Being a true friend: Putting Relationships in Service of Truth
Sein Magazine, 2003
Every person I meet desires to be in peaceful relationship with others. So how is it that human relationships, within which there is the chance of a true meeting, turn so often into never-ending war, even if this war only stays cold?
The body, like all living bodies, is a survival machine. As long as we overlook our unexamined identification as a body, the body’s survival circuits subconsciously run us. The ego is the most advanced survival circuit developed by the kingdom of bodies. It allows mankind to rule and destroy the earth. Since the ego is a survival machine, and since most humans are living an egoic life, the patterns for survival take precedence over all others.
To live an egoic life is to be guarded, protected, walled-off, and looking for betrayal. The sense of being superior or inferior are both survival strategies. Judging others and finding their faults, feeling isolated, searching for alliances called “friendships”, are all survival strategies.
These are all useful as survival patterns, but they do not allow a true meeting of openness and vulnerability. Most humans have moments of letting down their guard, when they feel safe with someone, and something deeper, open, and innocent is allowed to appear. This is usually a short-lived appearance before the walls of defence return.
There is a very simple way of looking at this. You have a choice in any moment either to defend or to be open. In a dangerous jungle, with possible death at any moment, to defend seems the logical choice. However, we now see that the mad running of the defensive ego has brought our world to the brink of extinction.
All the horrors we see in the world can be traced to the egoic defence-mechanisms. So now we have to make the courageous choice of openness at the risk of everything. Since the choice to defend is running subconsciously, it takes the willingness to uncover and see your patterns of ego in order to bring the subconscious to light. Otherwise, all the best intentions to meet in openness and love are subconsciously undermined by unexamined defence systems.
As it seems difficult to change this perspective all-of-a-sudden, are there necessary steps or signs that can be recognized by everyone in day-to-day life that lead in the right direction? And is there a right direction?
The right direction is out of the head and back to the heart. The right direction is towards openness and love, and away from fear and defensiveness.
The first step is to notice and tell the truth about the suffering in your life and then to find its cause. Most people attribute the suffering in their lives to external causes. There is a belief that if you could change the circumstances of relationships, the past, your parents, you would be happy. Wisdom is seeing that when your circumstances do change, the happiness generated by that which changed is not long-lasting. All happiness based on circumstances turns out to be short-lived.
When you see that even the best of times do not cause permanent change you can look deeper for the cause of unhappiness. Even if you begin by looking outside, you can see that if you are a victim, you must be a victim of ignorance and greed. The wise course is to find the ignorance, greed, fear, and aggression that are running subconsciously in your own mind. You can never change any mind but your own.
Once you see that your life is being run by subconscious patterns that you seem to have no control over, that is a very good sign. You will start to notice every moment in your day-to-day life that there is something running deeper than your ideas about what is going on. This is the beginning of the search within to find the root causes of your own suffering.
Many people feel a strong call for a complete and fundamental change in their way of life. They really want more justice, peace, happiness, and love. Even though I recognize that every being wants that in one way or another, there is a difference in the intensity of this deep desire from one being to the other. What makes this difference? And is there a link between this strong will for something better, and the suffering existing in human relationships?
It is very lucky when a person can’t bear the suffering of the world. Most people are willing to subjugate everything for personal survival and comfort. It is spiritual ripeness to desire a world of justice, peace, freedom, and love.
If you ignore the suffering in your personal life and the life of the planet, you live a life of ignorance. Ignorance is the root of all suffering. This means that a life of ignorance creates suffering, as ignorance is the root of fear and desire.
For one who feels the pain of the suffering of injustice it is quite easy to see how others are ignorant. Harder, and more important, is to be willing to see and uncover one’s own ignorance. You only have the power to change your own mind, not someone else’s. With this power to change your mind, you have the power to change the world. If you are willing to stop the ignorance where you show up, there is hope for the world.
People on retreats with you are often asked to be a “true friend” to each other in so-called “exercises”. What is the basic intention of assuming this particular position in a relationship? And what does it teach?
If you are enlightened you see the truth of one Self everywhere. You meet each being as a manifestation of your own Self. In this you meet in openness and love. If you have awakened to your true nature, you love silence, truth, and love itself. In silence you realize that you are what you love. Thus you meet yourself with silence, truth, and love, both inside and out.
If you are not enlightened, you can act as if you are. If you are willing to be open, if you are willing to put down your personal agenda to meet fully what is in front of you, you will be a true friend. A true friend has an open heart and a quiet mind. In this you discover the truth of what you call yourself, the truth of what you call other, and the truth of the situation. Then your life is a life of service and love.
Are there techniques or particular behaviours that enable the realization of this eternal human search to meet profound peace and love? What helps the most? Can it be taught, understood, improved in one way or another?
No techniques can take you to realization because freedom is unconditional. No condition or behaviour can lead you to freedom, just as no behaviour can keep you from freedom.
What helps the most is the deep desire to know the truth and the willingness to pay any price to realize the truth. This willingness is all that is required. All that stands between you and what you want will arise to be experienced. In the willingness to bear everything, all obstacles will be discovered to be insubstantial in the face of the great mystery of divine love. The more deeply you surrender to love, the more readily love shows its grace in revealing the truth of your being.
Since I’ve been in contact with you, I have this feeling of great power, not one based on force but on an incorruptible stability, as if nothing present can change what is. It gives me the chance to just be, without any need to be different from what I am. And at the same time, the effect of it is that I can clearly see the lies, my pretences, what I put here to protect myself.
And I change. It’s the first time I have met in living reality what I now relate to as the Faith I heard of in my childhood: like a deep trust in the basic goodness of life. What is the nature of this faith?
I am not sure what you mean by faith, exactly. For me, faith is usually a belief in something unknown with no logical reason for the faith. Faith is what religions use to bind ignorant minds to a set of beliefs. Perhaps by faith you mean what I would call trust. Trust can be very useful at a certain stage of conscious evolution.
Trust is not as blind as faith. Faith entails some belief in something unknown. No belief or faith is needed to discover the truth. Trust has seen the evidence and knows it to be real. Then, in spite of past momentum and conditioning and temptations to betray, you stay steadfast in the trust of what you know to be true. This leads to immovability. When you know the truth and root yourself to yourself, eventually no trust is needed because you are simply being yourself. This is what everyone is hungry for, to truly be oneself.
I see now that all my conflicts with my wife arise from my actions in such circumstances. For example, when being a true friend leads me to tell the truth to her about what I observe, she doesn’t understand what I’m saying and projects onto me that I’m judging her or others. How can we help each other in uncovering subconscious patterns and unexamined defence systems ?
Yes, I deeply understand your situation.
It is a problem everyone can relate to. Everyone can see the ignorance of others. The more deeply you awaken from the trance of life, the more deeply you can see how others are sleep-walking.
In daily egoic life, we choose our friends because they will defend our trance and we confirm theirs. So, one would think, is not the duty of the true friend, the enlightened one, to point out how others are asleep ? Unfortunately, this has been tried without success for many millenia. Pointing out the faults of others is preaching, not teaching. It is only an arrogant egoic mind that would presume to tell others what they do not want to hear. Better to be still.
On the other hand, some have asked for help, have asked to be called on their “stuff”. In this case, the highest and best teaching is the one that transforms the moment into timeless self-discovery. Second best is if the moment plants the seeds of future realization. After that, everything is either schooling or preaching.
Some animals need to be schooled. My wife needed to train and socialize me at a certain stage of our relationship. But again, schooling is different from scolding. Schooling requires a willing student. If both partners are committed to truth, then whatever works is useful. Once, nearly twenty years ago, my partner woke me up at two in the morning to face a lie that had been running just under the surface. I did not want to look at it because I was enjoying the pleasure of the lie. In her waking me up from sleep, although I initially resisted, once I was willing to examine the truth of the situation I was sober and clear, and what was hidden became obvious. This is the benefit of having a true friend willing to face the wrath of denial, and the good luck of being a willing student.
This is the best sort of relationship, where both partners are willing to face the truth and willing to leave the relationship if it is not based in truth. For all other relationships, ”skillful means” usually means it is best to be quiet until asked, and to demonstrate such loving kindness that we are asked for help to see more clearly. Out of this all things are possible.