The Many Faces of Friendship

“All your identities at the body-mind level have been changing continuously, and none of them has been constant and faithful to you. Why then are you attracted to any of these identities by stating ‘I am like this’ or ‘I am like that’?” Nisargadatta

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Regardless of our age, when we look back over the course of our lives, we will see an interchange of numerous friendships that have come and gone, while others have stayed. Few of us actually give much thought to the phenomena of ‘friendship’; what does it really mean and why do we pursue this aspect of our lives with such a priority and need. In addition, many of us have had lovely friendships with kindred spirits, while other friendships have caused us tremendous pain and suffering.

Through our human interaction we have certain limitations, projections, and ideals that we measure ourselves and everyone else by. Thus, when we meet someone who appears to imbue qualities that we idealize for ourselves, we put forth the effort required to make that person our friend. However, what happens when that person does not live up to our ideal of friendship and our expectations are not meant. The result is that we turn against them and create some reason why we are no longer friends, often moving from a place of really liking that person to disliking them. Rarely do we actually stop to see the situation for what it really is, as our own version of ‘reality’ takes place within the perceptual faculties of our mind, which is often tainted by our own version of how we choose to see ourselves and others. We measures others value based on our own self measurement and we accept or deny others based on this very finite principle of our own self perception. Also, there is always something to be gained through friendship, even if we can not immediately see this, we are all searching for something better than ourselves, to fill the empty feeling that we all embody. 

This feeling of emptiness can only be felt when we can slow our minds down enough to attain a sense of inner reflexivity. In this state of awareness we all feel a deep sense of being incomplete. However, when we are not aware of the unconscious expression of our inner emptiness, we spend our lives constantly running after material objects, experiences, relationships of all kinds, and anything that we can find to keep our mind distracted, to fill the void of emptiness that we feel. Of course, friendship can be a beautiful phenomena of sharing and having the strength and support of someone who we feel fully accepts who we are. However, if that same person did something that we found unacceptable, most likely the friendship would be over. In this way, we go through life measuring our own sense of self and value based on the people we are constantly interacting with, mainly our group of friends. As we continue through life, these people often change, as we are constantly re-negotiating our own sense of self. Therefore, as we change and grow we seek to surround ourselves with such people who we feel are relatable in the ways that we value and find important.

At a spiritual level, all people that we come into contact with are karmically there for some reason, to teach us various lessons. This phenomena can be seen when we have very long and lovely friendships, yet even more so when we have friendships that turn out to be very painful and cause suffering to us in the end. In my own life, the majority of friendships have been very positive and strong, with many continuing friendships with people I have know for thirty years when we were young children, up to the new friends I am continuing to make.

Like most people, I have numerous positive friendships, yet in the last few years I have gone through some of the most negative experiences with people who were assumably friends. I mention this term very lightly in my own personal experience, as I know the feeling of a strong friendship and all of these negative experiences I never really felt that these people were actually my friends, yet due to other related factors, they were considered ‘friends’. In essence, I experienced some of the most psychologically manipulating and dysfunctional relationships of my life. The reality for me was very clear, as this was a pattern that this particular individual perpetuated in numerous relationships in their own life; constantly seeking to replicate this dysfunctional behavior. The lesson for me was that we need to be very careful who we allow into our lives, even if you are a kind person and have a huge range of acceptance of others, its very important to be highly discriminating. 

It is not my intention to ‘other’ people for their behavior, yet I strongly realize from making the mistake of feeling that I had to accept everyone no matter who they were. Dysfunctional individuals are very self destructive and if you associated with them, you will run the risk of great loss in some way.

In this way, difficult situations teach us the most profound lessons related to renegotiating our own inner strength, boundaries, and the level of discrimination that we need to live a life with as little harm as possible. In such situations, sometimes it is not until we can gain a more distant perspective that we can really asses the situation and realize that for whatever reason we had to go through that friendship and learn from it. In truth, we all carry inner negativity and certain levels of toxic behavior such as anger, greed, jealousy, hatred, and similar such emotional states. Everyone who comes through our lives can show us profound insight into ourselves, both the beautiful qualities that we embody and the deeper, darker unconscious negative tendencies that we all have to some degree.

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The Ubiquitous Nature of Gossip

“You must not hate those who do wrong or harmful things; but with compassion, you must do what you can to stop them for they are harming themselves, as well as those who suffer from their actions.” His Holiness The Dalai Lama

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The pernicious nature of gossip is so widespread throughout all societies that there is no doubt this aspect of human social behavior is ubiquitous to all cultural and social perimeters, seen on a global level. A fascinating aspect of this phenomena is how most people are so homogenized that they literally will believe even untrue gossip if it comes from a source they trust, rather than drawing upon their own direct experience with the individual in question. I have seen even some of the most discriminating people affected by such situations, which leaves me to inquire why people are so weak minded that they can not at least try to see if the information disclosed has any relevance before acting in a rash or harsh way towards the individual being discussed.

I have witnessed this phenomena in all aspects of life, including in institutions like ashrams where you would think that people are trying to rise above such petty ways of behaving. However, in my time in India I have witnessed that this behavior is as pernicious or more pernicious than I have ever before witnessed in my entire life. Of course, not everyone gossips as out of a population of several thousand people there are many very serious spiritual seeker who understand the destructive nature of this limiting and harmful behaviour. There was a scholar who went to numerous ashrams in India and the one quality that he noticed was this aspect of pernicious gossip and fault finding. He attributed this wide spread behavior to the reality that in such institutions the individuals basic needs are taken care of. Therefore, they have far less mental stress in life than most people living in the world having to worry about their jobs, families, and social responsibilities. He believed that this behavior was magnified due to the close proximity that all of the residence found themselves living within, combined with a general lack of interest in discussing other topics of conversation.

As an individual, I am sure I have partaken in such negative tendencies as gossip, yet for the majority of my life I have deeply felt that this action carries a deep harm associated with it. I have always felt a deep feeling of remorse when I have participated in such activities. Thus, for most of my life I have not associated with or attracted many people with such tendencies. Even though gossip is found at a pernicious level within all human societies, in the right company there can be more interesting topics to discuss than the negativities of others.

Therefore, I personally avoid and find the nature of pernicious gossip to be a very despicable, violent, and extremely harmful tendency that some people engage therein. A few reasons why certain people may feel the need to gossip can be associated with the feeling that; if we see someone as better than us or more talented, we see them as competition and what often occurs is fault finding and spreading negative gossip to eliminate the person from the competition. In addition, if we see someone possessing a particular object that we desire, there will often be jealousy towards that person. Many of us carry deep wounds from the past, thus in the present a particular use of word or action from a person may feel as an attack towards these unhealed inner wounds, even though that person may not have intend to inflict such pain. All of us have inner tendencies that we need to prove we are better than others. The ego is always trying to prove itself through our sense of self importance, thus we find faults within others.

According to the ancient Indian scriptures it is clearly stated that when we try to damage a person’s reputation through character defamation through the use of lies or rumors, its considered an act of violence. This subtle form of violence can manifest when we are unaware of our actions and we may become like sadists, feeling good at others hurt and finding justifications for imposting this form of violence onto another person. This completely defeats the purpose of a spiritual life, as such behavior completely blocks any positive energy from entering into our lives, thus causing some serious harm to eventually return to us.

I have personally experienced situations where people have known me personally for a duration of time, yet the malicious nature of someone’s issues perpetuated untrue gossip about me. In this case, because of the credibility of the person disclosing the gossip, others readily believed what was said, like sheep without any ability to discriminate or intuition to verify if this was indeed true. Ironically, when we have people who are unaware of their deep seated anger, jealousy, hatred, and inner violence in addition to feeling very powerless in themselves, malicious gossip often results as this is their only form of retaliation.

This leads to the experiential knowledge of people seeing who you are as an individual and enjoying your company; then once the gossip has been spread suddenly the perception of who you are takes on a diametrically opposing negative quality. Even to engage in an innocent conversation, if discussing the actions of another, especially if we feel they are doing something inappropriate its wise to be extremely discriminating with whom one discloses such information. Its far too easy for someone to take what you say and create some reconstituted version of the story as gossip. If caught in the grip of others constant negative fault finding, the best thing to do is to not participate and try to find people to associate with who are more interested in discussing topics that are positive or provide something that can allow us to grow in life, rather than to spend time with people who are constantly pulling themselves and everyone around them down. 

In life we all find ourselves entangled within a myriad of various behaviors that are perhaps less appealing then we would prefer to be as human beings. I also understand what it can feel like to go through very challenging, often dark night of the soul experiences in life. I personally have undergone such transitions in life that felt very heavy, dark, and painful. Even when I was not the best version of myself, I still tried to keep some spiritual practice going or something that brought inspiration to my life. Therefore, we all get caught up in certain negative tendencies from time to time, yet the one reality that we must always keep in mind is that the harmful thoughts, words and actions that we inflict onto others, will most definitely only harm us in the long run. 

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