What Is Meditation?

meditation

I’ve been putting this off for years. Now is the perfect time.

Meditation offers a path toward increased happiness, creativity and mindfulness. Steve Jobs was a lifelong practitioner, reading deeply on the subject and taking meditation retreats. Each year he’d re-read his copy of Autobiography of a Yogi.

I’ve always put off exploring meditation until later. I convinced myself I was too busy. That I’d explore it when things were less hectic. But I was wrong for two reasons. First, logically, if meditation is beneficial enough to practice at some point, it is probably valuable enough to practice now. That is if I think it will add value to my life, choosing to start becomes a matter of opportunity costs. What would I do with the time I’m spending meditating versus the benefits of meditation. The only way to really evaluate that is to do it and see the results. Second, and somewhat less logically, is that I’ve met some amazing – and incredibly busy people – in the past year and one thing that seems to keep coming up is meditation. None of these people “makes time for meditation.” Rather they all see meditation as an enabler of everything else they do.

As I reflect on my life, my priorities, my friendships, and my place in the world, there is no better time than now to start exploring meditation.

In Buddhism for Beginners, Thubten Chodron does a good job exploring meditation.

Let’s start with what meditation is not.

Nowadays meditation is sometimes confused with other activities. Meditation is not simply relaxing the body and mind. Nor is it imagining being a successful person with wonderful possessions, good relationships, appreciation from others, and fame. This is merely daydreaming about objects of attachment. Meditation is not sitting in the full vajra position, with an arrow-straight back and a holy expression on our face.

[...]

Meditation is a mental activity. Even if the body is in perfect position, if our mind is running wild thinking about objects of attachment or anger, we’re not meditating. Meditation is also not a concentrated state, such as we may have when painting, reading, or doing any activity that interests us. Nor is it simply being aware of what we are doing at any particular moment.

Why do we meditate? What are the benefits?

The Tibetan word for meditation is gom. This has the same verbal root as “to habituate” or “to familiarize.” Meditation means habituating ourselves to constructive, realistic, and beneficial emotions and attitudes. It builds up good habits of the mind. Meditation is used to transform our thoughts and views so that they are more compassionate and correspond to reality.

[...]

By building up good habits of the mind in meditation, our behavior in daily life gradually changes. Our anger decreases, we are better able to make decisions, and we become less dissatisfied and restless.

What is meditation? How do we learn to meditate?

Some people think they can invent their own way to meditate and don’t need to learn from a skilled teacher. This is very unwise. If we wish to meditate, we must first receive instruction from a qualified teacher.

[...]

First, we listen to teachings and deepen our understanding by thinking about them. Then, through meditation we integrate what we have learned with our mind. For example, we hear teachings on how to develop impartial love for all beings. Next, we check up and investigate whether that is possible. We come to understand each step in the practice. Then, we build up this good habit of the mind by integrating it with our being and training ourselves in the various steps leaning to the experience of impartial love. That is meditation.

Meditation is of two general types: stabilizing and analytical. The former is designed to develop concentration and the latter to develop understanding and insight. Within these two broad categories, the Buddha taught a wide variety of meditation techniques and the lineages of these are extant today. An example of stabilizing mediation is focusing our mind on our breath and observing all the sensations that occur as we breathe. This calms our mind and frees it from its usual chatter, enabling us to be more peaceful in our daily life and not to worry so much. The visualized image of the Buddha may also be used as the object upon which we stabilize our mind and develop concentration. While some non-Buddhist traditions suggest looking at a flower or candle to develop concentration, this is generally not recommended by Buddhist traditions because meditation is an activity of our mental consciousness, not our sense consciousness.

Other meditations help us to control anger, attachment, and jealously by developing positive and realistic attitudes towards other people. These are instances of analytical or “checking” meditation. Other examples are reflecting on our precious human life, impermanence, and the emptiness of inherent existence. Here we practice thinking in constructive ways in order to gain proper understanding and eventually go beyond conceptual thought.

Buddhism for Beginners is a great place to start and offers “a manual for living a more peaceful, mindful, and satisfying Life.”

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My Interview with Jenny Blake

In May I did an interview with Jenny Blake on some of the public speaking I do and what it means to speak like a pro. The interview is live (and free) for 24 hours. Some excerpts are below.

On reading books.

Jenny: Shane and I both share that we have a compulsive shopping problem when it comes to books and I love when I first found Shane’s blog, he has this philosophy that he makes reading and learning an absolute priority. If there’s room in the budget for it, if there’s room in his day, he will cut out TV. He will cut out all other kinds of spending to make room for reading and gathering information. Shane, what’s so important to you about that?

Shane: I think it’s been, over my life, it’s been the key to learning, so throughout all school and university and it’s always been book based and I love books. I love the depth of thought that goes into them. I love the organization that people put into them.

I love that they’re not a two-page article just giving you a little bit of a twist on a topic where you run away thinking that you know something, but if you read four or five books on a subject, you have a much better understanding of that subject. Personally, I spend most of my time reading books when I can. I love them.

On our headline culture.

Jenny: I love the recent blog post you wrote on 10 Ways to be Smarter, Sexier, Faster and More Productive. You get to your blog and it’s like, “This is all BS. Stop clicking these links. Go read a book instead.”

Shane: I get emails all the time from people going, “How do I be more productive? What do I need to do?” I found myself drifting in that way too. I’m trying to get out of those headlines, but I’ve been experimenting a little bit. People click more on them. I get more traffic out of them, so it’s this great positive feedback loop.

But, at the end of the day, I think I just went through my Twitter feed one day and I was like, “I’m sick of this. I don’t want to see any more of this.” Why do people click on this? Because you forget it. The next day you’re clicking on the exact same thing because you’ve completely forgotten the 10 ways you can be healthy that change every two weeks.

My accountability talk at Bradley University.

Jenny: I love – on the topic of bringing all these disparate seeming things together, you recently gave a talk at Bradley University. … It just jumped out of the screen to me because the title of your blog post was something like On Accountability, but then I start reading your notes, your transcript from the speech and you talked about courage, resilience, moral codes, acquiring knowledge, failure, deserving success, complex problem solving. All of a sudden, I’m blown away. I’m like, “This isn’t about accountability. This is about so many important ideas.”

Shane: Thank you. It was one of the most amazing – yeah. It was an amazing experience for me … somebody asked for a custom speech on accountability and I kind of went through, “What does accountability mean?” What do I already know about accountability and how do I package that together and connect it?

You end up with all these disparate threads and it’s really cool how you can take that – the students there, I thought they appreciated the fact that I’m giving them multiple examples across a different subject. I’m not just up there talking about how to be accountable and all of that. How do you design systems that are accountable for people? How does accountability factor into different aspects of your life from sports to politics to school, to you as an individual?

Jenny: That’s what I love about it. It really stood out to me. That’s actually when I decided to reach out to you for this conference because yeah, it just – it’s what makes speeches like Neil Gaiman’s speech or even Steve Jobs – I’m putting you up there in the mix – Randy Pausch, these are speeches that, I think, they stand out to people because they don’t just give one topic where it is around one of them, but they really draw upon so many different areas to give a framework. Here’s how to think about this across multiple areas of your life and how it’s going to show up.

On why I started doing speaking engagements …

Shane: I know for me, I got interested in speaking because it was a way for me to challenge myself and frankly, it scared me. It was something I wanted to do to kind of push myself towards my limits, but not go past them and I really appreciated that.

Jenny: I love that you started speaking precisely because it scares you.

Shane: Yeah, well it’s scary to do that, but it’s necessary to challenge yourself too right?

On how I prepared for my first (and every speech since then) … hello deliberate practice :

My first speech I actually – and this is going to sound ridiculous, I can’t believe I’m saying this – I went out and I’m a big fan of deliberate practice. I went out … I bought a video camera. I recorded myself. I set it up in the room, recorded myself talking for about 20 times. The 20th time I felt reasonably confident so I sent it to my friends and I’m like, “I need some feedback on this.” It was just horrible. They were like, “Well, it’s not bad for a first try.” I was like “That’s my 20th try!!! What are you guys talking about?” Through that process I’ve gotten a little better at it (maybe.)”

How to follow through on all the interesting tips and ideas.

Jenny: Okay, our last Twitter question. How to follow through on all the interesting tips and ideas. I think that’s an actually important one going back to speaking. When you get up on stage, I often will say, “If all I do is inspire you today, I have failed.” If you don’t actually go do something differently as a result of this talk or workshop I don’t really see that as a success. I’m curious to hear – how do you help people actually take meaningful action?

Shane: I think it’s up to people to take meaningful action. That’s a choice you make as a person. I can give you all the tools and the blueprints to build a house, but unless you’re willing to do it it’s not going to happen. I think the way to do that is make things easy for people. If you want to start a new habit of flossing your teeth, I think it’s like B.J. Fogg who says, “Start with one tooth a night.”

Then the minute you do that one tooth you’re going to do the rest of them, but you break it down into the first step. Remove the inertia of doing nothing. Create some positive momentum. Two or three days later you’ll be flossing your teeth every night. I think that part of what we can do as speakers is when people walk away, the big thing to do is not sell all your possessions, fly to Tibet and become a monk.

It’s what can you be doing that’s a small step in your life, that may resonate with you or may not? Although it’s opening the door for people, but I don’t want to make people walk through doors. I want to open doors.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Your Ego and the Cosmic Perspective

All you can do is sit back and bask in your relevance to the cosmos.”

In this short video, theoretical physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson puts our ego into the perspective of the enormous universe.

There’s something about the cosmic perspective, which for some people is enlightening and for other people it’s terrifying. For those who are terrified by it, they’re here on earth and they have a certain self-identity, and then they learn that earth is tiny and we’re in this void of interplanetary space and then there’s a star that we call the Sun and that’s kind of average and there’s a hundred billion other stars in a galaxy. And our galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of 50 or 100 billion other galaxies in the universe. And with every step, every window that modern astrophysics has opened to our mind, the person who wants to feel like they’re the center of everything ends up shrinking. And for some people they might even find it depressing, I assert that if you were depressed after learning and being exposed to the perspective, you started your day with an unjustifiably large ego. You thought more highly of yourself than in fact the circumstances deserved.

So here’s what you do: You say, “I have no ego at all.” Let’s start that way. “I have no ego, no cause to puff myself up.” Now let’s learn about the cosmic perspective. Yeah, we’re on a planet that’s orbiting a star, and a star is an energy source and it’s giving us energy, and we’re feeling this energy, and life is enabled by this energy in this star. And by the way, there’s a hundred billion other stars that have other planets. There might be other life out there, could be like us. It’s probably not like us, but whatever it is, it’d be fascinating to find out who it is. Can we talk to them? Can we not? Are they more advanced? Are they less advanced? By the way, the atoms of our body are traceable to what stars do.

And all you can do is sit back and bask in your relevance to the cosmos.

So those who see the cosmic perspective as a depressing outlook, they really need to reassess how they think about the world. Because when I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.

Still curious? Tyson is full of wisdom. Check out: Why persuading with facts is not enough; Why words, names, and labels matter; and his list of books that every single intelligent person on the planet should read. And if that’s not enough, check out his fascinating book: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.

(↬ SwissMiss)

The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection

Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral. — Melvin Kranzberg

It won’t be long before people fail to remember a world without the internet. Michael Harris explores what that means in his new book The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.

For those billions who come next, of course, it won’t mean anything very obvious. Our online technologies, taken as a whole, will have become a kind of foundational myth —a story people are barely conscious of, something natural and, therefore, unnoticed. Just as previous generations were charmed by televisions until their sets were left always on, murmuring as consolingly as the radios before them, future generations will be so immersed in the Internet that questions about its basic purpose or meaning will have faded from notice. Something tremendous will be missing from their lives— a mind-set that their ancestors took entirely for granted— but they will hardly be able to notice its disappearance. Nor can we blame them.

However, we have in this brief historical moment, this moment in between two modes of being, a very rare opportunity. For those of us who have lived both with and without the vast, crowded connectivity the Internet provides, these are the few days when we can still notice the difference between Before and After.

This is the moment. Our awareness of this singular position pops up every now and again. We catch ourselves idly reaching for our phones at the bus stop. Or we notice how, midconversation, a fumbling friend dives into the perfect recall of Google.

I think that within the mess of changes we’re experiencing, there’s a single difference that we feel most keenly; and it’s also the difference that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence— the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.

Before all memory of those absences is shuttered, though, there is this brief time when we might record what came before. We might do something with those small, barely noticeable instances when we’re reminded of our love for absence. They flash at us amid the rush of our experience and seem to signal: Wait, wasn’t there something . . . ?

***

In 1998, the writer Linda Stone coined the phrase that perfectly describes the state of most people: “continuous partial attention.” More than welcoming this impoverished state, most of us run toward it.

We are constantly distracted. Pings. Texts. Emails. We’re becoming slaves to devices and perpetual connectivity.

Dr. Gary Small, a researcher at UCLA, writes that “once people get used to this state, they tend to thrive on the perpetual connectivity. It feeds their egos and sense of self-worth, and it becomes irresistible.” We feel needed. We’re weaving our self-identity with our devices. We think that if they are not constantly buzzing we’re not “needed, necessary, crucial.” This “atmosphere of manic disruption makes (our) adrenal glands pump up production of cortisol and adrenaline.”

Dr. Small points out:

In the short run, these stress hormones boost energy levels and augment memory, but over time they actually impair cognition, lead to depression, and alter the neural circuitry in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex— the brain regions that control mood and thought. Chronic and prolonged techno-brain burnout can even reshape the underlying brain structure.

***

Harris argues that there was a moment weirdly similar to this one: the year 1450. That’s the year when Johannes Gutenberg managed to invent a printing press.

Like the Internet, Gutenberg’s machine made certain jobs either ridiculous or redundant (so long, scriptoria). But much more was dismantled by Gutenberg’s invention than the employment of a few recalcitrant scribes. As the fidelity and speed of copying was ratcheted way up, there was a boom in what we’d now call data transfer: A great sermon delivered in Paris might be perfectly replicated in Lyon. (Branding improved, too: for the first time subjects knew what their king looked like.) Such uniformity laid the groundwork for massive leaps in knowledge and scientific understanding as a scholastic world that was initially scattered began to cohere into a consistent international conversation, one where academics and authorities could build on one another’s work rather than repeat it. As its influence unfurled across Europe, the press would flatten entire monopolies of knowledge, even enabling Martin Luther to shake the foundations of the Catholic Church; next it jump -started the Enlightenment. And the printing press had its victims; its cheap and plentiful product undid whole swaths of life, from the recitation of epic poetry to the authority of those few who could afford handmade manuscripts.

[...]

For any single human to live through such a change is extraordinary. After all, the original Gutenberg shift in 1450 was not a moment that one person could have witnessed, but a slow-blooming era that took centuries before it was fully unpacked. Literacy in England was not common until the nineteenth century, so most folk until then had little direct contact with the printed book. And the printing machine itself was not fundamentally improved upon for the first 350 years of its existence.

But today is different.

How quickly, how irrevocably, this kills that. Since ours is truly a single moment and not an era, scholars who specialize in fifteenth-century history may be able to make only partial comparisons with the landscape we’re trekking through. While writing this book, I found it necessary to consult also with neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, technology gurus, literature professors, librarians, computer scientists, and more than a few random acquaintances who were willing to share their war stories. And all these folk, moving down their various roads, at last crossed paths— in that place called Absence. It was an idea of absence that seemed to come up time and again. Every expert, every scientist, and every friend I spoke with had a device in his or her pocket that could funnel a planet’s worth of unabridged, incomprehensible clamor. Yet it was absence that unified the elegies I heard.

***

The change with Gutenberg was so total that it became a lens through which we view the world. “The gains the press yielded,” Harris writes, “are mammoth and essential to our lives.” Yet each new technology — from the written word to Twitter — is both an opportunity for something new and an opportunity to give something up.

In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan wrote that: “a new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace.”

New mediums that become successful subjugate the older ones. It “never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.”

Harris challenges us: “As we embrace a technology’s gifts, we usually fail to consider what they ask from us in return—the subtle, hardly noticeable payments we make in exchange for their marvellous service.”

We don’t notice, for example , that the gaps in our schedules have disappeared because we’re too busy delighting in the amusements that fill them. We forget the games that childhood boredom forged because boredom itself has been outlawed. Why would we bother to register the end of solitude, of ignorance, of lack? Why would we care that an absence has disappeared?

The more I thought about this seismic shift in our lives— our rapid movement toward online experience and away from rarer, concrete things— the more I wanted to understand the nature of the experience itself. How does it feel to live through our own Gutenberg moment? How does it feel to be the only people in history to know life with and without the Internet?

After a month long break from the Internet, Harris emerges without an epiphany. “But it’s the break itself that’s the thing. It’s the break—that is, the questioning—that snaps us out of the spell, that can convince us that it was a spell in the first place,” he writes. While he doesn’t propose taking a month off, he does propose the occasional break: “I think what you get is a richer interior light and the ability to see yourself in a critical light, living online. Because if you’re in the middle of something you can never see it properly.”

The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection urges us to remain aware of what came before and “to again take pleasure in absence.”

Seneca on Wisdom

wisdom

In Seneca’s Morals: Of a Happy Life, Benefits, Anger, and Clemency, the famous stoic philosopher Seneca, who brought us combinatorial creativity, illuminates real wisdom.

Wisdom is a right understanding, a faculty of discerning good from evil, what is to be chosen and what rejected; a judgment grounded upon the value of things, and not the common opinion of them. It sets a watch over our words and deeds, and makes us invincible by either good or evil fortune. It has for its object things past and things to come, things transitory and things eternal. It examines all the circumstances of time, and the nature and operation of the mind. It stands to philosophy as avarice to money — the one desires and the other is desired; the one is the effect and the reward of the other. To be wise is the use of wisdom, as seeing is the use of eyes, and speaking of the tongue. He that is perfectly wise is perfectly happy; nay, the very beginning of wisdom makes life easy to us. It is not enough to know this; we must print it in our minds by daily meditation, and so bring a good will to a good habit.

Philosophy, after all, is a guide to living your life.

We must practise what we preach, for philosophy is not a subject for popular ostentation, nor does it rest in words, but in deeds. It is not an entertainment to be taken up for delight, or to give a taste to our leisure, but it should fashion the mind, govern our actions, and tell us what we are to do and what avoid. It sits at the helm and guides us through all hazards; nay, we cannot be safe without it, for every hour gives us occasion to use it. It informs us in all the duties of life : piety to our parents, faith to our friends, charity to the poor, judgment in counsel; it gives us peace by fearing nothing, and riches by coveting nothing.

A wise man, will always be happy …

… for he subjects all things to himself, submits himself to reason, and governs his actions by counsel, not by passion. He is not moved with the utmost violences of fortune, nor with the extremities of fire and sword; whereas a fool is afraid of his own shadow, and surprised at ill accidents, as if they were all levelled at him. He does nothing unwillingly, for whatever he finds necessary, he makes it his choice. He propounds’ to himself the certain scope and end of human life: he follows that which conduces to it, and avoids that which hinders it. He is content with his lot, whatever it be, without wishing for what he has not, though of the two, he had rather abound than want.

The business of his life, like that of nature, is performed without tumult or noise: he neither fears danger nor provokes it; but from caution, not from cowardice; for captivity, wounds, and chains he looks upon as unreal terrors. He undertakes to do well that which he does. Arts are but the servants whom wisdom commands. He is cautious in doubtful cases, in prosperity temperate, and resolute in adversity; still making the best of every condition, and improving all occasions to make them serviceable to his fate.

Some accidents there are which, I confess, may affect him, but they cannot overthrow him; such as bodily pains, loss of children and friends, or the ruin and desolation of his country. One must be made of stone or iron not to be sensible of these calamities; and besides, it were no virtue to bear them if one did not feel them.

There are three degrees of proficiency in the school of wisdom:

The first are those that come within the sight of it, but not up to it: they have learned what they ought to do, but they have not put their knowledge into practice; they are past the hazard of a relapse, but they are still in the clutches of disease; by which I mean an ill habit, that makes them over-eager upon things which are either not much to be desired, or not at all. A second sort are those that have conquered their appetite for a season, but are yet in fear of falling back. A third sort are those that are clear of many vices, but not of all. They are not covetous, but perhaps they are passionate; firm enough in some cases, but weak in others; perhaps despise death, and yet shrink at pain. There are diversities in wise men, but no inequalities; — one is more affable, another more ready, a third, a better speaker; but the felicity of them all is equal.

Read more: Seneca’s Morals: Of a Happy Life, Benefits, Anger, and Clemency which is available online for free.

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John Keats on the Quality That Formed a Man of Achievement: Negative Capability

John Keats coined the term negative capability to describe the willingness to embrace uncertainty, mysteries and doubts.

The first and only time Keats used the phrase was in a letter on 21 December 1817 to his brothers in reference to his disagreement with the English poet and philosopher Coleridge, who Keats believed “sought knowledge over beauty.”

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

From Wikipedia:

Keats understood Coleridge as searching for a single, higher-order truth or solution to the mysteries of the natural world. He went on to find the same fault in Dilke and Wordsworth. All these poets, he claimed, lacked objectivity and universality in their view of the human condition and the natural world. In each case, Keats found a mind which was a narrow private path, not a “thoroughfare for all thoughts.” Lacking for Keats were the central and indispensable qualities requisite for flexibility and openness to the world, or what he referred to as negative capability.

This concept of Negative Capability is precisely a rejection of set philosophies and preconceived systems of nature. He demanded that the poet be receptive rather than searching for fact or reason, and to not seek absolute knowledge of every truth, mystery, or doubt.

The origin of the term is unknown, but some scholars have hypothesized that Keats was influenced in his studies of medicine and chemistry, and that it refers to the negative pole of an electric current which is passive and receptive. In the same way that the negative pole receives the current from the positive pole, the poet receives impulses from a world that is full of mystery and doubt, which cannot be explained but which the poet can translate into art.

Although this was the only time that Keats used the term, this view of aesthetics and rejection of a rationalizing tendency has influenced much commentary on Romanticism and the tenets of human experience.

For the twentieth-century British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, negative capability “was the ability to tolerate the pain and confusion of not knowing, rather than imposing ready-made or omnipotent certainties upon an ambiguous situation or emotional challenge.”

If you’re still curious, I recommend reading this thesis on Negative Capability and Wise Passiveness.

Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams

To Be Read At The Opening of D.P.S. Meetings:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

A Lesson in Friendship

Around 10:00 pm one night when I was 16 my cell phone rang. My best friend was barely able to remain calm enough to get words out of his mouth.

After a bit of time, I figured out that he was at his girlfriend’s high school dance. A few things happened and a bunch of the local hooligans were gonna jump him when the dance was over at 11.

So I dutifully snuck out of the house, took the car, and drove to meet him. If he’s going down, I’m going down with him.

When I look back on this moment I can’t decide if it was a brilliant act of friendship or teenage stupidity.

The now older me asks what causes someone to drive to a near-certain walloping. The younger me still answers: friendship. If you won’t lay it on the line for your friends, who will you lay it on the line for?

I tend to agree with Henry Miller, who wrote: “Next to love friendship, in my opinion, is the most valuable thing life has to offer.”

But I never really thought about what makes a good friend.

When the chips are down and the odds are nearly impossible, I wanted people to be able to count on me. I might not be at your Super Bowl party, but if you needed help I would drop everything and be there in an instant.

This was the type of friend I wanted to be and to a large extent that’s the friend I still am.

Those Super Bowl parties, however, are way more important than I thought.

All through my life my friends have confessed their deepest struggles and conflicts with me. If you polled them, I’d probably be the first person they would call if they killed someone and needed to bury the body. In the words of Dr. Dre, “Well if you ever kill … I’ll show you where the ocean is.”

I was the wartime consigliere. However in times of peace — which is the vast majority of friendships — I wasn’t the first person people called. I was missing something that didn’t really dawn on me until recently.

No matter what was going on in my life – no matter my struggles, errors, or mistakes, I never called them. I wanted to be self-sufficient.

“The wise man is self-sufficient,” said Lucilius. He wants for nothing. He needs nothing. Chrysippus declared that the wise man is in want of nothing, and yet needs many things. “On the other hand,” he says, “nothing is needed by the fool.”

I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve ever called anyone and said something to the effect of: I really need you right now.

I never knew how many of these cards you’d get in a lifetime and I certainly didn’t want to waste one on whatever was troubling me at the moment. This has been one of my biggest shortcomings.

Seneca has some good thoughts on the matter. In epistle III, he writes:

There is a class of men who communicate, to anyone whom they meet, matters, which should be revealed to friends alone, and unload upon the chance listener whatever irks them. Others, again, fear to confide in their closest intimates; and if it were possible, they would not trust even themselves, burying their secrets deep in their hearts. But we should do neither. It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one. Yet the former fault is, I should say, the more ingenuous, the latter the more safe.

If I had struggles in my life my friends would sometimes never know. I’m not entirely sure if I was hiding these things from them or hiding them from myself.

A few days ago when I told one of my best friends some big news, he replied saying something to the effect of ‘as with many things in your life Shane, I had no idea.’ The message between the lines was clear: I would have been here for you, why didn’t you let me be there for you?

In that instant it hit me. I wasn’t the friend I needed to be because friendship is more than being there for them it’s also allowing them to be there for you.

For the longest time I thought that avoiding being vulnerable to people was strength. It’s not. It takes a lot more strength to make yourself vulnerable than it does to keep the walls up and stay protected.

Since this blog is about learning the best of what other people have figured out, I wanted to share this personal lesson with you.