I resisted this lesson for weeks, arguing that it was unreasonable, ignored the kindness of people, their Buddha nature or just their good intentions. But I was simply trying to deny my own vulnerability, my tendency to open myself up to disappointment and let down when people acted in accordance with the interests of their own ego rather than the greater good, or indeed, with regard to my best interests.
This lesson, to bear in mind that ‘they’re not your friends’, is simply a reminder to be aware that not all people are ‘on the path’, don’t expect everyone to be looking out for you or willing to show you ‘the way’. While most people are well intended, they are also still under the spell of their ego. This doesn’t mean that people are bad or completely self-absorbed, just that they have their own lives, beliefs, problems and goals and can’t always see where these might cross-over or affect your life, beliefs, problems and goals; nor can we expect them to, it would be too much to expect anyone other than a fully enlightened being to be able to take into account and integrate all the needs and comforts of those around them.
So we must be our own friend, look out for ourselves and our ‘self’, mindful whenever possible of holding others compassionately, but firstly we must develop metta toward ourselves. Being able to sit compassionately with yourself takes work, truly feeling the mantra “may I be happy” requires that you believe that you deserve to be happy, that you are good enough and that you have the capacity for true happiness. While this takes time, it is well worth the effort and as your compassion toward yourself develops your capacity for loving kindness toward others will also grow. You will become a true friend to others.
The traditions of yoga and Buddhism both recommend wise discernment in choosing the company you keep. If we avoid negativity, gossip, immoral or unethical people as far as possible it helps to keep our minds clear of unnecessary distraction and delusion. It is easier to stay focused on the goodness around us and ways to contribute to this if we avoid those who are motivated by hate, anger and greed. This doesn’t mean dumping your friends on a bad day or if they are going through a difficult time in their lives, but it does mean protecting yourself from defilement as much as possible.
This lesson, ‘they’re not your friends’ is the third life lesson I have been given by my husband. I have written elsewhere at length about the other two, but summarise them here for you now:
1. Listen. Agree. Ignore – be respectful and listen to what people have to say. Be compassionate and allow the other person to take their position by agreeing with them. Be unattached to the ideas, opinions and attitudes of others, follow your own path in your own way. There is no need to engage with stupidity or aggression, let the other person ‘get it out’, then ‘walk away’ and ‘leave them with it’ (i.e don’t take it with you).
2. Wear the feedback – do that which makes you, you. Whatever you do, if in the essence of devotion or good intention, is good, regardless of the conditioned reactions of those around you. Even the Buddha received criticism and bad feedback from disgruntled followers, but he continued doing what he knew was best for the well being for all sentient beings.
3. They are not your friends – if we expect people to behave in a way that takes into account our own best interests, we will be hurt and disappointed time and time again. Do not expect people to do anything other than what is good for themselves. Sometimes they will, accept this as a gift but don’t expect it to happen again. And even people who usually act with our best interest in mind (e.g. Our mum maybe) will sometimes need to put themselves first, in this moment, they are not your friend, nor can we expect them to be. There is a point in everyone’s life when we realise we have to put ourselves first, before any other.
With great respect for the unveiling of your true potential.