We all wear masks, it’s part of being human. We put on the costume of the role we think we need to play — loving wife, efficient employee, enthusiastic volunteer — and go out into the world dressed in what ends up becoming both an armored, and an invisibility cloak. Many times, that role we play can end up feeling more real than our true selves.
Work and family are two of the biggest stages where we dress up for a role, and because they take so much time (sometimes all your time), that role can become more and more identified as self.
When people are retired or laid off, the upswell of depression and anger is staggering. When children grow up and leave the home, parents are left looking at one another as if they’re strangers. These aren’t inevitable outcomes, but they do illustrate the danger of letting our roles become our selves, while our selves slip under the layers of masks we think are necessary.
Who am I?
“I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.” ~ Walt Whitman
A question for the ages: Who the heck am I? I think as humans we yearn for a sense of control and ultimate understanding. We seek guarantees, black and white descriptions, categories and labels and consistency.
So when this question pops up, we’re so often looking for something really concrete. That’s how we slip into those roles in the first place. I’m an accountant for a toy company. I have an ex-husband, two kids. I play D&D. I’m funny. Things we can write in a little notebook and keep track of.
But life is a whole lot more slippery — and more expansive — than a description. You are not the things you’ve done in your past (because let’s face it, everything you’ve ever done is behind you), just as you are not your potentiality, those things you haven’t done yet.
Instead, you’re this amazing, ever-shifting, logic-defying being that came from God, is made of God, and will return to God having experienced all the incredible things a single human being gets the opportunity to experience. You are a bonafide miracle, and miracles defy logic.
Taking off the mask
“People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous.” ~ Regina Spektor
When we hide, we are safe. It’s a natural reaction of a threatened creature to find a place that is as far away from the threat as possible. When we see the world — other people — as a threat, we find that dark, safe place within ourselves, buried deep so no one can find us. Nudging that true self out of hidden can be terrifying, especially if it’s been down there for years.
Fear of being hurt and fear of rejection often fuel the desire to stay hidden. And I have to be honest here: not every attempt to come out into the world as your real self will be successful. Many times I have felt like I reached one shaking hand out, only to have it bitten by some snarling beast I wasn’t prepared for.
Disheartening, yes, but not a reason to not try.
The Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist teachings, the Bible, all of these and more urge people to let go of the thought that we can control the outcome of our actions.
We don’t get to choose whether this person was friendly or not, even if we did go into a situation with the best intentions and an open heart. More often than not, you will find others who respond — sometimes in dramatic ways — to even your first baby steps of unveiling yourself.
Pushing through your comfort zone
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ~ Mary Schmich
One of the best ways to see past your roles and into the depth of your self is to do something scary. Something out of your comfort zone, either a little, or a lot. We exist inside this sphere of comfort.
When you push up against the first boundary and move into a place of discomfort, you begin to learn about yourself and the world.
When you push too far past, though, you move into danger, and risk the possibility of snapping back into your comfort zone and making it an even smaller space. Stay learning, but don’t force yourself into situations where you can’t see for all the fear around you.
The cool thing about a comfort zone is that it grows. Soon, what was learning becomes comfort, and what was danger becomes learning. The point is to get yourself doing something that doesn’t fit into your preconceived notion of yourself.
You can try making a list of all the things you swear you aren’t. I’m not a cook, I don’t do computers, I’m not a people person. Then find something to capitalize on one of those things and go into it with the idea that you’re just trying it on to see if it fits. No one is going to make you buy a new mask to wear — the goal is to shake off the masks you’ve been wearing.
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