A few days ago I tripped on uneven pavement and fell. The moment unfolded in a familiar way. It’s not like I fall all the time, but I have fallen at least once before with painful results. The memory of it walks with me, making me cautious. Maybe not cautious enough. Or maybe too cautious, as a body tensing up for a fall is at greater risk of injury. Fortunately, there were no broken bones, just bruising. But while waiting for x-rays and the results, I was entangled in a veil of memory with instant replays of this fall and the long-ago fall, anxiety as to what the x-rays would show, thoughts of a recent houseguest’s fear of falling and our discussion of walking sticks, and a family member my age who falls frequently but with the grace of a tumbler, rolling to standing in one smooth movement.
Sharing this exploration with my students activated their own Falling Veils full of direct experiences and ingrained fear of falling, especially those with osteoporosis. Their veils also included conflicting advice from personal doctors, online experts, and other sources. They brought up overlapping veils: the Aging Veil and personal relationships veils we each have, especially if those people are anxious about us falling. We’ll be looking at both those veils in future posts.
If you don’t have a Falling Veil, yay!! But there may be some similar kind of veil. Some past trauma may cause you to tense up and engage in thought patterns when something similar happens or almost happens.
As an example, once, while driving, my car was rear-ended when I came to a stop at a red light. The driver behind me assumed I would keep going as the light was just turning red. But I didn’t because my Driving Veil contains a painful memory of an almost deadly intersection accident my then teenage brother had when he was riding the tail-end of yellow lights and a driver on the cross street was anticipating greens.
My being rear-ended created a new thread in my Driving Veil that makes me try not to do anything out of the ordinary when driving. Expect the unexpected but don’t DO the unexpected! That experience added awareness that different drivers have different assumptions and operate by different internal rules based on their Driving Veils full of past experiences and other mental entanglements. So now, if I am a passenger and the driver stops sooner than another driver might expect, my whole body tenses up as I brace for impact. I may emit a panicked sound as well. Oh it’s a thrill to ride with me!
Do you recognize in your own experience some similar type of veil that appears at certain times when parallel things occur or feel like they could occur under current conditions? Perhaps you experienced violence in war or were violated. Then you are familiar with the term PTSD. Our evolving metaphor of a veil allows you to see the patterns of thoughts and emotions around the experience without making you feel like a victim, survivor, or any other label that may feel limiting. This of course is your call. But consider experimenting with the very Buddhist idea that what happens to us is not who we are. But what happens to us does affect how we perceive ourselves and the world, just like a veil does.
When we think of it as one of many veils that affect our ability to see clearly, we are liberated from labels. We know these veils are not ornamentation, definition, nor protection. We suffer and cause suffering when we are blindly entangled in them. And so we make it our practice to see them for what they are, to accept that we all have many veils, often full of unexamined knotted patterns of thought. Only compassionate awareness helps us to untangle, thin, soften, and make them more transparent, so that we can find the joy of being fully present in this moment, just as it is.