Who knows how long I’ve loved you
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime
If you want me to, I will
– The Beatles
Wherever you are, just try being the host.
You will always be at home.
– Linji Yixuan
Making friends with myself, what does that mean? And don’t there have to be two of me to make friends with me?’ Making friends with myself is something that I might have to feel my way into.
Our minds mind do a lot of things all by themselves and are often plotting and scheming and running after shiny objects. That’s fine, but setting that aside for a minute, what’s it like to be you? This question is for you and only you can answer it. So you don’t need to reach outside what you have.
So let’s try an experiment in making friends with yourself: What’s it like to be you?
Turning Your Light Inward
You could start with feeling your body. Let’s say you are sitting down. What’s that like? You can feel your body, its warmth, its animal thusness. When we notice what it’s like to be ourselves, it’s satisfying just by itself, being alive is its own delight. Being you is wonderful. The now we are in doesn’t seem to have a boundary around it. It’s not waiting for you to get thinner or younger or richer.. Here you are sitting in a chair, or you’re cycling in a gym, or wherever you read. You could be in a garden with hummingbirds ricocheting about, in a camp while hippos crash along the river bank, you could be having tea while hearing gunfire from the next street over, you could be waiting for news in an ER. But in all those cases here you are, your life is happening now. We can taste the moment and hear it and touch the things around us and smell their scent and this is always changing. What it’s like to be you is what is going on for you, now. What it’s like to be you is the bit that you have to know for yourself and it can’t be explained completely.
So the first way to make friends with yourself is to rest in who you are. Being your own friend is being you.
Another way to look at it might be to ask what’s it like not being friends with myself? What is in the way of being friends with myself?
Well, everyone’s mind likes saying “but.” Thinking I’m doing it wrong, that the conditions of my life stop me making friends with myself—that might get in the way of noticing what it’s like to be me. You might disapprove of who you are but disapproving is just another way of not being here. In this case making friends could mean lowering your standards.
You’re happy and then have a thought and are unhappy. You are missing out on lots of things. Suddenly you think “I’m Lonely.” But that’s just an explanation not the actual flavor of sharp heart in the mouth intensity. At that moment, is loneliness missing? Then is it even loneliness?
If you have a friend you are not looking to catch them out. You can show up for your own life the way you’d show up for a friend. If they are in pain, or grieving or messed up today you are still there for them.
The Edges of Me
The feeling of who I am, and what it’s like to be me, does it go on and on? Well being me has a wider extent than I might think. I notice this sitting in the garden.
My garden has an informal quality, the plants seem to do a good job working out their relationships and I let them do that, the roses climbing trellises with the chardonnay vines, salvias intertwining with the lemon tree, grasses growing in between. There are also dense, low outcrops of juniper and fuchsia, which I thought of cutting back until I noticed that they are hotels for small birds, a place of refuge from becoming lunch for the red tailed hawk who meditates on the grape trellis. I developed a connection with one of these small creatures. In spring it was a chick with a wing at an odd angle; perhaps it had fallen out of its nest. Surprisingly to me, this little bird grew, and became an anonymous brown bird, expert at using the ground cover and the dark space under the deck. When it survived I wondered if it was lonely and how it would arrange its love life with the other birds who could fly.
Then I hurt my back lifting large things, a product feature of the Y chromosome. I was in a lot of pain and stayed home, sitting on the deck, working, watching, doing the nothing that is called meditation. Being in pain didn’t diminish the feeling of being me, of trust. I didn’t think I shouldn’t be in pain, which was clearly not negotiable. Every now and then I’d stand up and fall down immediately, but in some sense I wasn’t in pain, there was just me and the morning rolling along.
The brown bird was aware of me and when I was quiet, would come out of its hotel and look at me. It would go ahead and eat the bird seed on the ground. Then one day I noticed it flew up to the deck and later, to a fence. It was not a great flier but still that was a cause for celebration. I could feel its wings in my own shoulders. I took it as a good sign for me, too. The matrix of everything is looking out through my eyes and looking back at me through the bird’s eyes. When I rest in this, everything supports me.
So the feeling of being me extends out to include the anonymous brown. It extends also to the apricot tree that I say hello to when I step out the back door in the moonlight, to the dog, to the deer eating the windfall apples. The apricot tree seems to tell me things, it says, rustle, rustle, the moon, the moon, this lucky night is all there is!
My Imaginary Lives
So if I’m not spending all my time thinking about who I am and how other people are thinking about who I am, the trees and animals naturally come forward.
In this condition we don’t get a signal to be anything other than what we already are. We are sitting in eternity, which has no past or future. It’s hard to see this if I’m are assessing and evaluating myself. In that case I can only think about it, remember that once running on a field as a child I was not separated from things. Thinking about being a friend to myself is not actually being a friend to myself.
We think all day. We go through our internal filing systems, we imagine dating the person in the next car at the stop light, living in a white house in the little town on the Mendocino coast that we drive though. or making costumes for carnival in New Orleans. We imagine life with a different childhood. We imagine life if the person we loved hadn’t died or if we went to Mars with a colony. And that too is way of being ourselves, we can rest in our restlessness, our ambivalence about life. We can just rest in the movement of life unrolling, carrying us along. Making friends with ourselves is not just clearing delusion out of our minds; sometimes it’s hard to tell delusion from clarity anyway. We can also rest in our imagination. What’s that like?
Siberian Timber Wolves
When I was 3 or 4 and living in my grandparents’ house you had to go out from the warmth of the living quarters onto a landing to get to the toilet. That was fine, but the landing had stairs which led down to the cellar where tools were kept, including a great toothed, two handed saw like an animal on the wall. In the day time the stairs faced north and had a view of the pussy willow, and the sunlight was a caress coming through the wavy glass and the cobwebs high up.
At night though, the landing was cold, the old linoleum floor was unforgiving and slanted away, and there were wolves in the cellar. Grey Siberian timber wolves to be precise, rarely found in Tasmania. They moved silently in a pack and had pollen on their fur and could not be relied upon to stay in the basement. At one stage I invited tigers into the cellar but they led their own haughty life—aloof and devoted to their obscure purposes, they offered no help in interactions with the wolves. So I had to come to my own terms with the wolves. I would make a dash from the kitchen to the light switch on the landing and then into the toilet. This was alright. I learned to place my hands just so in the dark to find the switch. But sometimes I would make the dash all the way along the landing to the actual bathroom, with its cast iron and porcelain bathtub and sink, and for this longer trek I had to pass the head of the stairs. I didn’t need to do this but it brought me closer to the wolves and somehow that was necessary. If I had really believed in the wolves I would perhaps have told my parents or brought a sharp tool up from the cellar. But if I hadn’t believed in the wolves there would have been no problem and I wouldn’t have been so afraid to go out onto the dark chilly landing with the rain from Bass Straight beating horizontally onto the panes.
That was what it was like to be me, to be friends with myself at this moment of crossing from light to dark from the interior with its warmth and smell the smell of Irish stew into the darkness where one day I would have to go.
And Can We be Friends With Ourselves If We Are Messed up?
It is really the same however we feel about ourselves: You just be yourself. Sometimes you are messed up and even when you don’t really believe your stories and fears you act as if they are true. We all believe untrue things from time to time. And being with yourself is being with that.
Let’s say you are a little girl who has a hard time going to bed. It’s a crossing over that you can’t quite bear, first you are you and awake and then you have to fall into the darkness and forget to be you and that is called sleep. There is a disturbing giddiness about such moments, forgetting, remembering dying, being born. So you develop bed time rituals. You look under the bed to check if there is someone lurking. You look in the drawers of the chest, you look even in the small drawers in case a very small man is hiding there. These rituals become drawn out and are a way to spend more time with your parents. But the unreasonableness exasperates your mother. A therapist recommends taking away one ritual at a time until no more are left. But you know this will never work, the creatures under the bed will prevent it. Instead the situation might be more like one with the wolves or the bird in the juniper bush. You don’t have to be separate from it. The goblins who might or might not be hiding are the guardians of the crossing over, and we spend so much time in life crossing over, losing places and people and ways of being just when we got good at them.
So what does it feel like to be you, to make friends with yourself if you are that little girl? You could tell stories about what is in the drawers, about what color the goblins are, ask them if they are blue, invite them to come to Mars with the space colony, you could leave a cookie in the drawer and see if it has a bite out of it in the morning. You could make friends with yourself falling asleep, not falling asleep, forgetting, waking up remembering, dying, all sorts of crossing over. Enjoying the dark uncertainty.
A practice helps because it comes at the problem sideways. Meditation is essentially about respecting our lives and showing up for them. We don’t need to get ready. Meditation does a lot of things and there are meditations designed to produce certain effects but the deepest meditations aren’t about changing you, they are about showing up for your own life before you decide to change or improve it. Meditation by its nature takes away things that were long assumed to be real. And when something disappears you don’t have to fill the space.
To the extent that meditation is a journey, it is sacred, we walk through a gate and find ourselves inside a huge presence, the matrix of everything. This is something large and warm that existed before we thought we were someone. This original heart and mind is the source of what we give and what we make. It’s where we rest when we make friends with ourselves.
So How Does Being Your Own Friend Look In Everyday Life?
Wherever we are, we’re the host.
“What’s this?” A woman asks.
The stacker at the vegetable bins in Safeway squirms, “Dragon fruit they said. They gave me half a crate.”
“What do you do with them?”
“I don’t know.” I snatch one up.
“What’s this?” the checkout clerk asks.
“Dragon Fruit,” I say.
“Dragon Fruit? What’s that?”
“I’m encouraging Safeway to experiment.”
A man with Downs Syndrome is there packing the groceries into the bags. “I know what it is,” he says. He explains carefully, kindly, thoroughly and everyone softens. He recommends putting them in smoothies. We are no longer traversing through the day and past the moment of being in line. We are here together. No one is in a hurry or needs to apologize for the fruit. We imagine sweet and delicious tastes. The line waits patiently as he explains. The checkout woman and I–our eyes meet and we’re content too.
Here’s another example:
A woman I know has a voice impediment and often can’t be heard. And she was ashamed and was always trying not to be ashamed but then she did really have this voice impediment, and had a terrible time explaining herself to new groups of people. She was so embarrassed that she avoided talking in public for decades. At some moment, under the giddy influence of koans, she thought of amplifying her shame instead of squashing it. ‘What if it’s part of being me?’ she asked herself. Excitedly she asked herself: “What if I should be more ashamed?” She went looking for more things to be ashamed of. “What is it with my voice and I’m short, and my nose is too big, definitely I should be more ashamed.” After we all fell about laughing her voice sounded a lot clearer to me. Or perhaps I could hear her because everything around her was more intimate.
This had a follow up effect. She had a grandchild coming and an ultrasound indicated the girl had a cleft lip. She worried and worried that the child would not be OK just the way she had worried about her own voice. In the course of things, the child came, everyone loved her, it was a bit hard for the baby to nurse, that’s all. The father an engineer, turned out to enjoy making baby dresses.
Making Friends With Reality
Ultimately we can come to no final assessment of our lives, we just have them. We are enough. Then it’s easy to love other people and the trees and birds. Making friends with yourself is making friends with reality. We lose the mind that is afraid and criticizing everything in order to make it conceivable. We lose that mind because it is too confining and, well, it makes things conceivable. The circumstances of this life go all the way back to the beginning of the big bang and all the way out to the farthest galaxy. A calm presence is looking out through our eyes and recognizing itself in everything we see.
Of all the things we might be able to know in life there is only one that is not a theory: What’s it like to be me?
How long have you been you? As far as I can tell I’ve always been here.
After all, there’s not much to the teachings.
– Linji Yixuan