Earlier this week, a client asked why we were wearing veils.
“So men don’t fall in love with us,” I blurted out. “I don’t want them focused on us as people.”
Which is true. But there’s much, much more to it than that….
Bridging the physical gap between humans is simple, yet complicated. Touch is fraught for many people who have been touched in ways that make them distrust the motives of others. When a client walks into our space for a session, we have enormous amounts of respect for the bravery of the person who shows up to be touched by a stranger, and a reverence for the potential to harm or heal through said touch. The encounter must be extraordinary, and singular.
What could possibly be extraordinary than paying money to let a stranger touch you?
Letting a stranger wearing a veil touch you. Make that two strangers wearing veils.
You have come for a Karuna Session because you are hurting. You’re not sure what to expect, but a friend assured you that it will cure what’s ailing you. Per the instructions on the door, you walk into an empty room. Sure it’s beautiful, but there’s nobody there. Is this an ambush? Are they going to steal your wallet and phone? You try to stay calm and breathe, but your heart feels like it’s going to bust out of your chest like the creature in Alien.
You detect movement from another part of the room, and a woman steps out. Your confusion and nervousness grows. She’s wearing a veil! You are unable to scan her face for the normal clues that would tell you how to treat her. Is she young? Old? Beautiful? Ugly? Is she your sister? Your mother? Your ex-girlfriend? What is she hiding behind there? Should you be afraid?
Should you bow? Shake her hand? Stand up? Remain seated? What the hell have you gotten yourself into? Furiously you try to access the “where have I encountered a woman in a veil?” file in your brain (your cell phone has been silenced and put away, so it’s of no use). You have probably seen a veiled woman standing at the altar getting ready to say “I do,” but there is nary a wedding dress in sight. The only other women who seem to wear veils are from the Middle East and, well, according to many, “those people” are terrorists.
Yep, fear seems like the proper reaction in this situation. At the very least, it’s really fucking weird. An experience that will likely be strange has gone from strange to stranger to strangest in the blink of an eye.
You keep thinking about that little scrap of fabric that obscures her face. While wearing a veil can be religious, more often than not it’s theatrical and symbolic. Belly dancers often rock ‘em. The dance of the seven veils was mythologized when King Herod asked Salome to perform that seductive bump and grind for him (that didn’t turn out so hot for John the Baptist, now did it?).
But Inana, not Salome, was the Original Stripper, and said dance was named for her descent to the Underworld. Inanna decides to take a trip to the down under to visit her dark sister, Ereshkigal. As she descended through the seven gates, at each stage she lost one of her royal raiments, until she arrived at the bottom naked and unadorned. She had everything that makes her a queen stripped away.
This may or may not be a metaphor for leading an authentic life.
Regardless whether a veil signifies mystery or modesty, a woman wearing one is rarely encountered. While you might know how to interact with someone wearing a surgical, welding or Mardi Gras mask, this is uncharted, unfamiliar territory. The best course of action is to follow her lead, and let her guide you through the encounter.
Which is the point.
When we get into situations where the usual social norms and niceties don’t apply, we don’t know how to behave. Sometimes this can be a bad thing: we tend to freeze up or look away when we see a bully picking on someone weaker. But other times, it allows the rules of engagement to be rewritten and we get to interact in an entirely new way.
We have lots of fear around strangers, and our usual response upon meeting one is caution. This story about humanity is drilled into our heads by our parents, our teachers, our siblings, our friends and our media. We are told they will do us harm, steal from us, tell us lies or – THE WORST - touch us in ways we don’t like and didn’t agree to. (Of course, unless a person is in your immediate family, everybody starts out as a stranger, though some come pre-approved by people you know and trust.)
But what if these veiled strangers didn’t behave as you’ve been told strangers often behave? What if they were kind and generous? What if they gave instead of taking? What if they welcomed your tenderness and vulnerability, and met it with compassion and empathy? What if they paid attention to your needs and invited you to take off your own veil and rest for a bit? What if they cared for you, respected your boundaries and made you feel good?
What if you felt safe with them?
What if they touched you, and not only was it not weird, but it felt good?
Would you maybe, just maybe, tell a different story to yourself about strangers after you walked out the door?
Anything is possible.
You also might tell yourself a different story about people you already know, or people you would like to know better. One thing I’ve learned from doing this work is that most of us wouldn’t know a healthy boundary if we bumped into it, especially when it comes to touch. It’s no one’s fault, really: we don’t teach relationship skills in school and popular culture often portrays non-consensual touch as the gold standard for seduction. Being clear around likes and dislikes, getting consent and having well-defined parameters for a relationship are foreign concepts.
When a client comes in for a session, we do our damnedest to model a healthy, respectful interaction that keeps them in control, so the next time they encounter someone who is doing it wrong, they might speak up about what they need or extricate themselves quickly when clearly stated boundaries are ignored. At the very least, they will have a much better idea that someone is crossing their boundaries when it happens.
Every last detail of a Karuna Session is carefully designed to make you feel surprised, delighted, curious and nurtured. We invite you to step into a different world with new possibilities and lessons. You never know what you might find out about yourself...and strangers.