All those parts of ourselves that we don’t like – all those parts we’re self-conscious about, that we try to hide or fight or squelch or fix – befriending is always the answer.
As soon as we embark on the genuine path of befriending, the frequency of the relationship dynamic to whatever it is about ourselves that we don’t like changes right away. As Carl Rogers (co-founder of the client-centered approach to psychology) stated:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
The pitfall that so many of us encounter in relation to inner transformational and healing work is the common predicament of trying to change, with the mindset of there being something about ourselves that’s damaged or broken or defective. We approach it from the angle of there being something wrong that needs fixing. And when we approach it from this standpoint the conditions for change and growth are extremely limited, because the ground for transformation and healing to take place is stripped and barren. What allows the ground to become fertile and ripe for transformation is the genuine act of befriending – acknowledging, accepting, and embracing ALL the parts of who we are. Only when we start to befriend ourselves can we start laying the foundation in order to build a more engaged, skillful, and well-contented life.
Befriending is always the answer. Whatever’s going on. Whether it’s something internal or external. Suffering is generated when we fight against something going on – when we want things to be different; other than as they are. To befriend is to stop struggling. To befriend is to allow things to be just as they are, to let things be. To let others be. To let ourselves be.
In a recent class offered at Deer Park Monastery, Brother Kai Ly taught the following (which I consider to be the in-depth process of what befriending is all about):
Some of us are prisoners of the past or prisoners of the future, incapable of living in the present moment. The Buddha taught 16 exercises in the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing (for learning how to live in the present moment):
1. Identify your in breath and out breath
2. Follow your in & out breath all the way through
3. Awareness of your body
4. Release tension in your body
5. Generate joy
6. Generate happiness
7. Recognize painful feelings
8. Embrace painful feelings
9. Experiencing the mind
10. Gladdening the mind
11. Centering the mind in concentration
12. Releasing the mind
13. Contemplating impermanence
14. Contemplating fading away
15. Contemplating cessation
16. Contemplating relinquishment
In the feelings realm, the Buddha taught that we should first learn how to generate joy and happiness before handling our feelings of pain. A good practitioner knows how to bring about joy and happiness whenever they want to; they know how to handle painful feelings. When we truly come home to the present moment, we see all the conditions for joy and happiness that exist. A good practitioner always sees the conditions for joy and happiness in the present moment.
I think living fully in the here & now is equivalent to the art of befriending. They are different ways to say the same thing.
Mindfulness isn’t about changing our present moment experience, it’s about engaging with it just as it is. So, the crux of our practice in any given moment is to engage, not change.
Befriending is always the answer.