Today’s Advice from the heart is:
Avoid friends who cause you to increase delusions, and rely upon those who increase your virtue. This you should take to heart.
When I first read this, I couldn’t help myself but to think, “Duh!” After all, none of us like to think we’ve poor judgement in relation to our choices in friendships and we also like to think that those we choose to care for and invest parts of ourselves in are going to reciprocate and be helpful to us.
Sometimes, however, this is not the way things unfold, is it?
It has taken me a very long time indeed to reach a point where I consciously think about the balance and benefit of my friendships. Somewhere along the line, I made the discovery that many (most) of the people I know have very different definitions for friendship.
For example, they have vast networks of ‘friends’ who are fairly transient in nature, with whom they have very loose bonds, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of genuine support or care present in their interactions. Those types of relationships I would not call ‘friendship’ at all, but ‘acquaintance’. By the same token, people hear what I consider ‘friendship’ and they chuckle and tell me, “That sounds like too much work.”
But I think that perhaps there is something important about the distinction, even as I grumble to myself on the matter and nature of having distinctions. I suspect we make distinctions until we learn how not to need them anymore, and during the interim, they serve the purpose of learning and developing a more liberated view, so, again, I don’t kick myself for it (as much).
It seems to me that the benefit of acquaintance is that you have the presence of others from whom you may learn by observation and indirect experience and, if things turn to the auscpicious, that process is mutual and, over time, develops into what I know as ‘friendship’.
An acquaintance is someone you have enough in common with to be able to speak to civilly and for whom there is a general interest of sharing insights and the occasional deeper discussion. Acquaintances are rarely people you know well, and there are usually many things of their life and circumstances that remain invisible to you simply because you either haven’t had the time or opportunity to delve into them or they have not been inclined to share them, or any other number of reasons that boil down to there being some manner of distance (be it deliberate or situational) involved.
A friend, on the other hand, is someone who, in accord with you, has decided to open themselves to you and receive openness from you. There is a sharing of interests and thoughts, a commonality and agreement on the inherent respect and trust each has for the other, and a willingness to abide and endure all the humanity along with the occasional mess. As someone once very elegantly and eloquently said, “A friend is someone who knows you and likes you anyway.”
A helpful friend is a gift, a precious thing indeed. But this piece of Advice from the heart is not speaking of acquaintances or the precious friend. It speaks instead of the friend who supports those things that are unhelpful to you, the delusions that keep you from developing as a person of benefit in the world.
It has taken me a while to really sort out what this piece of Advice from the heart means because ultimately, everyone you meet is a benefit to you if you know how to engage and react or avoid reacting in relation to them. At first blush, this piece of Advice from the heart seemed very contradictory to me. So I puzzled over it and thought about it and meditated on it until I felt I had any sense of what it meant at all.
I’m still not really sure, but what I’ve been working with since then is the idea that well meaning friends rarely support or enable things of you that keep you from being happy and that it is a worthwhile thing to consider how a friend affects one’s life and one’s ability to be positive and beneficial in relation to others.
The example I often use is that of contributing toward happiness or contributing toward impediments that keep one from happiness. There are two really good demonstrations available to make the point:
A friend has knowledge that I am prone to a certain behavior that makes me unhappy or creates situations in which I become unhappy. Do they encourage me to that behavior and those situations or do they try, through care and closeness, to discourage me from them?
A friend finds me engaging in patterns of activity that result in negative outcomes in my life. Do they shrug and say, “It’s her choice.” or do they gently speak with me to express their interest in my happiness and how they perceive these activities hurt me (and through witnessing it, hurt them as well)?
I believe I have the sense of this piece of Advice from the heart. I believe the foundation is simply to be aware of how my friends contribute to supporting me to choose helpful things and to be wise in relation to allowing friendships that do so, rather than indulging friendships that do not.
I have an examples of friendship that I had to end for realizing how they were contributing to my own, active delusion and impeding my ability to choose well and wisely both for myself and for my interrelation with them.
One friendship was with a married man who, over time, could not help but try repeatedly to engage me in unethical behaviors. I wanted to be his friend, he wanted only to be my secret lover. When it became clear there was no remedy for the situation, I had to end the friendship. It was very hurtful because I care deeply for this person and the realization that I would not be permitted to care for them in helpful, beneficial ways was hard for me to accept.
I might have continued the friendship and hoped to “change them”, but that itself is a delusion of the worst sort. I might have done many things, some of which would be harmful to them or their situation. Goodness knows, in the heat of anger, I definitely had such thoughts. But I think the ultimate point was that my presence in his life could not possibly be helpful to him, it was becoming unhelpful and hurtful to me, and once it is obvious this is the case, the only wise choice is to put enough distance in place to insure the negative outcomes are impeded.
There are certainly other examples I could use, but I think these demonstrate what I find to be the meaning in this piece of Advice from the heart — that it is important to give caring attention to how one’s friendships affect oneself and others, and to refuse those that only bring delusion and negative outcomes. Beyond this, to treasure, nourish, and support those that bring virtue and benefit with equal attentiveness and thoughtfulness.
There are only a few of these pieces that reiterate the need to keep them close to one’s heart. I believe this one in particular is a key element of an ultimately peaceful and beneficial life.