Friends, Frenemies, Trust, and Terrorism

friends dancing

A friend. What does a friend really mean to us? Is it defined by how two or more people weave themselves in and out of love?

Is a friend someone who we can rely on when we’re in need, or is it someone who challenges us to be stronger, or both?

I am remembering a client, a friend, who came to me recently with very unpleasant associations around her friends. It seemed her friends were really frenemies – critics or enemies, disguised as friends. They would invite her into their life, get what they wanted, and then turn on her, and it was — in her perception — happening more and more. She herself was worried about becoming harsh with people because she was so hurt, feeling like a stinging wasp with everyone.

“When I bring up my concerns with these people, that I’m not being treated fairly, they blame it on me. They say it’s me, not them.” She was bristling with frustration and anger when she said this.

I asked if she would like to explore what a true friend is.

When she gave me permission to enter into this inquiry with her, I said, “I can see that you’ve been very challenged by your experience of ‘friends.’ It must be hard to live without the kind of friends you want.”

Within seconds, this angry, bristling bundle of tension dissolved into tears. She felt heard, seen, and accepted; her armor melted. Trust in our mutual intention to further her spiritual progress allowed us to enter into a very warm and productive exchange. She became like a tender child again, but with the affection and intelligence of the powerful woman she really was. Together, like spiritual detectives, we could bring out the microscope of awareness and look deeper. Without judgment.

The new way of being with herself, of accepting herself just as she was, led her to allow a new way of being in her body. She could be vulnerable.

In this age of attack and terrorism, feeling vulnerable is a great act of courage. It’s also a requirement for sharing our true feelings, thoughts, and emotions with others. Without that inner sense of truth, we can never feel safe. That lack of inner safety, the insecurity of it, produces the fear, danger, and threat that creates a terrorist. In healthy human friendships, we must stay vulnerable to be open to the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others. Understanding, not conflict, will soothe the ills of our world.

It becomes impossible to turn away from the pain of others who are suffering. We can no longer have an “us” and a “them.” It is the beginning of creating a very different world that we can all live in.

I mention this because of recent acts of terrorism — like the Manchester Bombing and the assaults on the EPA, the NEA, Education, and Net Neutrality — all blows to a sane and compassionate society. Our one invincible weapon against terrorism is friendship. With friends, we find a place where we can be vulnerable and yet strong, trusting and yet not prey to the instincts of terrorists and predators.

So what is a real friend? From our conversation, we cobbled together a working definition of a good friend, and she agreed I could share some of our insights with you….

The most solid friendships are those between friends who love one another. In fact, friends are often a little bit in love with one another, not usually in the romantic way, but in a Platonic way.

Friends are often closer to us than our romantic partners or family because they have cycled with us through many types of affection (with the friend or with others): romantic, erotic, creative, intellectual, and spiritual.

Great friendships are magnets for conversation. Friends ask questions. They want fun answers but they also want to know how we are. How we really are, not just how they want us to respond. They don’t accept the standard cliché “I’m fine” or “Everything’s great” when they know it’s not.

Friends speak the truth freely. They hash things out, not only to express themselves but often to learn how they feel, what is true for them, or us. When we establish trust and relinquish fear, friends accomplish so much more than terrorists, heart-breakers, and frenemies.

Friends trust each other to re-spect the other, to “look again,” the real meaning of respect: re-spectere.

Friends are in our lives to see us through, not to see through us.

Friends, simply by their presence, help us evolve our ability to know ourselves. They draw us out, invite us to speak what is really true in our hearts, to collaborate, to explore the center and edges of our reality.

My friend left me that day saying yes to the light and no to the darkness, yes to friends and no to terrorists.

If we really want to do anything in our lives, we are going to be vulnerable. Vulnerability becomes our very lifestyle. Trust becomes our attitude. Forgiveness becomes the guiding light in each step. We learn to say yes to the air, yes to the trees, yes to people, yes to the sky.

Life becomes a blessing when we know ourselves enough to embrace what we really choose, rather than living in fear or anger over what others do. Life becomes an adventure, full of friends, inspired by truth, and full of the joy that comes from being a good friend to ourselves, which makes us a good friend to others.

“We hold our past in our bodies just as surely as we hold memories of the past in our minds.” – Swami Ambikananda Saraswati


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“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” – Viktor Frankl

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