Dear Still Water Friends,
We form alliances and relationship throughout our lives, beginning with childhood friends, and extending in adulthood to work buddies, acquaintances, and intimate partners. However, deep and true friendships are not easy to attain or maintain. They take skill, emotional stability, and confidence. In Words Made Flesh Fran Ferder writes that a genuine friendship develops when there is honest and open sharing from the heart:
Letting people get to know us means more than letting them in on the facts about our life. It means letting them know the background fears that haunt our quiet moments, the heavy loneliness that sometimes lurks behind our smile, the passions that both excite and scare us. Self-disclosure means just what it says: disclosing the self. All parts of us. It means uncovering what we most want to hide, and telling what we most want to keep secret about ourselves to those who would be our friends.
Most specifically, self-disclosure means revealing our current reactions and feelings to those with whom we are relating. Without this information, others can only know our facade. A facade is not a building block for friendship.
My experience is that over time mindfulness practice increases our capacity to be a genuine friend. We become calmer and better able to listen compassionately and speak lovingly. We become less dependent on others for validation, and therefore are less afraid to let others know us as we really are.
And within a spiritual community in which members have shared aspirations, teachers, and practices, good friends become companions on a spiritual journey. Their progress, their maturing, becomes mutual. In the Buddhist tradition, a spiritual friendship:
helps us to transform our attachments and ego-centered drives. Even more, it helps us to transcend the very idea of the ego-self as a substantive reality. Spiritual friendship, we discover, is not about satisfying my personal needs, or even about my satisfying the other person’s personal needs. It’s about each of us contributing as best we can to uplift each other, and to bring each other closer to the ideals of the dharma. (From “Spiritual Friendships” by Bhikkhu Bodhi.)
This Thursday, after our meditation period, we will explore our yearnings for good friends and spiritual friends. We will begin with a listening and sharing exercise that is similar to the practices participants will use in the Sharing From Our Hearts groups that will begin next week. (The call-in training sessions are on Sunday, May 22nd, 3:00 – 4:30 pm and on Tuesday, May 24th, 8:00 – 9:30 pm. Because some of the groups will communicate through video or conference calls, participants need not be local.)
Registration is also now open for Ten Thousand Joys, Ten Thousand Sorrows: Practicing Equanimity Amidst Life’s Changes, a Day of Practice on June 11th at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.
Additionally, Still Water has just begun offering weekly practice at Blueberry Gardens on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (at 7 am) and on Friday evenings (at 7 pm). Please pass on this information to people you know who live in eastern Montgomery County or Western Howard County.
Below are excepts on Spiritual Friendship by Thich Nhat Hanh and Bhikkhu Bodhi.
from “The Practice of Sangha” by Thich Nhat Hanh
If we work on our problems alone, it becomes more difficult. When you have a strong emotion come up, you may feel that you cannot stand it. You may have a breakdown or want to die. But if you have someone, a good friend sitting with you, you feel much better. You feel supported and you have more strength in order to deal with your strong emotion. If you are taking something into your body that is toxic, even realizing that it will make you sick, you may not be able to change your habit. But if you are surrounded by people who do not have the same problem, it becomes easier to change. That is why it is very important to practice in the context of a sangha.
Because you feel supported there, the sangha is the most appropriate setting and environment for the practice of looking deeply. If you have a sangha of two, three, maybe even fifty people who are practicing correctly—getting joy, peace and happiness from the practice—then you are the luckiest person on earth.
A Wise And Sagacious Counselor
by Bhikkhu Bodhi, from “Association with the Wise.”
Good friendship, in Buddhism, means considerably more than associating with people that one finds amenable and who share one’s interests. It means in effect seeking out wise companions to whom one can look for guidance and instruction. The task of the noble friend is not only to provide companionship in the treading of the way. The truly wise and compassionate friend is one who, with understanding and sympathy of heart, is ready to criticize and admonish, to point out one’s faults, to exhort and encourage, perceiving that the final end of such friendship is growth in the Dhamma. The Buddha succinctly expresses the proper response of a disciple to such a good friend in a verse of the Dhammapada: “If one finds a person who points out one’s faults and who reproves one, one should follow such a wise and sagacious counselor as one would a guide to hidden treasure.”