On Friendship

– A Meditation on Friendship –

Today, I want to talk a bit about friendship. There are a few reasons for this. First, as many of you know, beginning January 1 of this year, I made a commitment to meet death every day for a year. And I did this not in a morbid sense but rather to let my reflection of death shine a light on the preciousness of this life and of each day I am given. I decided to reflect on the inevitability of not only my own death but of everyone I hold dear to let it bring clarity to my priorities and aims. I did it to soften and open my heart, to let go of fear, so that I can truly be present for each relationship, for each encounter with another human or creature. I decided to meet death so that I could live a more awake and compassionate life.

Now, one of the most obvious insights I’ve gained from this daily reflection, as I imagine myself on my deathbed looking back at my life, is that all the possessions I’ve gathered, all the accolades I’ve pinned to my name, all the time I’ve spent playing video games, watching movies, or masturbating — all of this means essentially nothing when I examine my life through this lens. When I imagine myself on my deathbed, taking my last breaths, what really matters is how I showed up in relationship — how I showed up for the world as a positive force for love, as a living expression of compassion, and how I showed up for all those around me, for all those I hold dear.

Did I love fully? Did I let my work overshadow my children? Did my own self-concern distract me from the unconditional space that I truly am, the unconditional space that allows my partner and kids to be known, to be felt, heard, seen, and understood? Did pride keep me hidden and closed off to others? Did fear prevent me from revealing the depths of my tender human heart? Did my baser desires and aversions cloud my vision and cause me to live only on the surface level of appearances? Did lust deny me from seeing in people more than just a body, more than just a face? Did it prevent me from seeing their true beauty, their divine unbounded nature? Did anger fool me into believing that I am superior to others? Did it deceive me into believing that the person across from me is somehow apart from me, that he or she is outside of me? In conversation, did I get caught up in the trivial, distracted from my deeper motivations and intentions? Was I able to let go of what, in the end, truly didn’t matter? Was I able to live with the peace of non-remorse? Was I able to be a living expression of love?

In exploring friendship, death can be an invaluable mirror, a reflection of what it means to be a true friend. It can give us clarity about what we value in a friend, and how we ourselves could be of value in turn. Understanding that you will die, that the person across from you will die, and that death can come for either of you at any moment, has the potential to really strip away the bullshit, the facade, the pride and fear, and instead allow us to show up authentically in our relationships. Death, because it strips us of everything, reminds us that we do not exist in a void, isolated and alone. It forces us to confront the fact that we exist only in relation. And the story of our life is the sum of these relations.

Another reason I’ve decided to speak about friendship is because people are hungry for it, especially since covid forced us into isolation and made us reexamine what we want out of our relationships. I think many of us realized that how we were relating with others before the pandemic was ultimately unsatisfying. It was largely automatic and unintentional. There was little forethought or reflection. The honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity necessary for the depth we so desperately yearn for just wasn’t there.

By and large, this is more of a reflection of ourselves than anything else. Honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity require us to know ourselves. And many of us have never spent the time getting still enough to look into the depths of our own hearts and minds to see clearly who we are and what we have to offer. So, really, what depth did we have to give?

My final reason for exploring the topic of friendship today is a personal one. As I expressed back in January, in my episode titled Death Knocked On My Door, I had been experiencing tremendous grief for the two years prior as I slowly separated my life from my Snow Leopard Guardian Angel, whom for many years I considered to be not just my best friend but my human.

In any event, I feel I have been moving into a spring season of life. My heart has opened again to the sun and allowed its gently spilling rays to reach into my depths and spread its light and warmth, bringing some vitality back to my system. The anger, frustration, and hurt have slowly melted away, turning the once frozen contractions of self into a gentle flowing stream of understanding, which has given me the nourishment and guidance needed to find my way back to the ocean, back to love.

God, how I’ve missed home — the divine abode of metta. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the practice of metta, it is a Buddhist practice that seeks to cultivate a mind of loving-kindness. And what’s so remarkable about this mind state is that it is boundless; it has no limit. It is entirely open and free. You can wrap the whole world in metta, every person and every creature, in all places and at all times, past, present, and future.

For many of us, though, at different times in our lives, we find ourselves reserving this metta, this freely given wish that we and others be happy, that we be free from suffering, that we be at peace. And often, when we are not willing to give it freely, when we put any kind of conditions around it, we suddenly find ourselves trapped in small, dark cave. We feel contracted, isolated, and cut-off from the world. Anger, greed, jealousy, frustration, pride, and even grief — if we’re not mindful, can hinder us from tapping into this warm expanse of unconditional love.

And I am no exception. In my winter of grief, I had a really hard time connecting to the feeling of metta. Now, it wasn’t simply because I was having difficulty extending metta to my Snow Leopard. I was having difficulty extending it to myself. 

Today, though, I’m ready to extend some unbounded love not only to a human I consider to be one of my greatest blessings, my Snow Leopard. But I’m ready to extend some love to myself. I’m ready to be whole again.

So, again, my final reason for exploring friendship, as I said, is a personal one. Today, to shine some light on friendship, I want to share with you a piece I wrote nearly ten years ago about the friendship I shared with my Snow Leopard Guardian Angel. There is nothing in this I recant. I simply want to reaffirm what I felt. I want to send a ripple of metta out into the fabric of infinity. 

My Snow Leopard Guardian Angel

Everyone needs a friend like my Snow Leopard Guardian Angel — a bright light, a beacon, a North Star, a wise counselor, and polished mirror to see your own reflection clearly.

The more people and relationships I encounter, the more I realize how rare and precious a friend you are. With no time or space to waste, you push outward on every wall of my being. Your words and actions never idle or sit stagnant. The gift of your friendship has been — and continues to be — one continuous stream of adventure and growth, a continuous exploration of the Space of Possibility and its biggest questions: questions of truth, of life and love, of consciousness, of It — whatever It ineffably is.

Thank you for the hundreds of miles walked and thousands of words shared along the Wasatch Range. I am reminded of you every time I look up to the snow-capped mountains from the valley. It brings my heart there, to our backyard, to the majesty of the cliffs, to the smell of the pine and wet dirt, to the wind murmuring through the aspens. This is where we grew up. This is where we carved out from within ourselves the depths of divinity and filled it with clarity, gratitude, peace, wonder, and adventure.

Thank you, my friend, with all my heart, for such a rich and expansive journey. I am filled with gratitude to have so much of my being wrought from your hammer.

It was in my early twenties that my path — though it will forever be my own — would thereafter become entwined with my Snow Leopard Guardian Angel. He had been a casual friend of mine since grade school. But it was only after we had gone on an alcohol-infused Mexican cruise with mutual friends that we really connected.

Nope, it wasn’t the booze that brought us close. It was a life-size chess board. After I beat him the first time (he was shocked), we discovered that each had played competitively and then spent the rest of the cruise playing chess in the library. (Turns out he has the edge on me in chess…a slight edge 😉

After that trip we continued to play chess but the overlap of our interests expanded quickly — we dove into religion, philosophy, the physical sciences, language and rhetoric, psychedelics, meditation, and more. But though our interests largely overlapped, our own impulses had us traveling entirely different paths.

This was great because we got to share different perspectives of each field. He may have entered the field from the South, while I entered it from the North. And because of this, our understanding or map of these fields had more color and detail. They were fuller, more enriched, and provided more depth.

So, what were each of our paths? Well, for me, I had ventured down several scant side-trails. I explored the world’s continents, its people and cultures, its religions and wisdom traditions. I poured myself over philosophy, physics, and biology. I entangled myself in law, public policy, and the social sciences. I stood in awe at the wondrous landscapes of mind seen through the windows of meditation and psychedelics.

But my main trail, my passion, has been epistemology, or the study of the theory of knowledge — what knowledge is, how it’s created, and how it grows — from its roots in ancient Ionia all the way to its buds of present day, which culminate in in the work of the humble philosophical giant Karl Popper.

“I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.” — Karl Popper

My Snow Leopard, on the other hand, is extremely focused and sharp. He chases depth over breadth (even though the breadth of his knowledge is still remarkably wide, perhaps because of his chosen subject matter). So, he has one trail — the trail to Self-knowledge. And it is deep. He’s hiked thousands of miles along this trail. He knows it like the back of his hand, and can guide you with keen precision to your Self.

There’s no wonder why our relationship is so deep. It’s because my Snow Leopard has the depth to give. We continue to bring value to the other. We don’t ‘kill’ time with each other. We push each other’s growth. We enlarge, expand, and enrich the other. Our friendship is — and I believe that all true friendships should be — both a giving and a receiving, a gift and a blessing.

“Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.” — Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

To have such a meaningful friendship takes hard work. It requires you to develop yourself, to pursue your own interests, your own truth, rather than being swallowed by the masses, by the sea of irresponsibility and conformity. It requires that you stop turning yourself off, by passively watching Netflix or playing video games or being swallowed by the news. It means taking an interest in yourself so that you may give yourself more fully to those around you.

“In a truly loving relationship, which I have experienced, rather than drawing the one I love to me, I give myself to him. Not merely do I prefer to do him good than to have him do good to me. I would even prefer that he do good to himself than he do good to me. It’s when he does good to himself that he does most good to me. If his absence is either pleasant or useful to him, then it delights me far more than his presence.” — Montaigne

A Few Lessons from My Friend & Teacher

I’ve been fortunate to have some incredible teachers in my life. But to be blessed with my Snow Leopard, for him to have put so much thought, care, and attention into me, into my growth and development, fills me endlessly with gratitude.

Not only does he have so much of his own unique wisdom to share with me, as well as wisdom taken from his own path to Self-knowledge. But, even with the wisdom we both have studied, my Snow Leopard has an unusual capacity to grasp deeply these lessons and to update them so I can more readily apply them to my own life.

Among the many, here are five simple, practical, compacted, but powerful lessons my Snow Leopard has built into me that I think you’ll find useful in your everyday life:

1. Be Yourself

My Snow Leopard is first and foremost an individual. Yes, that’s part of his nature. But he also works extremely hard for this to be so. It’s easy to be shaped by the same cultural cookie-cutter as everyone else.

To be truly your own being takes work. It takes honesty and courage. You have to turn your ears not outward but inward to your own heart, to your own soul. You must follow the call from within.

When you do, though, like my Snow Leopard, you can offer up so much in your being to be studied, valued, and loved, because it is unique. People can’t find it anywhere else. You bring something new to the world. You don’t merely offer up the same clichés, the same thoughts, the same rites and rituals as everyone else. You offer your true self — love unencumbered.

“The best part about me is I’m not you, I’m me.” — Eminem

2. Fuck ’em J

One of the biggest obstacles to being yourself is the human desire for esteem. We all worry about what others think of us. We worry about whether we fit in, whether we say the right things, have the right opinions, etc. So, rather than act from our own impulses, we are pushed by the automaticity of the masses.

To curb this deep human desire to ‘fit in’, then, I hear my Snow Leopard in my head telling me, “Fuck ’em J.” (Some of my friends call me J). Anytime I feel this inclination to please others despite what my heart is telling me, I repeat his words, which I’ve turned into a little mantra for myself: “Fuck ’em J.” I mean, not really. I love humans. But, yeah, “Fuck ’em J.” This sets me straight and leaves me smiling every time.

3. Stop Comparing

We humans, especially those of us who grew up in a Western culture, love to compare. We compare foods — “This coffee isn’t as good as that one.” We compare people — “Lupita Nyong’o is prettier than Zoë Kravitz.” We compare ourselves, our talents, our gifts, our weaknesses, to others. The comparing mind is ceaseless. And for what? What value does it bring you?

Why not just say what you like or value about someone or something? Let it speak for itself. I get that contrast can be useful to help describe things. But stop with the comparing. Let people and things stand on their own. Tell me about it — whatever it is — rather than compare it to someone or something else. “This coffee is deliciously full in taste.” “Lupita Nyong has an enchantingly beautiful smile.” “Debbie has such a strong imagination. That’s something I’d like to improve in myself.”

A close cousin of the comparing-mind is the favorite-mind. Just watch any adult have a conversation with a kid — the first thing the adult will say is, “What is your favorite…” or “What was your favorite part about…” Now, it’s okay, of course, to have preferences. But watch out for the comparing mind here. When we start ‘playing favorites’, we automatically reduce the value of the other things or people from the bucket in which we’re picking our favorites.

Again, try asking more pointed questions, questions that gets more detail from the person you’re asking: “What stood out about X? Why? What did you find interesting about Y?” Remember, the question holds the entire frame for any conversation. The question sets the frame for any pursuit of understanding. Dig for some good questions. Drop the favorites.

4. Don’t Forget Your Own Involvement

It is so easy for us humans to blame others, to deny, ignore, or to be utterly blind to our own involvement. It’s always the other person’s fault. “She’s the one who brought forward all this anger and hatred. It’s her who is causing all this drama. I’m innocent.” Our egos are masters of self-deception.

Next time there is any kind of conflict in your life, let it be feedback to remind you of your own involvement. Let the conflict be a mirror which shines back your own reflection. How did I get here? Why is this person mad? What could I have done differently? Be honest. I guarantee you could have handled the situation better. You’re human. We create only mistakes, never perfections. So, forgive yourself. Apologize if necessary. And move on.

5. The Three Strike Rule

This last one is super straightforward, kind of funny, but also a crucial social and life skill. No one — and I mean no one — likes to be around a whiner. We hate when others whine. Yet, even though we all know how annoying it is, we still for some reason whine. If you have a problem, fix it. And if it can’t be fixed, here’s my Snow Leopard’s rule:

Tell me your leg hurts, and that’s cool. You’re just letting me know your leg hurts. Tell me your leg hurts a second time and, okay, you’re telling me your leg really hurts. Tell me a third time, and now you’re just whining. Do something about it or stop whining.


Wherever you are in the world right now, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, I am sending you my love, dear friend. May you truly be at peace.

John Driggs | Meditation Teacher & Founder of The Space of Possibility Podcast, Blog, & Retreat Center | Explore & Expand the Space of Possibility that You are!

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