After reading through the Dance of the Seven Veils in the previous post, it may seem as if we are being asked to give up possessions, relationships, our very skins! But of course that is not the case. Instead we are looking at what it might be like to let go of our habit of defining ourselves by what we own, how we look, what we do for a living, or who we know. We are exposing the lie that all these things are the sum total of who we are. Abandoning the things themselves would serve little purpose, but abandoning our misperceptions about them as our identity could serve us very well.
Let’s look more closely at the third veil: ‘the you that is defined by your relationships with others…. To the degree that these roles define you, they confine you. Let them go.’ We are not giving up our relationships. To the contrary. We are finding a more spacious way to be in them so that the relationships are enhanced and vibrant. By releasing labels of ‘sister’ ‘father’ ‘wife’ or ‘friend’ to the degree that these terms confine us in these relationships.
The first clue to a problem with these labels is that we always use them with that dangerous word ‘my’ in front. My sister, my husband, my child. The word ‘my’ confers a clear sense of ownership. If something is mine, I have a say about it. If something is mine, I think of it as an extension of me, that it represents me in some way.
That sense of entitlement to have a say creates toxicity in relationships. We feel not only entitled but somehow obligated to remake those we own in order that they can live up to our expectations.
We have all felt the pain of being ‘owned’ by some well-intentioned but delusional person who was unable to see us as ourselves. And as painful as it is, we often turn around and hurt others close to us in the same exact way.
So how do we expunge the idea of ownership from a relationship? It would be an interesting challenge to spend a week without using the word ‘my’ or ‘our.’ Would we find a new way to talk about our relatives? Or would we stop talking about them? That would be a very positive outcome indeed!
But even if we don’t speak in the possessive, we still have our lifelong habit of thinking that way. How do we rephrase it to ourselves? Awkwardly, no doubt, but that’s alright. When something is awkward it brings our attention to it, and that breaks us out of habitual patterns and lets us see things anew with fresh eyes.
How would it be to see the person you married with fresh eyes? What if the veils dropped away and you saw the wondrous luminous being with whom you chose to spend your life. (I assure you there is a wondrous luminous being in there! Keep looking!)
If you are not an only child, imagine a person you have known your whole life, who is close to your age and was raised in the same household, who shares a rich wealth of memories from a different vantage point, who in personal traits is unique and yet incredibly perhaps endearingly familiar. Might there be some fresh and wondrous delight in seeing them without the veils of expectation, duty or obligation?
The labels we put on ourselves burden our relationships. The roles we play become who we perceive ourselves to be, and all our accumulated ideas about what it is to be a good wife, mother, sister, husband, father, brother, etc. come into play. We struggle and suffer in the vast field between our imagined ideals and our uneven ability to fulfill them.
For example, I lived with Will for the year before we married. After the wedding I found myself suddenly saddled with a lifetime of images and expectations of what it is to be a wife or a husband, culled from observing my parents’ marriage, from reading novels and watching movies. Of course, Will too had his ideas and expectations, and suddenly a simple loving relationship was floundering in a sea of misunderstandings. It took nearly a decade for us to find a way to be together that didn’t rely so heavily on fulfilling these mostly misguided expectations.
Friendships too can get complicated by our ideas of what it is to be a friend. Our expectations set us up for disappointment. We may say, “A real friend wouldn’t” say or do this or that. What would it be like to let these concepts go? To simply be with someone with whom we share so much and have no expectations and no sense of obligation. How much deeper could the true connection be?
Certain relationships come with contracts. Marriage and parenthood, for example. These contracts are taken on joyfully, and are best kept if that joyfulness is renewed in each moment from our most authentic selves.
Letting go of our identity around these relationships is not necessarily easy because these are ingrained habits of being and perception. But doing so, to the degree we are able, frees us to be fully ourselves, just as we are, with every person we are with. We can allow them to be fully themselves as well, without the drag of our expectations around the role they play in our lives.
Letting go is a gentle process. It is the result of continued compassionate attention. Force has no role here. Judgment is counter productive. Coming into awareness of our thoughts, emotions and sensations is sufficient for the task. The trees let go their leaves when the time is right, and so will we.