What is Friendship?

For my recent birthday, a friend gave me a painting by her, and when I looked at the backside, I realized how much it held.

I don’t know if we have a good working definition of friendship, so I will offer one: a relationship between two people who understand each other (but not completely), accept each other (but not foolishly), and walk together (figuratively).

I think you can measure a person by their friendships. A person with long, sustained friendships. A person who is able to form new ones. A person who does not have a trail of broken friendships.

Tibetan thankas have on the front side a painting of a bodhisattva and on the back side the red handprints and writing of the monk who blessed the thanka and brought it to life.

When I looked at the back side of my friend’s painting, she had written a kind of benediction, sharing when in her life and why she had done the painting. I thought, “This is like a monk’s blessing of a thanka.” This painting lives. And she gave it to me.

A friendship, just as I defined it, once new, now sustained.

“And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;”

Robert Frost, The Tuft of Flowers

Why Bother?

Mt. Baker/Mt. Analog

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal

Still Running

Many pre-dawn mornings I have walked into the zendo hall at Zen Mountain Monastery during sesshin thinking I might be first, but if Zuisei was in residence, she would also be there before me, settled in and deep in mediation. I would wonder what she was thinking, but probably she was not thinking of anything – her mind was probably still.

I have had the blessing of hearing her thoughts – sometimes from her insightful dharma talks, a few times in dokusan. Each time her words would stay with me.

Now she has published a book – “Still Running,” a play on words – and I am able to learn more from her. She is a runner, like me, but just as she is a high level mediator, she is also a high level runner.

On page 40, she writes, “A gardener cannot force a tree to bloom before its time. The seed will ripen according to its nature and in proportion to the nurturing it receives.

So true.

Nurture the ones you love. And let them bloom in their own time.

Hartford Supreme Court steps, June 6, 2020.

I thank you my fate

Bali, November 2019.

I don’t know whether this is joy
or sadness, I don’t understand
what I feel, I’m crying,
I’m crying, it’s humility
as if I were dead,
gratitude, I thank you, my fate,
I’m unworthy, how beautiful
my life.

— Anna Swir

This poem: a prayer, a mantra.