BLESSING THE SEA – ISSUE 10, September 2021 “Radical Friendship”

Text study at the Conservative Yeshiva, Jerusalem © Lane Igoudin, 2019

“A friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down and out, he doesn’t look down on you.”

— Mitta Sutta

BTS, this spiritual newsletter, has reached its first birthday! Thank you for being part of it. One year since inception, BTS has 121 subscribers, to some of whom, I reached out directly; others found their own way here organically.

After each issue hits the in-boxes, a number of responses fly back to me, sparking new conversations and keeping our friendships growing. Thank you for that too.

And as promised, there are no ads, and no mailing list sharing.

My most recent post for Applied Jewish Spirituality describes how at the pandemic waning, I found my calendar filled to the brim with groups, classes, seminars.

I’ve been learning tremendously, absorbing many exciting, liberating, mind-provoking experiences, but this cornucopia of new experiences seems to come at a spiritual cost – loss of the ability to appreciate what I have.” Is more just that – more?

Entering now a new year in the Jewish calendar, I feel that it’s time to pull back, find the balance, solidify the meaning. My post offers tips on what I call spiritual conservation and recycling.

Interestingly though, it’s not just the knowledge and wisdom that pandemic learning enriched me with, but also new circles of friends. I’ve met so many interesting and stimulating people in the Zoom frenzy of the last 18 months. And therein lies a blessing understood well in both Buddhist and Jewish traditions.

In Buddhism, and this is an ancient concept, not a 20th century self-help invention, kalyanamitta, cultivating worthy friendships, is one of the paths leading to enlightenment. The quote above is taken directly from the teachings of the Buddha, who sometimes referred to himself as his students’ spiritual friend. The practice of kalyanamitta encourages us to seek out friends with whom we can grow spiritually, attain deep realizations about our lives and the world around us.

To explore spiritual friendships in the contemporary world, take a look at a new book from the meditation teacher Kate Johnson: Radical Friendship: Seven Ways to Love Yourself and Find Your People in an Unjust World (Shambhala, 2021).

By ‘radical’, Johnson means the kind of friendship “that has the potential to heal us at the very ground of our being, . . . a friendship that forges bonds so strong that systems of oppression can’t break them.”

Johnson went into depth how she applies these concepts in her own life in her podcast conversation with mindfulness teacher Tara Brach.

Similarly, in Judaism, studying the text in pairs, in chevruta, is a basic practice that builds one’s capacity for active listening and debate, for joint unlocking of the divine and human intentions. It also often initiates personal friendships, which is something I experienced firsthand with Gaston and Deborah, my two wonderful Mussar chevrutas this year.

The Zohar, a foundational book of Jewish mysticism, speaks of friendship and companionship as a privilege and a gift – in its dreamlike, metaphorical way.

A group of friends seeking hidden wisdom ascend to the realm of spirits and souls. They are given a rose as a key to the cave of knowledge. “They smelled the rose and entered,” recounts the Zohar, and there, their guide, a celestial eagle, welcomed them with: “Enter, truly virtuous ones, friends! For I haven’t seen the joy of companionship, . . . except in you!

Smell the rose! Enter!


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