Sixteen years ago, after getting a divorce, I never heard from any of the people my ex and I used to socialize with again, simply because they were his friends, hand picked by him, not mine. I had never been completely comfortable with his type of jet setting people, nor did I become close to them. They were just people that we went to dinner, plays and concerts with, the kind of people with expensive cars and houses, who liked to throw money around to impress each other. They also liked to gossip, and some of the men were fooling around on their spouses too, making me feel awkward and two faced when their wives were around. I cannot remember ever having one single, meaningful conversation with any of them either. I only remember feigning enthusiasm for things I didn’t give a damn about. There was nothing of value in any of the time we spent together, and it made me feel kind of sick inside.
Being single again was like moving to a new town, one where I didn’t know anyone. You might think I'm weird, but liked it that way. It gave me the opportunity to define my own values, to decide what was best for me, and to develop the most important relationship in my life, the one I have with myself. Once I defined what was really important to me, it was easy to be true to myself too. I became a rebel – defying the latest consumer trends. I developed my own rather dark kind of minimalist style, and became comfortable in my own skin, which made me surprisingly appealing to people – I didn’t have to work hard to make friends, or to dress to impress anymore. I quit comparing myself to others too. I pursued my passions with a vengeance, and became confident in my musical and literary ability, which drew other creative types towards me. I was similarly drawn to people who sought significance over monetary success, people who lived passionately, people who were grateful for what they had, who were interested in me as much as I was interested in getting to know them.
I met a lot of people over the years – people who drifted in and out of my life. Some who are friends to this day and that I love with all of my heart, and others whom I chose to distance myself from for one reason or another. Everyone gets hurt by somebody sometime, and on more than one occasion, someone that I thought was a friend, said or did something that really hurt me. I learned to put the terrible burden of resentment and anger aside, to forgive and to move on. I began to find joy in my relationships - my friends became a source of inspiration, happiness and comfort to me, rather than a source of stress. I also learned what being a true friend to others really means.
A true friend is kind. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. The more you practice kindness, the better you will get at it. I have a reputation for being too nice. Seriously, how can anyone be too nice? Being kind makes me feel happy inside, and it encourages others to be kind in return, creating happiness within them too.
A true friend is mindful. Kindness and mindfulness go hand in hand. Listen to your friends. Give them your full attention when they are talking to you. If they have a problem, don't interrupt the conversation to give advice, don't cut them short, take the time to hear what they have to say. Remember this is about them, not you - they don't want your empathy (they don't want to hear how you completely understand in that 10 years ago you had a boyfriend who cheated on you too), they want you to listen! When they are done speaking, repeat the conversation back to them so that they know that you heard them. Then let them know that you are there for them, as a friend, and again don't offer any advice, ask if there is anything that you can do.
In his blog Zen Habits Leo Babauta put it very well, when he said "It isn’t easy to be kind on every possible human transaction, . . . but when we touch another person’s life, our lives are being touched as well. What shape do you want your life to take? That will be completely determined by the effort you take to be mindful, and to be kindful."
A true friend does not compete with you, but encourages. In his new e-book Inside Out Simplicity Joshua Becker talks about the life changing lesson that he learned through participation in a recent marathon, and I quote: "Marathon runners are notorious for offering encouragement to one another. They understand an important race principle: there is room at the finish line for all of us. It isn’t all about winning or losing, it’s about the experience and being in it together."
By nature, I am not competitive with others, which makes it easy for me to offer encouragement. In the music business however, there tends to be a lot of competition and jealousy, and I have run into it on a number of occasions. Some very promising musical projects that I have involved myself in, have gone up in flames because someone chose to be a diva, and/or a critic, rather than a team player - making the project all about them, not playing well with others. Much like the marathon runners, we were all in it together and there was room for all of us up there on that stage, much as there was plenty of room for a whole bunch of kids in that sandbox back in kindergarten. If you throw sand in someone's face, you are going to end up with no one to play with, that or embarrassed and standing in the corner. The simple message is not to compete, but to encourage your friends. More happiness can be found in sharing life's great experiences with others than by sitting in the corner alone.
A true friend is generous. Generosity is not about picking up the entire dinner tab in order to impress people. Generosity is about giving from the heart. If you want to pick up the entire tab, or to give someone a gift, be careful of your motives - do it with no strings attached - out of sincere generosity because you want to help them or to make them happy. Personally, I have certain charities that I believe in and support, and I have been known to lend a few bucks to a friend who is truly in need. But in my opinion, generosity is more about using your talents, experience and wisdom to help others. Sometimes I get asked to help out with their various musical projects - to make a guest appearance on bass, or keyboards at an upcoming performance, or to fill in for a band member who is sick or out of town. It makes me feel good to have people ask me for my help, and it makes me feel even better to be a part of something that means a lot to them. Recently a very good friend of mine, one that I had not talked to for a long time, called me for some advice in an area in which I had some expertise. It was great that she knew she could call on me to help her out after all the time that had passed since we last spoke. It reminded me of the reasons why we are friends in the first place, and it was great having the opportunity after taking care of business, just to catch up with each other.
A true friend is forgiving. It takes a lot of strength to be forgiving, especially when someone whom you have loved and trusted says or does something to hurt you. First of all remember that it is their fault, not yours - they are the one who did you wrong. If they did so intentionally, put aside your embarrassment and your shame - they are the one who should be ashamed, and if they were ever worthy of your friendship in the first place, they will feel bad. Don't try to get even - just seriously consider whether or not this person is worthy of being a part of your extraordinary life - forgiving someone is not the same thing as putting your trust in them again. If the hurt was unintentional, remember that we are all human, capable of making mistakes, and that you yourself have needed forgiveness for mistakes that you have made in the past. Don't harbor resentment, it will only bring you down. Responding with kindness will help to heal your wounds. Forgiveness in and of itself is the first step towards healing, and forgiveness will set your heart free.
A true friend is honest. A true friend also knows when to keep their mouth shut! There is a big difference between being a person of character, integrity and morals, who is honest with your friends on matters of real importance, and offering your unsolicited opinion on their life's decisions, their choice of a mate, their taste in music and/or the way that they dress. Remember that a true friend is kind, mindful, and encouraging. Don't criticize. Be sure that your heart is in the right place before opening your mouth, for instance, if you don't like their latest boyfriend - be honest with yourself as to your motives while you are at it. Is this person of danger to your friend? Or are you secretly jealous because they don't have as much time for you as they used to? You must be honest within and of yourself to begin with. Think hard, and choose your words wisely.
A true friend sets boundaries. Don't let your friends stress you out. It is not your responsibility to pick good old Charlie up from the bar every time he gets drunk, or to spend an hour on the telephone with Linda because her boyfriend cheated on her again. Depending on the nature and extent of your friendship, you may need to have a heart to heart with your friend, but understand that you cannot fix their lives for them - that they are going to have to help themselves. Know when to say yes and when to say no. Don't make promises that you cannot keep, or commit to things that you are later going to regret - don't go to a Lady Gaga concert if you are going to be miserable the entire time. Although they may be a little disappointed that Lady Gaga is not your cup of tea, a true friend will completely understand, as long as you say no in a kind and mindful way - one that doesn't make them feel stupid because they happen to like her. Don't allow your friendships to be all encompassing either, or to interfere with your pursuit of your own passions. It is very important that you give yourself plenty of time for meditation, solitude, and to do the things that you want and need to do. Don't forget that your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.
Notes from Ro:
If you are a person who has a hard time making friends and keeping them, I am hopeful that my thoughts and experiences will prove helpful to you. You might also be interested in reading Everett Bogue's blog article on "How to Meet Remarkable People When You Live and Work from Anywhere". Uncluttering friendships is crucial if you want to live a minimalist lifestyle. For more information on living a minimalist life, you might want to checkout some of the books at the top of my right sidebar under the picture of me playing the piano , where it says "books you might want to check out. I also recommend the following minimalist blogs:
Far Beyond the Stars, by Everett Bogue
Zen Habits, by Leo Babauta
Rowdy Kittens, by Tammy Strobel
Becoming Minimalist, by Joshua Becker