Just read your essay on Friend-ships. Very good. Your point about the “tribe” versus all your acquaintances is particularly apposite. A key challenge in living a cosmopolitan lifestyle is maintaining meaningful relationships with past friends. With time, former friends lapse into acquaintances. How to maintain the relationship over distance and time? How does one determine whether a person remains an acquaintance or becomes a member of your tribe – random chance, gut feeling, or is this something one should actually think about strategically? And how should we try to “be” so that others decide to include us in their “tribes” rather than leaving us in the generally less-enriching acquaintance zone?
Thank you for the compliment and your question. It’s so good it’s the first one ever that I will answer twice (once today once tomorrow). I too have been a big traveller and I know the verklempt feeling that accompanies moving toward some new and exciting part of life, all while leaving behind strong and meaningful friendships with people who felt as though their philosophical trajectories were moving in similar directions to our own. These people can be fantastic sources of advice, of assistance and they’re great for creating all kinds of joy with. And yet there is the competing pull of the road not travelled….
When I started travelling it was stupidly expensive echo-ey long distance calls on a trunk line laid under the ocean and the only people you would incur that expense with was your family. Today we have the significant advantage of email, social media, photo-sharing sights etc. And yet it’s possible that this ability to share with everyone is somehow diluting the sharing we would do if we were more coved off, wherever we are. Part of why we make friends in new places is that friendship is a natural state and because we’re on the road our traditional friends aren’t available, which creates opportunities for new friends—friends we may not have met at home because we would be too busy with the friends we already have.
When we’re little and in school we have new friends delivered to us through each phase of schooling. If our parents move neighbourhoods we’re forced to make new friends. But after high school everyone explodes outward. The school system pretends to keep us aligned for a dozen or so years, but in reality many of our school friends will be like work friends—people we may not have become friends with were it not for circumstance. And as soon as the school process ends, the friendship comfortably goes on hold. But those aren’t the profound relationships I was referring to in Friend-Ships. What you’re talking about are those friends that feel like people you’ve already known on some level—and in a lot of ways that’s actually true. That’s our Tribe and those are the people that make this journey fascinating and worthwhile.
So what is the definition of this Tribe? It is a collection of people with like minds. Meaning they think like us. Meaning we don’t see many barriers between them and ourselves. This is what creates the connection that we do not have with other people, where we have internal arguments about how they are—meaning we disagree with their positions on various subjects. If people think like us it becomes easier to see their spirit. Otherwise our battling, disagreeing tumble of narratives prevents us from experiencing what would otherwise be a strong and immediate connection. This is why people who have traditionally not got along can suddenly get along once they’ve had a profound shared experience. So our friends or acquaintances are people whose company we can enjoy. Our tribe is made of people who actively expand us with their very way of being.
I recently heard a documentary on cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and it noted that these animals have brains that are much larger than our own. And early testing seems to indicate that the extra brain p0wer may very well be used to process a form of information that we do not yet formally recognize—which is shared experience through a connection in consciousness. In short this means that it may be that when a pod of whales swims together, that what one hears they all hear; what one sees they all see; what one feels they all feel.
This is an exciting idea and it hints at our own expanding understanding of consciousness. So when looking for the differences between friends/acquaintances and Tribal Members, the latter is a group which sees the world so much like us that when they share their life experience we can easily amalgamate it into our own. These are the people who we feel know us well enough that we can actually learn lessons from them. We ignore most of the advice we get in life even though almost all of it is helpful in some way. The people we do listen to are the ones who we feel “get” us—they understand our life experience well enough that their observations about it are assimilated fluidly into our experience. So why these people are valuable makes perfect sense. And it strangely points toward why it’s okay to have a fluid, sometimes-on-hold, sometimes-disconnected relationship with our Tribe.
Try not think of the Tribe as a collection of people—instead think of it as a location in consciousness. It is a gathering place where the separations between one and another seem to largely dissolve. That’s why you cannot see a member of your Tribe for some time and yet you can pick up right where you left off as though almost no time has passed. You were together in consciousness even though you weren’t physically near each other. But to think longingly about someone who isn’t present is to engage in want and want is a state of ego that removes us from that shared place in consciousness. So you don’t move away from your Tribe by being in another country, you move away from your Tribe by wanting to be nearer to your close friends.
If this all seems a bit nebulous, let’s see if I can’t cinch it up for you at the end. Yes, social media and telephony etc will enable you to maintain connections over distance that would have been impossible previously. And distance does not matter to a tribe so feel free to use modern technologies to stay in touch with those relationships you find the most enriching in whatever ways. But to lament separation from loved ones is to create a barrier to finding our tribe wherever we currently are. So if you’re so busy on facebook writing to old friends you’ll never be out on the streets meeting new tribal members in Istanbul, or Buenos Aires, or Seattle, or Beijing.
We have to shift our consciousness from our attachment to the individual manifestation of the tribe and focus more on the seeing the meaning in the state of mind. So what feels good to us isn’t the person, it’s the state of mind that our consciousness gets to share with. We have to understand that concept as a reality not as an abstract theory. What matters to us are the frequency of the thoughts, not the brain that’s thinking them it into existence.
Simply put: in a way, every time you encounter a new member of your tribe you are in actuality meeting an old friend with a new face. So stay in touch with whoever is convenient. Just don’t sacrifice your days wishing you were somewhere else with someone else, because that’s to misunderstand the value of the present moment because, as the Zen poet Dogen says, “If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.