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Thursday, April 17, 2008


Question: Hello Derek! I began studying the Tao last year when I received your translation for my birthday. It's like a whole new world opening up, so I want to thank you for that. I have a question for you, and it's about my friends. Recently, whenever I get together with them, I keep finding that my interests, outlook on life, and aspirations are becoming more and more different from theirs. I feel as if I am drifting away from them, or perhaps they are drifting away from me. I have known them for many years and value their friendship, but now I sense some discomfort on their part, as if a wall has gone up between us. What should I do? Is there anything I can do?

Answer: Over the years I have seen many people go through the same thing you are experiencing. At some point, they made a personal decision to uplift themselves, but their friends continue on the same trajectory as before. At first, nothing seems out of place, but as time goes on, these different paths diverge more and more. Former buddies end up with less and less in common, and become more and more distant from one another.

It's important to recognize that they haven't changed. You are the one who has changed. Because of your self-cultivation, you have started to develop spiritually. You are starting to experience soul growth. The friendship can go back to the way it used to be if you go back to the way you used to be, but if you are like the others I have observed, you won't be able to do that. Once a mind has been expanded, it is impossible for it to return to its previous, more limited dimensions.

What is the solution? Is there a solution? I would suggest that the discomfort you sense is something you can address. You will find openness and communication to be the best tools for you in this situation. They probably won't bring up the topic, so you'll have to take the initiative. Find an appropriate opportunity to have a heart-to-heart conversation. If you aren't sure what to say, here are my suggestions:

1) First, bring illumination. Shine a light on the issue. Let them know you are aware of the discomfort. Tell them you are not oblivious to the gap that has been widening. They will probably be relieved. They may say, "Wow, I thought it was me!" or "Thank God someone finally says what we've all been thinking!" or "I thought I was imaging things and, you know, didn't want to make a big deal out of it."

2) Explain your path. They may think you are a little crazy (especially if they know you well), so let them know you haven't actually lost your mind. Assure them it is something you've thought about carefully and deliberately. Explain that it isn't a phase you are going through, and it isn't something that will pass. Talk about the benefits you have experienced, but be careful - you don't want to make this a recruitment drive. Stick to the facts, clarify your position, and don't try to convert anyone.

3) Be clear about the implications of your decision. As a result of your evolving values, priorities and goals, you'll be allocating your time differently in the future. While you have no wish to give up your friends, you may need to make adjustments in your schedule, and not have as much time for them as before, or you may wish to participate in activities that hold little interest for them. Ask for their understanding. If they value you as much as you value them, then there is no question that they will extend their support. Even if they cannot follow you on your journey, even if they do not fully understand your reasons, they can still help you and encourage you.

Your clarity and insights into this matter may make them curious about the Tao. Some of them may want to learn more. If so, gladly share the information you have, but again, be careful not to become overly enthusiastic. Forcing your ideas on anyone would be contrary to the Tao. Your detachment in this case may even pique their interest. They may decide to tag along with you, just to see what it's all about. If so, then your divergent paths will begin to converge back together.

No matter what they decide, one thing is for certain: if you follow the Tao correctly, then as you continue your cultivation, you will encounter more and more kindred spirits. Their connection with you will inspire you to greater heights of personal development. Right now, you may be at a crossroads in your life, but it is not a bad thing at all. It is an opportunity where you have the possibility to bring your friends along, as well as the prospects of making new friends down the road. Both are exciting things to look forward to. Although you may feel a bit troubled at the moment, I can guarantee that years from now you'll look back and realize that this is actually the beginning of something great. Start thinking about how to approach your friends... and good luck!


Anonymous said...

The Tao indeed works in wonderful ways. You have no idea how wonderful the timing of this article is.

I took up Political Science in college with the view of becoming a lawyer. Towards the end however, I decided that I did not want to go into law. All my friends continued on to law school while I charted my own path through life taking up one odd job after the other until I ended up as a high school teacher. I've been at it now for almost four years and I've never been happier.

Now every time I run into my law school friends, I can't help but feel so different. I feel this most during conversations over dinner: we begin with general updates then the discussion quickly breaks down into separate clusters. When the law students begin talking about teachers, classes, schoolmates, I -- together with other 'career people' -- just fizzle out (the ratio is often 1 career person to every 8 law students). Unfortunately, the alternative is true. When it's my turn to share about my work, they're the ones who fizzle out. Suffice to say, I can completely relate to the sentiments of the original questioner.

But now they're graduating. They're off to be career people too and they're out to take up odd jobs (even law students end up in odd firms) and commit mistakes. We've been bonding again, talking about work, bosses and dream cars. Indeed, people change but I realize that change is one thing we all have in common. Friendship, when it is true, will endure in the face of that too. :)

John said...

Hi Derek,

Could you please elaborate on this when the person you're feeling a separation from is your spouse?

Thank you so much.

Derek said...


I feel that when it comes to the spouse, openness and communication are even more important. Most people do not enter into a marriage lightly, so I can imagine your wife must be quite willing, perhaps even eager, to discuss the situation in order to prevent the two of you from drifting even further apart.

Can you provide more details about your situation, so I can be more specific in my recommendations?

Hattatsu said...

Hi Derek,

Thanks for the response. I know others must feel this way when they decide to go down the spiritual path. I want to encourage my spouse but I don't want to push. After all I began when I was ready. You asked for examples and while these may seem trivial, they can add up to a lot of "quiet time."

I no longer am interested in most TV shows as I think they are too violent or just not very stimulating. We used to watch them regularly. When discussions begin regarding other people and hint of "gossip" I just say "she'll figure it out" or "that's not our place to talk about them or get involved." Social events that I used to somewhat enjoy are not important to me and while I am not reclusive by any means, I would rather stay home with the kids.

Things are not as drastic as they sometimes sound when listing them but I just feel so much more at peace when following the spiritual path that engaging in many of the ego based activities is troubling.

I'm sure we will figure this out as thing's progress at their given time but some insight would be very much appreciated.


Derek said...

Hi John,

Sorry it's taking me a while to get back to you. I am some tasks I need to get out of the way; your question is important to me, and I will return to it as quickly as possible.

- Derek

Derek said...


One quick question: Would it be possible for you to interest your spouse in learning more about your path? When two people cultivate together in a spirit of harmony, they can make incredible progress in a very short time. Perhaps there is an opportunity in this situation?

- Derek