"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without." ~ Buddha
Posted on January 19, 2016
Recently, my path crossed with that of someone I used to call a “friend”. It was a difficult encounter because of its randomness and unpredictability; but more because of the bitter and volatile state in which the “friendship” ended.
I’ve always believed that the manner in which someone acts in person is more important than what opinions he or she might hold, and that relationships (of any kind), ought to be based on what is relevant and applicable, not on viewpoints which can be barely effective. It does occur to me that the labels of religious and political affiliation are often superficial; they don’t describe how people treat others or how they act, just what theology they believe or what political opinions they hold. After all, anyone can claim to be spiritual….a Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, etc. But do their actions fall in line with their beliefs? Opinions are not rigid philosophical theories, but malleable positions inexorably linked to information from TV shows, books, newspapers, and most especially, other people; all fallible, and more often than not, erroneous sources…..as no one is omniscient or prescient, as yet, everyone must work from limited, imperfect data, and thus cannot guarantee that she is right.
As I stood in front of this person, who I used to cherish as a sister, friend, confidant, I felt a need to layer myself in protection. After all, Buddhism teaches us how to be present in the face of life’s struggles and challenges. I wondered what had happened in the universe and cosmically that would reason a cross-road such as this….I call it the “X”….the moment when your path encounters and successfully (hopefully) crosses something or someone of great unease to your spirit and being. Surely there is a choice at that crossroad….similar to any crossroad in life…..but this crossroad was more likened to a personal, unresolved, deep, and often still raw scar that twinges in both soul and mind when nudged.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a funny little thing in the everyday scene. It’s so small and familiar that I’ve never spoken of it seriously before. It is merely this: babies seem to recognize each other. Babies as young as six months, sometimes, when they’re out in their carriages being pushed down some shopping street or in the park, turn their heads at the sight of other babies in other carriages or stare at them through car windows. They can’t talk to each other, but they notice.
Now, it’s impossible, of course, to imagine what is in a baby’s mind, if she could be said to have a mind at all. I’ve never tried to do it myself. Just the same, there is something in this little fact that stirs me, in spite of reason. I think of the two new creatures, each so much to itself and so little to outside appearances, each so very much alone, signaling in a strange inhuman way to each other on a plane we others don’t inhabit.
Part of the process of growing up, I’ve found, is the delightful fact that sooner or later things slip into place. The jigsaw loses a hole here and there. Those signaling babies have just filled another gap for me. I think they are nearer the truth than we are. I don’t mean this in the sentimental way that they are pure and untouched….though, no doubt, that too is true. What I mean is that they’ve only recently detached from the source of life. They have learned nothing and so they still feel everything, the beginning and the end, which are the same. In short, life. In short, God. They are still the essence. And so are we, I suddenly thought with a shock of surprise. We are all “it.”
As adults, in all our “wisdom” we strive to reach that point……where the babies and their wisdom are aiming for. It seems to me that all creeds that survive have an echo of this thought in their teaching, and that any religion or belief that denies it and preaches hate instead, under whatever guise, cannot last.
People sometimes say books are like friends, and yes, I believe this is true. As a person who loves to read, it occurs to me that my relationship with books is very similar to my relationship with people. This realization started after finishing a book that I really could not wait to finish. Of course, the book was brilliantly written, but it did not connect with me. However, being the literary optimist that I am, I couldn’t put it down because I just knew it would get better. It didn’t, of course; but I don’t like giving up on things, even when the “chemistry” is off or simply not there.
I find this same “chemistry” with the people. I really try to give people a chance, but it seems that sometimes relationships just run their course without something cliquing along the way. This isn’t to say that if I were to meet this person later in life….or read the book later in life, for that matter, we wouldn’t have cliqued. But at that moment, what binds characters together…..real or imagined…..simply doesn’t exist. Of course, when that chemistry is there, it’s as if I’ve found a long lost friend and I often wonder how it is that this person or book comes into my life at exactly the right moment. But, whatever the reason, their story becomes part of mine and for that I am always grateful and a little in awe.
In listening to all the great things this person has accomplished….the successes, the money, the cars, the trips, the friends….the stuff…..I wondered if I could look back on my life with such wonder and see myself so greatly. After all, I must have appeared a weak, simple, tiny person to her because not once did she ask about me, my family, my successes, my failures. How could she? Certainly, I had nothing of benefit or worthwhile to share….I’d expect I never did. I was very happy to hear of her accomplishments but thought, ‘surely I have none of those “things”…I haven’t made such riches and am merely another “oddity” to our material driven society’. In that moment, the truth of what our “friendship” was, shone brightly. The unrequited loyalty and care I offered her…..the decisive lack of authenticity and concern she offered me. It hurt and I felt alone.
Once, years ago, I had a beagle named Chino who managed to get into a dogfight. At the time, I was backpacking with him through a woodland preserve at the base of Mt. Washington on the Presidential range in New Hampshire. Without warning, three dogs…..an Afghan, a St. Bernard and a Dalmatian…..pounced on Chino and started tearing him to pieces. I shrieked for help. Two men hiking along another path stopped, looked, and kept on.
When I saw that, I was so infuriated that I waded in and stopped the fight myself by pouring a bottle of water on the dogs. My shouts were so authoritative, my gestures so arresting, I commanded the situation like a lion-tamer and the dogs finally slunk away. (Chino survived the ordeal and lived on for many years after)
Looking back, I think I acted less in anger than from a realization that I was on my own, that if anybody was going to help me at that moment, it had to be myself…..which is much how I was feeling in the presence of this person who negatively impacted and hurt me so deeply.
Thirty years ago, I stepped foot onto a path that would find me in practice with people from many cultures and from all over the world. It has been and continues to be a great lesson in friendship. Not because I made friends with all of them, but because I took them as I found them…..not as I wanted them to be. In our simplicity, I liked them, and they liked me, and that’s all that has mattered. I still hold true to those beliefs and lessons, so why was this encounter with this person so painful?
Wherever I’ve travelled in this amazing world of ours, I’ve discovered that when you break bread with people and share their troubles and joys, the barriers of language, of politics, and of religion soon vanish….but the operative word here is “share”. People want to feel as though someone cares; as if someone recognizes them; as if someone sees (truly sees) them; as if someone is listening. I’ve come to find that any relationship that is one-sided, based solely on the needs of one participant and where the dialogue really isn’t a dialogue, but a one-way stream feeding his/her needs as human being, is doomed to perish. Why? Because the peoples of this world have much more in common with one another than they have differences. It is stated in every major religion that the basic truth of life is that every being is capable of feeling love, care, compassion and happiness. Every being seeks genuine happiness. Every being requires genuine love and concern.
This time, as we parted ways, I felt a great sense of relief. My cluttered little mind suddenly streamed to weeks after our “friendship” collapsed. The polish of a stale friendship had worn thin and rain began to fall. Back then, along with the rain came sadness and a sense of loss that was almost unbearable. It would be dishonest and inhuman to admit otherwise. But not this time….this time there was a sense of letting go….and with it, peace. Peace in shedding a friendship that was obvioulsy lopsided. Peace in shedding someone who did little to acknowledge a frienship she knew I cherished. Peace from knowing that I am not the only person in this gigantic world that holds value in “human-ness”….in acceptance in who people are, not want I want them to be.
I’ll never be what this person, or what others perceive I “should” be. In my estimation, a true friend would welcome and cherish the authenticity of such uniqueness. As a Buddhist nun, it’s clear to me, from the bottom of my heart, that often, through suffering we become who we were meant to be, slowly and over our lifetimes, but without it, there would be no learning, no transformations, no rising of consciousness. And as Kahlil Girbran’s words keep repeating to me, “Your joy can fill you only as deeply as your sorrow has carved you out.”….this encounter reinforced to me how our actions speak the deepest truth….and once again, it is ok.