Printed in the Fall 2012 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim. "Our Closeness Is This" Quest 100. 4 (Fall 2012): pg. 124-125.
There is a principle that functions as a sort of touchstone for many of us. It is an understanding that we are intimately connected in some way to a greater life—an abiding presence that, when allowed, informs our awareness in profound ways, heightening our understanding and quieting our obsessive thinking process. A great deal of what constitutes our "spiritual life" is involved in creating conditions for a fuller experience of this inner richness. To call this experience addictive would inaccurate, but, once experienced, everything else seems to pale in comparison.
Ask yourself a question: when have I felt safe, calm, peaceful, overflowing with love, warm, kind, expansive? Certainly there have been times when we have had each of these feelings. A variety of circumstances may call them out in us, but there is a common experience that draws them all out. All are things we experience in the presence of a true friend. A friend calls these things out in us. In Buddhism there is a special category of friendship reserved for those people who help us to experience the deepest qualities of our inner nature—peace, joy, equanimity, compassion. These special people are called "spiritual friends". Sometimes they are teachers. Sometimes they are just people who are simply more aware of and connected to an inner source. We love being around them because they seem to bring out the best in us. What is the source of the energy we feel flowing out from them? If you ask them, they would express it in a variety of ways, but the essence of it would be the same. They would say that they have cultivated a friendship of their own. In the terminology of the world's various spiritual traditions that friend might be called Buddha mind, Jesus, God, Krishna, Higher Self, higher power, or a host of other names.
Some would say, as Shakespeare did, that the particular name is not important—"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I disagree. In the realm of the inner life all names are not equal. The particular name one uses when speaking to, or even thinking about this most intimate of friends is extremely important. So, the standard is this, whatever name it is that feels comfortable, that heightens your sense of connection is the name for you. It may not work for anyone else, certainly not for everyone else, but it is your link. One of the many mistakes of conventional religion is the narrow insistence on a group think, lock step approach to this type of spiritual relationship. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, as an incarnation of God, makes the statement, "By whatever path men approach me, by that same path do I meet them."
Jallaludin Rumi, the thirteenth-century Persian mystic penned a beautiful expression of the closeness of the Friend. It begins with the inner Friend speaking to Rumi:
Friend, our closeness is this:
anywhere you put your foot, feel me
in the firmness under you.
Then Rumi's response
How is it with this love,
I see your world and not you?
Much of Rumi's poetry refers to his spiritual mentor, Shams el-Tabriz, as the Friend. Reading it can sometimes be confusing because in his work the distinction between the Friend and the deepest experience of the real is quite fluid. In the realm of mystical experience, the one is the gateway to the other.
Sometimes people balk at the idea of cultivating this inner friendship. It seems like a difficult, complex, or mysterious process. As much as we often speak of the need to simplify, I often feel that we are suspicious of simplicity. Particularly within Theosophical circles, we have been reared on a complex system of thought describing the nature of the universe and the individual. Rounds, races, manvantaras, planes of consciousness, Dhyan Chohans, hierarchies of nature are just some of the features of that description. The breadth and richness of this conceptual framework is inexhaustible, but genuine understanding requires something more than the facts. The missing ingredient can be something quite simple—this quality of relationship that we are calling friendship.
Just to be clear, we are not only talking about our relationships with other people. However, because for most of us that particular type of relationship is familiar, it is a good place to start as an example of something potentially far reaching and profound. As it is below, so it is above. The process of making a friend is something quite familiar to all of us. We know very well how to do it. We have been doing it since we were children. It begins with attraction. In the life of Rumi, his first meeting with Shams is said to have occurred while Rumi, at that time a scholar, was studying some texts. Shams asked him what he was doing, and Rumi's high handed response was, "I am doing something you would not understand." Shams then took Rumi's books and threw them in the water. When Rumi recovered his precious reading from the water, miraculously all of the books were dry. He asked, "How did you do that?" To which Shams replied, "Because I am doing something you cannot understand." At that point Rumi's attraction to Shams was immediate and lasting.
Having recognized some quality of value, next we find a way to be around that person, to spend some time around him or her. As the process goes on we find that we come to know that person better and better. Gradually a closeness develops, a friendship. We become aware of deeper, hidden levels within our friend, things we never knew before. With time we discover that without a word we can sense our friend's mood and thoughts. If we are fortunate enough to have cultivated a friend who genuinely possesses deep qualities of mind and heart, our friendship becomes infused with love. Love magnifies the experience beyond all bounds. It is a familiar experience for anyone who has loved or been in love that the sense of personal boundaries dissolves. When our beloved is sad, we feel sadness. When they are joyous, we too feel joy. This is the process and the result, whether with a childhood friend, or with our truest, most inner and patient of friends. It is simple, natural, and unfailing.
In the book The First and Last Freedom, Jiddu Krishnamurti says, "Love is one of the most difficult things to comprehend. It cannot come through an intellectual urgency, it cannot be manufactured by various methods and means and disciplines. It is a state of being when the activities of the self have ceased. . . .There can be true relationship only when there is love, but love is not the search for gratification. Love exists only when there is self-forgetfulness, where there is complete communion, not between one or two, but communion with the highest; and that can only take place when the self is forgotten."
One of the beauties of the imagination is that it takes place out of sight, internally. This is especially useful in our initial efforts because we need not be concerned about what others think. Unless you tell them no one knows what's going on inside of you.
So, here is an exercise in imagination.
Sometimes when we go to visit with friends we bring a gift. As we become acquainted with our inner friend we will make a point to offer something. What to give? Think of it this way: if some important dignitary was coming to visit you and you had to give them a present, you would make sure that the gift was something of quality, beauty, and value. You wouldn't just pull something down off of the shelf and throw it to them, or regift something that you did not want. This is even more true for our most precious of friends.
People always say of gifts that "it is the thought that counts". In this offering exercise that is a profound truth because what we will be giving are thoughts. So, what to give? It could be anything. For example, I made some banana bread this morning. The act of making it was my gift. With each ingredient, I measured mindfully. I didn't rush. I listened to the music that was playing from my iPod. I smelled the fragrance of the overripe bananas as I mashed them with the fork. I felt the tension in my forearm in the mashing process. In other words, my conscious offering was this fully lived and experienced moment. My gift was as perfect as I could make it. Really, the gift had little to do with the bread. It was more like a garland of thoughts and awareness strung together and presented in the act of making bread. However, it was only the intention to offer this specific moment that made any of this possible.
I, too, received a gift in return. The gift to me was a certain stillness and sense of an enfolding grace during the time that I was making the bread. "Presence" would be the word I would use to describe the feeling. It lingered and colored my day long after the bread was baked and eaten. A side benefit was that everyone enjoyed the bread.
So now, what do I give? This block, mindfully walked, I give to you. This phone call, this meal, this drive, this meditation, this cup of coffee. It all becomes sacred when offered to the friend.