A few years ago, I was the national outreach coordinator for theNorthwest Earth Institute in Portland,Oregon.

It was a very cool job. All day long,I talked to people across the countrywho were interested in gathering oncea week with a few friends, neighbors or co-workers in order to discover moreabout their ideas, values, and habitsaffecting their relationship with theEarth.

Dick and Jeanne Roy, the co-founders of NWEI, had no expectations when they first made a few copies of articles they found thought-provoking and shared them with co-workers at Dick's law firm during lunch hours. Always a stickler for details, Jeanne carefullyselected appropriate reading materialand prepared an orderly flow ofarticles that inspired discussion andconnection.

They knew they might get folks thinking.They knew they might get folks talking.They had no idea they would change thelives of thousands of participants in allfifty states.

Those copied and stapled pages becamecollections of stirring prose and excellentarticles published by outstanding authors.The Northwest Earth Institute became thedistributor of these self-published discussionguides for use in homes, workplaces, community centers and places of worship.

And yet, as I found in my daily talkswith participants of all ages, it wasn't simply the reading material that inspiredpeople to change their lives--though it certainly laid the groundwork for the shift. What led to the transformations was the act of joining these small group discussions to share their ideas withothers who were engaged in the same process of thoughtful discovery.

Whether the subject was voluntary simplicity, sustainable living, developinga sense of place, or teaching our childrenabout the Earth, the courses led to somedramatic life changes in those who werelonging for a sense of connection and waiting for just the right catalyst andopportunity for reflection and sharing.

We've all read books that inspired us. Now, imagine that you were reading thatbook with a group of 8 or 10 others whogathered each week to discuss a chapterfor an hour. At least, that's the waythe discussions begin. The truth is thatthe chapters and questions open the door to discussion, and then that doorswings wide open as each group findstheir own way to explore the ideasthe readings have triggered.

It's a fascinating process to observe.I've facilitated these groups in numeroussettings--from lunch meetings of Intel engineers to coffee gatherings of mothers with preschoolers. Each group has its own personality, but the thread that connects them is a sense of wonder and exhilaration in exploring ideas with others.

The comment I heard most frequently wentsomething like this: "I've been working next to Joe for ten years and I never wouldhave guessed that he was so passionate about this topic or had so much in common with me."

We tend to talk to each other on a surface level. We veer away from discussion aboutwhat is meaningful because we don't wantto offend anyone or feel too vulnerable expressing our deepest values to someonewho might not share them.

Dick and Jeanne Roy had no idea that simply giving people permission--and a structure to follow--to engage in heartfeltdiscussions about what matters most tothem would result in new choices, newlifestyles, new careers, new non-profits, new energy and a new sense of community among participants (cumulative enrollmentof over 65,000 people).

Dick always refers to "having a conversation" instead of saying he is"talking" to someone. This simple mindfulness of the power of engagingwith another person in a meaningful way was a seed that started a tremendous crop of continued awarenessand connection.

What will you plant if you have aconversation about what matters mostWhat will happen when you sow the seed ofan idea in the fertile imagination of a deep,rich mind?

Start sowing, and see what startsgrowing.

Author's Bio: 

Maya Talisman Frost has taught thousands of people how to pay attention. She offers free tips and tricks for everyday awareness on her website at http://www.Real-WorldMindfulness.com