Cultivating Friendship

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This program with Eric Donaldson’s was originally scheduled for January 17th and cancelled because of inclement weather.

Dear Still Water Friends,

I remember the simplicity and ease with which I used to make friends as a child. It was often nothing more than a couple of hours of enjoyment together with another child that fixed the idea of a friendship into my consciousness, and those encounters resulted in new friendships. Often this was as simple as saying, “hey, you wanna be friends?”.

Over the past several years, changing life circumstances that have made it more difficult to make new friends. Raising kids, moving to different states, changing social circles, an overly busy work schedule, new lifestyle choices, and evolving beliefs, to name a few, have all had an impact on developing new friendships. And yet, it seems that if I boil down everything that I find to be fulfilling and rewarding, it is connection to others. It is surprising to me how difficult it has become to make new connections and cultivate them into friendships.

I have been coming to Still Water for about 5 years and I have made a couple of friends, and it feels very much like those friendships are being cultivated by us both. These connections really feel grounding to me. However, I have encountered many other potential friends that I feel unable to connect to. Recently, I have been sitting with this idea of how difficult it is for me to develop a new friendship and noticing how I interact with others around me, and I have recognized a few truths.

I am afraid of being rejected. It feels like many of us have our guards up, and lowering that guard and taking the first step toward building a friendship feels extremely vulnerable. It feels like I could admit that I really like someone and that would open me up to being completely and totally rejected. However, this is an irrational fear, because I am pretty sure that finding out that someone does not like me as much as I like them will not be devastating. However, it feels like it could be devastating.

I am judgmental about myself and others. I often use judgment to talk myself out of taking healthy risks. I might say something like, “well, that person is young and cool, why would they be interested in connecting with me?”

I have a lack of trust regarding how others will treat me. They might pretend to like me and lead me into a situation where I would feel safe to be vulnerable and then not share the same vulnerability.

I am unskillful at being vulnerable with strangers. I see how guarded others are because I am guarded myself. It seems like an impenetrable barrier to break through the guard of another and maybe even more difficult to break through my own guard. I have a lot of habit energy wrapped up in avoiding and deflecting others.

The bottom line is that I seem to have misplaced the ability to take that spark inside of me that says “I really like that person” and turn that into an action that leads to an opportunity to develop a friendship. Something that was once very simple and happened effortlessly has become extremely difficult. How can I reform the concepts and experiences that have biased my views about reaching out to others and become more skillful at cultivating friendships?

This Thursday after our regular sitting and walking meditation period, we will explore this topic together. The three discussion questions below will help guide our discussion:

  1. What has been your experience with friendship? Are you able to easily develop new friendships?
  2. How do you continue to cultivate the friendships that you have?
  3. How has your mindfulness practice impacted your friendships and your ability to make new friends?

I look forward to hearing about your experiences with friendships and the skills that you use to cultivate connections with others.

An excerpt on friendship by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.

Warm regards,

Eric Donaldson

Friendship and Flowers
by Thich Nhat Hanh from “The Art of Living” in The Mindfulness Bell #11, 1994

After one retreat in Los Angeles, a painter asked me, “What is the best way to look at the moon and the flowers so that I can use them in my art?” I said, “If you think that way, you will not be in touch with the flower or the moon. Please abandon your notions and just be with the flower, with no intention of getting anything from it.” He said, “But when I am with a friend,I want to receive the benefits of our friendship. Isn’t it the same with a flower?” Of course, you can benefit from a friend, but a friend is more than a source of support, help, or advice. Just to be with him or her is enough. We are in the habit of doing things in order to get something. We call this “pragmatism.” We even say that truth is something that pays.

The practice of mindfulness is the opposite. We practice just to be with ourselves and with the world. When we learn to stop, we begin to see, and when we see, we understand. Peace and happiness are the fruit of that. In order to be with our friend, a flower, or our coworkers, we need to learn the art of stopping.

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