So, what is holding you back in your spiritual life (or elsewhere)?
Could it be a limiting idea? Perhaps the kind mentioned in a previous post: What’s Holding You Back? Don’t Step On The Lines!
Or, is it the ‘masks’ that we all wear, that keep us from being less than authentic? That’s what we’re exploring here…
Zeitgeist: In our modern society we are usually told we need something ‘extra’, and informed that someone else has that something ‘extra’ (and usually for a price), and that we’re just five steps away (sometimes more, sometimes less) from obtaining it, and all we need is willpower (or money).
And so, I turn on the tv, open the magazine, check what’s been pushed through my letterbox; in all probability a lot of the advertising will be about how deficient I am.
If I have the latest mobile phone, well, a newer version has just been released and I should have it. Bought a tv last year? Well, now there’s higher-higher-higher definition, and if you don’t have it, you’re losing out.
And it’s the same in the realm of spirituality. You ‘ought to do this’, or ‘you should do that’, is the mantra of our age.
It’s the modern, spiritual equivalent of the VPL.
All very modern, all very ‘correct’, and for the spiritual person it may appeal. It probably will appeal because, although we’re spiritual people, we live in a ‘modern’ and less-than-spiritual society and so, unknowingly, we’re at the mercy of ‘modern’, non-spiritual methods to obtain the spirituality we so want, and we ‘lap it up’. We do! But, don’t tell anyone that! After all, it feels right, much to the delight of advertisers, we’re told it must be right, yes? Well, maybe it isn’t!
And so, I realised that I have a need, but ‘modernity’ packages it and the solution in a very non-spiritual, but appealing way.
Why remove masks? Because, if we want to live our life to the full, to be fully alive, grown up and mature, we have to take our masks off, we’re told. They limit us. They get in the way.
Wearing a mask will hold us back, and it may get in the way as we relate to others.
And so, finally, I have to admit that I want to remove a mask, but I’m fearful. What will others think of me? And so I live with it. And feel as though I’m living life in first gear only.
Watch out for ego. Ofcourse, it is the interplay of the ego, here, that is behind our masks. The ego isn’t the enemy, but sometimes (and maybe most times) bless it’s little cotton socks, it tries to exaggerate its usefulness to us, and forgets its place as protector, and falsely takes pride of place in our life if we’re unaware. Then, we can so identify with our ego, we actually think it is us, and it’s not. You are more!
‘I fear the many faces, many personalities in me. Sometimes I fail to understand my self and become deceived by my various selves.’ Ama H. Vanniarachchy
How to recognise your mask(s): You might be able to recognise your mask by being introspective: take time out from your busy schedule to sit quietly one evening, meditate or contemplate (however you interpret those words) and ask yourself soul-searching questions about how you portray yourself to others, and how others may perceive you (these are often are two different things)? You might go for a hike away from interruptions and think deeply about what masks you might have, and their effect on. You can write your findings in a journal for later use.
‘The only journey is the one within.’ ‘Rainer Maria Rilke
You might recognise masks in others. In one sense this may be easier. I confess that I see some of the masks that other people wear – only because in doing so I see that I share the same mask.
If we surround ourselves with people who are similar to us (and we probably we have a tendency to do that), then those around us may share some of the same mask as us – that’s logical – and then, it makes it easier to ‘name’ that mask in us.
‘She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.’
― Shel Silverstein
How to remove masks: The ‘modern’ way of using willpower can be quite ‘brutal’, and may not actually succeed. Those who have tried to diet and failed will now the fallacy of using willpower. But, maybe there’s more. Another way. A deeper way. A better way? More about that, later.
‘Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape. John O’Donohue
The ‘modern’ solution, particularly if you’re a person suited to tangible action, may be to:
– Write out your life-story, so far, in a journal. You can be ultra-honest in your journal because no one, but you, will ever see it. In it you can write about the real you, and yes you can write about the masks and how they affect you. A journal gives you the opportunity to explore, ‘think aloud’, and experiment with solutions on paper. Why, you might even decide to write about yourself from the viewpoint of a total stranger, someone who has just come into your life and write from their perspective.
– Catch yourself every time you have a ‘ought to’, or ‘should be’, over-correcting thought. It’s easy to be over-perfecting, over=spending, over-analysing or over-caring (as it awaiting for the approval of others etc). Some like to wear an elastic band around one wrist, and to ‘ping’ it every time one (selected) mask ‘shows’ up as a limiting thought. This can be quite useful – though I’d recommend you don’t do this eleastic-band exercise for more than a week. Being aware of the myriad of thoughts you have is good.
– Remind yourself that you are not the mask. You are capable able of being objective, of standing apart from those unwelcome, limiting masks. And, if you can do that, then you can see them for what they are.
These can work. There is nothing wrong with the three exercises above, but, there’s more!
‘For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?’ 1 Corinthians 2:11a, The Book
But, maybe there’s another way, deeper way, a better way? The ancient solution, the Celtic wisdom way, the way of deep spirituality is: mindfulness, of going deeper, and realising that you are more than ego or willpower.
And so, I meditated. Focusing on the word ‘Peace’ initially, I ‘surrendered’ all to God and just sat there with my eyes closed. Apophatic meditation, the Prayer of Centering. Thoughts came and went, but I paid no attention. And, then half an hour later I opened my eyes, knowing that I had spent time with God, and knowingly, deliberately, so. Deep within I knew that I was, you are, more than what we think we are, and more accepted that we can possibly know (at them moment).
This is where meditation, or contemplation, or self-reflection come in. Such ways of ‘working’ will ‘tune in’ to all that is holy, wholesome and substantial. At this stage, some will ‘switch off’ and consider this and the above-mentioned paragraph a spiritual cul de sac or heresy. But, that notion and response, I believe, has more to do with superficial ‘modernity’ and the current state of our society and the way it affects our thinking (unknowingly), and has little to do with ancient belief. Sorry to be so candid. In such cases, we do ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, unawares.
‘The mystery of your presence can never be reduced to your role, actions, ego or image. You are an eternal presence; this is the ancient reason why you are here.’ John O’Donohue.
Consider keeping a few masks?: Ofcourse, you might like to hold onto a few masks. You won’t hear this often.. But, mask-removal can be tough.
You might want to keep a mask because it’s like:
– a surgeons mask: Some masks might actually protect you, and you might feel are necessary at the stage you are at. A surgeon wears a mask, literally, to protect him/herself and the patient. A police officer who might show their true feelings. might not be the person you want to stand between you and a criminal. Sometimes, a bluff is okay (in the short term), and
– a sticky plaster: You may have been hurt in the past, or fearful of some current situation, and the mask is covering up a psychological wound or tough memory. They may be a time when it’s right to remove the mask, but not yet. Maybe, healing has to take place, first. And, it may be the case that you might need something in place of it and that isn’t possible just yet. Waiting can be useful, and
– a contract: We all have ‘unwritten rules’ that we live to, and maybe in a relationship the stripping away of a mask may be too much, too soon, for you or the other person? Then, out of respect for yourself and/or the other party, and for the relationship to grow, waiting to remove a mask may be the right course of action.
‘Do you think you wear a mask?’
‘I’m wearing one right now.’ Valentino smiled softly. ‘We both are.’
‘It’s a sad thought.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But sometimes I wonder about the alternative. Imagine if we had no secrets, no respite from the truth. What if everything was laid bare the moment we introduced ourselves?’
(Catherine Doyle, Vendetta)
What Next? Take it one day at a time. We’re all on a journey. And, you’re doing okay! And, if you want to start with the removal of one mask, that’s cool, too. But, take it slowly, consider the implications to yourself and others, don’t ‘beat yourself up about it’, and make it a joyful exercise and not a chore. Enjoy the journey.
‘It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.’ Ursula K. Le Guin