Humans are weavers by nature. We weave fabrics to cover ourselves, our furniture, and our floors. But what else are we weaving? In our ongoing veil metaphor, many of us weave mental veils full of threads of discord, discontent, disgust, and disconnection from each other and the rest of nature. We get entangled in our veils woven of views about ourselves, each other, and the world. This causes pain all around.
So how do we disentangle? With awareness and self-compassion. Awareness helps us see the entanglement, and self-compassion helps us to soften and release it.
But what is self-compassion?
When I was sixteen it dawned on me that I had been feeling sorry for myself for as long as I could remember and that it wasn’t helping me. Others clearly didn’t feel sorry for me, and if they had, is that what I wanted? Pity? And if so, why? Just that awareness helped to liberate me from a dense veil. I had plenty of other veils, but seeing and letting go of just that one was extremely helpful. What I didn’t know to do until years later, was how to replace that self-pity with self-compassion. Even though I was no longer wanting others to feel sorry for me, I was still looking to others to give me the reassurances, guidance, care, forgiveness, praise, and encouragement I craved.
In my twenties, I took a course in meditation and discovered my capacity to notice the nature of my thoughts and provide what I needed to feel whole and healthy. Though I didn’t have the veil metaphor back then, it’s easy to see how entangled I had been, and how through meditation and self-inquiry I began to see through those veils and beyond them, and then use that expansive awareness to look more closely at the veils, see their nature and the painful knots of emotion-laden judgments and opinions that had caused me so much suffering.
It’s important for us to understand that our practice of meditation, actively cultivating an expansive sense of compassionate awareness, enables us to look with fresh eyes at the veils, to understand the storied nature of their weaving, to understand that they don’t define us or the world. And we can greet them without getting lost in them.
Unfortunately, after discovering how beneficial meditation was for me in so many ways (it increased my creativity exponentially as well) at a certain point in my life I got ‘too busy to meditate’ and eventually ended up getting seriously ill. It took me almost a year to recover, but during that time I rediscovered meditation, and my intensive practice was vital for healing my body and it brought clarity and compassion back into my life. My first-thing-in-the-morning meditation practice has been my life-support system ever since.
That experience is why I teach meditation. I don’t want others to make themselves ill as I did. So I pass this vital bit of information on to you. If you are working yourself to the bone and making yourself ill, only you can reset your course. Don’t wait for those around you to step in. They trust you to take care of yourself! So please do! And here are a few familiar but important suggestions of how:
- Stop identifying other people, events, and obligations as the source of your discomfort or discontent.
- Recognize that physical symptoms are messengers. Pause and listen.
- Pay attention to your own inner wisdom. Don’t turn away, don’t laugh it off, don’t push it away. Listen!
- Make time and space to quiet down every day.
- Notice how you are caught up in veils full of messages completely lacking in self-compassion.
Even if you are not stressed, self-compassion might be lacking. Perhaps in your rush to offer compassion to others, you forget to offer it to yourself first. But here’s the hitch: we can’t feel true compassion for others if we are unable to feel compassion for ourselves. As much as we may want to offer it, when we are caught up in shame, guilt, and self-hatred, often it is expressed as anger, self-righteousness, criticism, and even physical violence. Any compassion we muster will be out of duty, not whole-heartedness. If we have been constantly told we are subpar in some way, it’s not surprising that we get enmeshed in ideas about ourselves that are woven, consciously and unconsciously, by those who had power over us when we were young.
These veils of identity are so thickly woven, and the threads so saturated with emotion, they are difficult to see as veils, let alone see through them. Most likely, the initial weavers of these veils, ignorant as they were of the painful veils that entangled themselves, were the very people whose approval and affection we most craved: parents, sibling, teachers, the ‘cool kids’, etc. The identity veil they wove for us may be full of painful knots, but we cling to it like a security blanket. If it is taken away, who are we? So we carefully place this veil as an altar cloth, sacrosanct. Intrinsic to our very being. No matter how worn, tattered, or flawed, it holds a place of honor.
Through the regular practice of meditation, we hold all veils up to the light of awareness. Not judging, just noticing them. But this long-held identity veil can be challenging to see as a veil at all. It may feel like the veil has been fused to the skin by a fire we mistook for warmth. Even to look at it, let alone hold it up to the light, is too painful.
If this is the case, we can practice with a veil that is not so challenging. We all have many to choose from! With the less dense veil, we can more easily follow the thought threads, notice how they get entangled in knots, and then breathe spaciousness into the knot. If you try this, notice how tension releases in your body and the tightness of the opinion or worry knot loosens a bit.
Add in some kind words of well-wishing: 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. This cultivates self-compassion. Even if some thought thread is weaving a knot of resistance, the words will activate your inner wisdom, that still quiet voice within, and, with practice, you will hear it more often.
Having practiced with a relatively easy veil, maybe in time you can shine your growing light of awareness and compassion on the veil that seems the scariest to lose, but also the most painful to keep.
Without this kind of self-compassion and willingness to explore, we keep weaving the veils that entangle us. We spend our precious time busily patching them up. Trying to prove what we’re thinking is right, we weave in fresh threads from external sources to reinforce the fabric of our own misery. Can we pause to notice the kinds of thought threads we need to maintain a veil? Can we recognize the toxic nature of those threads? Can we notice how we weave hate to hide shame? Weave anger to hide grief? Weave violence to hide fear?
Is this any way to live?
Of course not.
But because we are weavers we can weave threads of compassion and joy into our veils. We can weave in reminders like I have nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to defend, but I have something to give. For every thread that is harsh and heavy, there can be another that is light and joyful. These kinds of phrases can weave loving threads that lift the veils altogether. Then, from our sense of greater ease and expansive interconnection, we are able to wholeheartedly extend that kindness and compassion out to the world.