Continuing our exploration of the veil metaphor…
When lightened, veils become easier to move with, and our movements can be filled with wise intention and wise effort, unburdened by the weight of guilt, duty, shame, self-consciousness, and other people’s expectations. Our response to life, just as it is, becomes kinder, more compassionate, and joyful. Unburdened we rise to greet life with the gifts we have to offer, whatever they are.
If that sounds lovely but impossible to experience, maybe you’re making it too complicated. Maybe you are thinking you have to learn some fancy choreography, when really finding the natural rhythm of our dance is not a labored dogged pursuit but a release and a revealing, and the revelation is simple, not grandiose. So simple that it might be overlooked if we’re not staying present to recognize it.
You may be familiar with the Shaker song:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right.
This joyful simplicity comes from regular meditation in whatever form we practice it. Our practice brightens and clarifies our wise intention to cultivate compassionate awareness. That awareness gives us the gift of insights into the nature of mind and the nature of life that reading can only hint at. The light of awareness lightens and disentangles knotted thought veils that had kept us from seeing even the possibility of joyful simplicity.
With this practice, more and more we find ourselves dancing with life, finding joy not in distracting ourselves from what we had judged difficult, disappointing, or disagreeable, but in shedding the light of awareness on all that arises. That light is so radiant it shines through and melts away the knots and tangles of grudges, harsh judgments, resentments, self-doubt, hatred, anger, greed, and delusion.
The light is so radiant it reveals the gifts we have to contribute, the dance of aliveness that expresses itself through us in ways that might surprise us. Recognizing these gifts and letting them flow for the benefit of all beings: that is the joyful dance of life that is possible for each of us without exception. We don’t have to keep tripping over knots of self-doubt, comparing ourselves to others, or feeling the need for external approval that never seems to be enough because whoever approves us is suddenly diminished in our eyes.
Groucho Marx is famously quoted as saying he wouldn’t join a club that would have him as a member. If we have low self-esteem, it extends out to include the company we keep, the companies that hire us, and the institutions that award us certification, etc. No one can give us the approval we crave! It’s a mental habit, a dragon at the gate, the bottomless belly of a hungry ghost! Recognizing it when it arises, we can, as one student put it, put our arm around it and give it the comfort it craves, but don’t buy into what it’s saying.
Through our meditation practice, we cultivate awareness not just of the moment-to-moment sensory wonders of the world around us, but of all the habits of mind that make such a joyful dance of life seem improbable if not impossible. We recognize the knotted fearful aspects of thought and emotion that perceive a world of obstacles and threats. We can see how these habits of mind persist, tricking us into making an enemy of these tendencies, tightening the knots that bind and blind us.
Our practice provides the air and light needed to loosen these patterns of thought, and opportunities to gain insight. Having used wise intention and wise effort to practice compassionate awareness, we cultivate a steadier state of mindfulness. We find we are less entangled, and more often able to see beyond the knots and tangles. With wise view, we see the nature of impermanence in all life, including this very body we inhabit. We understand the intrinsic interconnectedness of all life so that we no longer feel isolated. We see how we are expressions of life loving itself into being, just as vital, valid, and unique as any plant putting forth its bloom or any other life form. And wise view includes recognizing that when we rail against impermanence and fail to see our intrinsic interconnection, we cause ourselves suffering. We see how we suffer when we succumb to the tangled knots of believing things are or could be otherwise.
With wise intention, wise effort, wise mindfulness, and wise view, we become more skillful in our words and actions. We are less likely to cause suffering because we are not entangled and blinded by the heavy knotted veils of pain-filled thought and emotion. We may experience pain in all its many forms, but we don’t need to exacerbate that pain with the unnecessary suffering of suffocating in the tangle of our knotted thoughts and emotions. Instead, we stay present for it, honor it, understand its temporal nature. If we are with someone in grief, we stay present for them, honoring their experience instead of trying to define it or change it.
Our practice is not to become automatons, devoid of emotion. To be human is to experience an incredible range of emotions. But cultivating compassionate awareness helps us to navigate them skillfully. Meditation has proven to gently move the ‘emotional barometer’ into the happier range of emotions for most people, but it also develops a deeper understanding of more challenging emotions. And that is a great gift.