People sometimes ask me who my best friends are, and the people who come to mind are Derrick and Heather, both of whom live in London, and whom consequently I have not seen very often in the last twelve years. We all started working at the BBC around the same time, and managed to have all kinds of adventures in various countries - the fact that both of them were working in the States at one time, Derrick in Miami, and Heather in Washington, D.C., was a major factor in me being in San Francisco... but that's another story. I don't think I have given either of them a link to this blog, and Derrick in particular is notoriously bad at being in touch, but I still love him dearly and trust that he still loves me, and if I ever find out where he moved to recently, I expect I shall be staying with him on my next visit to England.
When people ask me who my best friends at Zen Center are, I sometimes think I don't have any. There are a number of people I get on well with, especially the bunch I was hanging out with the other weekend, but often, as I have said before, the nature of friendship at Zen Center seems to be very different. I don't have a group of people I regularly do things like going out for dinner or going to the cinema, though I know there are plenty of people who do these things together. What I do have is a large circle of people I feel more or less intimate with, with whom I know I could have a conversation on just about any topic, should we land in the small kitchen together, or over a meal in the dining room; to whom I know I can turn if I am feeling in need of support and to whom I extend that support when they need it. And I feel especially connected to those people whom I shared time with at Tassajara during practice periods; when my dharma brothers and sisters and dharma peers come to visit, I am always happy to see them, but that might be the only thing expressed between us. Our connection has mostly been forged on a non-verbal level, and often manifests in that way.
Around my friends in London, because they are quite removed from the life I live now, I tend to revert to the kind of person I was when I was around them before - though hopefully without losing my mindfulness. I think this perpetuation of dynamics is inevitable to a certain extent, in the way that we always become children again when we are around our parents, no matter how old we get and how the relationship has transformed over the years. They don't especially want to hear about Dogen, and I am not as interested in telling them, as I am in enjoying the things we still have in common, which of course in England often involves alcohol.
So this is by way of a response to Mike's comment, "I am wondering what words you may have to say about friendship,
particularly long-term friendships that are being tested by time,
distance, and unspoken expectations. I have been probing my mind
concerning this topic and it appears as a single cloud in the sky
durning zazen". Happily, my long-distance friendships, though they are obviously very different to how they were when we all lived in the same city, do not seem to have suffered much; we can have a steady stream of emails or not much contact at all, and just pick up where we left off. I wonder if the key to this is 'unspoken expectations'. I would trust that a good friend of mine would feel free to voice any expectation or concern, would be ready to hear such as I might have, and that, while wanting the best for them, we have enough flexibility to allow them to be who they are and who they want to be with us.