The stone pictured above was given to me by a friend who collected it on an Oregon beach. It’s been polished smooth by rubbing up against other stones over countless cycles of the moon; all rough edges taken away.
It reminds me of “The Friction of Being Visible” by Mark Nepo (The Book of Awakening), which I include below in its entirety.
“Living through enough, we all come to this understanding, though it is difficult to accept: No matter what path we choose to honor, there will always be conflict to negotiate. If we choose to avoid all conflict with others, we will eventually breed a poisonous conflict within ourselves. Likewise, when we manage to attend our inner lives, who we are will – sooner or later – create some discord with those who would rather have us be something else.
In effect, the cost of being who you are is that you can’t possibly meet everyone’s expectations, and so, there will, inevitably, be external conflict to deal with: the friction of being visible. Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you are busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside, in this case, there will be internal conflict to deal with: the friction of being invisible.
As for me, it’s taken me thirty of my forty-nine years to realize that not being who I am is more deadly, and it has taken the last nineteen years to try to make a practice of this. What this means, in a daily way, is that I have to be conscientious about being truthful and resist the urge to accommodate my truth away. It means that being who I really am is not forbidden or muted just because others are uncomfortable or don’t want to hear it.
The great examples are legendary: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Sir Thomas More, Rosa Parks. But we don’t have to be great to begin. We simply have to start by saying what we really want for dinner or which movie we really want to see. ”
No matter what we do, some will applaud us, some will be indifferent, and some may condemn us. So choose your deepest fulfillment and let how people respond be the filter for who you draw closer and who you move away from. As Mark Nepo points out, hiding our selves “will eventually breed a poisonous conflict within ourselves”.
For those we let be closer to us, there’s another way of avoiding the potential friction of intimacy which I’ve done that seems equally harmful: Instead of hiding myself, I’ve stridently declared myself with an implied threat against anyone who dares to challenge me. Instead of hiding myself behind an inner wall, I build an outer wall intended to keep them out.
Hiding or being strident, both are ways to avoid the vulnerability that is present with any true intimacy. Being intimate with another human being will change you in ways that you cannot control, and that’s scary. Deciding who to be in relationship with is choosing who we will be changed by. Our suffering comes from trying to escape or control how we are changed, but these attempts are futile from the start; they will change us despite any resistance.
Rubbing against another is not just about conflict, but also about inspiration to other ways of being in the world. Our way is not the only way, and real intimacy shows us that in so many ways. The decision is never to be changed by someone or not, the decision is only to be “In” or “Out” of the relationship.
This friction may be experienced as unpleasant, but it’s good medicine in the long run. It challenges us to go beyond our limitations, challenges how we live life and will eventually bring a maturing that is not possible alone. Instead of pushing friction away, we can turn toward it, knowing it is the seed that will grow into our maturity. If we are open to being changed by another, we can become like the stone pictured above, polished smooth, but with our core substance remaining.