I just got a friend request on Facebook from an old colleague. If you’re active on Facebook even a little, you may be familiar with this process. When you confirm the invitation, Facebook reveals a whole list of people you may know, asking if you want to “friend” them. It’s an odd and interesting part of our current culture, this third party invitation to reconnect with people from other parts—and times—of our lives. As I scroll down the list I become alert to my emotional landscape as each face appears. Some are unknown to me, but I click on “mutual friends,” and see those friends we have in common through work, school or community affiliation. Other faces and names conjure immediate memories, and I find myself smiling. And even with that smile I may or may not click on “Send friend request.” Who do I want to connect with and why? Is this someone from my past I harbor judgments about—or feel judged by? This got me thinking in spheres much bigger than Facebook—about all the ways we connect or shun.
This whole exercise gets me thinking about all the ways my affections roam: Those I love seeing at a party, but don’t really want to sit down and have a big heart-to-heart with. Or those I only want to sit over tea with and spill the ramblings of my tattered days, not share with a crowd. Why are my preferences so precious? Why withhold my affections for only those who share my taste in books or worldview? I already make a concerted effort to smile at strangers in my town and actively cultivate kindness as a practice. Where (and why) do I draw the invisible—or not so invisible—line between “me” and “them”? Who even is the other? Where in my days do I dispatch with the recognition of our common affiliations? My blood relatives don’t think or behave much like me. We disagree often, and, ultimately, it doesn’t dampen my love for them one whit. Even those who regularly receive the gleanings of my heart and mind, who celebrate and mourn with me can surprise me with difference. What if I opened my heart in the spirit of Rumi’s Guest House? Welcoming not just emotions but the unwieldy package that each of us brings to any relating? I could start with the premise that we begin as friends. I know this sounds simplistic. But like much of mindful practice—simple doesn’t mean easy. The world is much more complicated than Facebook. Or maybe not. Remember when we made friends because we were the same age or found ourselves sitting across from each other at the lunch room? Sometimes the view that we’re all just big kids on the playground works: All it takes is a smile, a howdy, and “Wanna play ball with me?” to make a new friend. I’m game. Wanna play?
By Lynn Koerbel