good spiritual friends: walking the path together

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When a fellow member of my running group shared this image and quote with us all, I was “AUM-ing” and “AMEN-ing” at the simple truth of this message. The 8 miles I logged this morning in the company of friends made every step easier. Laughter, insights, wise counsel and encouragement filled every moment of our two-and-half hour excursion.

It did not matter that everyone could not go the full distance.

Showing up, being committed to ourselves, and supporting others in the commitments they make to themselves is the stuff that running buddies and good spiritual friends are made of!

It is a treasure to have partners who help keep us accountable, on the pavement and on our chosen life paths, as we make bold proclamations for our self-care and aspirations. In my twenties, I longed for this type of loving support and was grateful to find it when I needed it most. Just as crucial — I learned through those relationships (and continue to refine through my dharma practice) to be the same kind of friend I value.

Becoming a good spiritual friend (kalyanamitra or kalyanamitta in Sanskrit/Pali) takes time, experience, maturity, skillfullness, discernment, the willingness to be vulnerable and, in turn, to bear witness to vulnerability in others. It demands that we learn not to “co-sign crazy” (a mantra and rule that I lovingly and frequently remind friends, old and new, will be upheld)! Rather than join in on a rant-and-rage session or hold our tongue when a friend is out of order, we invite these dear ones to pause and look deeply when they are caught in harmful/unskillful patterns. We shine the light — helping them wade through the muck toward clear intentions and possible resolutions. We ask what they think they need or, when they’re uncertain, simply step back while offering to be there whenever they are ready to work through it. But other situations require that we share our direct observations because our friend’s perspective may be the source of the difficulty.

For those who lament the lack of sleep or time to relax, we support them in finding moments of peace. If they say they’d like to exercise more often, we invite them out on a walk. For the friend who has difficulty asking for help, we remember to reach out first. We learn better than to give the workaholic or the people-pleaser, who can’t say “No,” one more task to juggle.

The good spiritual friend learns to see clearly and to respond wisely to the need or challenge in the moment. No dictating, judging, or chiding. They deliver the appropriate support with compassion and understanding. They help us to go deep in our self-inquiry, to acknowledge our true desires and quiet fears, and to live authentically and wholeheartedly.

They sweeten the journey and cheer us on as we come back, again and again, to our true selves.

More on Spiritual Friendship

Kalyāṇa-mittatā  [definition]
Admirable Friendship
Mitta Sutta