A Friend in Need

Often we are confronted with a situation in which a friend is in crisis and needs to talk about it. Let’s suppose that a friend has come to you to talk about a personal problem. You are lending a sympathetic ear and providing a sounding board for your friend’s situation. This is an external expression of compassion and understanding but how can you further apply the virtues to this crisis? For example, you might extend your compassion to the internal dimension by visualizing compassion outflowing from your heart into your friend’s heart. This internal activation of one or more virtues could very well be more powerful and effective than your sympathetic listening, although both are important.

A helpful point here is to realize that activating the practice of when-which-how in our daily lives runs counter to our habitual style of social interaction. For the most part, we are used to interacting with others at the physical level of life. Therefore, when we are sitting down with a friend who needs to talk about a problem, we automatically communicate (words and body language) at the physical level. We are probably feeling sympathy and maybe empathy, but we are not pro-actively engaging our friend on an internal level. Granted, much may be occurring at the sub-conscious level, but our goal is to become conscious practitioners, not to be simply passive sympathizers.

When-which-how deals with the internal, subjective emotional level in a pro-active way. We are intentionally directing specific heart virtues at our friend or at whatever the encounter happens to be. We are not in the custom of interacting with others (or ourselves, for that matter) in this way. This is why we forget to engage the practice so often and it is why we need to work hard at training ourselves to remember to be present, to observe, and to practice.