This is a very tender time. We’re gradually emerging from a pandemic and we’re a little disoriented as if waking from a dream. Many of us are finding it difficult to talk to each other as we used to do about shared common concerns. Did we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or did they? In the U.S. the division is exacerbated because we are also slowly emerging from a nightmarish propaganda war that politicized pandemic behavior and continues to put many people at risk.
Clearly, we need to wake up! Grow up! Wise up! But what does that mean? That everyone should agree with us? Good luck with that! What we need is to learn how to listen, how to make space for people to safely express their deepest concerns. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Listening with an open heart is not the same as buying into what is being said.
If we can recognize that neither we nor they are our beliefs, we won’t feel threatened by words we don’t agree with. If we can see the veils—the patterns of threads of thought about a person or idea—we can see through or beyond them to the person we care about. With great compassion, we can see how entangled they are with their veils, just as we often are with our own.
When we’re fighting each other, it’s because we can’t see each other as intrinsically interconnected expressions of life. Instead, we focus on our perceived differences and weave threads of assumptions, opinions, projections, stereotypes, etc. into thought veils that blind us.
These threads may contain memories, often inaccurately remembered and prone to change over time. The veil is shot through with threads of other people’s opinions, inherited fears, and cultural attitudes we accept without questioning. The veil through which we see family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even strangers whose features or actions activate judgments, can become so thick—especially in moments of strong emotion when the threads swell with tears or turn sharp-edged with anger—that we don’t see each other at all. We relate and react to the veil we each have of the other, forgetting completely the living, breathing person or group of people obscured by the veil we have woven about them. No wonder there’s so much discord.
We’ve been played!
As we learn to recognize the veils we’ve been weaving and how they blind us, we can also see how our news sources, influencers, and advertisers are playing our veils like the strings of a harp to the tune of ka-ching! ka-ching!
Recognizing when we’re being played can set up a whole other veil full of anger. It’s more skillful to see how we set ourselves up to be played for profit, and how if we didn’t have such thick knotted veils, full of prejudices rooted in fear, we couldn’t be played. We could see the true nature of being alive. We would understand that we are not isolated.
Persuasive advertising or political propaganda promises that their cures for our ‘flaws’ and rewards for our ‘successes’ will make us truly happy. In fact, they are guaranteed to make us feel more alienated, fearful, or depressed; more filled with shame and self-loathing. If we hang out with others who have taken the bait, who hate and vilify or scratch the itch of endless ambition and acquisition, we find our own veils of fear-based perception all the more tangled, blinding us further, and making us feel even less safe.
Having worked in advertising decades ago, I know how psychology is used to persuade us that we are lacking and that the only cure is to buy what they are selling. I could see how the industry was becoming progressively more clever, and with the advent of social media, everyone who craved ‘success’ became a brand that needed to be packaged in a certain way. The psychology of fear is the most powerful because of the way our brains are wired for our own survival. But playing on people’s fears is insidious. Working in the industry made me ill. It took me nine months to recover, and most of that time was spent in meditation. Only then could I begin to see through the thick painful veils I had woven.
In business and politics, it’s understood that if you say a cleverly crafted lie often enough people will believe it. Why? Because the repeated slogan has become a part of the fabric of the veils we accept as reality. Worse, we think the veils are who we are. We don’t want to untangle them or see through them. We want to weave them tighter and wear them like a cloak of safety. But veils don’t make us safe at all! They make us misunderstood.
So many veils!
We each have so many veils: veils of identity, veils of relationships, and veils of assumptions we have about other people, countries, religions, ethnicities, institutions. We have layer upon layer of veils that blind us, making us unhappy and unskillful in our relationships, causing harm all around. Recognizing veils for what they are and practicing with a skillful ‘don’t-know’ mind to question their veracity is the key to thinning, untangling, and seeing through them. And why would we do that? Because that’s how we stop suffering and stop contributing to the suffering in others.
Understanding that everyone is looking through veils helps us to cultivate compassion for them. If someone is ranting against a group with which we identify or a set of beliefs we cherish, we can either let their words activate our group or belief veil, or we can see their veils, their blindness because of the veils; and their struggles and fears. Then we can feel compassion for them. After all, we all have veils. We are all to varying degrees entangled, struggling, and fearful.
We can’t untangle their veils for them. That’s not our job description. And we definitely don’t need to put ourselves in harm’s way if the situation feels dangerous. But we can understand how we are all dealing with the same kinds of challenges to varying degrees.
Metta shines through veils
Metta, the radiant light of infinite loving-kindness, can see through every kind of veil. So we don’t have to analyze every veil to make a big difference in a relationship or our lives. Greeting every situation with the heart of metta, the wise intention of metta, the wise effort of metta — can dissolve knots and tangles, and that’s not some advertising gimmick! It’s free and you can try it yourself right now. Quiet down, cultivate loving-kindness for yourself: May I be well. May I be at ease. May my mind be peaceful. May I know the joy of being fully present in this moment just as it is.
Once you feel a gentle release of tension, bring to mind someone you are having a difficult time with right now. Now share that radiant light of metta: May you be well. May you be at ease. May your mind be peaceful. May you know the joy of being fully present in this moment just as it is.
It doesn’t matter if you have a change of heart towards them right away. Maintain a ‘don’t know mind’ with no expectations. But leave the door open to the possibility of seeing them more clearly, how they are blinded and struggling behind veils, just as you have been. Compassion deepens, insights arise. The person you are focusing on is not their words, the ideas they’ve been spouting they heard from some source they trust just as you may say things you’ve heard from your trusted sources. Let all that go for now. See them, not the veils you’ve woven about them that keep you apart.
The nature of peace is spacious and respectful. If we can be compassionate and respectful in the way we approach each other and our fear-based knots of entangled misperception, we are cultivating peace for the benefit of all life.
(Read more on veils.)
I am delighted to say that my students are now really beginning to understand the concept of veils and are using it in their lives with excellent results. So what veils do you notice? How might that awareness of there being a veil help to create more ease in your relationships, letting the light of awareness shine through?