In the last post, I offered a guided experiential exercise exploring our veils on the subject of freedom. First, we felt the word in our bodies, making note of any tightening, releasing, or other sensations. Then we opened to any images that come up for us with the word freedom and then made note of them. Then we paid attention to any words or phrases that came to mind with the word freedom, and then made note of them. At the end of this exercise, we each had the makings of our veils on the subject of freedom right there on paper. We could leave it like that or take it further into a creative project: a piece of art or poetry, an essay, memoir, story, song, or dance. We can also begin to see where in our veils there might be tight knots, confusion, conflicting messages, and emotions. Freedom is a word of release and joyfulness, but it also calls us to recognize who has freedom, and who doesn’t, and that with freedom comes the responsibility to assure our actions don’t cause harm to others. A rich exploration indeed.
I hope if you did this experiential exercise, either in class or in the audio recording, you found it insightful. And I hope you were able to spend time with the veil that revealed itself without judging it or seeing it as you. As with all that arises, it helps to hold it lightly, compassionately, and cultivate a skillful relationship with it.
I love how coming to a subject in this way, looking at our veil of thoughts and emotions about it, makes it a more conscious and less contentious experience. Instead of ‘hot buttons’ and ‘triggers’, we have thought threads we can see laid out before us. We are able to be both compassionate and dispassionate: compassionate with ourselves and with anyone who shows up in our veil, and yet dispassionate about the content, not feeling we have anything to prove or defend. So we can have a caring thoughtful discussion about any subject with people who have very different views.
And that’s what we need, isn’t it? In our internal conversations that can so often be filled with self-contempt; in our relationships where simple disagreements can break bonds of affection, losing valued connections; and in our ways of engaging in the world where our decisions ripple out and affect all life on the planet, even if we believe ourselves to be powerless.
Can we come to the table of life with a willingness to place on it a veil on a subject we have been exploring, disentangling, and softening? Can we simply share it with people so they can see and better understand our thoughts and emotions without feeling attacked if their veil on the subject has other kinds of threads?
How different this is from our often antagonistic or pushy way of engaging on subjects where we may disagree. The veil laid out on the table between us is something for both people to look at with curiosity and interest. If a viewer is unskillful in how they talk about what they encounter in the veil before them, can we recognize that it is not an attack on us personally? Can we see that it is habituated reactivity playing out from a veil or combination of veils active in their mental patterns at the moment?
It’s so important to remember that the veil is not ‘us’. It’s just a weaving of thoughts, emotions, and images that anyone could have. In fact, most people do have the same or very similar thoughts and emotions, in varying combinations. This veil is not unique and it does not define us. It is not precious. It is not us. So even if someone is unskillful in how they look at those patterns of thought and how they react, it’s not an attack on us. Even if someone thinks they are attacking us, they are really embattled in their own veil about us.
A personal example: My mother was an amazing woman and my dearest friend. But oh how our veils could tangle! She could be very critical and felt she had a right to voice her opinions about me long after I’d grown. I learned to stand up for myself and she tried to rein it in, but it wasn’t easy for either of us. Yet our relationship was of such value to both of us that we tried.
But one particular unskillful habit she had, as many people did in the days before ’emotional intelligence’ was even a term, was to shut me down if I shared how I was feeling. If those feelings weren’t sufficiently upbeat, she would say, “Well, you shouldn’t feel that way.”
I can see now that her veil of me didn’t allow for the possibility of depression or difficult feelings, perhaps because I was her child and my down moods reflected poorly on her skills as a mother. Whatever was going on with her made me feel it was unsafe to share some things that I needed to talk about. Now, with 20/20 hindsight and the metaphor of the veils, I can see how her words to me were simply an expression of those threads of perception. It helps me let go of the pain of her shutting me down. It helps me forgive her and love her more completely. My ‘mother veil’ now is lighter and more joyful to dance through life with. I offer this example to inspire you to explore your own veils, maybe even the one about your mother.
And for me, this reflection reminds me how much meditation has helped me over the years. I’d forgotten how I used to have huge mood swings and sink into periods of depression that anyone knowing me today would find hard to believe.
Unless we are purposely sharing a challenging veil with a therapist or wise friend, the veil we bring to lay on the table is preferably one we have spent time with on our own. It is not a tangled web of autopilot repetitions of things we’ve heard rooted in fear and saturated with the three poisons of greed, aversion, and delusion. We have taken the time to untangle knots of lies, deceptions, and confusion. This is not to sanitize it, or turn it into something uniform and acceptable to others — how boring — but it has at least been nurtured and loosened. It is an authentic expression, rooted in love, and growing in light.
If you’ve ever found yourself talking away and feel a little lost and uncomfortable with what you are saying, imagine that your attention is chasing down threads in a veil you haven’t spent sufficient time exploring and questioning on your own before exposing it to the light of other people’s awareness. Instead of feeling embarrassed or judging yourself harshly, just recognize that you’ve been wandering around in an outsize veil and not surprisingly stumbled. Make a note to explore that veil on your own (or with counsel if it’s loaded with challenging thoughts and emotions) before laying it on the table to share with others. In Buddhism, one aspect of the Noble EIghtfold Path is Wise Speech. Speaking off the top of your head to blow off steam or fill the void creates way more trouble and even pain than it’s worth.
How different life can be when we share our veils in this way, instead of drawing our weapons, lashing out with war-torn words full of anger and hurt that incite others to react in fear, rage, or withdrawal.
Laying our veils out in this way, we see them more clearly. We can follow threads back to their sources and then question those sources for veracity, intention, and whether we heard correctly. Some of these threads go back to childhood, back to a miasma of disturbing and often misremembered events, received and filed away unquestioned.
Whether we are looking at a veil about a concept like freedom, a veil about a person, or a veil about who we believe ourselves to be, seeing them in this way is valuable. Insightful.
If more of us carry our veils of thought and emotion lightly, unthreatened by differing opinions and not feeling we have to defend ourselves or prove anything, then we will find a way to be in the world together peacefully co-creating boundless love to care for all life.
With wise intention, wise effort, and wise speech, we can make it so.