There are friends that you have polite chats with, and there are your best friends. They're the people who root for you, no matter what. You tell them your deepest, darkest secrets, and instead of heading for the door, they stick around and your bond with them grows stronger. The Rev. Ed Bacon shares his take on friendship and what unconditional acceptance really means.
A friend recently sent me news about some phenomenal successes he is enjoying in a new business venture. I responded enthusiastically about his amazing gifts. He e-mailed back: " You , my friend, are too much ! But I must say, I love having my own cheering section!" I responded, without even thinking, "What are friends for?"

Precisely! Friendship is about being what a hero of mine described as "balcony people" instead of "basement people." Basement people are those who live in our minds, telling us we will never amount to anything, that we are doomed to fail and that we are royal screwups. Balcony people are those who are consistently cheering us on. "Go for it," they say to our attempts to find our voice, to live in ever widening circles, to dare, to create, to break through our lives' sound barriers.

While not all of us are made to be married or to live in an intentional formal community, be it a kibbutz, ashram, monastery, convent or commune, all of us are created to live in some form of friendship. Friendships are what help us be human. Although my wife is indeed my soul friend, in this essay I am not using her as an example of friendship. The following thoughts are about something that is more universal than marriage—having soul friends who are not one's partner or spouse.

Examples of true friendship
My best friends and I get together regularly to share the deepest part of life, the part that is about Being as opposed to Doing. Sure, we speak about what we do in our jobs, our other relationships, our spiritual, sexual, athletic, medical, familial doings . But the experiential, life-giving juice that feeds our soul and binds us together over the years and takes us to ever deeper dimensions is the conversation we have at the being level. That's the place where your soul stands naked before someone else and receives unconditional acceptance in return.

From time to time, we speak about what an exasperation-free oasis our friendship is. Both of us have had some important relationships that soured because someone got exasperated with us. Not that we didn't deserve it. But there is something about my best friends, who just don't get exasperated with me, no matter how much I deserve it. As a result, I am not guarded with them, and when we fall back into old patterns of thinking, "If I tell him this, the friendship is over," that's where we have over the years taken the risk to tell it all. That's where the friendship is made even stronger.

My best friends are the people with whom I feel safe to talk about mad, sad and hurt feelings. Most other relationships stay at the feeling levels where everything is "fine," although we all know that's not true. But my best friends never shy away from those times when we feel the neediest—when our feelings have been hurt, when we are so angry we could spit fire, when we are grieving and depressed, when we feel unacceptable. Over and over, those are the times that have made us feel more bonded.

The secret to all of this is that best friends are invested in being their true selves. Sure, they tolerate any posturing that comes from the false self. But the safety of the friendship is such that in their presence I can feel the superficiality of any of my ego-based claims or judgments. With that realization, I remember that I don't want to live on the surface of life, and then I simply move into the deeper waters where my true self waits to cool, refresh and renew.

For me, investing in time with my best friends is profoundly spiritual. Standing naked before another, knowing that acceptance will trump exasperation and working through tough feelings as well as surface living to move to the true self is the essence of life with God. We can't be fully alive without it.

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