Have you noticed how sometimes friends help you celebrate your triumphs, drown your sorrows, and rail against the small injustices of the day: the traffic, someone else's rudeness, the latest mask mandates?
And then, how there are true best friends? Who do all that, but also remind you that things are just as they are, that drowning your sorrows isn't always as helpful as letting the tears flow, and that it's not a great idea to insult or disparage people because it only burns a hole in your own heart?
For me, in one way deciding which friends are true "bests" isn't always easy. In another way, it's simple: best friends tell me the truth. In this podcast, let's talk about truth-telling best friends (in a nice way).
Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call #313, on August 12th.
Staying with the Sage again today, Chapter 6 of the Dhammapada, because I want to learn how to be a Sage, don’t you? So right after last week’s Chapter 6 verses about associating with the people who call out our faults, there’s this:
Do not associate with evil friends; do not associate with the lowest of people.
Associate with virtuous friends; associate with the best of people.
Sounds either completely obvious, or maybe like I should reevaluate all my friends! I mean, when I look around, I have to wonder: who are my virtuous friends, my “best of people?” Are they my tribe? People who agree with me politically? Only really smart people? Only kind people?
When I read this it reminded me of a Wake Up Call in early 2017, when I was working with Joseph Goldstein’s book, Mindfulness.
So I looked back. Wow. February, 2017. Seems like a lifetime ago. Things were so edgy. Trump had just been sworn in. He’d just issued the Muslim Ban. I was terrified of what his presidency would mean.
I had no idea.
Anyway, in February of 2017 we were about to look at the Seven Factors of Awakening, and the first thing Joseph says is that the factors don’t arise by themselves. Sure, there are stories of yogis who heard one teaching and became enlightened. But not me, and in case that’s not you, Joseph recites the teaching that says, “just as the dawn is the forerunner and precursor of the arising of the sun, so too, good friendship, association with the wise, and careful attention are the forerunners and precursors of the arising of the factors of awakening.”
Good friendship. Association with the wise. Careful attention.
So the easy (not-so-easy) part first: “Careful attention,” is mindfulness. It makes sense to me that we have to be paying attention, being mindful, for the seven factors of awakening to arise.
And then, good friendship and association with the wise: isn’t it interesting that these are also requisites for the factors of awakening to arise?
Which is the same as what the Dhammapada says, right? Do not associate with evil friends; do not associate with the lowest of people. Associate with virtuous friends; associate with the best of people.
I feel lucky to have casual friends from different times in my life, and then a few really close friends. With my wider circle, I’m also lucky that there are other mindfulness teachers, good friends, and people on paths that are very different from mine but who are wise and honest with me and push me to be my best. So in a way, I feel like my “outer” circle if you will, includes good friendship and association with the wise, as Joseph writes, and virtuous friends, the “best of people,” as the Dhammapada names them.
The trickier thing for me is the inner circle. In my inner circle, there are also very wise people. And, there are people whom I love, and who aren’t practicing mindfulness. Or curious about mindfulness.
So, they’re maybe reactive. Or they express a lot of ill will, grousing about this or that. Or they gossip. Or they drink a lot, or smoke a good bit. And it’s definitely because they enjoy themselves, so that’s them, enjoying themselves. And Norman Fischer definitely says in the Lojong, something like, do all these important things to train the mind and heart and then sometimes, pour yourself a glass of wine and turn on the TV. But it also sometimes looks to me like some numbing going on.
I wonder if the big issue is the “careful attention” element: the mindfulness element. Awareness. When someone I look up to – a wise friend, someone I think of as the “best of people,” pours a glass of wine, or has something uncomplimentary to say about someone, it seems like mostly they’re aware of what they’re saying and doing. Plus they’re open to feedback, or just to being teased: about having dissed someone, about that second or third glass.
So for sure my wisest people aren’t perfect. They’re just more aware of their imperfections. And open – even eager – to having someone say, ahem.
For me this discernment around my friend can be very painful. A dear friend and colleague called me last weekend to talk about how sad they were that their old friends only wanted to party and talk in objectifying ways about their spouses. This friend said to me, I don’t want to be with them much anymore and I don’t want to talk that way anymore, and I don’t think they want to be with me, either. But I guess that’s just a story.
Maybe. And maybe not. I thought it actually just might be wisdom in action as well. It happens to me sometimes. With some of my oldest and closest friends – people I love and would do anything for – they don’t always fall into the category of virtuous friends or the “best of people.”
That sounds so snarky and I don’t mean it that way. I still love hanging out with them and do that as much as I can, and love them with all my heart. Just like I’m sure my friend who called me will still hang out with their old friends and love them, too.
But I guess mindfulness, and discernment, combine in a kind of perfect storm sometimes, when we have to really look up and decide who are the people who are really supporting us in waking up. For me they aren’t necessarily my oldest & besties. They’re the people I’m walking this path with. The people who remind me to stay aligned and virtuous and mindful no matter how uncomfortable that is sometimes – to be reminded, and to do. I guess my virtuous friends, my “best people,” are other mindfulness practitioners, just because of all of my friends, those are the ones who tell me the truth. I appreciate that. And I know I need that, if I’m going to have a shot at waking up.