The masks we wear

“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.

Brussels (2019)

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.

Brussels (2019)

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.

  1. It’s complicated to be human. This reminded me of Fernando Pessoas’s English Poem VIII”

    “How many masks wear we, and undermasks,
    Upon our countenance of soul, and when,
    If for self-sport the soul itself unmasks,
    Knows it the last mask off and the face plain?
    The true mask feels no inside to the mask
    But looks out of the mask by co-masked eyes.
    Whatever consciousness begins the task
    The task’s accepted use to sleepness ties.
    Like a child frighted by its mirrored faces,
    Our souls, that children are, being thought-losing,
    Foist otherness upon their seen grimaces
    And get a whole world on their forgot causing;
    And, when a thought would unmask our soul’s masking,
    Itself goes not unmasked to the unmasking.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes this sounds familiar. For me, the key is not just to drop the mask, but also to find the right style of communication along with the dropping of masks. You can be who you are, deep inside, and still be a friendly, thoughtful person towards others. Both are possible at the same time. And you do not have control over how others respond if you show yourself, but that self-respect is necessary. More important than the opinions of others. But as I said, respect to yourself and to the other can be maintained simultaneously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure, dropping the mask does not mean that you reveal some selfish monster underneath. It is compatible with empathy and care. In fact, it may be the only genuine foundation for empathy. I don’t think you can really accept and care for others unless you do this for yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

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