Monday, January 30, 2012


People sometimes ask me who my best friends are, and the people who come to mind are Derrick and Heather, both of whom live in London, and whom consequently I have not seen very often in the last twelve years. We all started working at the BBC around the same time, and managed to have all kinds of adventures in various countries - the fact that both of them were working in the States at one time, Derrick in Miami, and Heather in Washington, D.C., was a major factor in me being in San Francisco... but that's another story. I don't think I have given either of them a link to this blog, and Derrick in particular is notoriously bad at being in touch, but I still love him dearly and trust that he still loves me, and if I ever find out where he moved to recently, I expect I shall be staying with him on my next visit to England.
When people ask me who my best friends at Zen Center are, I sometimes think I don't have any. There are a number of people I get on well with, especially the bunch I was hanging out with the other weekend, but often, as I have said before, the nature of friendship at Zen Center seems to be very different. I don't have a group of people I regularly do things like going out for dinner or going to the cinema, though I know there are plenty of people who do these things together. What I do have is a large circle of people I feel more or less intimate with, with whom I know I could have a conversation on just about any topic, should we land in the small kitchen together, or over a meal in the dining room; to whom I know I can turn if I am feeling in need of support and to whom I extend that support when they need it.  And I feel especially connected to those people whom I shared time with at Tassajara during practice periods; when my dharma brothers and sisters and dharma peers come to visit, I am always happy to see them, but that might be the only thing expressed between us. Our connection has mostly been forged on a non-verbal level, and often manifests in that way.
Around my friends in London, because they are quite removed from the life I live now, I tend to revert to the kind of person I was when I was around them before - though hopefully without losing my mindfulness. I think this perpetuation of dynamics is inevitable to a certain extent, in the way that we always become children again when we are around our parents, no matter how old we get and how the relationship has transformed over the years. They don't especially want to hear about Dogen, and I am not as interested in telling them, as I am in enjoying the things we still have in common, which of course in England often involves alcohol.
So this is by way of a response to Mike's comment, "I am wondering what words you may have to say about friendship, particularly long-term friendships that are being tested by time, distance, and unspoken expectations. I have been probing my mind concerning this topic and it appears as a single cloud in the sky durning zazen". Happily, my long-distance friendships, though they are obviously very different to how they were when we all lived in the same city, do not seem to have suffered much; we can have a steady stream of emails or not much contact at all, and just pick up where we left off. I wonder if the key to this is 'unspoken expectations'. I would trust that a good friend of mine would feel free to voice any expectation or concern, would be ready to hear such as I might have, and that, while wanting the best for them, we have enough flexibility to allow them to be who they are and who they want to be with us.


Daigan said...

The interesting thing about friendships are that they, like most things in the human condition are complex and not easily identifiable.

The nature of the friendships I have, and the nature of the friendships you have are very likely very different. I would say the cause of this is each of us carries our own causes and conditions, karma, and other baggage into all of our relationships, and this would influence how they (those relationships) exist.

This is one of those topics to which I almost always reply, experiment, and study it deeply.. you will see what you need to.

Bugwalk said...

I have often wished, as an adult, that I had a best friend the way I did in my youth and through maybe my 20s, but that seems elusive now, and I think more about having a circle of good friends, though even there, I don't have a crowd that I do things with; my friendships are mostly one on one. Your situation at Zen Center sounds wonderful in terms of community.

Your post also made me think of a friend who realized, after moving to another state, how much it means just to know the guy who works at the hardware store, the lady who walks her dog past your place every day--all those many relationships we may not think are crucial, but that have so much to do with feeling at home in a place.


Shundo said...

Thank you both for your wise words.

Sandy's witterings said...

I'm loathed to plug the term Best Friend on to any of my friends - how could I put one person behind another. There is though a premier league of friends,who I would more likely tell personal things too, which due to my nature of hanging on to people is now quite numerous, stretching back though my life like a ball of wool (quite handy if I need to find my way back for some reason)

Bugwalk said...

Sandy, I love your idea of your friends as a ball of wool you can trace your way back with, if necessary--that is utterly charming.


Shundo said...

Ah Linda you beat me to it. I love this image too, and yes, it is iniquitous to rank your friends, but a premier league's worth sounds great.

Anonymous said...

Your description of your friendship connections in San Francisco is exactly the way I feel about the way people relate everywhere in San Francisco these days. It wasn't disconnected like this when I was growing up here. It's only through groupings of people who come together over and over, like @ Zen Center, that I feel part of a community these days in San Francisco. I fret over how to be more connected. I think of Cohousing, but maybe I'd end up feeling the same way you do @ Zen Center.

Shundo said...

I hope it didn't sound like I was complaining about the levels of friendship here; as an introvert it suits me just fine, I get all the social interactions I need. I was more trying to point out the different levels operating in dharma connections, and different kinds of intimacy.
However I do wonder how other people here in San Francisco manage to connect with each other, as it can be such a transient and insular city. This I think is one reason Young Urban Zen has been so successful, in offering a safe and meaningful community to the age group that is just establishing themselves in the world.

owazsasn said...

Thanks for being frank Shundo and you shouldn't have to apologize for being so. Yes SF takes insularity to new levels.

There are a couple of traps we can fall into. When everything is open and anything goes as is often the ethos in SF then we can easily end up with nothing matterring. And we can get ego caught up in the openness, everything is open so we can imagine something 'better' is around the corner, and degrade what is there.

Add to that layers of propriety and political correctness and passive agressive rationalization - like my friend didn't call on my birthday and I shouldn't care because maybe it was because they weren't feeling like it something upset them - and well there goes intimacy into the bay.

owazsasn said...

The solution is to be more demanding and ruthless. (And possibly move to the East Bay) Give your due and expect the same from your friends, otherwise they cannot claim you as a friend. You have nothing to lose expect a lot of shallow aquaintances and fake friends.