“Struggle as we may, “fixing” will never make sense out of change. The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”Alan Watts
I love this quote by Alan Watts that reminds us to dance with change, with impermanence, with the way things are in this moment just as they are. We can acknowledge all that’s arising without making an enemy of it. Without making an enemy of our thoughts and emotions. WIthout making an enemy of ourselves.
With a dedicated practice of meditation, thoughts and emotions tend to become less burdensome entanglements that bind and blind us and more like transparent flowing veils that give creative expression to our dance of life. This is not some end goal of perfection but a gentle and ongoing sense of coming home to the moment just as it is.
Alan Watts used the word “fixing’. Many people take up meditation and other means of self-exploration to fix what they think is wrong with them. Does this sound familiar to you? With this mindset, meditation may still have many benefits, but as long as we believe that the purpose is to ‘fix’ us, we will continue to suffer. It’s not that meditation isn’t powerful. It is! It’s that we don’t need ‘fixing’.
In our ongoing exploration of the metaphor of veils, it might be tempting to assume that the veils are us. Believing that, we think we have to spend our lives hunched over, needle in hand, mending our messy veils. How dreary!
Fortunately, the veils are not us. And they don’t need mending! Just minding. They are the patterns of where our attention goes, following threads of thought, and sometimes getting entangled and knotted up in a repetitive pattern of thinking. So our practice is to refocus our attention to be present in this moment anchored in physical sensation. We notice our attention has wandered. We see how it has followed a thread of worry, memories, planning, problem-solving, or other mental romps. We understand that attention is like a puppy on a leash that needs gentle but firm training. So we simply redirect our attention back to the felt sense of being alive, here and now.
We can notice any tension that has arisen in our brow, jaw, neck, shoulders, hands, or stomach. We recognize how the tension in the body is closely affiliated with the thread our wandering attention was chasing. Perhaps a worry has caused our shoulders to rise up toward our ears, anger has caused our hands to tighten into fists, or a problem has furrowed our brow. Seeing that connection between thoughts and tension in the body, we reset our intention to soften the tension and refocus our attention to the felt sense of being alive in this moment, a cellular celebration of all life, loving itself into being.
Intention, tension, and attention. Such similar sounding words with such different meanings. Understanding their relationship can help us in our practice and in our lives. And as we notice how our attention chases threads of thought and emotion that weave themselves into veils about various subjects, we can see that some of the veils are woven of thoughts and emotions about who we believe ourselves to be. Identity veils.
Still not us! Just a bunch of ideas and beliefs we have about ourselves that tend to grab our attention and bring up strong emotion. If the thoughts are painful or activate unskillful speech or action, it helps after meditation to set aside dedicated time to lay the veil out in front of us and examine it with compassionate awareness. We can journal our findings, using the metaphor of the veils to keep us from getting lost in the thoughts and thinking we have to fix ourselves.
It’s important to notice the language we use when describing our experience or when we talk to ourselves. Are the words abusive? What memory threads are attached to these words? Mindfully, with gentle curiosity, we follow the threads to their origins.
The veils are valuable places to explore, but only when we are doing so purposely and with the skills that we are cultivating through our meditative practice.
In our daily lives, we can notice how our attention gets drawn away from engaging fully in life with loving curiosity and wise intention. Simply identifying an emotion or sensation, pausing briefly to name it, is a powerful way to anchor awareness in the present moment. Whatever comes up, finding the word for it — like maybe sadness, self-doubt, anger, or worry— helps us hold it with compassionate awareness. In this way, it may release. Or not! But at least it has been acknowledged. And, perhaps even more importantly, we understand it is not who we are. It is just an emotion passing through.
In this way, we learn to hold the veils up to the radiant light of our awareness and dance with them.
I started with the Alan Watts quote. I’ll end with a quote from Mingyur Rimpoche.
“We can begin to watch our thoughts and emotions without necessarily being affected by them quite as powerfully or vividly as we’re used to. We can still feel our feelings, think our thoughts, but slowly our identity shifts from a person who defines him- or herself as lonely, ashamed, frightened, or hobbled by low self-esteem to a person who can look at loneliness, shame, and low self-esteem as movements of the mind.”Mingyur Rinpoche