In previous posts, I’ve been using the metaphor of veils to explore how we so often seem to get blinded, unable to see this moment just as it is without all our opinions, judgments, fears, and assumptions getting in the way.
But what if we like playing with veils?
I certainly do! Whether I’m creating a metaphor for exploring the dharma, writing a poem or a work of fiction, collaborating on a creative project, reading a novel, remembering a dream, or watching a movie. I enjoy the unique capacity we humans have to weave fabulous veils that can entertain, inspire, and inform us.
These creative veils can be quite powerful, weaving strong threads into my preexisting veils of perception about myself or the world. So I try to be selective about what I choose as entertainment. The adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’ applies here. What happens to my veils when they are immersed in imaginary worlds woven out of fear? Where there is, for example, always an enemy to fight? Always a violent solution? How do these veils affect my life and in turn the lives of those around me with their patterns of other-making and knots of fear? That’s something for each of us to consider for ourselves, but from a Buddhist perspective, indulging in entertainment that activates bloodlust and justifies revenge is not a way to cultivate happiness for ourselves and others.
But, you might say, violence is part of life. Okay, but let’s look at the rest of nature. The other day a Cooper’s Hawk screeched merrily on the broad limb of one of the oaks outside our window, his talons clamped down on a mole and his beak pulling away at the flesh and sinew. This is part of life. While I felt for the mole, I also felt for the hawk, and I felt for the songbirds and others who fear the hawk. There was no reason for me to take sides and overlay a human-centric veil of good and evil. This event had no heroes or villains. Everybody eats. Everybody dies. The cycles of life are ever thus. That’s why Wise View, an aspect of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, emphasizes the understanding of the interconnection and impermanence of all life.
So, what’s the difference between watching a hawk eat a mole and watching a gory movie? Intention. Which is another aspect of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. The question “What is my intention here?” is so important, it’s the first one in my book Asking In. It is skillful to ask ourselves what our intention is in seeing a particular movie or reading a particular book. Are we wanting to see more clearly, enjoy another person’s point of view? Or are we craving a visceral thrill, filled with tension, fear, and hatred? (If this question activates defensiveness in you, take it up with the Buddha!)
We can also look at the creators’ intentions. A thoughtful film or book about difficult lives may contain scenes that are hard to watch or read, but the work was not made to activate addictive blood lust. The creator’s intention was to cultivate compassion, understanding, and to broaden perspectives. It might help us to dissolve some threads of preconceived notions or assumptions we may have, or to recognize that the darkest most painful threads in our veils can be brought into the healing radiance of lovingkindness.
Entertainment that makes us laugh at our human foibles and lighten the load we feel we are carrying can soften the veils that blind us. Laughter is important! But what is the intention behind mean-spirited humor that does the opposite, adding venomous threads to pre-existing veils and creating new ones that blind us to seeing clearly?
Greed. Knowing that playing on our fears is the easiest way to get our attention (because we have a built in negativity bias that makes us watch out for things that might harm us first), creativity can be used to fill the bank accounts of a few, while abandoning any sense of communal responsibility. Caught up in greed, they ultimately are the poorer. And we each have the capacity to see through it and make wiser choices for ourselves.
Other genres of entertainment that envelop us in veils threaded with greed, aversion, and delusion might feel like ‘comfort food’ entertainment that use as a mood modifier or a time passer when we’re just not up for much else. Certainly, most of us got more than enough of that during the COVID lockdown. But it’s interesting to notice what we are drawn to, how it affects us, and if it brightens the mind or numbs it down. What veils are being activated? Are threads being thickened? Or is fluffy cotton being woven in as a buffer against the world? Is the entertainment reinforcing a veil of identity that blinds us to what’s possible in this moment?
Writing and other forms of creativity can help us to explore the veils, revealing patterns we hadn’t known existed. And if those patterns exist in us, they likely exist in others, so that if our skills and interest give us the means to illuminate those threads, that is a gift worth pursuing whether it is through writing, dance, music-making, visual arts, the exploration of dreams, or any other creative impulse that wants to express itself. We can do this with the intention to allow our creativity to play with the materials, words, movements, etc. rather than focusing on the end product, imagining how it will be seen, judged, or purchased by others. That is death to creativity!
If it interests you to do so, you might ask the simple question “What is my intention here?” when doing something creative, and “What is the creator’s intention here?” when it is someone else’s creative work. The answers you receive will likely give you valuable guidance, insight, and perhaps inspiration.