Are you a good friend?
Want to be better at making friends?
Then read on!
In this post you’ll discover my highs and lows in my journey to cultivate better friendships. And I hope you’ll be inspired to deepen your own friendships too.
Friendship was fun in my early years
As a child, I was fortunate to attend a fantastic, local primary school. A short walk away, and all my friends lived nearby.
I hung out with my friends on warm summer evenings, and most weekends too.
We cycled together, we played computer games together - we even wrote code to design computer games! (One of my friends still does that...he’s now making a computer game which he’s sold to Sony Playstation!)
We loved gardening and cooking too...well, cooking chocolate cake mainly!
Ah, I can still recall the delicious smell of chocolate pudding cooking in my friend’s oven, whilst seeing flour and sugar and cocoa powder scattered generously all over the kitchen worktop and floor.
For us, free time was filled with playing and having fun together. That’s what bonded us.
In our friendship, kindness was the oil in our engine and fun was the fuel that energised us.
The fun stopped for a while...
As I grew up, my secondary school wasn’t so fun. There were bullies and too much homework. Excessively strict teachers and out of control students. Life was happier once I reached university, and my friendship circle began to grow again.
At university I discovered mindfulness by accident. And it would be another 20 years before I began to really understand the value of kindness in mindfulness practice - the art of making friends with myself! And that’s the journey I’m still on today.
Friends and family are our highest priority.
For many of us, family can be a tough relationship. As can personal relationships with all their demands and attachments. You don’t choose your family.
But friendship is beautiful. You choose your friends.
The heart of life is relationships.
The heart of relationships is trust.
The heart of trust is understanding.
And the heart of understanding is care.
Let’s unpack this a bit more.
Life is relationship. It’s about the way you connect to yourself, others and the world at large. Relationship with others is built on trust. Without trust, the relationship is fear-based and so there’s no deep connection there. Trust comes out of understanding that other people are imperfect human beings, just like you are. And so they will make mistakes from time to time - but that’s no reason to stop trusting them. And finally, the heart of understanding is care. When you care about others, love others and support others, you are willing to understand them, trust them and so ultimately, that’s the heart of relationships. To care.
So, let’s value friendship. Friendship is about developing kindness, care and compassion.
And that brings me to my second point.
Start with Yourself: Be a Friend to Your Body and Mind
If you find yourself struggling to form or deepen your friendships, you’re probably not being a friend to yourself.
The fastest, easiest and most powerful way to become friends with yourself, is to treat yourself as you would a good friend. A wise and kind friend.
If a wise and kind friend was with you right now, what advice would they give you?
Now give that advice to yourself. Write it down to strengthen the power.
You can extend this by asking your your body, ‘how are you body?’ My body right now is quite relaxed, but even so, when I ask that question, my body wants to be adjusted to feel more comfortable. What about you?
Then, ask your mind ‘how are you mind?’ I ask my mind that question, and it says it has a few concerns. As my friend is picking me up this morning and I’m travelling for a few days in and around Exeter in the UK, I need to do some packing and have breakfast in just over an hour.
So I ask my mind, ‘What would make you feel more at ease?’ My mind says: ‘I’ll just let those worries go. Then I can focus on finishing this writing, do a spot of meditation and then we can sort everything else out. It’s a little holiday so no need to worry at all.’
Treating your body and mind, and even your heart, in this kind way is a lovely way to be a better friend to yourself.
You’re Alone...and that’s good!
Being a friend to yourself means to be able to spend time with yourself too.
Ever wondered what the origins of the word ‘alone’ is?
Middle English: from all + one.
Cool, eh!!! Alone actually means All and One in old english. The old english knew a thing or two about aloneness!
So, I agree. You’re never on your own...because you’re all-one - at one with yourself.
Put more simply, you always have yourself to keep you company!
So by being your own best friend, you’ll never feel lonely and isolated. You’ll be with your best buddy - you!
See the good in everyone
Seeing the good in others is a powerful way to deepen and broaden your friendship circle.
I’ve had a slightly different set of close friends every few years. I had a set of friends at college in St. Albans. A set of friends at university studying engineering. A set of friends at teacher training in London. A set of friends as a school teacher at St. James. And then a set of friends whilst being a mindfulness teacher. And now a lovely set of friends through my Museum of Happiness project based in Camden.
I’ve stayed in touch with most friends and most of those friends have been amicable to me.
There has been a very small number of friends that I have lost touch with. One friend one day decided to not contact me again, with no explanation. And another friend has done that too. In both cases, the reason for the blocking or lack of contact isn’t clear. I assume they don’t like me for whatever reason! I like to remember that some people even hate the Dalai Lama - that’s not his fault, just other people’s misunderstanding.
My practice is to see the good in everyone. Even those friends that seem to have blocked me - I still see the good in them. I know they are doing it not because of me, but because of them. They are unable to see the good in me and thereby end the contact.
This lack of forgiveness becomes like a piece of hot coat, burning within you. So I recommend you take action now, and if you’re not on speaking terms with someone for a silly reason, get in touch. At least make the effort and be the more adult person in the relationship. If they decline, no worries - at least you tried and you can die with a clear conscience.
Care, Don’t Cure. Friendship is Kindness.
You need to care for people - not cure them. Even if you’re a doctor! Doctors can’t always cure people, but they can always care for them.
This is a favorite saying of my teacher Ajahn Brahm, and for me too.
It’s so tempting to fix other people. It is for me anyway! But if you try to fix a person, hoping that’ll make them better, then there are a few problems with that:
- You’re not accepting them the way they are. There’s ultimately nothing wrong with anyone. The issue is not the problem they have - it’s the fact they don’t accept themselves the way they are. If they accepted themselves, they wouldn’t be so frustrated and angry and irritable and sad.
- You’re acting as if you are above them, which heightens your status and lowers their status. Cast your mind back to the last time someone gave you advice and told you what to do. How did that make you feel? I accept that it does depend on how they gave that advice.
- You’re not trusting that they can solve their own challenge. By asking your friend to talk and sharing their difficulty, you give them space to express themselves. Then they hear themselves and come up with a solution themselves! Which brings us to my next point...
Listening is Loving
When I was a school teacher, some of the students were described as ‘attention seekers’. They were almost always causing trouble in class, misbehaving and trying to show off. And being told off by the teacher didn’t seem to reduce their naughtiness.
I almost always found these children came from difficult backgrounds. Either their parents had recently divorced, or were not properly cared for at home. This lack of love at home meant they sought love in school. But as teachers are always so busy, the only way they could get that love was through the attention of the teacher and other students, when they misbehaved.
This taught me something very important: attention is love.
When you pay attention to your friend, you’re loving them. There’s no greater gift you can give another human being, in my opinion.
And when you stop to meditate, and you listen to your body...your mind...your heart...you’re loving yourself. And there’s no greater gift you can give yourself.
To cultivate better friendships, start by being a better friend to yourself. Don’t force or order your body and mind around. Your body and mind are your friends, not your slaves. Instead, be soft and gentle to your body and mind. Communicate with yourself. Spend time with yourself.
In this way, you will also begin to be soft and kind and caring to people around you too. You’ll be more caring, understanding and trusting - the qualities that make up the heart of relationships. You learn to see the good in yourself and the good in others too. And everyone has some good in them.