Take Off That Mask!

What masks do we wear even after Halloween?

Posted Oct 23, 2011

darker masks

Whatever we dress up as for Halloween, we'll be putting masks on top of masks on top of masks. Why we choose the costume we do is interesting unto itself. What's the deal with sexy Big Bird? Really? But I digress. Those masks come off at the end of the night. It's the masks that stay on that we might want to think about: deeply rooted survival masks that we have been fine-tuning since childhood; masks stored for quick use that defend us against hurt and fear. Masks that end up looking like... us.

However our early lives unfolded, life is not an easy affair. To cope, to become socialized, to protect ourselves, to be acceptable in our family of origin, to feel safe, to be loved, to avoid being hit or scolded or shamed.... whatever the outer world thrust at us, we needed to find a way to come to terms with this. Masks were a great idea. Big boys don't cry! Hmmm ok, I must have a mask for that one. Yep, I can find the brave, smile-at-my-pain mask. Be good or else! Ok, I must have a good-girl mask somewhere.

After we layer on our compliant child masks, most of us move on into our defiant child (or teenager) mask. These are, frankly, more fun. You're not the boss of me! That feels like a better mask than I'm sorry. I'll try harder. Every variation of No! and I am my own person! is a mask that tries to claim some of our deeper truth. But rebellious or compliant; pleaser or persecutor; good kid or bad kid, these are masks we wear to survive. And we keep them into adulthood, refining old ones and adding new ones as we go.

mansy masks

Psychology is full of maps and models to elaborate our lives in masks. We have subpersonalities, ego states, defensive structures, armoring. There are many ways to describe how we move from authenticity and non-duality into split, defended and masked ways of being. And far be it from me to suggest we would be better off without a stash of masks to pull on as needed. I like having my Tough as Nails mask, my Be Nice to the Person in Authority mask, my Good Mother mask. They all serve me. I just don't want to confuse the masks I wear with who I am.

And who am I without my masks? Who are you? Who are we all? That's a big question and not easy to answer. Philosophy and poetry and religion (and sometimes psychology) try to answer that, but no one really can, except the person asking. St. Francis is quoted as saying "That which you are looking for is that which is looking." Hmm. Mindfulness meditation reminds us that we are the one who is aware. Psychosynthesis, a spiritual psychology, assumes we are a center of content-less awareness and will. Content-less is the key here. I have a mask but I am not my mask. I have a story and I am more than my story. I have thoughts, feelings, history, desire, conflicts, beliefs, habits (good and bad) and that is not the whole of me.

As we take off our first layer of masks we begin to create the possibility of intimacy. We begin to show ourselves, beyond the good-looking masks and into the darker masks: rage, control, prejudice, greed, fear, doubt, longing... This list is long and personalized so that your hidden masks may be similar to mine, but each of ours has been carefully crafted from the material of our own lives and specifically from the fabric of our own wounding.

A map of our masks

No wonder we'd want to keep on that first I'm really OK mask. But the good news is that beyond the false positive mask and beyond the more deeply shadowed false negative, is the true Self (a good enough term to describe who we are without masks). Here is where we are authentic, unique, and soulful. Here we are not limited by story nor defined by life's experiences, circumstances or other people! In this place where we are what we are looking for, lies a peacefulness and acceptance of our Selves, for who we are deeply and for all our masks.

The path is not simple and it is likely a life's work. But the invitation is clear. We can continue to put on more masks, moving slowly but surely away from our Selves, or we can let some of our masks drop away, slowly revealing more of who we are.

Welcome to the day after Halloween, when we can take off our masks and visit our friends and loved ones, with the simple truth of who we really are as our only costume. And then we will blossom, in ways we cannot even imagine.

Be a lamp unto yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold to the truth within yourself, as to the only truth.

-The Buddha