In honor of International Friendship Day - July 30th.

"The relationship that exists between friends is the grandest of human loves. Friendly love is pure, because it is without compulsion. One freely chooses to love his friends; he is not bound by instinct. The love that manifests in friendship can exist between man and woman, woman and woman, man and man. But in the love of friendship, there is no sexual attraction. One must practice celibacy and absolutely forget sex if one wants to know divine love through friendship; then friendship nurtures the cultivation of divine love."
Paramahansa Yogananda

Human beings are naturally social creatures and throughout our evolution, existing in groups has ensured our survival. Today most of us live in a relatively safe environment and we're not worried about being attacked at any moment by the lion or tiger. This makes it possible in today's world to choose an isolated life. With modern technology providing virtual social 'friendships' where people have never even meet face to face, it seems that many people have falsely convinced themselves that they don't need any real friends and their 'Facebook friends' are enough.

These 'virtual' relationships simply don't replace the deep fulfillment of true physical friendships. We all need friends- someone to talk to, to listen to, to support in the hard times and celebrate with in the good times. Someone who's there for you no matter what craziness your life is going through, who accepts you unconditionally and who doesn't judge you.
True friendship is one of the greatest gifts in life and is a necessity in order to live a balanced, fulfilled and rich life. Children are a good example of this- at a young age, a child hasn't been tainted by all of the cultural 'norms' that his world has imposed on him. He's not worried about meeting the 'right' kind of person, he just wants to be friends with others in an honest, unassuming way. If a child is rejected, betrayed or has no friends, it can be devastating and very painful. This shows the deep need in our cells to have to have friends.

So how does yoga help us in the friend department? In order to be a good friend or know who your true friends are, we can look at the teachings of The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali called the  Brahmaviharas and also The Four Immeasurables in Buddhism. Both of these texts speak of the  practice of cultivating  four specific states of mind in order to develop the capacity for unconditional love. These four qualities are: friendliness or lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). 

Loving kindness or metta is the true, heartfelt wish and prayer that your friend and all living beings have health, safety, peace and serenity in life. In this practice, we direct metta towards ourselves first, so that we have the health, safety, peace and serenity to enable us to give fully to others. Then, without thinking of your own needs and desires, the wish or prayer is directed towards the other to lift them  up.

Compassion or karuna is the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering, and to lighten sorrow. This is a form of empathy. Empathy is necessary and beneficial, but empathy needs to be practiced in a detached way so that you, as the giver of compassion, don't let yourself get drawn into the suffering yourself. It's only by remaining mindfully detached from your friend's suffering that you can give the most honest, reasonable and helpful support or advice needed. 

Joy or mudita is an emotion that comes naturally from the soul when we love unconditionally and take pleasure in the simple things in friendship. Jealousy, envy and selfishness sabotage true joy. It is in selflessly wishing well to friends, family, neighbors and to all living beings without desire to be or have what they have, that we can experience the grace of this uplifting emotion.

Equanimity or upekkha is even-mindedness and maintaining our balance regardless of what's happening in our life or others' lives.  It is the ability to feel connection fully, without clinging or possessiveness. True equanimity is neither indifference nor cold detachment. It is a characteristic that allows us to deepen and extend the first three Brahmivaharas of loving kindness, compassion and joy immeasurably, without falling into fatigue, emotional burnout, or stifling codependence.

These guidelines can help when we're questioning if we've been a good friend to someone and how we can be an even better friend. This may also be a tool to help teach your children be better friends too. By consciously improving and celebrating our friendships we maintain these ever so important bonds that enrich our lives immeasurably. Here is a lovely teaching by the Buddha on friendship and loving kindness-

The Buddha's Words on Loving-Kindness
translated from the Pali by
The Amaravati Sangha

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Humble thanks to: Access to Insight ~Readings in Therravada Buddhism

With love and light to All,