1. Buddhist

Veils of perception :: Initial unveiling

In 2017, I posted an exploration into how we look at life through filters of fear and how that distorts perception and causes problems in our lives and in the world.

But if we simply remove the filters of fear, like lenses on a camera, would our view be completely clear? Probably not. We still have all the familiar patterns of repetitive brain activity, those threads of thought that get activated from some sensory stimulus, like a familiar smell, sight, or sound that brings up a memory, an emotion, and launches a story in our minds.

In my own inner explorations and from listening to my students explore the nature of their thoughts, I see how we all seem to have many veils of thinking activity, each one woven of all the threads of thoughts that entangle around a particular subject or experience. Each veil is woven of memories, assumptions, and emotions around, for example, a personal relationship, a traumatic experience, topics of interest, bodies of knowledge, or aspects of identity. So we all have many veils. 

Seeing these patterns of thinking as veils helps in several ways:

  • We can see the whole cloth nature of the interconnected thoughts. So if we notice a thought that arises, we can identify the veil of perception it is woven into, and we can see how our mind travels those same patterns of thinking, one thread leading to another, sometimes entangling, getting knotted with fear, saturated with emotion.
  • We can see that the veil, the busy thinking mind, is distorting our view of this moment. We want to be fully present to enjoy the beauty of nature, a conversation with a friend, the taste of the food we are eating, and all of life’s moments. But we get entangled in our habituated patterns of thought, the veils that, especially if knotted, can obscure our view.
  • We might discover we are hiding behind a veil, using it as a form of protection, vesting our sense of self in it. Taking on the persona of a particular veil prevents us from being authentic.

When I shared this concept of veils with my class, they got it instantly and started to identify some of their own veils. We could see that looking at our various veils could be a rich exploration, so we decided to run with it. I hope you also find it of interest. But maybe you’re still not clear on the concept, so I will share a personal story to put the concept into context.

In that 2017 post about filters of fear, I talked about my brother’s struggle to live against what turned out to be impossible odds, and my struggle to be a caregiver. Looking back on that time and the painful months that followed, I can see how the veil, made up of every memory from our relationship over seventy years, made it challenging for me to simply do what was necessary for him as one of his primary caregivers. We both saw each other through the veils of our history infused with the fear of losing something dear: for him, the loss of life itself, for me the loss of someone I adored who was intrinsic to my very being, the only person still alive who was there when I was born.

Those veils had knots and tangles in them and were in places so dense that it was difficult to see each other clearly at that moment. His physical suffering and fear of dying at times caused him to revert to our childhood relationship where he saw himself as the third parent rather than a sibling to me. Our adult sweet relationship would suddenly disappear and the old patterns reemerge. He would call me Stephanie instead of Steffie, and in such a stern voice, the little girl in me trembled, in trouble again! It was a volatile time.

It would have helped me back then to have seen the veils between us. I might have recognized how we were caught up in a complex tangle of history. The veils when acknowledged become softer and more transparent. It is those moments when the veils thinned or fell away that sustain me now when I think about that difficult time. Here is a poem about one of those moments.

On the deck above my brother’s window
my niece and I huddled under a blanket
in the evening chill
as overhead thousands of crows
coursed across the pale peach sky

A moment’s thrill
to sweeten the bitter pill
of our shared misery

Minutes later I enter his room
where the rage of the machines
that keep him raggedly alive
compete with the TV news
that keeps his heart pumping
furious yet fascinated

But now he is peaceful,
staring out his window.
As he turns to me, I know
he has seen them too,
that murder of crows.
His eyes wide-open
his silent mouth a big Wow!

I fall into that open O
tumbling down the years
our lives intertwined
in childhood enchantment.
– Stephanie Noble, 2017


A photo of Stephanie and her brother John
A golden thread in my ‘brother John veil’

I am not suggesting that we toss out our veils, only that we see them, that we don them more lightly. If I had understood the nature of the veil between us while I was trying so hard to be a good caregiver, it would have helped me cope with the situation better. Understanding the veil now and my blindness to it, I can be more forgiving to us both for the pain we caused each other in trying to love each other blindly.

Does my personal sharing perhaps bring up an experience in your own life? Does the metaphor of a veil woven of thoughts and emotions, sweet memories, grudges, regrets, etc. help to explain why in certain situations with certain people you behave very differently than with others?

In subsequent posts, I will continue this exploration and see where it leads us. I hope you will join me.

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