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Some would have been first seeded forty years ago next July. Others would have been planted thirty five years ago this fall. They have become strong, healthy, long-term trees that have endured the winds of time and stood the droughts of distance across continents. And then, there was the ‘online world’ of twitter, where a totally different garden of friendships was seeded over the past ten years.

Some years, it seemed like I would talk with my twitter friends much more regularly – at least weekly during our hourly Sunday morning chats – than I would with my ‘real-life’ friends. Somewhere along the way, I dropped the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘real-life’, because all the friendships had a human quality about them. If the heart is engaged, then the medium is simply a conduit. If there is no heart-engagement, then no medium is going to help develop a friendship, is it?

So, where does it all begin?

It is when we exclaim ‘you too!’ that the friendship seed can find common ground. You lived in that part of Delhi? You’ve been to Kashmir too? You are also a middle child? You had a tough time with thermodynamics in engineering school too? Oh, you’re looking for a roommate too in this small college town, seven thousand miles away from home?

That’s the ‘birds of a feather’ metaphor of the beginnings of friendships.

There is also the ‘opposites attract’ metaphor.

This happens when two people are brought together in time and space, and they are so totally different that their natural curiosity leads them to take baby steps towards each other. A half-dozen or so American friendships in graduate school began this way for me. They taught me about baseball, white-water rafting, late-night pizza, football, thanksgiving, living and thriving in small-town America.

More importantly, the gentle inquiries of my American friends about Indian society, religion and customs also encouraged me to delve deeper into my own culture. In trying to answer their questions, I begin to realize how little I knew about my own country and myself. Their questions got me started on the path to asking questions – my journey into inquiry was prompted by them. 

What makes for a life-impacting friendship? Does the impact depend on the stage in our life that the friendship begins? Is it the ‘birds of a feather’ or the ‘opposites attract’ type that is more impactful?  How many friendships can we meaningfully sustain? What makes a friendship sustainable in the long run? Let me try and answer that last question on sustainability. 

Some shared experiences, some commonality of life experience, some diversity of cultural background, some openness of heart  towards forgiveness. These are some basic ingredients for sustaining healthy, long-term friendships. Is there an indispensable  ingredient for sustainability? To quote the Yoga sage Patanjali, an attitude of friendliness towards those who are friendly towards us, also called maitri, is vital. In other words, our attitude of Maitri is the essential sun, the seed, the soil, the wind and the water of all friendship.

As we grow our attitude of friendliness, we grow our heart through joyous experiences of deep friendships. Eventually, we see no stranger because we become aware of our sustainable friendship with the One who is the friend to all. 


P.S. Join us in our weekly conversation with the #SpiritChat community this Sunday, July 18 at 9amET / 630pm India on twitter. We will kickoff an informal “Friendship week” and invite you to (re)connect with a friend or few, either online or offline, or within. Help us spread the attitude of friendliness. In maitri, Namaste – @AjmaniK

An attitude of friendliness makes space in the heart for the friendly…

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