Ep 18: Friendship breakup (Ft Khema & Nalanda)

Published on Dec 2, 2022

About our guests from the u awake? podcast

Khema (or Jia Xin)

is from Malaysia and is a Masters of Speech Pathology student at the University of Melbourne. She is the current Secretary of Vimokkharam Forest Hermitage, and resonates most with the Dhamma of the Thai Forest Tradition.

Nalanda Robson

is a PhD graduate and Japanese teaching associate at Monash University. She is of half-Thai-Australian descent. She is serving Vimokkharam Forest Hermitage as a sub-committee member.

About u awake podcast:

A space for young people to have open conversations and late-night DNMs about spirituality and Buddhism. Check them out here: Instagram, podcast.


Kai Xin  00:00

Oh, hello, everybody. So today we have Khema and Nalanda from u awake? podcast. And this is a collaborative episode. I have with me Cheryl, my co-host. We’re going to talk about something really interesting called a friend breakup. It’s going to be quite juicy because all of us, I guess, as we move on to adult life, have probably started to fade away from some circle of friends. And some of us might have deliberately walked away from some circle of friends as well.  So the starting question I have is, has any of you deliberately chosen to sever ties?

Nalanda  00:43

Okay, I’ll just go straight into the story, the trauma story.  Let’s go. Let’s go. Yeah, let’s go. Okay, so I came to Australia when I was nine. A little bit of context, I grew up in Bangkok, a very Thai traditional kind of girl, very soft-spoken. Then I came to Australia, and all the kids were, whoa, amazing and confident in themselves. And I was just trying to find myself. Anyways, I got a lot of friends afterwards. In grade six, I was bullied. This was in Primary School. Last year of school, everyone, in this particular school, they’re very competitive. And I was in this nice girls’ group. But unfortunately, due to some misunderstanding, I was ganged up on. It came on very suddenly by the way. And it was more like psychological bullying. 

And I didn’t really know what was happening. I didn’t know why everyone was ignoring me. And I went home and tried to figure it out. MSN, if you guys remember the day before, you know, everyone’s going on MSN. I come back home to try to figure it all out and piece all the issues together on MSN and I realised that it was turning into cyberbullying.  So, from school bullying, very psychological, then it was cyberbullying. After a while, I think it was, time for me to move on. And my parents were sort of very receptive to how I was doing at home. They realised that I was getting a little bit into depression and so they moved schools. And I think that the physical moving of the schools really broke the ties of our friendship, even though I very much wanted to still hang on.  I wanted to solve, somehow solve, whatever puzzle this was. And I very much respected this group of friends even though they hurt me quite a bit. I wanted to come back. I wanted to make it work. I was headstrong.

But anyways, moving to a different school, opened up my eyes. It was like a completely different world. In this new school, great friends, and everyone treated everybody else equally. There was no all-girls gang, another Malaysian gang, the Sri Lanka gang, Aussie girls, just Aussie girls. No ganging up on each other. Kids were just kids and very respectful towards each other. And I love that is a completely different environment. (Even though it was) just a few kilometres apart from each other but the level of competition in education also made the first school super stressed. All these kids were very stressed. But the second school was very relaxed.

And so I think, yes, I severed those ties, but I think because my parents physically removed me from that school, therefore, yeah, we just never came.  I came back in contact with them, but it was through a lot of fear.

It took me like 10 years before I could actually speak to that particular person again, who was the head of the gang. I met her at a train station for example and I just couldn’t meet her, I couldn’t. She thought I was very rude. You know, you still have your ego from year six. What do you, ‘Oh, come on time to move on girl’. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t physically, look at her. So, she thought I was ignoring her.  Eventually, in our 20s, we met again at the train station. And I just went up to her and I hugged her. She hugged me first. And I just hugged her and I was just like, you know what we need to move on. Like, it’s been ages. Somehow, that day, I felt so much better. There was a jigsaw that was missing in my life. Sometimes I would go to bed and I would keep thinking about this lady, from a girl she’s grown into a lady, and there’s just one person in my life who I just didn’t quite catch up with her. Eventually, that day came and it was just amazing.

Cheryl  04:44

What kind of mental state were you in when you gave her the hug back? How did you reconcile? Was it just a thing where just time passing to kind of just forgive her and you’re just like, ‘it’s time to just,’

Nalanda  04:58

I was just in the moment basically. She hugged me first. It was a safe space then yeah. There was no judgement anymore. She let go, and she relinquished all of the anger. And she showed it to me first. Not through some wording, but through the action of just coming in and hugging. Because sometimes you meet someone in the street, right? It’s very awkward. Do I shake hands? Or do I hug? Or do I just ignore, what? You just walk past or pretend I didn’t notice and then just quickly go home. ‘Busy, I’m busy.’  But she came up to me very deliberately and hugged me. And that was a very big powerful moment. I was just like, I thank you so much, 15 years, you know, of me thinking of her because I really liked her. I really respected her. Some misunderstandings happen. Yeah, we yeah. It’s pretty powerful.

Cheryl  05:44

And it’s healing for both parties as well.

Nalanda  05:47

I don’t even know what kind of healing she went through. Probably a lot because she was a class captain. She was a school captain. And then the principal put her on the stage and basically humiliated her in front of the whole school and said that she was a bully. And they took away her title. She cried in front of the school. This is really dramatic. Yeah, yeah. I think traumatising for her and traumatising for me. So, yeah.

Cheryl  06:17

Was it because you reported her?

Nalanda  06:19

My parents reported her. Yeah, I didn’t report it. I didn’t want to report her. I wanted to, you know, come back be strong. And yeah, that sort of thing.

Cheryl  06:28

Yeah, I really related to your story, because I was bullied as well. And actually, for many years, I always imagined the moment that I would meet my bully again. And I would always think in my head and it became some sort of recurring nightmare. So I was like, This is what I’m gonna tell you how you hurt me, blah, blah, blah. But then I was thinking realistically if I see her I would, I would just turn the other way. And even to this day, I have not met her face to face although Singapore’s very small. But when I see people who look like her, I immediately just die inside and turn back into the 15-year-old that I was when I was bullied now just like, look to the floor and run. Yeah, right. Right. It’s very nice to hear your story. Yeah.

Nalanda  07:07

Oh, thank you. Yeah, I think some people can relate.  Later on, though, in Australia, the whole issue is a societal issue. Now, lots of kids are getting bullied. And in my time, it’s not something that I could identify as me getting bullied. It’s just having trouble with your friends. But these days, the word bully is very much (in the) front and centre of the media, and it’s very much in the headlines. Everybody knows bullying at school is bad. But back in the day, it was just, whatever, you know, it wasn’t dealt with. So I think more attention to the matter is a great thing.

Cheryl  07:47

Thanks so much for sharing. I’m curious about Khema’s story as well Kai Xin’s story about any friendships that you guys have severed in your life.

Khema  07:55

I don’t think there’s anything as dramatic as what Nalanda went through. But I think it was more ofwhen I was transitioning into adulthood, and I just grow as a person and I no longer what I was when I was younger, in high school and stuff. But then I felt like I had to let go of some connections because it wasn’t serving me anymore. It wasn’t nourishing for me. Or on the other hand, it was actually, I found it toxic.

There are many examples throughout my life. But then what comes to mind is during the pandemic, I was in a very vulnerable place mentally.  And I couldn’t face certain people whom I knew from high school, and I found their presence quite unsafe, it made me feel unsafe. So I had to slowly phase them out.  You know, people from your past (might) interact with you, based on their preconceived perception of you that they have from (when) they knew you in high school. And even though you’re not that person anymore, they still put you into that box. So I need it to let go of those connections, because I’m not like that anymore. And I didn’t want to remain like that. In order for me to keep growing. I needed to let go of those connections. That’s just one example.

Cheryl  09:23

Were there any things that they did like specifically to make you feel unsafe?

Khema  09:28

Um, I think it was more of stuff from the past, where maybe they’ve said stuff to me that really left a mark and I used to be a really insecure person. During the pandemic, where I came home, you know, I lived overseas for so many years and then came home and suddenly it’s like, you’re locked up in your house and all these traumas started coming up because I was in this home that I grew up in when I was young, right?  So all the trauma, all the unresolved emotions and stuff start coming up. And I was going through a real metamorphosis at a time when I had to look at this stuff and heal. So I just couldn’t at that time. Yeah, I was very hardcore at that time. I was very like, oh, you can’t go in the space where you got hurt. You can’t go in the same space. You need to put yourself in a healthy environment in order to grow out of those toxic patterns. Yeah, super vague. But yeah.

Cheryl  10:22

It’s almost like acknowledging your own capacity to know what kinds of environments serve you so that you can be safe enough to look into your old wounds, and your old traumas, and work with them at a very acceptable pace. And the people who don’t facilitate that, unfortunately, for time being you need to kind of just set them aside until you’re ready to again, you know, face them.

Khema  10:50

Yeah, that’s right. It’s like rehab. Let’s say I’m an alcoholic, I can’t keep going back to alcohol, right? It doesn’t make sense. So yeah, I needed to be in a healthy environment where I felt safe, safe enough and relaxed enough to explore because there’s a lot of exploring, I think, when you’re healing, finding what’s right for you and stuff. So yeah.

Cheryl  11:09

Thanks for sharing that. I think my story of a friend breaking up is very similar. So for both of you who don’t know, I don’t identify as a straight person. I get attracted to women as well. This is important for the context.  So, I had a very good friend, and I was developing feelings for her. Then it got to a point where it was a little bit unhealthy because she was dating someone else. And I was kind of convincing myself that we are just friends and nothing more would happen. And I think it got very unhealthy to the point that I felt very upset when I see them happy if you get what I mean. So then I decided to do a very deliberate friend breakup, I need to stop talking to you so that I can sort out my own feelings and stop in a way lying to myself that I think we can just be friends.

Nalanda  11:57

Sorry, this is a song. This is like a whole MV.

Khema  12:00

Yeah, it’s similar when you try and stay friends with your ex. Sometimes that’s possible. I think it’s up to your capacity, like you said, yeah.

Cheryl  12:09

Yeah, so, basically, I texted her and a friend break up with her and I was listening to a whole Sam Smith album, on the way back crying and blah, blah, blah. Yeah, yeah. But then I knew deep inside me that I could only be friends with her if I could stop thinking about her. And I know that I could live perfectly fine without her in my life. So I just worked on myself, did my stuff just found out different interests. And I think I got to a point where I really didn’t think about her. And I could just say hi without feeling anxious, and then that’s when we reconnected again. And unfortunately, we grew very different after that. So the friendship just evolved. We were no longer best friends. But we were just normal friends. We had great shared memories together. Yeah. So that was my experience.

Khema  12:56

Yeah, I feel sometimes you have to almost like, Okay, if you tell yourself, I’m going to temporarily put this friendship on hold. Let’s see if I can come back to it in the future. But then sometimes that doesn’t happen, too. And I think it’s okay. I think as we become adults, I’m realising more and more like one of my best friends, she said it’s like a revolving door, these relationships. But you just drift apart or you lose touch, but that’s okay.

Nalanda  13:20

You must be in a very good place now to be able to talk about it. Because yeah, it could still really hurt. And does she know? Sorry, did she know that y ou really, really liked her?

Cheryl  13:32

Yeah, she knew from the person I knew from the start that she was in a relationship. And I think because we really enjoy each other’s company, genuinely as friends. So we were just kind of thinking like, yeah, we’ll be fine with it. We’re just friends list. You just want friends and obviously being Buddhist. No sexual misconduct. And that was very clear. I don’t touch people inappropriately, and things like that. But I think it’s just, it’s just that very sneaky thing of never knowing you’re not honest to yourself until it really creeps on to you then you’re like, Oh, shit.  Yeah, but Kai Xin, what’s your story? We have all shared. We’re all waiting on the edge to hear your story.

Kai Xin  14:15

My story is quite different. So I did deliberately walk away from a group of friends. That was in Polytechnic. And it’s quite, it’s quite strange because this group of friends will always hang out with one another. And I’m kind of like part of their clique, right? But I just find the whole setup to be really toxic because they will be gossiping about other people. They would be talking behind people’s backs, and I feel really bad about it. Like if they’re doing this with like us around, then will they talk bad about me as well? I just don’t feel good.

And I think over time, I try to not hang out with them as much but it’s really tricky because they keep asking me out and I say I won’t be free. And then they keep rescheduling until one of the friends, you know, texted me on the side and say, Hey, you know, we are trying to find a date where all of us can make it.  And I have to just find a way to break the news just to this one person, like a trusted friend in the group and say, yeah, actually, I’m not so comfortable hanging out with the clique anymore. And perhaps, yeah, just exclude me moving forward. 

And I think in hindsight now, I might have still carried on that perception of them being toxic, but I think it’s really their behaviour and what they talk about, and to what Khema mentioned, about how sometimes, you know, people shoebox us in this category, so they know us in high school, and then now they still think that we are like that person. So I feel that it’s quite a mindset shift, because I’m thinking maybe they have also grown to become more mature adults, and they don’t gossip anymore, and they’re much more wholesome to be with. If I were to see them, would I want to form that connection? Or would I still hold on to the past belief that ‘No, they are dangerous,’ which I don’t think they are. They’re really a nice person.

I think it’s just a thing that, you know, at that age, that’s how you bond, which I think it’s unfortunate, you bond over people’s misfortune or, you know, gossiping.  So I do hope to see if there’s any other way that I can connect with them. If I get a chance to.

Khema  16:23

Sounds like, hearing your story, you just intuitively didn’t feel safe around them. And, I think, the more we practise and like try to cultivate wholesomeness and try to be around wholesome people, then it’s like, you’re very used to feeling safe, especially with my friends. So it’s like, in those environments, you just don’t feel that same level of safety. And I find for me, as I’ve grown in my practice, and also as an adult, I just naturally don’t gravitate towards people who just don’t make me feel safe. It could be because of their speech, you find that they’re gossiping, or whatever, my mind doesn’t analyse like that anymore. It’s really just an intuitive thing. It’s sometimes you just have that sense of Oh, I feel really safe. And these people are really wholesome. 

I was actually looking into my phone last night because I was like, looking for the quote by Ajahn Jayasaro. It’s the Mangala sutta. But the way he phrases it is, I love it so much. Because you always hear ‘don’t associate with the fools, associate with the wise’. It sounds a bit like, Okay, you need to judge and you need to determine who’s a good person and who’s a bad person. But I like the way he phrases it, which is avoiding people who drag you down or encourage the worst in you associating with people who lift you up and encourage the best in you.  And it’s so much kinder. It allows you to be more intuitive. I don’t think it’s a matter of, Oh, these people are dangerous. I shouldn’t hang out with them. There is a degree of judgement in thinking that.

I think for me now it’s become more like, Yeah, I’m open to whoever. And I can be friendly. I can see whoever comes through as a friend, in a goodwill kind of way. But I don’t have to associate with them closely. I can be friendly with them. They asked me to hang out. I’ll think about it if I don’t feel comfortable. And I know my No, there’s no pressure on myself either. But it doesn’t mean ‘no, like, please stay away.’. You know.

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Cheryl  18:27

It’s like garlic to the vampire or something.

Nalanda  18:34

Yeah, and you’re giving them a chance as well to see if they’ve changed, which is great, which is karuna (compassion) and a bit of metta in there as well.

Khema  18:44

Yeah. And I think it’s also like, well, if you look at it, people who have these qualities, they may also need good friends, right? I think if we have the capacity and if we have enough strength in us, and so we can be that great friend. Like, we don’t have to try to make them a project. Yeah, just be natural and hang out, in my experience. You offer that safety to others, they also gravitate towards you. And then you just start hanging out. And then they start changing. But you don’t have that expectation. You know? Yeah, that’s a whole other thing.

Nalanda  19:16

That’s great. I think you just hit the nail on its head again, Khema. Great!

Cheryl  19:20

I’m just thinking, how realistic it is. Because I feel that I tend to subconsciously judge people, and I feel like, you know you used the words ‘drag you down or lift you up’?  I just feel like okay, these people, if I hang out with them, my energy gets drained. And then I would kind of classify that, okay, I hang out with them, I get dragged down because we go there we talk about gossip, always surrounded by alcohol, blah, blah, blah, things like that. And I would just judge them and want to withdraw myself and hang out with other people like Dharma friends or other non-Dharma friends as well.  And I think last time when I’ve I started Buddhism, I got very into this like, okay, only Dharma friends are great friends. Everyone else is like, Haiya!

Khema  20:10

Thank you so much for bringing that up because I also have the same experience and you can turn that into you are like better than everyone else. It can turn into that because it’s like, you’re looking more at the Buddhist identity.  It’s like what determines someone as a Dharma friend. It becomes a thing of okay Buddhists, non-Buddhists, there’s no in between, like, I’m going to only hang out with the Buddhists. But I find that that can limit you too because it’s your own echo chamber. And then you also create a judgement towards other people. But I think over time, I’ve shifted towards like wholesomeness, like what’s wholesome. So it’s really people that nourish you. They just have the Dhamma in their heart.

Nalanda  20:52

I was just at the temple like today, right. And there was this group of interfaith people, who are sort of half Catholic dabbling in Buddhism identity as Catholic, but also, in the framework of Buddhism. They are very mixed and they’re very open-minded, and Ajahn, who’s the abbot at this temple, said, basically, if you’re all wholesome, and you’re all going towards the same thing of compassion and kindness, being amiable, working towards the same goal, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a way of us working together. Faiths shouldn’t just clash. You know. Catholics, Jesus Christ, talked about the same thing. Well, actually, basically, the foundational of each religion talk about goodness, kindness, and good qualities in human being and cultivating those qualities. Don’t see why we can all just, you know, work together. It’s so similar that why should we be fighting? Do you know what I’m saying?  So, to hear Khema’s point there of just even a monk, you know, saying this, other people are involved. Other people who are from other faiths can be our friends as well, based on this idea of just wholesomeness and accepting everybody, yeah, might not need to, just judge others all the time, based on the identity of being a Buddhist, yeah, everyone can be our friend. And we should work towards accepting lots of people to be our friends, not just because they’re Buddhists.

Kai Xin  22:23

I think that’s so true. Because if we were to hold on like an us-versus-them mentality, it hinders our practice, as well as this form of, you know, conceit, and judgement, lack of compassion. And ultimately, we need good friends in order to nudge us forward to free our hearts. And if we feel like it’s stifling whether we are just hanging around with Buddhist friends or you know, other friends who we don’t call Buddhists, I think it can still be really wholesome, if we hold on to the similarities and the virtues and just wholesome attitudes.  And

I’m also thinking, sometimes we judge like, hey, is this person a good friend? Or is it not a good friend? But do we even check the boxes of having qualities of being a good enough friend to be by their side. Sometimes, I don’t even have those right? Then, who I am to judge? We’re all work in progress. So I think it’s always like a two-way thing, we have to look inwards. I think the practice kind of just gets more and more subtle as we move along.

Nalanda  23:23

That’s great. This friend supported me during the time I was bullied. She was basically the only friend I had when I was bullied, just connecting the stories together. But she’s very, very different from me. And as we grew up, became so different, even more different, especially in our 20s. She’s from a different religion. I’m Buddhist. I won’t go into specifics in case she’s listening to this.  But she loves politics, football, law, and I was into music, language, and dance, completely different. And felt like every single time we meet up, I was trying because she’s a childhood friend. I appreciated her since 10 years ago, when she used to point at me.

I was just trying to like it, but there was so many differences in our lifestyle and our perspective. I was trying just for the sake of friendship. And I think that in itself was like pushing, I was really trying to push. Every single time we meet up there was a bit of distance. But I was just like, yeah, trying trying to listen to her. And she was a little bit confident in herself. And she was always talking, talking, talking, she dominated the conversations all the time. I was a good listener. I’m a good friend, because 10 years ago, she was a really good friend to me, even though we’re super different.  But anyways, it’s strained.

However, I do see value in it based on the fact that these differences allowed me to understand, a different demographic of a person who I would never really be in. For example, She loves Trump. I don’t really like Trump. But I can understand now from her perspective, why people would like Trump.  She’s like, this one person in this huge demographic of a world that I would probably never tap into because I don’t have an interest in it. She’s opened that world for me. And it’s exactly what Khema says. We shouldn’t have just bubbles of friends who are our echo chambers to sort of build our own ego. Yeah, yeah, agreeing with each other all the time. Having some discourse and discussion and debates makes you grow, you really grow. Like I understand now, why some people would love Trump. But she was the one who told me that. And then we had this amazing political debate. And I learned stuff from people who disagree with me and I disagree back. But it’s nice. You know, it’s a kind of like a nice intellectual discussion. We’re so different still, from time to time, we still meet up. Not very often. But I think those are still valuable friendships that I can say, I can call a friend.

Cheryl  25:48

And I think what you just mentioned falls into the category of friendship, where it’s really for you to kind of open your worldview and open your perspective. I’m just curious, to everyone here if you have other categories of friendships, and how do you define these friendships? And this is a very important question because it also kind of helps us to discern what kind of friends we want in our life and whether we should continue to nurture these friendships.  Maybe I’ll pick Kai Xin.

Kai Xin  26:20

As for me, I’m really practical. Also, because I’m an introvert, I don’t socialise that much. It just drains me. So I wouldn’t say I have a lot of close friends. But I have friends who, like since high school, you know, we meet up once a year, and we can go on for hours. Recently, we just came back from a trip in JB. And we literally talked throughout the entire night. We arrived at about 9pm and then we talked through the night till 4am. And we realise, okay, we really need to sleep otherwise, the next day, you know, we would be zombified. But it’s nice. And we don’t have to meet all the time. 

And I have friends who I met when I was travelling as well. I went to Amaravati many years ago and met this Thai lady. And we became good friends and also meet up once a year when I go over to Thailand, sometimes I would stay at her place, I’ll meet her parents, and then we’ll just you know, tour around the neighbourhood. And it just feels like I have known them for ages. And it’s a deep bond. 

But then there are friends who I would go and consult for things that they specialised in, you know, like, if it’s finance, or is it about spirituality, there’s always these few Dhamma friends whom I think are really wise and I would go and consult them. So I wouldn’t say I have like one single friend whom I deliberately nurture the friendship.  Actually, it’s something I want to learn because I feel like I’ve been pretty laid back and I don’t take enough initiative. Yeah, I’m not sure about you guys.

Khema  27:54

I won’t again, I don’t really like to categorise things. But I think for me, all my friendships are very intentional. I think all relationships in my life are very intentional. And so not Friendship Breakups, but I probably have like, really drifted away from a lot of people in my life over the course of life. And so the people that I am friends with and have and maintain those friendships with like, generally, all of them are just super nourishing and add value all those friendships individually. And so I do, I don’t know, take the time and effort to maintain them and show up in those relationships.  I think even though I don’t like to categorise, there are very clear categories. I guess, how I sort of differentiate is based on how close I am and how safe I feel and what I can talk about and it’s like, I don’t know, Nalanda you’re gonna have to correct me but I heard before Ajahn Jayasaro said like there are two types of friends you have eat-friends.

Nalanda  29:00

Puen gin (เพื่อน กิน). This is Thai by the way. It means eat-friends.

Khema  29:04


Cheryl  29:05

Oh, that’s a legit term? Wow

Khema  29:08

So you have eat-friends. Friends that Oh, you want to eat, you jio (ask/invite) them or they jio you. And your friendship is at that level where you just have fun.  And then you have die-friends.

Nalanda  29:18

Puen dai (เพื่อน ตาย)

Khema  29:19

That’s right. So friends who die for you. So Ajahn Jayasaro says like everyone in the Sangha is a die-friend. Right?  And so I think for me, I feel like a lot of my friendships are at that level where there’s just so much love for each other that okay, I’m not gonna speak for my friends and say they’ll die for me. I’m not gonna die for them, but

Nalanda  29:39

I’ll die for your Khema.

Khema  29:39

Awww. There’s so much love going on here. Straight up, straight up right now. Whether you would die for that friend or they would die for you.  I have friends in uni. Obviously. We have a lot of fun together. It was also very meaningful. We help each other in our studies and stuff help each other in life. We’re there for each other international students, you know, sometimes you need those relationships. And then just wholesome friends, just wholesome close friends whom you can talk to about matters of the heart.  And I think for me, the highest level is like Dharma friends, or spiritual friends, like they don’t even have to be Buddhist, but they just got your back. They’re really like the die-friends, you know. People like Nalanda.  For me, Ajahn; My Ajahn. And it’s like when you can talk about death, or we can talk about the real shit, you know.  I’m sorry, do you guys swear on your podcasts? You can beat me up. But when you can talk about these things, and it’s like in those moments show up for each other. That for me is like the highest level, right.

Cheryl  30:54

Are they fluid? First of all, do the people change categories and do the topics change categories as well?

Kai Xin  30:59

It’s like some ranking system.

Khema  31:01

Again, I don’t like ranking and categorising. But people are fluid, right? They’re not boxed up. It’s not black and white. So it’s like, people are always changing. Relationships are always changing. Some people leave the group completely. And that’s cool. Because life is a revolving door. But just bring continue bringing wholesomeness and living the Dharma, and then bring it into these friendships, and they just go whichever way they’re meant to go.

Nalanda  31:28

I feel like if they’re worth your effort and worth the investment, sometimes, even the friends with whom you have less effort, you can try and like still work on it. So I have a couple of friends who are like diehard friends, I went to camps with them, and I went to high school with them. These are very, very good friends. They do have their flaws and there are certain topics that I wouldn’t talk to them about, because it turns them into like, a person that I don’t want to associate with. But essentially, as a whole person, this person is very nice. This is a very nice person, this is still a wholesome person. 

And no one is black and white like that. So these people are grey, and these people are, like you said work in progress, right? So I give them a chance. You know, I’m saying like, especially if we’ve gone through, gone through a huge chunk of life with them, we see them grow, and I think is about first of all, a lot of compassion to them. And if they’re hurt, they’re hurt for a reason someone hurt them, or that is like an ongoing trauma for them. That’s why they’re acting out a certain way, their reactions or their behaviours are from something that something sometimes they can’t control. So I don’t want to like, ‘Ew! I don’t want to associate with you. You just said this. Bye!’.  Sometimes I work on it. And slowly, if it’s not workable, if I feel like for my own safety, I want to protect my time, protect my resource, protect my own feelings, I will slowly shift away. But sometimes I come back. So giving distance and a bit of time is a great thing and just revisiting from time to time.  Hey, Kelsey, are you okay? Are you still that angry, bitter person? If they’ve changed then oh, Kelsey, you’re great. Let’s go back to hangout again.

Kai Xin  33:18

Is Kelsey, a real person?

Nalanda  33:19


Kai Xin  33:23

Kelsey, if you’re listening.

Khema  33:29

Yeah, I think that’s the nature of friendship, right?  Once I started coming out off like the categorising between Buddhists and non-Buddhists, this friendship what we call friendship, which is like when you talk about Metta, it’s so tied into the idea of friendship and goodwill. Everything can be accepted, everything. Whatever your unwholesomeness everything. We just keep cultivating that goodwill that is the foundation of the friendship and as long as this continues to be nourishing and beneficial, then yeah.

Nalanda  34:00

And sometimes it’s nourishing and beneficial to heal someone else or to sometimes be hurt from time to time. Be hurt but feel like we’re growing together. Maybe there’s some sort of nourishment and benefit to going into a relationship and then trying to work it out. Even though you’re both hurting but you know the outcome would be nice. It’s like a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship right now I feel like I’m talking about different kinds of relationships. We’re moving into different categories. But this is something you work on. You want to work on it you really want to. You’re both hurting, but you want to work on it.

Cheryl  34:36

I think the foundation of any relationship be it friendship or romantic is the same right? It’s a work in progress and acceptance of each other’s flaws and wholesomeness, in the good and the bad that makes it makes it so fulfilling when you are working together.  And I really liked the word that Khema used which was acceptance of it because I think accepting doesn’t mean agreeing or disagreeing. Accepting is really just holding space for the person to be as they are. And from that, just by holding space, you know, beautiful things evolve.

Kai Xin  35:05

Perfectly put.

Khema  35:06

Yeah, and I don’t think friendships all have to look the same. And it doesn’t have to be like, Okay, we have to both be growing together. Otherwise, I can’t be friends with you. Sometimes it’s like, you are the one that helps them grow, or they are the one. Like, you know, for example, Ajahn for me is like this person who’s the ultimate friend. And like, for me, it’s more about he gives to me, and I receive more from him. And sometimes you are that friend for other people. And I think as long as there’s that goodwill, so much can come out of this connection.

Kai Xin  35:39

That’s so beautiful. So it’s not just we taking but sometimes we can give as well. And I think going back to the Mangala sutta that you’ve quoted, ‘Don’t associate with the foods and associate with the wise’, that’s commonly what’s translated. In one of the Dhamma talks, Ajahn Anan was actually answering a question from a novice monk. Hey, if we don’t associate with the fools, then how would the fools ever be wise? That’s assuming that we like the wiser person, right? And I was like, Oh, that’s such a good question. Because if you take a look at the Buddha, the Buddha is such a good friend to so many people, and without his wisdom, and if he doesn’t associate with those who need his wisdom, then we wouldn’t be able to see the Dharma today. There’s no like, you know, generations of Dharma being passed down. And I think what Ajahn Anan said was so beautiful. So it goes back to the capacity.

See also  #WW: 🤢Plot twist: You are 'the' toxic friend. Here are 6 signs to avoid being one.

First, we have to be honest with ourselves, do we have the wisdom in order to discern what is beneficial to us, and what’s not beneficial? If we don’t even have that, and we mingle around with people who have unwholesome habits, it’s very easy for us to be swayed off the path. But then once we stabilise our Dharma practice, then we can be that pillar of support for others, to then be the light that shines. But of course, it’s a very subtle thing, because of conceit, you always can’t see it when you’re in it. Right? It’s always in hindsight (that you see it). Hence, I think, it’s so important to then associate with people who are wiser than us to say, Hey, Kai Xin, you know, you’re being too egoistic. You think you’re better than others, but actually, you’re not. And, yeah, to be willing to oppose, I think it’s a fine balance between these two. 

So thanks, Khema, for bringing that up: to give as well, rather than just take.

Cheryl  37:20

And just going back to our topic of the day, you know, talking about friend breakouts, I think at the start of the conversation, we shared a lot of different scenarios, in which we, we kind of broke off. Either through literal physical separation or a more deliberate and intentional one, like Kai Xin and my choice. Then for Khema, I think it’s, it’s more on the intentional one as well. 

How do we know it’s the right time to do a friend breakup? Is there a way where we know like, Okay, this is the time, we should fade away from this person or start withdrawing contact with this person?

Nalanda  37:58

And this is like an ongoing thing between me and Khema. We have an episode on this as well, on our podcast. We talk about how to say no, and when to say no, it is an ongoing skill that we need to do everybody.  Even I sometimes, you know, as an adult, I don’t know how to say no. In the past, as a girl, very young, and naive, still don’t really know how to say no and break up a relationship or when that perfect time is, I just endure the pain. You how Ajahn said, like, you just tolerate it. And sometimes it gets to a point where you really need to stop (because) it is not a dull pain anymore. It’s like a sharp pain. Yeah, but as an adult, you kind of understand these conditions a bit more, you’ve been through the situations, you’re older now. And you just don’t want to waste too much time. So you see a dull ache that is about to turn into a sharp pain, and you take action. There’s like the initiative to protect yourself, and you come in with a lot more wisdom. And you know how to say no to this relationship before. Before you start getting attacked. You protect yourself and you can stand up for yourself better, I think as an adult. Yeah.

Cheryl  39:06

But I think a lot of times the dull just feels not very pleasant, but it doesn’t feel too unpleasant either. So I find myself in a lot of situations where I don’t particularly enjoy, nor do I particularly not enjoy the company of the people. So it’s just like, it’s okay, I get my meals in while I meet my friends as well, and then get a couple of banter in. I don’t feel particularly great. I don’t feel particularly terrible after that. So it just goes on and sometimes it can go on for years, right? Because you don’t want to create drama by saying hey, I don’t want to hang out anymore to just go along and the dull pain just continues.

Kai Xin  39:46

I think it will become telling if you continuously hang out with this group of people whom you are quite hesitant to hang out with and it’s compromising other aspects of your life. Then you have to make a choice but if you do have some space. It’s like, well, I don’t mind hanging out, not liking not disliking just, you know, spending time together. I think that is still okay. It’s still healthy.  But it’s really important to say ‘no’, right? Because when we say ‘no’, we are saying ‘yes’ to something more important.

So I think it is different for everybody, depending on their lifestyle, their schedule, and what they prioritise. I don’t think that’s an answer, like a model answer for everyone.  For me, my clear litmus test, or yardstick would be am I hesitant to meet up with this person? And if the answer is yes, and I know it’s compromising on some other aspects of my life, I’m going to come out more stressed because I don’t have time you know, to complete my tasks, etc, then I would lean towards a ‘no’ and be skilful in rejecting.

Khema  40:50

I think to Kai Xin’s point of when you say ‘no’ to something, you’re saying ‘yes’ to something else, and why I find friend breakups to be so dramatic, is because I’m not like, you know, sitting here trying to like decide should I break up with this friend or not? It feels a bit uncomfortable.  It’s more like, I’m putting my energy into other things, that gives me more joy, and uplift me more into people and spending time with those people instead. And so naturally, it’s like, I end up not having as much capacity or time to spend with other people who don’t nourish me in the same way. So it’s not as dramatic as like, ‘I don’t know, keep spending time with these people every week, but I don’t actually like them.’. It’s more of I’m already spending as much time all these people that I love and it helps me grow that like I actually don’t have the time for all these other people. And it’s more like that naturally allows things to change. And those people sometimes drift away from you. Rather than here guys, I don’t really like you anymore. So bye.

Nalanda  41:53

Marie Kondo. You Marie Kondo your friends. Is this bringing me joy?

Khema  42:01

When you hug the person, you ask ‘you do spark joy?’. This bugger.

Cheryl  42:08

I think almost subconsciously, we do have an intention when we hang out with whoever, right so even it could be someone that you don’t really like probably the reason that you hang out with the person is because you don’t feel lonely. And then that takes up your time. So it’s really about understanding what your intention is truly, and really reflecting whether the amount of time you spend with a particular friend or friend group, nourishing or fulfilling to you and is that really the best way you could spend your time.  And also, I think a lot of times, this is going back to what Khema mentioned about giving and taking as well, which Kai Xin mentioned as well, is like, for me, I come across more self-centred. I’ll be thinking what can I get from this friend group, friend interaction. But then now I can also consider, ‘Do I have the capacity? And is there something that I could give to this friend group as well? Does someone need a listening ear or someone need someone to confide in?’. Little mind shifts.

Kai Xin  43:09

And how can you set the right conditions for that friend group who you don’t really like to be something that you really like? Because it’s all causes and conditions, the seed that we plant.  So if you don’t like them, because they are always gossiping, then perhaps we can be the ones to move the conversation to something more wholesome. I think sometimes for me, I miss that part where actually I do have certain control over how I contribute to friendship. So it’s not always, you know, taking things as they come.

Khema  43:42

Yeah, I think that over time becomes an intuitive thing. Rather than seeing it as What can I get from this? Or what can I give to this person? It’s more like, do I feel good? Like, that’s it. How do I feel? So well, when I spend time around that, my friends are I just feel so bright. And so you just keep wanting to do that. Really moving with intention and intuition. Yeah, I think it’s, it’s a slight paradigm shift. Which feels less for us. It’s more natural. Yeah.

Nalanda  44:16

Maybe over time, as we grow older, like all of us, we’re in our 20s, right? Maybe as we grow older 30s 40s 50s And we look back, and eventually, one day, we’ll find that friend who just brings us so much joy and we can just be around them and just be and feel safe and able to talk about everything and anything and just have that one person.   But at the moment I have like lots of friends and they all have their different level of capacity with different battery levels in different situations. Oh, everyone has trauma. Everyone’s still emotional. Everyone’s like, you know, all over the place. I think through a lot of time, wisdom, and age, age is like, you know, through experience We’re gonna be able to like find that amazing gym, amazing diamond of a friend.

Cheryl  45:05

If not like, if we don’t find at the very least we become that gem of a friend who can be a blessing to others as well. Yeah.

Kai Xin  45:11

Or we can be that own friend that we never had. I mean, our own friend.

Nalanda  45:16

Yeah. And yeah, just support yourself. Live alone. No friends.

Kai Xin  45:23

That sounds quite sad.

Nalanda  45:26

That’s how we’re going to end.

Khema  45:26

The conclusion is we don’t need friends.

Nalanda  45:35

Today, like someone asked him (Ajahn), Is it possible for lay people to experience enlightenment. He’s like, it’s very difficult. But with the power of good friends, very, very good friends, and the support of good friends, you are going to have more chances and a better chance to actually get there. And that was a nice way of ending the talk about friendship. And I thought about you guys.

Khema  45:58

Yeah, I think in terms of like being alone as well, I’ve had situations in my life where it’s like, no, there’s actually no inspiring friends that, not placing a judgement, but it’s like, there’s a lot of toxicity around me. So I have to just rather just be on my own. Because if I spend time with these people actually, like that quote, like it drags me down. So in those moments, I’d be alone. But then, to know one last point of what Ajahn said, also kind of like, acknowledged, oh, my god, I’m so deluded.  I need, I need to hang out with the Ajahns, I need to hang out with Dhamma friends who practice way more than I do, because I need to borrow their power, their energy, because I don’t have that right now. And if you keep brightening your mind, and you just keep cultivating those qualities and strengthening your heart until one day, it’s okay, you can slowly be more independent in your practice.

Nalanda  46:54

Right, that other thing Ajahn said about friendship was that you can have a few friends and that’s it. Sometimes being a Buddhist, and you want to get like to the higher level of like a Buddhist practice, you can’t really be popular. You might just have a few friends. And that’s enough.

Cheryl  47:10

It is never about the quantity, but it’s always about the quality.

Khema  47:14

Exactly. You know Ajahn’s top five people are like all the Kruba Ajahns. How can you go wrong with that?

Cheryl  47:21

I know. Right?  So just to wrap things up, do we have one advice, let’s say, anyone who’s having toxic friends or friendships that are not serving them, are there any tips on how they could cut it off?

Nalanda  47:42

People. Walk away, just walk away. Just communicate, give them a message, call them up and say, Hey, I’m not ready. I think that would be my approach. Unfortunately, I’m very straight. I’m like Aussie now. I’m a very straightforward person and just tell them like, Hey, don’t really want to hang out right now.  Do what Kai Xin did. You did that right? You were like, just straight up skillfully told them what you needed to tell them, communicate the fact that you don’t want to be around them anymore and say, you know, you guys can still hang out but just without me. And I feel very safe to not doing that. Right now. I feel okay to not be with you guys. But later on, I might come back and reevaluate, reevaluate the friendship later on. I think that’s a great way.

Kai Xin  48:30

I actually only told one friend who is part of the group. I didn’t have the guts to tell (the whole group). I think it’s a bit intimidating.

Nalanda  48:37

But that friend was a representative of the whole group. So they’ll just go until the group.

Cheryl  48:41

Screenshot and send it.

Kai Xin  48:43

I’m not so sure what happened after that. It could be the case where maybe one person in the group just stopped saying that, hey, you know, maybe you should just reschedule to wait for Kai Xin to be available. And it’s like, Oh, it’s okay, let’s move on without her. It could be indirectly fading me off. Or it could be, hey, Kai Xin said this, she doesn’t want to hang out anymore, which I hope he didn’t do that.

Nalanda  49:08

Okay. Well, you were very brave still. You were very brave anyways to do that.

Kai Xin  49:13

I really think it depends on the circumstances. Because if it’s one on one, and you’re really close with that person beforehand, I think it’s okay to open and honest conversation and to be upfront about it and talk things through maybe you know, after a conversation, you realise that, hey, the dynamic of the friendship can be tweaked a little bit, and you would still appreciate hanging out with one another, maybe just not as frequent or maybe doing a different activity, who knows the friendship might change and evolve in shape and form.  But then if it’s in a bigger group, I think it’s more tricky because you have to think about whether you will be sidelined, safety is also one (consideration) and there are a lot of implications and potential misunderstandings. So I think my approach would be to slowly just fade away. And like what Khema mentioned, right, you’re going to prioritise something else and be occupied with those things. So you don’t lie to say you’re not free, but you really are not free. And just somehow or another, they will distance away from you, and make it organic.  Khema? What are your thoughts?

Khema  50:25

I feel like the way that you break up with your friend would depend on what the current connection is, like, you know, if they’re, you know, really adamant about asking you all the time, and it’s like, you just don’t feel comfortable, then obviously, direct communication is required. 

Or sometimes you don’t even feel safe enough to tell them that you don’t feel safe and that you don’t want to continue having this conversation, in which case, I think silence, which we now call ghosting, or fading them out slowly, and just short replies, stuff like that. I think that’s okay. It’s important to protect your space so that you can grow.  And, you know, I feel like, maybe there is some hesitation to let go of toxic friends, because the concept of being alone is, oh, no, I’m gonna be alone. Now, who am I going to hang out with if you’ve never had an alternative right?

But I think in those situations, really having to do inner like, what an inner reflection on what do I want to prioritise in my life, if I keep putting my time into these relationships that are not serving me, then I’m never gonna grow. So it’s like making sure you have your priorities straight. And then that allows you to intentionally seek out people who are more aligned with you and what you’re trying to aspire to. And that’s where your time goes on. And I think naturally, you build that up. And then suddenly, it’s like, you’re surrounded by all these devas, and it’s like, oh, my gosh, life is great. The Dhamma is real. Like, you’re just, yeah, I think that that can happen.

Nalanda  52:01

That was really good. I would probably just trust my gut instincts. If there’s a friend who’s really hurting me, physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, I think a nice clean cut is probably a great thing as well. Trust your gut instinct. Yeah. And for the listeners out there, there’s no Yes or No, there’s no black and white and there’s no right or wrong answer. Trust your gut instinct and just consider what’s best for you sometimes. Yeah, your safety is very important as well.  Don’t be like that girl, you know, the Indonesian case where like, they’re really great friends. And then she poisoned her best friend at the mall. Oh, yeah, she was like a jealous friend. This is a very, very big case, you guys. So call the police if you have a toxic friend like that.

Cheryl  52:48

Just wanted to add that perhaps if you’re in a friend group that you don’t really like all you can do is try to get to know the people individually and I think people behave very differently when they are in one-to-one setting versus when they’re in a group because there are so many different factors right like the power dynamics that just makes the whole thing semester a little bit more superficial. So yeah, trying to get to know the person on a deeper level and perhaps you could find out unexpected friendship there.  And always understand your capacity like you can patiently endure to a certain extent but it’s really taking a toll on your mental health. Just being in the presence of this person gives you a headache, then you know, that’s a good signal and indicator that you should withdraw from them physically.  So love yourself and do what’s right. So I think that we can end today’s episode. I think that’s a lot of content today. And if you’re listening all the way to the end here, make sure to check out the u awake? podcast.

Nalanda  53:53

Thank you, Cheryl. Thank you Kai Xin for inviting us.  We had a great time. Great chat. And you guys up podcast friends as well. You are in the circle now. You can sit with me, you can sit with me. Thank you, guys.

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