How Meditating Helped Me Make Friends
For most of my life, I haven’t had a lot of friends. I didn’t see this as a problem. I chalked it up to being shy and awkward, and I just accepted that there was only a tiny circle I would show my authentic self to.
Then I went on a meditation retreat. After many days of meditating for hours, I started to experience something interesting: I felt like there was scaffolding around my heart, creating a wall. I could feel these tiny beings pushing against that wall, working hard to hold it up as a way to protect me.
In a way, I was grateful for these little beings, but the wall hurt. It was painful. It kept me separated from the world, almost like a prison. Just this image made me sad for the rest of the retreat and long after.
But what was I supposed to do? I wanted to feel connected to people, but I felt stuck. I couldn’t tear down the wall.
Then, slowly, just the awareness of this inner situation, of the way I was walling myself off from others, changed me. Something started to soften. I began to notice people I wanted to be friends with everywhere I went. I started asking them to hang out, and they usually said yes. My teeny tiny circle of friends expanded, and I’m still close with several of the people I met during this time.
Investigating Inner Messages
How exactly did meditating help me make friends? It seems a little counterintuitive, as we often think of meditation as a solitary activity. Through practicing, I realized the biggest obstacles to creating meaningful friendships were my anxieties — my fear of being vulnerable, my fear of being rejected, my fear of not knowing what to say.
I had confusion, almost a kind of panic, around authentically showing up with other people and showcasing the real vulnerability it takes to put yourself out there to make friends. What meditation did for me — and can do for you — is help build a muscle of tolerance for those uncomfortable, scary feelings that come up when you’re vulnerable.
Meditation also taught me to love myself. I had no idea that was something I even needed when I first started exploring it. I always thought I liked myself and had high self-esteem, but when I sat down and started to try and be present, what I noticed was a steady stream of incredibly critical, mean thoughts.
I was constantly beating myself up. I carried that around, that vision of myself as less than, as not enough, as maybe not worthy of love. There was a tiny voice in me that said, “Yes, of course, you’re worthy of love,” but there were a lot of persistent voices that said, “No, you’re not.”
Through the practice of meditation, I realized that these voices were not the truth of how things were. Like the scaffolding around my heart, the voices were trying to protect me from getting hurt in the world, but I didn’t need that kind of support.
I started to introduce other potential views of my worth — that I’m brave, strong, and willing to take chances.
By believing I was lovable, I became connected to all things everywhere, which lessened the risk when I put myself out there. If somebody else decided that they didn’t want to be friends with me, I could stay in my own body and say, “That’s their loss; I love myself.”
It built a cushion against the devastation of rejection, which all of us feel to some degree, but the more we can bring that love, the less that disappointment has a chance to flatten us.
Building Authentic Friendships
The hardest part for me of making friends was asking people to hang out, but the work didn’t end there — I needed to show up as my authentic self when we did meet. I would challenge myself to be real and out there.
It took some muscle; it’s kind of like a sport. In the beginning, the muscles were a little weak, but over time, they improved. I’ve had to do this process again a couple of times due to life changes like moving, and it’s much easier for me to make friends now.
Instead of sweating thinking about entering into new social situations, I can stay calm and present. I have a much stronger social network than I ever did before.
Meditation has taught me so much about myself, and it’s brought me incredible friends. Those little beings who once put in all that work holding up a wall around my heart can now be used to better, helping to open it to connection, joy, and love.
Experience how meditation may help improve the quality of your relationships in this course Introduction to Mindfulness by meditation teacher Curtis Smith.
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