02/23/2012 10:58 am ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

See Friends for Who They Are, Now

Years ago I became interested in Buddhism, mostly because it seemed more a way of living life and less dependent on dogma than most religions. The one principle that still sticks with me years later is the notion of what the Buddhists call "beginner's eyes." The principle is to be able to look at a sunset, for instance, and see it as what it is, in this moment, as opposed to comparing it to other sunsets you've seen before. It's a way to appreciate what someone or something is right now, not previously.

The beginner's eyes principle helped me be present, in the moment, with most aspects of my life. I stopped comparing women I was dating with women I'd dated before, which helped me see the woman I was dating for who she actually was. My wife and I hike up a mountain with our dogs every morning. The views from high up are spectacular. San Francisco a short distance away, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Mount Tamalpais are magnificent, and although I see the same vista every morning, it's never the same for me because I see it for what it is, in that moment, rather than comparing it to another day. The sky, sun, fog, temperature, clouds, wildflowers, and seasons change, often subtly, every day, and I try to notice what is, right now.

It's essential to consider that friends, like mountain views, aren't static either. People change in subtle and not so subtle ways, usually through a concerted effort. Lots of people are involved in personal growth in their daily lives. They recognize that while their lives might be working, the potential for them to work better exists. It's about fine-tuning our lives. It's not easy or simple, but nothing worthwhile in life ever is. Change isn't something I fear. I've always embraced it, and it's helped me on my path to becoming the man I want to be.

There are many arenas men and women can choose to grow and evolve, but my personal favorite is the group of guys who I've been meeting with for 20 years. We're best friends outside the group as well, and no friendships could be deeper or more unconditional. What makes doing the work together so gratifying is that when one guy notices positive changes in another, he tells him, and that fellow gets to feel good about himself and the work he's doing. The positive feedback is both supportive and encouraging. It's how loving, caring friends treat each other.

My wife and I try to notice the positive changes in each other's behavior, and we never fail to congratulate each other for taking another step in a forward direction. My wife changed careers in her '60s. She went from being a book editor for a major publisher, to becoming a birth doula, helping women deliver their babies. I kept mentioning how proud I was of her until she actually heard me on a deeper level. She and I always found it difficult to accept compliments because we grew up in homes in which no one ever said anything positive. Looking her in the eyes and telling her what I notice gets her attention and reaches her heart. When she congratulates me for an accomplishment, or mentions my work has improved, it fills my heart with joy, and encourages me to continue doing the work.

When friends love each other and respect each other as individuals who are working to become better men or women, it's important to share your sense of pride in them. Their growth speaks well of you too, because they choose to share it with you, with their friendship. The worst insult a friend can make is to insist on keeping his friend in the same box he was in before he did the work that helped him grow. It's mean-spirited to insist a friend is who he or she was once before, ignoring the work that resulted in positive growth. It insults the effort he or she made to become a better man or woman. It also reflects a frightened, myopic state of mind, when someone refuses to acknowledge a friend who worked hard to affect positive change.

The next time you talk with a friend, consider looking at that friend with beginner's eyes. You might notice some pretty terrific positive changes if you're willing to see your friend anew, as he or she is, right now. And if you do, consider how good you might make that friend feel by letting him or her know that you noticed. That's what friends do for each other. They recognize, encourage, and applaud each other's accomplishments.