Veils remind me of the older Greek ladies at my grandmother’s funeral. These ladies in mourning wore all black — dress, shoes, gloves, hat, and veil. The veils covered their eyes. I couldn’t see their tears but I saw the erratic heaving of their shoulders. My Yiayia had been married to my grandfather for 66 years. When she was a teenager she was sent from Greece to America to marry him after his first wife died giving birth to my Aunt Amanda.
Veils are coverings. Veils can be black, bridal white, or any color in the rainbow, but they all do the same thing. They cover up what’s underneath.
In yoga, veils are called Malas. They were first described thousands of years ago in Tantric yoga scripture and were meant to explain the nature of the universe. They help us consider the bigger questions: Who am I, why am I here, and how do I fit into the greater scheme?
The Malas are cloaks that separate us from each other. We feel alone, disconnected, small, inadequate, separate, unable. Thanks to these powerful malas we can feel inferior, powerless, immobilized.
It’s a cruel ruse. Our true nature is just the opposite.
Malas can’t be eliminated but they can be recognized, seen, understood, and rendered less powerful. We have control over the malas if we understand what they are and how they affect us.
There are three Malas:
- Anava Mala- Creates feelings of unworthiness and incompleteness. It is connected to the heart. It gives rise to feelings of insecurity, sadness and depression.
- Mayiya Mala – Creates the perception of difference, separateness between us, other people, nature, and the world. It urges us to compare ourselves to others. It is connected to the mind and creates feelings of jealousy and anger.
- Karma Mala – Creates a feeling of powerlessness, of not doing enough. Karma Mala is connected to the body. It creates feelings of worry, anxiety, and fear. Karma Mala says, “I’ll never be smart enough so I won’t even try to get into college.”
Embedded and Intertwined
Malas are part of our existence, part of the fabric of who we are. As such, it’s pointless to get upset about them or even try to “rid” ourselves from these perceptions.
Instead, we can notice when these Males arise. We cultivate the power of discernment to help us see that even though we may feel a certain way, it’s not who we are. With increased awareness, we can work with the Malas and not against them, and we can begin to see ourselves as connected, compassionate, whole, with infinite creative capacity. Just as we are.
Malas are both sinister and necessary, a harsh medicine that heals. They rob us of our true nature which is abundance, joy, willingness, self-empowerment, courage, and tenacity. They are at the root of our insecurities and vulnerabilities, a catalyst to gaining self-understanding, and personal growth.
The Malas urge us to acknowledge the shadowy parts of ourselves, the places we’d rather make disappear. Denial, pretense, and avoidance are in allegiance with the malas. When we hide our vulnerability we lose our power. If we bury our fears we also bury love. If we numb shame, we stop being truthful. When we face these less desirable parts we also see our bravery, resilience, potential, and creative wisdom. Without the existence of malas, there is no wonder, curiosity, tenderness, joy or love.
The Malas are dualistic and paradoxical. Like a multi-colored tapestry, all the threads are intermingled. You can’t just pick out your the pretty pinks and sunshine yellows. You get the whole blanket — grey, white, scratchy, luxurious, suffocating, and comforting.
The practice of yoga is a practice of remembering. Remembering our inextricable connection to each other, a bond can’t be severed but it can be forgotten. Remembering that we are isolated but also related. That we feel unworthy but we are also uniquely gifted. That we can’t have everything we want but we have what we need.
We see a path instead of an ending, a light instead of despair, smallness, unworthiness, emptiness. We avoid the void.
We start to get real, to see our truth, to live more fully, lock arms, stop judging, stand with purpose, courage, honesty, truth.
You, me, — we all have a collective job to do. We’re here to learn. We need our eyes wide open, our vision clear. Take off your veil and see yourself for the precious person you are.
You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn
You bleed you learn
You scream you learn
You grieve you learn
You choke you learn
You laugh you learn
You choose you learn
You pray you learn
You ask you learn
You live you learn
Alanis Morisette. Lyrics from “You Learn” Jagged Little Pill, 1995; Maverick Records