“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”
― André Berthiaume
Recently I watched a documentary on Ram Dass, the psychology academic turned spiritual seeker (for lack of a better word). I know there’s a lot of pseudo-spiritual BS flying around and a lot of people ready to take advantage of others’ vulnerability and credulity. This guy, as far as I can tell, was not one of them.
The documentary is well worth watching, but here I want to focus on a specific point. Talking to Ram Dass, the interviewer said the following (I reproduce from memory):
We wear different masks in order to be accepted and loved by those around us. It’s sadly ironic because we don’t actually want to be with people who would only accept us because we wear that mask. We want to be seen and accepted for who we are. But we go to such great lengths to wear the masks, no matter how uncomfortable they are. Then, it may happen that we drop the mask. Maybe we’re tired. Hurt. Discouraged. Fed up. Some of those around us will leave, because they don’t recognize us without the mask – or they don’t like us anymore. But some will stay. These are the people we want to be with.
I kept thinking about this. It resonates so much with a large part of my experience.
I wore my masks with devotion. Even in relationships in which I had every reason to believe that I was seen, accepted, loved, I still felt like it’s too much of a risk to drop the mask. In fact, I did not think about it. It happened by default. The mask was so stuck to my face that sometimes I couldn’t tell the face from the mask. I didn’t know exactly how to be without a mask, no matter how uneasy it felt wearing it.
The problem with masks is that, after wearing them long enough, we turn into a version of the grandpa who panics about having lost his glasses while he’s wearing them. Our mask ends up becoming invisible to us.
The consequence is that we suffer because we don’t know if the others care about us as we are or about the mask. But we also suffer because we become less and less able to be without the mask. Less able to manifest and expose ourselves, leaving aside the elaborate stories we’ve built for ourselves and the others.
Dropping the mask may seem like a liberation, and probably it is eventually. However, up to that point there’s a lot of struggling and uneasiness. It makes us feel vulnerable.
But there are moments when it’s a good thing to be vulnerable. To be able to breathe in this space of change and possibility. To take distance from the emotional drama in our heads and watch it like we would watch a soap opera. To suspend judgment and just notice. To let it hurt for a while. To sleep, play, watch, hear, and just be.