Archive for the 'Inspiration' Category

What is the point of a Friendship if it fades?

I’ve been asking far too few questions lately.

Usually when I share something with you here, I want to give you something to be excited about, someplace you can dream to see someday.

But today, as I was triaging through old files, I came across a folder on my Mac called “Friend Docs,” resulting in a cascading series of events that led me straight down Memory Lane.

You see, ever since I got a new iPod, I’ve been shooting ABSURD amounts of HD video, and it’s filling up my drive faster that I anticipated. Turns out, a surprisingly large chunk of my space was also going to files that people have sent me over the past decade or so. Within the “Friend Docs” folder were photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. A Japanese musician, a German photographer, a graphic designer from New England. I suddenly wondered why I hadn’t spoken to them in so long and what their lives had become.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not expected to stay in touch with all of them. Sometimes connections just fade naturally. Travel has taught me this. Life has taught me this. And I get it. I accept it. Usually, I even welcome it, because when we let go of a connection that doesn’t resonate with us, we make space for something even better to come through.

I am living proof of this.

But as I shuffled through old videos and photos (even pictures of post cards), I couldn’t help but get a bit melancholic. Once upon a time, these files had meant so much to me. And now I didn’t care at all about most of them. Only a few, the few that sparked a memory, held any remaining value for me.

And I couldn’t help but ask myself: What was the point of these friendships? We don’t stay in touch any more, so were they a waste of time? Was I pursing a weak friendship connection in the first place with some of these people? Perhaps. Perhaps.

Heck, I used to have a pretty good Japanese vocabulary! (Reminded of this by a screenshot of me Skyping with an old Japanese friend.) When I try and read hiragana now, I almost feel embarrassed at how much I’ve forgotten. What was the point? What was the point of any of this if my memory for language is like a sieve?

Stepping into a flooded fieldI let this thought stew for a while, and this afternoon I decided to go for a walk.

Outside, I discovered that a nearby stream had flooded, no doubt from all of the recent snowmelt. I’d been here dozens of times, maybe hundreds, and I’d never seen it like this — like a perfect mirror had been placed slightly above the landscape, and I stepped into the water with my waterproof shoes (just because I could).

Then I realized something.

In this changed environment, the stronger elements, often the older elements, reached out of the water easily. They would be fine.

A tree rising over a flooded field

I reflected: perhaps the passage of time is like a slowly rising flood. The memories are still there, submerged, but they aren’t always available for me to consciously access. And each of those memories has roots that go deep, even if I can’t see them. They reinforce other memories. (It’s all one big neurological network, right?)

It’s funny, because I’ve had this attitude toward relationships for a while now, that if something ends, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. As long as I learned something, as long as I grew, it’s not a loss. But I guess I wasn’t applying this same belief to friendships. Or at least, not all of them.

But it remains true.

As I stood out and reflected upon my own reflection in the water, I realized: even if I learned another language fluently from a friend and then forgot it because the friendship faded, there would be growth in that, even if I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what I’d learned about life. Even if I completely forgot the language afterward, it would still be worth it.

And then I expanded upon it. I realized that everyone I’ve ever met, no matter how briefly I’ve known them, has added to my learning in some way. Either they’ve provided more data for me to realize something new about humanity has a whole, or just provided a minor perspective shift, the learning is there, no matter how small.

In the end, not everything has to be remembered. And not everything has to be practical. It just has to be experienced honestly.

That’s something I expect I’ll have to keep telling myself.

What about you? From traveller to traveller, I’d love to ask you:
How do you react when you reflect on friendships long faded?

Why the Law of Impermanence is Key: Non-Attachment in Relationships

When it comes to relationships, I’ve found that it is vital to retain a certain level of non-attachment.

Notice that I didn’t say “detachment.” Non-attachment is different.

Non-attachment is a term for anicca, which is the buddhist concept of impermanence, something I’ve been learning a lot about during my experience here on Hawai’i. I like the term “non-attachment” because it’s a pretty good approximation of what the original Pāli word means.

The concept of anicca (pronounced “a-ni-cha”) is a concept that has been around for thousands of years as one of the major ideas in Buddhism. Basically, it means “impermanence.”

To be clear, I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, but the more I grow to understand and put into practice this concept, the less suffering I experience in literally every area of my life. (I tend to use pieces of different belief systems inasmuch as I find them effective.)

You see, I have this bad habit. (Well, multiple bad habits, I suspect, but let’s deal with just one for now.)

Here’s my habit: when I’m in a relationship, I often analyze my interactions with the other person, their responses, my responses, and try to come to reasonable conclusions.

There are some upsides to this approach, but there is a hidden downside. By coming to logical conclusions, I unconsciously create an expectation of future events.

Yes, you read that right. By using reason, I can still perpetuate suffering.

Here’s why: it’s possible to cling to anything, including reason. And by clinging to reason, I was also clinging to the results of my own reasoning. This would all be fine except that (and you may have noticed this) life is not always reasonable. It can be absurd, unpredictable, and sometimes downright stupid.

The Antidote

So, how do I consciously reduce this tendency? As we already know, clinging to a certain outcome always brings suffering in the end. (Don’t believe me? Try it.) The only constant is Change, which is why non-attachment is my key to peace, happiness, and yes, even joy.

I’ll provide an example.

Say, for the sake of argument, that I was seeing someone who was very special to me. And say, for the sake of argument, that she and I have excellent chemistry, shared interests, and an open flow of communication. I may even see this person as having excellent longterm potential as a relationship partner.

Now say that she is struggling with her past and allowing it to rob her of enjoying life in the present. What if she got scared or overanalyzed the situation? What if she even used the F word that no man in a relationship wants to hear? “Friendship.”

If any of these things happened (again, purely for the sake of argument), I may be tempted to go back over our relationship and try and look for signs and draw logical conclusions. But again this is fundamentally flawed.


Because humans are not always logical and are often far from reasonable. If, for instance, a suspension bridge had failed, drawing logical conclusions based on hard data would be a fantastic idea, but people are not bridges and their inner workings cannot be inspected with a microscope — which is where non-attachment comes in.

When I look a such a situation with non-attachment, with true anicca in mind, I see it as merely one crest of a massive, ever-changing wave. If something happens that I feel aversion toward, I could feel bad. But that response is a choice. If I am conscious of that choice, I can choose to focus on anicca instead, the fact that “this too shall also change.” In the same vein, if something that I want to happen does not happen, the natural response to this is to feel suffering, but again, that response is a choice. (Over time, I’ve even realized how this feeling shows up in my physical body. For me personally, it usually shows up in the form of a tightness or anxiety the pit of my stomach. If I ever wake up with this feeling, I know there’s something bubbling up from my unconscious mind that I need to observe and release.)

Not only do my relationships flow better when I remember the Law of Impermanence: everything flows better, because integrating anicca changes my relationship to life itself. By remembering in every instance that all is changing and “this will also change,” I can free myself up to see reality in a new light, a truer light, for here is the Grand Secret:

Anicca is fundamental to the nature of the universe, and once I began to grasp that, everything changed.

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