach and work style. It means to bring into play all the knowledge that we have available at that very present moment. That knowledge shows a wide range of healthier possibilities because it comes from a different place and process. It is fluid and connected to a whole system. The interconnection of the system, of our inner systemic wisdom.

Going back to that day, to that afternoon conversing with people from all around the globe, I had the last two of the six conversations with the same 2 people. Bernie and Beth. First, we had the 5th conversation, and we talked about commitments, expectations, and we had a tender and deep exchange around those themes.

In this conversation, the fifth one, it is essential to talk about commitments without expecting the result. It is only about the commitment to what we intend to achieve as a higher intention, with us and others, without expecting a specific outcome. It is a promise for the sake of a larger purpose, not for a personal return. So, when we have this conversation, we make our promises from a hugely different place. It was such a revealing and refreshing experience, as usual, talking about it with those two people, mainly because I met them there for the first time.

The exchange was safe, intimate and full of crossovers. I had a painting behind me that said wild flow, the first that I ever painted, and in a way, it set the flow of our time together. We sensed the wildness of the flow of life converging in familiar connections/places with the other two people in totally different parts of the world. The conversation in total did not last more than fifteen minutes.

We came back to the main room (on zoom), and we were energised, at least I was. I was like this because I knew what connecting with the field meant and with that collective intelligence. This principle that we practice in SPT. After significant big group sharing, we returned to our small group. Again I was with those two fantastic people. And the question was to tell others what the gift that we had received from them was. This one is my favourite conversation. It has a meaning.

So, we were there having this last conversation. I had to “gift” my conversation buddies. I knew that it was going to be the next conversation, but I didn’t know that it would be with them, with Bernie and Beth.

Gifting, this conversation is connected with the principles of qualities of friendship and goodness in everyone that SPT work proposes.

After I had the purpose crystal clear, I took a moment. I made space, and I started to go back and refresh our previous conversation, moment by moment. I could go back quickly and remember the words, the sensations, the gestures, faces and so on. All the information about the experience was available, just connecting to my body. It was because I had listened deeply with a profound quality of being there very present and, in consequence, making a connection. This quality is the gift that I received from my continued practice of SPT. Once again, I could see in real life how awareness is transforming my life, allowing me to live a more fully connected relationship with others in simple things. Even if it is evident and known, I want to share the importance of these practices in concrete, with specific and simple examples in our lives. I like to say that with words.

Recalling the previous conversation, was a phenomenological process, paying attention to and observing every detail, perception, gesture, emotion, and all that happened in the conversation. From all the senses to the wonderful service of the experience. At a slow pace and with a delicate intention.

When it was my turn, I started to describe what they did that precisely was a gift for me. I did it expressing very gently and with the most details possible. It included sounds, gestures, feelings, movements, and words too. They were happy, but I was happier than them. Receiving by gifting is amazing. I had the best gift of doing that.

First, I looked at Bernie, and I said to him, Bernie, I received several gifts from you, and while I was saying that, something was changing in me. I was witnessing my own process while I was talking and also his. It is like the village practice, from your own awareness to the field awareness. Both at the same time. I felt joy, and I noticed his smile, but very genuine and a different one. I wasn’t even saying anything yet, but it was already transforming our connection, just being there offering the gifts that I received from him. He was still looking at me with attention, but his gaze had changed. I told him all the expressions, gestures and words that were a gift, but I told him that the big one was when I finished talking, he asked a question. It wasn’t any question. It was a transformative question. I can’t even repeat it right now. It was kind and with care. It meant that he had deeply listened to me and also understood what I was saying on another level, sensing and connecting with my humanity. I gave more details about it, but before finishing, something shifted in him. He was surprised, and his voice softened and was lower and full of emotions. So was mine.

I have to add that Bernie sent me a gift that is on its way through the mail this week. So, I am still receiving gifts from him and Gale (his partner).

Then I turned to Beth; I was excited about repeating the experience with her, and at the same time, she was expecting. Already a connection there, open to give and open to receive. It is a different flow; it is the natural and wild flow of life. I started to tell her every detail of how she was while I was talking but also from the precise time we met. She was smiling every time more and more, deeply and in a very tender way. I noticed the muscles of her face softening and sparkling, and so did mine. I noticed my heart beating faster with joy and excitement. I was having a high impact experience full of positive emotions. A way to bring those kinds of feelings into our lives. Giving to others.

We often think that we can only talk about the gifts that we receive from others only when we have close relationships. Although, what about if we can do it with everyone? Even if we only shared five minutes with that person. We can train ourselves in that way of seeing and exchanging with others. The way that allows us to see the best of everyone and, as a result, how that it is a gift for ourselves.

It is a vastly different exploration when we offer general ideas, perceptions or feelings rather than being very specific. It is a complete turn for others, but especially for us. This is the first gift, feeling the “specifics”.

Why is that? First, it is very personal. It is really for the person and means a high level of attention. There is a phrase that says, “attention is the most beautiful caress”. So, when we offer something concrete and really about others, we show that we gave them our attention, and it makes a distinction in the type of relationship. Attention is the greatest gift when you are with others; just being there, showing up, bringing your whole presence with you. Yes, it is related to deep listening. That skill that we all talk about but most of the time, we struggle with for million reasons. The truth is that most conflicts are born because of the lack of deep and meaningful listening. That is the reason why we converse.

And this quality of paying attention in a very particular way is what we practice all the time with SPT. The action of paying attention to others, seeing the best of them and how that is transforming us. How are we witnessing ourselves and others? It is about the quality. That makes the difference.

Additionally, being able to receive in concrete how we gifted others is a way to learn about ourselves. We are providing and getting knowledge from ourselves and others in different ways. We are possibly doing those things naturally, but we don’t know, maybe something that we could be proud of, happy about and that we can definitely reinforce in our lives. It really touches each person’s singularity when we can notice the small and concrete things that others can give to us as a gift.

Furthermore, I found that being very concrete with others has a powerful effect on me. It felt beautiful to focus my energy and my attention on that. It is what is called emotional intelligence being inflow. Your experience depends on what you decide to pay attention to. How could our experiences be if we were paying attention to the subtle and refined gifts we received from others? Also, reframing and going a little further, what do we think that a gift is? Allowing these new questions to emerge unlocks the possibility of transforming the narrative of the experiences and relationships we have with others. Possibly we would be able to receive more gifts than we expected. Little things. Yes, to get those gifts, we need to be able to receive them.

In giving a true gift,
the giver receives as much (or more)
pleasure as the receiver. Dragon dreaming

Shifting our attention to the good also allows us to receive it, I mean, the good. I guess it also lets us live our lives more present, with more positive emotions. We do not have “positive” emotions all the time, but this perspective provides a different angle for whatever we are going through. As Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote and advised, “you can suffer but you can still enjoy your life”. I like it. There is suffering, it exists and it is inevitable, and we can still enjoy our lives.

How can we enjoy it? We can make ourselves a lot of resources to do that. But, yes, trying the gifting away and back could be one. And if you want to be very brave and go beyond this experience, after someone offers the gifts that they received from you, breathe deeply and say Can you tell me more about that, please? Then, notice the shift in the experience.

And of course, practising Social Presencing Theater is a great form to expand your awareness. It will transform your life how it did mine.

Thanks for reading!

Débora Barrientos

I can write this entry because I received this great gift from @Ben Roberts and @Dita. Thanks to both of you. This is a gift that I received from you, and I am grateful. I am committed to sharing and spreading all of this.



Débora Barrientos

Social and organizational transformation. OD teacher. Social Presencing Theater facilitator. Vipassana practitioner. Researcher. EI. Narrative transformation.