Saturday, 10 May 2014

"Anam Cara" & "The Good Friendship"

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

Albert Schweitzer

We meet many people throughout our lives; many of whom have the capacity to transform and affect our lives. I do from time to time give thanks with deep gratitude for those who lighted the flame within me; those who have rekindled the flame.

When I think of these people I am aware that some came into my life at a young age and have always remained. Others have come later, some have stayed for only a short time and others have remained. I am sure I have had similar impacts on the lives of others too, often without realising it. One lesson that life has taught me is that everything matters. Everything we say and everything we do matters, has some impact, even if we are not always aware of what this might be.

Many years ago I came across the following poem, it is very popular within recovery communities. I remember at the time I dismissed it in my arrogance. Over the years I have learnt to appreciate it and the truth I have discovered within it. It is by that prolific author “Unknown” and goes by the title “Reason, Season or Lifetime”

“Reason, Season, or Lifetime”

"People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.

It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant."

I am a very blessed person in so many ways. I have been loved by many people in my time on this earth. I have had and have known many friends. Now I’ve not always appreciated the friends I have known in my life, I have neglected the love offered to me. I have many friends in my life today, that said I wonder sometimes how many truly know me intimately, know me warts and all and beauty spots too. Well one or two do and these are the one or two I always turn to in my darkest moments when I need someone to just listen.

We all need someone or some people who we can truly be ourselves with. Everyone needs a good friend; we need friendship. By this I mean real physical, living breathing friendship.

One criticism of modern living is that we lack deep and meaningful friendships. While we claim to have many friends, our friendships lack real intimacy it is claimed. I suspect the reason for this is that the word "friend" itself has lost some of its depth of meaning. My facebook account says that I have 945 “friends”, but truth be told most of these people are not truly my friends. There are a number I have never physically met in the flesh and others that are merely passing acquaintances. That said there are also some of the most important people in my life on their too.

Please do not get me wrong I am not decrying social media it has its place, it fulfils a really important need in life; it allows people to communicate in intimate ways who cannot physically contact one another. That said it cannot fulfil some basic human needs that can only be filled by physical human interaction.

Yes I wonder sometimes if we have reduced the meaning of the word "friend". Certainly in terms of social media we have done so. When we talk about a friend in such an environment it has become almost a verb and not a noun. After all don’t we ask one another to “friend” each other? We don’t so much become friends, we ask if we can “friend” one another.

I have a confession to make and I’m afraid it’s a little embarrassing. I have a love for American situation comedies. I especially like the ones that are based around groups of people. Like so many others I loved “Friends” and these days I adore “The Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother”. All three follow a similar format and are based around a group of six or seven friends and their trials and tribulations. These are referred to as “Flock” rather than “Family” comedies.

Something else that you may or may not know about me is that I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. Caffe Nero in Altrincham to be exact. I spend time both working and socialising there. I wrote this blogspot while sitting there only the other day. I also spend time meeting and chatting with friends there too, much like I used to in pubs in my drinking days. I have got to know many people while sitting there. It brings to mind an old Chinese proverb “It takes five cups of tea to know a person”, or in my case it takes 5 caffe latte’s to get to know a person.

I recently got into a conversations with a delightful young woman while sitting and working in cafe nero, we got into a fascinating conversation about friendship. She explained to me that she had been to a talk where a person claimed that we need to have five kinds of friends and that this is why there are 6 characters in “sit coms” like “Friends”

I can’t remember exactly what was said but it went something like the following. The first is a kind of soul mate, someone we connect with on a deep level like a blood brother or spirit sisters. Another is someone who we can turn to in times of trouble. A third is someone who can stimulate us intellectually, who we can share ideas etc with. Another is someone who we can just be crazy with, someone to have fun with. Finally we need someone who will stretch us and encourages us to be more than we can be.

I’ve been thinking about this conversation a lot these last few days and tried to work out if this is the case today or whether it has been the case at different times in my life. I hope I fulfilled these kind of friendships in the lives of others too. How about you? Do you have these kind of friends? Have you had such types in the past? Have you been one or other of these types of friend?

Now it seems that this idea of breaking friendships into types is not a new observation, it has been around since ancient times. It may not surprise you to hear that the ancient Greeks had a word for the love that exists between friends. They called this “Philia”. Now just to complicate matters this form of love was broken down into three subsets. The first being known as “friends of utility” such friends today would probably be business associates or acquaintances. The second type were known as “friends of pleasure”, these friends tended to share a common interest which when it came to an end so did the friendship. Neither of these two types were considered long-lasting or particularly intimate. The third type of “Philia” love though was different. It tended to be formed from the love of another’s character. It’s the type of friendship that endured and involved a deep intense intimacy and trust. Such friends were known as “The Good”. For such friendships to last they had to be mutual, free of expectations and characterised by honesty and trust.

"Everybody needs a good friend!"

Now “The Good” type of friendships seem hard to live up to and as such I suspect were rare in ancient times and perhaps even more so these days. If I honestly look at it I suspect that I have had only a handful of such friends in my life. I suspect that this is perhaps what is lacking in many people’s lives these days.

Maybe this is why so many people feel lonely these days, they lack such intimacy. For there is something deeply spiritual and soulful about such love. I suspect that it brings us close to God’s love, it is one way to know the “Love that is Divine.”

In “Four Loves” C.S. Lewis described such friendship love in the following way:

“It seems no wonder if our ancestors regarded Friendship as something that raised us almost above humanity. This love, free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels.”

This got me thinking of the Celtic concept of “Anam Cara”. Anam Cara means “Soul Friend”. Anam being the Gaelic word for soul and Cara the word for friend. Now in the Celtic tradition an Anam Cara is a teacher, companion or spiritual guide. They are someone who you can share your inner most self with and thus unearth some of those hidden gems that we rarely let out in life and let shine. The two parties break through the usual human barriers to a deeper soul level, there is a deep sense of belonging and recognition involved in the relationship, both in the present moment but also the eternal. Such relationships tend to be mutual, they are two way, both parties grow from them; such relationships have the capacity to transforms and take us to deeper experiences of who we are and what life can be.

In my life there have been several people that have affected me in such a way, that I have connected with on a deeper level. They have allowed me to cross the threshold where the Divine and human ebb and flow into one another. They have taken me to places I never knew were possible. Not physical places, but spiritual places.

I am told that an Anam Cara is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free you to the undreamed of possibilities deep within you. I am blessed to have known some of these souls in my journey through life.

Some of them have been with me from my earliest memories; some have been in my life for a short time; some were old and wise and some were oh so young, their light shone for only a short time; some died far too soon and I wish it were not so. So many are no longer physically with me, they are “as the other side of the air”, but their soul is still alive in my soul, I know this to be true.

I am very blessed to have known so many of the people I have met in my life. They have touched me so deeply at times. They have become soul friends. This is why I know that everything we say and do and do not say and do not do is oh so important. Everything matters. We effect people’s lives in oh so many ways.

I’ve been thinking about this these last few days, ever since that encounter I had in the coffee shop. I ask that you do the same. Think about those people who you have connected with in a deep way, even if it was just for a very short time. Think about the people that have awakened something deep within you; think of those who have helped you know that love that is Divine, God’s love. Then think of those who you have touched deeply who you have helped awaken.

There are encounters that can shape us and change us forever. Some are for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime. We cannot know this when we first begin communicating with someone, although sometimes instinctively we do. Such encounters can lead to unknown transformations, for they reveal the love that is Divine. Let us stay open to them. You never know the next person you meet may become the “Good Friend” that transforms your life and you theirs.

I will end with the following "Friendship Blessing" by John O'Donohue, taken from his book "Anam Cara"

"A Friendship Blessing"

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessing, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam Δ‹ara.

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