WHEN THE MASK STARTS TO PEEL OFF
Have you noticed how much turmoil there seems to be in all of our lives? There can be relationships that do not work anymore, anxieties that seem unmanageable, or intense situations that demand our attention.
Most of us rarely slow down enough to feel what is going on in our inner landscape. I usually have to ask people I am treating several times how they are feeling. Unless the person is in acute physical or emotional pain, the first reply is an automatic “fine” or “good”. The second question of “No, really, how are you?” might bring a more true answer. If the person is drinking from the Kool-Aid fountain of New Age spirituality/positive thinking, etc., and the requisite plastered smile, then it can take a lot more prodding to see what is really going on.
The automatic “everything is fine” response is our defense mechanism, the mask that we use to protect ourselves from the outside world. The problem is: that we have been wearing and perfecting these masks for so long that we totally confuse it with we who we really are.
The gift to our true self (and curse to our ego) of these times is that these masks are seriously cracking. Not a pleasant process, as we spend much of our time perfecting and presenting these masks to the world. You know what I am talking about, but if you need some examples just take a look at your favorite social media page: what we present is the outright image of this mask. Our wonderful fun mask, our mysteriously ethereal mask, our sexy mask, or our spiritual mask. Just like a masterful PR firm, we shape and package what we want the world to see and consume about us. That, my friend, is the mask.
We do not do this because we are assholes (although that too can be an effective mask). We do it because we are all so wounded and scared. We all just want to be loved, but do not believe we are worthy of it for who we are. So we spend all this energy presenting a mask that we think can bring it to us. All this tap dancing started at such a young and tender age that we all have forgotten its source and cause. The fear and anxiety in us are so powerful that we will even use mask-removing tools, such as spiritual pursuit, to further keep these masks in place. We can read and quote every master from the beginning of time and not touch the core. Do a gazillion hours of (place your favored) spiritual practice and still be in pain. Even do psychotherapy and not touch it. Until we hit and re-hit a bottom. We are now in a time of communal bottom.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt, indeed. The problem with denial is that we are utterly blind to it. What others can so easily see in us (or us in them) is impossible to see in ourselves. Until we bang our head against the specific issue repeatedly and come to our senses. Depending on the depth of the original wound that led to the denial, this can be years or decades. But we are not being allowed to fester behind the denial and all the rot that comes with it.
Which brings us back to the gift of these times. The masks are being forcefully ripped off. That is why there is so much rupture in personal and social realms. What is not true does not work and it will be removed. We can willfully release it or have it forcibly torn, but go it will.
One of the hardest parts of these times is how much we have to let go: people, places, and things. All of these that kept the festering mask in place will have to be shorn. This, in turn, means that we have to tolerate the anxiety underneath without the anesthetics that we were using to numb it. I know it is uncomfortable, but there is no other way.
Two quick points to keep in mind at this juncture. First, is to tolerate being alone for a bit. It is difficult to let relationships go, especially ones that have been with us for a long time. Once our attempts to communicate, work on, and mend the relationship have failed, it is to time to let go. We do not need to make the other wrong or tar and feather them. Just accept the fact that things do not mesh anymore and be grateful for the time that we did have. All things in our life serve a purpose. Until they do not. At such times of rupture, in Charles Bukowski’s words, isolation is the gift. For a while, not the rest of our lives. So, we have to learn to keep our own company for a bit. A lost art in these times of immediate electronic social (dis)connection.
Secondly, we have to find our internal compass by keeping the focus on us. In times of radical change, we want others to counsel us or we want to use others’ compass as our own. Dangerous business, as being in the unknown is part of the process. It will all be revealed, it always is. Our job is to sit with ourselves until the right path appears. Not comfortable, but this is how it is. So knocking on every door, be it your therapist, astrological forecast, card reading, etc., should only be an adjunct to what you already feel, not the other way around. Use all at your disposal to guide you, but always start and end with your own heart’s voice. Shortcuts here will only delay the journey. As seductive as it is to ask everyone for suggestions, we just have to learn to live in the unknown for a bit. In the meantime, internally pay attention to all stirrings.
Remember why we have to endure all this pain and trauma: certain aspects of our life are not working and are dead. Be they internal or external relationships, the false has to be surrendered so the true can take its place. Why suffer in black and white, when we can live in technicolor? All this hard work is so we can feel the peace that is our birthright, not the numbness that we have confused with it. Those of you who have been courageously laboring are starting to see the fruits I am talking about here. Those at the beginning or in the midst of labor pains: take heart, you are in good hands. There is no more a fierce midwife than your Self.
Be your own valentine. Every day. The sweetest and most true lover has always been looking through your own eyes. Look back and soak it in.