Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thesis 8: True friendship

My eighth thesis is that friendship is mutually accepting or it's not a true friendship.

The Soto Zen essayist Uchimaya, mentioned previously, makes the point that there are limits to how well we can know another. His spiritual ancestor Eihei Dogen makes another salient point about our mutability, that we are better understood as a spectrum of behaviors, unpredictable and beyond our conscious control, however much we will it. Enlightenment is a transient awareness, he asserts, that can't be privileged over other states of being. This is why he placed so much emphasis on "Just sit!" To sit is to find the ground again, by whatever means.
    "The ground" is a useful metaphor, pointing to the moment when we let go of whatever carried us away and place ourselves again in the unfolding life that in reality we've been indivisibly part of all along. Place is not quite right, since everything is in flux, but it will do. Usually, we are somewhere when we find our ground again. It becomes the vantage point, the shore from which we venture on, sometimes together and sometimes on our own. Although we cannot know the ground or the path of others, these metaphorical words are helpful to describe what we share with them, which is to be present in a world that, although we see it and respond to it individually, unfolds for us both.
    True friendship is rare, in my experience. Like light, it's one thing at one moment, something else at another. The quantum theory of life governs it, so we have to accept that it isn't bound by time or space. A true friend is often in our thoughts, but our encounters reflect our individuality. We accept each other's individuality because we value it in ourselves. We leave it to the other to shape his or her own life. We accept each other's nature, however much we may want to change aspects of it.
    This in itself is bucking the tide. We live in an era when perfectibility is on a lot of lips. There's a lot of complaining, too, since life doesn't work that way. Self-cultivation shouldn't aim at perfection, but at sustaining and enlivening one's existence. True friends accept that this is also the point of their friendship. There's an inherent playfulness to it.
    We humans are a mix of animal spirits and various higher callings. What Dogen saw - his insistence that it all shades together - is what true friends accept in the other. They do their level best to live up to the best in the other, but they know it doesn't always happen. They may have to go off and lick their wounds, but they know the other suffers, too. Find the ground again: this is what true friends ask of each other. That's what their mutual acceptance means.

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