[This piece was originally published in my my column "A to Zen" in the May/June 2016 edition of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]
A friend is a window through which we
see more deeply into ourselves. A friend is a silent affirmation of that which
is best in us. A friend is a salve to our wounds, a shaft of light to our darkness,
and a key to unlock our shuttered hearts. Like air, food, and water, without
friends we perish.
since we crawled down out of the trees on the African savannah a million years
ago we’ve needed each other. We band together for safety, for comradery, for
warmth, and for laughter. We think we choose our friends, but we don’t. As
Emerson wrote, “My friends have come to me unsought…I find them, or rather not
I, but the Deity in me and in them derides and cancels the thick walls of
individual character, relation, age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually
connives, and now makes many one.” We recognize our friends in the crowd
because the divinity in us recognizes the divinity in them – the very meaning
of the word Namaste. We feel at once
at home in their company, safe in their regard, and cherished in their
acceptance. Friends shatter the illusion of our isolation.
the development of early Buddhism, three ideas gained prominence. They are known
as the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha is the
teacher who embodies wisdom and guides us in the process. The Dharma is the path,
the teachings that lead us toward our own budding wisdom. But neither of those
matter without the Sangha, the community of friends within which the Buddha and
the Dharma take root. When we meditate together, grow together, and serve
together, we know, feel, and become more than we ever could alone.
the European Renaissance the ancient philosophy of Plato loomed large. Under
the patronage of the Medicis in Florence, a priest named Ficino coined the phrase
“Platonic love” to convey that particularly deep and lasting bond that arises
between friends who share an affinity for beauty and truth. Some of us are
drawn into league with one another not by physical attraction or shared hobbies
but by our mutual love of higher wisdom, timeless beauty, and the ineffable
mystery of the transcendent. This kind of spiritual friendship knows no
material or temporal bounds for its eyes rest sublimely on the eternal realm.
the Vedanta tradition of India the ancient practice of satsang embodies these same principles. Sat means being, truth, or ultimate reality. Sang, as in sangha, means a gathering or community. So satsang
means a gathering around truth or noble friendship. And it never fails – in
satsang as we meditate together, share spiritual inquiry together, and dialogue
together in vulnerable, truthful, and meaningful ways, wisdom wells up through the
cracks of our own lives. Truth is not something we know – it is something we
are. And through noble friendship that embodied truth slips its vessel and
rises into view in the space we share.
all energy, matter, and consciousness are one, as the perennial wisdom traditions
teach, then true friends are those whose protective shells are diaphanous. Because
of their openness and vulnerability we see past the surface and into the depths
of our communal oneness. And when they see us in the same light the illusory
walls of our isolation dissolve.
how do we give and earn the gift of friendship? Start with yourself. “We must
be our own before we can be another’s,” wrote Emerson. And when it comes to
attracting and maintaining friendships, “The only way to have a friend is to be
one.” Until you love yourself, you cannot truly love others. As Wayne Dyer used to say, "You must be what it is that you are seeking."
don’t fix us. They don’t solve all our problems. They don’t have to. Their mere
presence is enough. Keep it simple. As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking
each other home.” So my friend, you do not have to say the perfect words, or
fight my battles. Just walk with me.