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On Friendship

24 Jun

Art piece I commissioned from my stepson’s girlfriend Sierra (it’s her own design). To me, it’s the perfect wordless expression of the practice of cultivating joy – I just love it! It also depicts the power of what a good friendship has the potential to do: alight our inner landscape.

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I just started reading a new book that has me thinking about friendships: Ethan Nichtern’s The Dharma of “The Princess Bride.” It’s appropriately well timed, as my bearings have been shifting in this area, especially over the last year. I’ve been recently angling myself in the direction of pondering such questions as: Who are the people I want to spend my time with? What qualities do I find important in a friend? What are the different avenues of friendships and how do they compliment and/or contrast one another?

In light of my inner musings, I appreciated this passage from the book that I read just today:

“My teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has repeatedly made the same case: it matters whom you invite into your personal sphere. He calls it “hanging out with the right crowd.” He’s not talking about the cool kids. He’s talking about associating with those people who help you wake up…In fact, a Buddhist definition for best friend could simply be the person who helps you bring out your “best” qualities: mindfulness, generosity, patience, confidence, and creativity. The best friends are the ones who support your awakening, and whose awakening you in turn support.”

from The Dharma of “The Princess Bride” by Ethan Nichtern

I’m someone who puts a great deal of intentionality into her life. And lately, I’ve been putting a certain new kind of intention into the area of friendships. I’ve been inspired to invest more time and energy into forging closer friendships, which has me investigating what that actually means, from my own lens of perspective and experience.

As a community organizer, planner (and attender) of events, spiritual leader, hospice volunteer, and general reacher-outer I come into contact and am well acquainted with lots of folks. I also have a lot of friends. But what I don’t have very many of is close friends. By this I mean: people in which I have an intimate relationship with and stay in regular (daily/weekly) contact with. True to form, I intentionally chose to step back a bit from cultivating interpersonal friendships 2-3 years ago, in order to prioritize writing my first book. During that time frame, I still organized events and gatherings but I whittled down the time I spent one-on-one with people.

And now, I’m in a readjustment period and am looking to intentionally build new connections, in the interest of wanting to develop one or two closer friendships. Right now, the people I feel closest to (other than my husband) – in the sense that I feel able to share most openly with – live in far flung places. Even my spiritual mentors that I seek guidance from live in other states. I’m coming to a new junction in my life, though, where I’d really appreciate having a locally home-grown person to have this kind of relationship with. So, I’m starting to traverse in this direction.

But in order to know where I’m heading, I need to figure out what it is I’m looking for exactly. What is it I feel I’m missing right now in the friendships I already have? I think I used to be under the impression that friends were friends, period. They were all the same, in the sense that no matter what sort of activity or gathering or situation occurred, I could simply rally, depend, and/or invite any and/or all of them. I think I thought that in the simple designation of ‘friend’ that it equated to all of them sharing some kind of inherent set of qualities and personality type. But I’m coming to understand that there are different kinds of friends; different ways people show up and interact; different friends who are better suited for different things.

I mean, I have friends who share my love of writing and it’s great to connect with them on that level; friends who I can go hiking, hot springing, and camping with; friends who are into playing music; friends who I can share my love of the dharma with; friends who are fun to go to the movies with; friends who like to go out dancing; and on and on.

I’m someone who is most familiar – and hence most comfortable – with one of two operating modes, when it comes to get togethers: the more the merrier (where everyone in a 20-mile radius is invited) and less is more (where I have one-on-one friend dates). Over the last few months though, I’ve been flirting with gathering small groups together, hand-picking certain folks to do certain things with, which feels terribly awkward and exclusive. As an active community organizer who plans a wealth of events and occasions to gather throughout the year, I’m used to assembling larger groups of people and making sure everyone feels welcome to attend. So, in tandem with moving in the direction of intentionally fostering closer friendships, comes the addition of my fashioning these smaller groups together. And it’s all very, very new terrain for me.

So, this is me getting practice with it all: cultivating new friendships, gathering smaller selective groups together, delving deeper with certain people I’ve previously had only a broader connection with, and developing a new understanding of what this varying arena called ‘friendship’ is, at this freshly unfolding stage of my life. And, as I often like to say: the practice continues.

 

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