A “tell” is the give-away expression, tic, or tone that signals deception. Deceptive behaviors or statements can run the gamut from indirect wording to blatant lie; from borrowing with the intent to return, to outright stealing. Within the past year or so, I have become more deeply acquainted with another aspect of falsehood: covering.
In this case, covering refers to the smiles and platitudes that my elderly friends and parent resort to when others ask after their well-being. Yesterday shined a light on this behavior, which is why I chose to address the concept today. About 24 hours ago, I was speaking with my mother on the telephone; we talk every morning (except Sundays). As is often the case these days, our conversations entail my attempts to engage her memory about her activities the day before, followed by her deflections when she can not remember. Then, we aim to converse about general thoughts, feelings, or current events, so that memory does not have to play a starring role.
Yesterday, however, I felt compelled to talk with her about covering, as it manifests in elderly behavior. I explained that although she may think she is “saving” her loved ones from the reality of her cognitive challenges, the covering makes it difficult for us to help her. The conversation continued, and my mother seemed interested by my words. At one point, however, I realized that her light-hearted tone conveyed not acceptance, but was another layer of covering.
It was then that we decided to chat about the weather, the cover-all cover-topic.
A few hours after that conversation, I visited an elderly friend. In the first minutes of my arrival, her 93-year-old friend joined us. As I listened to their discussion about their current physical challenges, I was struck when the two commiserated about their frustration with the question, “How are you doing?” They agreed that the “best” thing to do was lie: i.e., supply the questioner with a generally optimistic answer.
As I processed my morning’s encounter with the different aspects of and perspectives on covering, I had to contemplate a tendency of mine. For as long as I can remember, I have pushed others to tell their truth: Battering questions and pointed comments were my technique of choice with family; friends and acquaintances were met with a softer approach. Yet, in all instances, I have come to recognize that my motivation stems not from wanting to exalt Truth, but from needing the other person to know that I am not fooled by their deception.
With this acknowledgement that my warrior stance on truth-telling emanates from a place of defiance, I first must confront my own set of inner “tells.” As I doggedly seek the truth—or pound that need into someone else—my throat constricts and my head pounds; most prevalent is a feeling of heat surging through my neck and ears. These are sure signs of Upper Chakra overload: Thought and expression imbued with divine grace have been suffocated by earthbound Ego’s need to prevail.
And in the moments when I feel the pull to create my own covers or deflections, I almost immediately sense the tell-tale warning in my torso. My ribs and belly tighten, yet my heart droops, as if hanging its head in shame. Further, there is a silent roar of sounds and voices that rise up from the base of my spine, begging me to forego the lie. With the aim to “save myself” by altering the truth, I succeed only in upsetting my center and my foundation: The Lower Chakras signal their dismay by rising up to settle me down.
So, this Silent Sunday is less of a practice, and more of a perhaps uncomfortable task: an exercise of intrepid self-honesty and -discovery. It can be intimidating to converse with yourself about your deepest, darkest truths: The fear of being “found out” remains, even when the investigator is yourself.
Yet, when we confront our worst tendencies or thought patterns, the cover-up is over. And when we can compassionately address our own missteps, our ability to respond compassionately to others—even their cover-stories—begins to grow. Today (or any day), when you have some minutes for solitude and contemplation, take your own hand—your own heart—and lead it gently into an honest conversation. Breathe, and begin.