Unveiling :: Shining the light of compassion

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In past posts, we have been learning how to recognize veils* and define them more clearly. Now that we know a veil when we see one, let’s focus on how we can learn from the veils, how we can be skillful in our relationship with them, and how we can let them go. This is not done by making an enemy of veils, but by recognizing them. If they are tangled and knotted, dense and difficult, we will only entangle ourselves further by pushing and punching at them, like Brer Rabbit and the tar baby, if you are familiar with that tale.

Instead, we greet our veils with lovingkindness and compassion, understanding that these patterns of thought are a naturally-arising part of the human experience. But they can blind us to the present moment and cause us to be unskillful in our words and actions, so we gently acknowledge them and, to whatever degree we are able, release them.

Learning lessons and then letting go
Sometimes we find ourselves caught up in an old veil, tangled and full of knots of misery and grudges, and we ask ourselves, “How in the world did I get here?” Then we backtrack in our thinking a bit and see how a thought from a challenge we face now, an active veil, has some parallel thread, an entry point to this older one. Perhaps there was a similar type of challenge or a similar type of relationship. So the synapses in the brain connect those dots and here we are leapfrogged into a veil from long ago.

Our first impulse might be to switch back to the current challenge, but it might be skillful to take a moment longer, since we’re already here, to bring our fresh eyes to that old veil. After all, it’s obviously a presence, obviously having a say and holding sway, for better or worse, even all these years later. And because it is a veil, it is blinding us to some degree, so why not take this opportunity to explore further. We pause, take a breath, realign with our wise intention, anchored in clarity and compassion. 

With fresh eyes, we remind ourselves that everything in this old veil is a memory that can’t harm us now, even if the memory is painful. Whatever events the veil contains are old news. If people are in the veil, or the veil itself is about a particular person, we might notice anguish, anger, shame, or some other strong emotion arising. We hold ourselves in a spacious field of compassion. We bring everything we have been learning about self-care to this exercise. We don’t make an enemy of our emotions. We allow them to voice their deepest fears in the safe respectful spaciousness of our awareness.

(If this is a very challenging veil and you don’t feel up to the task of doing this alone, you might work with a therapist, counselor, teacher, or friend on the same path who understands the nature of this kind of exploration. If you prefer to work alone but find it difficult to maintain focus, try journaling the process as a way to take it out of ordinary thinking and into focused exploration.)

After cultivating compassion for ourselves, we gently expand that field of compassionate awareness to include the other person or persons. If this veil is very old, the people are probably also very old or dead. We notice any shift of emotions when we imagine them as elderly or dead. Their inherent impermanence reveals their vulnerability, their humanity. And they have no power over us.

Even if the person is still very much alive and active in the world, it is worth noticing whether they have power over us, and if so questioning what form that power takes. Do they really have power over us? Or does our fear have power over us? Do our assumptions circumscribe our view of what is possible in this, our precious gift of fleeting life?

If we don’t know where they are or whether they are alive, we can use our don’t-know mind to allow for the possibility that they have changed, have grown in awareness and compassion, and that they are deeply sorry for any harm they may have caused. Even if we cannot imagine that they are sorry or have evolved in their thinking, we can still acknowledge that they, like most of us, are caught up in the three poisons of greed, aversion, and delusion. In all cases, the infinite compassion we cultivate for the benefit of all beings is not wasted on them, even if we find it difficult to send it to them. 

This is a timeless process. It could be instantaneous and easy, once the intention is in place, once we realize how drastically the situation has changed and that the players are long gone. An old veil unexamined all this time can easily disintegrate before our eyes. Or it could take a while. Either way is fine. Most important to remember is that this is not a grueling assignment that we have to revisit again and again. It is a gift of awareness that we open lightly, joyfully whenever it is given.

Cultivating veil awareness
Beyond any people involved in this veil, we can see how much misery the veil full of thoughts and emotions is causing us, how even when we’re not actively thinking about it, it’s there lurking in the background or shrouding our view, tinting it, or framing it, instead of allowing us to simply see with fresh eyes.

Our fresh eyes are trained in awareness and compassion that wasn’t available to us when we were weaving that old veil, going through all that pain and misery. But now we see. And we can let the veil thin and release.

Parting gifts from an outdated veil
Before we release an old veil that has come up, might there be something we can learn from it that can apply to the challenge at hand? The mind brought up this old veil for a reason. Perhaps there is a gift of wisdom woven in amidst all the muddle and misery. It might be a cautionary tale, showing us that the course we are considering now is as reckless and ill-conceived as one that caused us to suffer long ago. Or it might be a reminder that even the most difficult times still have moments of awe. Whatever we discover that can be applied to a current challenge is worth noting and remembering. 

Finding golden threads in malleable memories
While we are shining the light of compassionate awareness on this veil filled with memories, we might notice the glimmer of a golden thread or two. Huh, that’s odd, we say. We never saw them before in all our miserable meanderings in this problematic veil. Why? Because we weren’t shining the light of compassionate awareness that would highlight them. We were caught up in the veil as if it was real, and we were likely flooded with emotions that made the veil dense and impenetrable. But now we might discover that amidst the painful memories there are sweeter ones. This is not to make the painful ones untrue, but to soften the hold this veil has on us. Because memory changes with each retelling, we can put more emphasis on the golden threads which soften the veil, make it less suffocating or threatening. Leaving room for the possibility of previously un-noted aspects to events we remember helps to thin the veil.

Ahh! The release!
WIth our light of compassionate awareness and our willingness to engage in don’t-know mind, we can breathe space between the threads of a tightly woven veil. We can see people and events from different angles, and we can release the tension that has gripped us for so long.

*A veil is a metaphor for the complex pattern of thoughts and emotions we have about any subject, person, event, or aspect of our identity. Read more about veils.

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