Masks are everywhere. Whether you are aware or unaware of this reality, it’s highly likely that you will embody at least one mask during your life. I’m not referring to the more obvious types of masks – Halloween/Mardi Gras, baseball catcher/referee, hockey goalie, welder/construction and painted face masks at carnivals. The type of mask I am referring to is the everyday variety, the seemingly invisible masks that we inhabit to get through the day. Let me explain…..
Observe a baby or young child and you will experience the gift of pure presence unfolding. A hungry, tired or wet baby embodies absolute hunger, exhaustion and/or discomfort. There is no filter or barrier to the baby’s internal experience and almost simultaneous expression of the experience. Fast forward a bit to a young child under the age of five. Once again, at a slightly more sophisticated level, the child will directly express his/her inner experience. If the experience is pleasurable, you will feel their pleasure and vice versa. Self-expression at level is still quite simple – what you see and hear is the actual state of what the child is internally experiencing in the now.
And then, over time and experience, something happens - life. The process of mask construction begins as a child organically learns to hide his/her authentic expression in service of adapting to an adult world. This type of adaptation enables a vulnerable dependent child to optimally function, while increasing the probability of getting his/her needs met. Although this process tends to be a subtle and gradual one, it’s highly powerful in terms of unintentionally learning the skill of hiding one’s genuine self. Ironically, what starts out as an adaptive process, winds up generating many costs to us in terms of our authentic self-expression. The masks we generate as a child with a child’s resources tend to remain as initially created, often to the detriment of our adult self, living in an adult world with adult responsibilities.
A person much wiser than me once commented that we spend the first half of our life trying to appear older than we are and the second half of our life trying to appear younger than we are. A similar concept applies to the development and dismantling of our initially adaptive masks. We start out in life being fully authentically self- expressed and then learn to create and wear masks to survive and hopefully thrive in the world we inhabit. The later portion of life calls us to dismantle our various self-imposed masks and allow our essential nature to be revealed. My image for this is the lotus plant nurtured by the elements of the mud that it grows in, ultimately revealing an incredibly beautiful and previously hidden blossom. Here’s to the process of dismantling our masks!