best friends

April 1st, 2013

il_570xN.318379070The other morning I opened an email from a reader. I asked her if I could respond via the blog so other people could benefit. All our problems are the same; what is different is whether or not we face them in an openhearted way. When we can do that, problems resolve themselves.

I am sure you get this all the time but first off thank you so much for Momma Zen and your blog. Both have brought me to laughter and to tears.

Reaching the place of tears and laughter—the starting point of our common humanity—is my highest aspiration. When one person cries, we all cry. When one person laughs, we all laugh. Now you can see how compassion works: in our shared tears and laughter.

I started studying Buddhism when I was 18. My dad was dying and my boss had a copy of Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It took me a while to get through, but since then I have always been able to find a Buddhist book or teacher to help me.

What a coincidence. I, too, read that book early in my practice and it was a wonderful companion for me during a time of loss. The Dharma, or teaching, always works in what appears to be a mere coincidence. Whether you’re handed things you like or things you don’t; something that makes you happy or sad, laugh or cry; whether you are consoled or confused; you are always receiving the teaching. Disappointment is the greatest teacher, because it gets right to the source of our problems: our attachment to having our own way. We usually don’t finish those books or stay with the teachers who disappoint us, but life continually and directly delivers us this lesson: the moment it’s not the way we want it.

My best friend and I had a falling out two years ago. We tried to go back to normal but I feel like it hasn’t been the same since. We’ve drifted apart. I am in disbelief. I never thought I would lose this friendship.

Now we can see what a good teacher this friend has been for you. Things don’t go the way we think. People don’t act the way we expect. We cannot control the outcome of anything no matter how much we wish, hope, try or want. Right there is the turning point toward a deeper understanding of love. True love is letting go. Not trying to change someone else. Not trying to control the outcome. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do.

I try to feel compassion, and practice tonglen or a metta meditation for my friend, but what can I do for this sad, empty, hollow feeling in my chest?

My teacher Maezumi Roshi said, “There is always something we can do.” The most important thing to do is practice acceptance. Take care that you do not try to conjure a certain outward feeling or impose a manipulation of any kind. Compassion is complete acceptance of things as they are, free of a self-serving agenda.

Within that acceptance, you can practice atonement. Offer an apology. Forgive yourself as well. Do not ignite anger or resentment by assigning blame. A genuine apology always restores harmony. Take complete responsibility and offer it without expecting an outcome.

Add your friend’s name to your prayer list. Dedicate your meditation to her. Look carefully at your motivations and intentions. Have no expectations. Simply devote your practice to your mutual well-being. Express your love and care without any need for reciprocity. We do not practice to change people’s hearts; we practice to open our own.

In short, be a best friend.

If you do these things freely and for their own sake, you will have made a friend of yourself. Your heart will soon be filled with love and gratitude. And then something will happen. It always does. Nothing stays the same. The Dharma works by itself when we stop trying to make it work.

Please stay in touch and share this with a friend.

Best Friends necklace by Jewel Mango on etsy.



  1. Certainly by the time you get to your seventies you’ve been round and round this friendship thing many times and lost count of the gains and the losses (finger count, that is)because heart count is indelible.I often think I have the “letting go part” finally in place and then out of nowhere it’s time to practice again. I take your words to heart as I did the first time I read about Buddhism (Jack Kornfield A Path With Heart)and found a new teacher and a new way which have so profoundly served my soul. Somehow on this leg of my journey I know in a very deep place that Jesus doesn’t want to let me go nor does He mind that in my wonderings I found the Buddha. So for all we get from our beleifs,and from our teacher friends, and from the light and the guidance of gifted spirits like you, we can all aspire to keep on getting better at that “letting go”. Again, thank you!

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — April 1, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

  2. I was just working on forgiveness today and then this arrived.Thank you!

    Comment by Pat — April 1, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

  3. Your words feel like they were meant for me. I am comforted that I’m not alone in my struggles and that the wisdom is so universal. And, that the struggle is the lesson if you can let yourself see it. With gratitude.

    Comment by Sarah E Griffin — April 2, 2013 @ 3:07 am

  4. About 3 years ago a disagreement with a friend resulted in her decision to cut off all contact with me (unfriend me from FB and other places). She explicitly told me her decision and while stunned, I abided it. I recently learned via another friend that she has breast cancer and funds are being raised to assist her. I have not donated, because I’ve been unclear about my motives and expectations — or rather, I know that I’m attached to a certain outcome. This post feels timely. Thank you for it.

    Comment by Kathryn — April 2, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  5. I have a friend who is an ordained minister in the UU church. She preaches once a month at the UU church I attended before I moved away. No matter what she said, it was ALWAYS something I needed to hear right then. Your posts are the same for me. I ALWAYS need to hear just what you are saying right then. I thank you for that. In my somewhat fumbling Buddhist practice guided by books because I live far away from any sangha, I get wonderful things from you. Your teachings are precious to me and I welcome them.
    Thank you for all this. My Buddhist practice, such as it is, and a close friendship with the Great Mother Goddess keeps me honest and has done me a world of good.
    I am always sent just what I need just when I need it, although sometimes it isn’t quite what “I” had in mind at the time. :- )
    Thank you for everything.

    Comment by Jackwoman — April 2, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  6. Ah “coincidences”. I remember a certain period of time in my life when I was feeling really lost…and on a certain day I wandered into a Chapters bookstore and said to myself, “I am going to peruse the aisles until something jumps out at me.” I had really let go…nothing else had worked and i had nothing left to lose. A certain title with the words “care instructions for an ordinary life” jumped out at me. The rest is history…thank you Maezen.

    Comment by Kirsten — April 2, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

  7. The best teaching I’ve ever read about why we practice — not to change another’s heart but to open our own. These words bring me to tears, perhaps because the work of opening my heart is so much harder and more humbling than I ever, ever could have imagined. It would be so much easier if the “someone else” would just change for me!

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — April 3, 2013 @ 3:13 am

  8. “There is always something we can do.” I love this.

    Comment by Jena — April 3, 2013 @ 4:37 am

  9. in the little I’ve read about zen Buddhism, several times I’ve noticed similarities between it and twelve step work–the same similarities I notice in this post. valuable lessons indeed.

    Comment by Amy — April 15, 2013 @ 4:29 am

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