The invitation of these blog posts from Designs for Peace is to join me in reflecting on various aspects of Beauty. I believe there is great healing available, personally and communally, in contemplating Beauty. Today, more than ever, it is important to turn my attention away from the many conversations that promote anger, despair and hopelessness.
Instead, these blog posts are meant to offer you (and me!) an alternative focus--empowering thoughts and practices that will sustain more joy, meaning and hope for the future. Please share your thoughts and these posts with your friends!
Since February is traditionally the month of Love, I invite you to celebrate the aspect of Beauty that is Friendship. Go ahead and love on your friends! Delight in sharing your friendship origin stories together! When did you first meet? Who brought you together? What were your first impressions of each other? What have been some good times? Hard times? What do you value most in your friendship? What do you bring each other? How has your friendship enriched your life? What has your friend taught you?
Click HERE for a special gift I created for you to share with your friends.
This month’s post is dedicated to the women friends who, over so many years, have tended and befriended me. You know who you are and I trust you know of my abiding love and gratitude for your presence in my life.
You could say that I have made a lifelong study of friendship.
I attended five schools before the seventh grade in the distinct cultures of Virginia, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. Being, having, and keeping a friend was my most heartfelt yet elusive goal. In each place, I showed up as The Lonely Outsider, often invisible to those who had lived in the community a lifetime or a long time. I became skilled at observing the rules and costs involved in belonging in each place.
I learned that sometimes belonging was about being pretty or good at dodge ball or having long straight hair or wearing the right clothes. But mostly belonging came down to whether or not you had lived there all your life. So, tough luck for newcomers like me. Even if I had the right face, agility, hair, clothes and accent, no matter where I landed, time and history worked against me. I simply would never belong.
Let's pause here to acknowledge the truth that I know now and did not know then: for many of us, the Lonely Outsider is a part of our inner psyche. The Lonely Outsider even resides within those who, on the surface, appear to have it all together, who seem to belong. Feeling alienated is a favorite topic of theologians, psychologists, and philosophers. All I knew then with my limited perspective was loneliness. It took many years of maturing to comprehend that my experience was not at all unique but quite common.
The Lonely Outsider part led me on a quest to discover where I belong, who my people are, what it means to be a friend. I heard the wisdom in my mother saying, “Be the kind of friend you want to have.” Once again, she was right!
By developing the same inner qualities I valued in a friend, I learned how to be a good friend to others. And equally important, I learned how to befriend myself--at long last. Over time, The Lonely Outsider has been dosed with so much compassion and self-acceptance that she no longer is the one who takes the lead when I am in a new situation. She has been nurtured by the energy of Tending and Befriending, an expression of Beauty that women know intimately.
And now Science has measured what women have known all along--the many benefits available from Tending and Befriending.
Tending and Befriending encompasses many qualities of friendship. The tending part can involve problem solving, massive doses of compassion, sympathy and empathy, laughter and tears, ritual and celebration plus shared rites of passage, memories and interests.
Another expression of Tending and Befriending is what I call Witnessing. It is the crown jewel of intimate friendships.
Depending on the circumstances, Witnessing is most often a mutual experience but not always. When I am with a friend, (in person or on the phone) we take turns simply attending to one another in the present moment. It's like finding the proverbial Soft Place to Land, like sinking into the most comfortable couch, snuggling up, feeling safe, comforted, accepted, and completely loved. Sometimes if things are particularly fraught--the times when the mind is on a rampage of painful thinking--we'll use a talking piece. It helps to slow the pace and sharpen the listening.
My closest friends and I offer mutual witness to what is occurring. There is a willingness to listen with the ears of the heart, to listen without interrupting,to be present with compassion and curiosity, to see and hear and, most importantly, not try to fix or solve the other's problems unless clearly asked.
To be witnessed by another human being is to be accepted, warts and all. To be witnessed is also to give my friend a solid vote of confidence in her courage and competence, in her ability to "put on her big girl pants" and do what needs doing, no matter how intimidating. To be witnessed is a state of mutual trust, tolerance, and forgiveness. To be witnessed is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “simply being there, being there.” What a rare and precious gift we give a friend when we witness them!
The Lonely Outsider finds her home, at long last. She is seen and heard, visible at last, healed through Friendship’s simple power to witness.
May you celebrate that rare and precious gift of being witnessed by a true friend.
Happy Love Month to you, dear ones!