Having a buddy with you as you journey through life is crucial, especially for those times when you find yourself feeling lost.
When I was a kid and went to camp, we had a buddy system when we swam in the lake. Every five minutes the lifeguard would blow her whistle and you would find your buddy, grab her hand tight, and hold your hands up together. It was a way to make sure no one drowned.
Well, it helps to have a buddy on the spiritual path too, and mine is Ellie. I call her when life seems too dark or too much, and she reminds me of the wisdom that can save me from drowning. We try to meet every Friday at four, and if we’re at Ellie’s, we sit on Indian blankets in her Spanish-style home, light candles on the altar, and make room for Tashi, her black Labrador mutt.
Sometimes we play music together—Ellie on dulcimer, me on guitar—and then meditate. Sometimes we talk about problems we’re having with our family or mate and then help each other see the other side and act from a higher perspective. And sometimes we pray.
Recently, we skipped a Friday when Ellie and her partner, Annie, went to New Mexico on a Quaker retreat. Before they left, they were wondering, Did they really want to spend their vacation meditating, praying, and discussing their spiritual life in small groups? As opposed to, say, swimming in Cozumel and drinking margaritas?
But the next time we met, Ellie said the retreat was great, just what they needed, individually and as a couple. And it had strengthened her will to maintain a daily practice, now that she saw how good that made her feel.
That said, we lit a candle and sat down for meditation. Ellie set a timer for twenty minutes, and our session began.
My thoughts were scattered—a little this, a little that. Watch your breath, I told myself: in, out.
After more distractions, I tried a mantra: “Hum sa. I am that.” Hum (inhale). Sa (exhale). Hum (in). Sa (out).
Then I began planning what I would make for dinner. Sarah and Paul were coming. Copper River salmon. Yes! And Sarah likes black olives. Lots of black olives.
Don’t think about dinner. You’re supposed to be meditating.
But the dinner’s for Sarah, who’s having brain surgery. I felt good doing something nice for Sarah. Then I felt good about being good. Aargh! Spiritual pride!
Hum. Sa. Hum. Sa. HumSaHumSaHumSa.
We’ll have spinach with the salmon, fresh spinach simply steamed. And goat cheese and crackers for starters. With drinks. I think I’ll have tequila. Yeah, I really want tequila, with lime and salt and that nice floaty feeling. Ahhh.
Rivvy, cut the tequila and watch your breath: in, out, in, out—
And that’s when the timer went off. Ellie hit the chime and our meditation was over.
“Oh amiga,” Ellie said, “I feel so glad. Not just for our friendship and the good times we have, but that we’re spiritual buddies too.”
“Well,” I responded, thinking of my dinner meditation (and some unkind words I had said the day before), “I’m glad I can also tell you when I’m feeling unspiritual!”
“Right,” she said. “That’s part of it.” Then she told me about the last day of her retreat. She was sitting with her group for their morning discussion and they were sharing how they felt about going home. Ellie told them she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to stay on a spiritual path but would fall off it and essentially fail.
“And right after I said that, I thought, How arrogant,” Ellie said laughing. “I mean, every saint and yogi falls, so of course I will too. But you know what? I think it’s the times I fall that I learn and grow the most. They’re a big part of the spiritual path.”
“They are?” I asked, kind of surprised.
“Yeah,” Ellie said. “Maybe that’s how you know you’re on a spiritual path—when you fall off it!”
I took her hand and held it tight. She’s my buddy.