The masks we wear

Over the years I have heard and experienced so much around masks. It is even, in a way, old hat to even talk about masks, but their unconscious existence keeps popping up like that single sock.

One thing that always amuses me is when I am sitting in a cafe, which I do on special occasions, and all of a sudden out of the blue, beep-beep... beep-beep... beep-beep. The person I'm sitting with who belongs to the mobile phone picks it up, and whammo, the mask instantly appears, or drops as the case may be. All business like, none of the silliness which they'd been full of a moment earlier, as though a veil had been drawn over their face.

Alternatively, the veil drops, their face opens wider than Kakadu, and honey, they're gone, eyes shining too brightly to look at, legs stretched out as they slip, in their "feeling body", back into the sheets of the promised land.

Yes folks, it is apparent whenever we slip into "something more comfortable". The masks we have so carefully cultivated over years of study of any navel we've been able to get close enough to: the persona, oh so cool, so deliberate, so informed, so intelligent, so wonderful, so relaxed about your lover not answering your calls for a week, so unaffected by the latest work-for-the-dole-scheme, or by that gorgeous... who's sitting on the next table making it really hard to remember how many sugars you need today; all these and more are utterly obvious to all your friends. It doesn't matter if we wear masks or not, our friends see straight through them anyway.

Some people feel they need to hide and deliberately create masks so that the 'world' can't see who they really are. Mostly those who are really "successful" in the world are those who are the most proficient at creating and wearing masks. Others aren't aware that they are afraid of being seen, and live behind a mask anyway, in fact many masks. The mask for the lover, the one for the coffee shop, for the employer/ee, for the flatmate, the friend, virtually anyone in our lives we relate to.

For me one of the attractions of being with a master, in my case Osho, is that sometimes I feel accepted enough to let the mask slip. Those who have journeyed along the inner path are aware that it is a matter of sifting through the different layers, in much the same way as peeling an onion, and that identification is the first step towards dropping the dependency on the mask. Most of our masks we like, and feel that they are necessary to our survival, and a lot of them simply hide what we perceive as ugliness.

Few people have never slipped a mask on when they are feeling rage, fear, pain, neediness, even love. It feels to me to be a matter of trusting that we can live without masking who we are, to show ourselves in all our glory, in all our insecurity. To throw caution to the wind, to risk that the people in our lives who are important to us will still like us when they know that we are just like them. That we haven't "gotten it together", that we are, in terms of our own evolution, where we are, that we aren't beyond all of "that stuff", that irky-pirky stuff that jumps up like a jack-in-the-box when we least expect it.

We get ideas, perhaps from Osho, from anyone whose opinion we value, of how we should live our lives, how we should be in relationship, whatever, and then we try to live according to this wonderful "ideal". Great idea.

However, we aren't always ready to live like that, possibly full of possessiveness, insecurity, mistrust, and this creates a dilemma. It appears that everyone else has transcended these things, and not willing to be seen to be slow, retarded, dumb, a coward, so well, what to do? Put on a mask, pretend that we are where we would like to be, as if it is really a better place to be, and bullshit to ourselves and those around us that we are mature, evolved, a real disciple, an authentic seeker.

Gurus and teachers are wonderful for that, bursting bubbles just by speaking about them, with so much love and compassion, making masks redundant. Masters aren't really interested in the facade, only what is lying inside, their concern being to bring that out into the open, uncovering the Buddha, and for that it seems necessary to let go of all beliefs and ideology which are after all, just masks also.   

Any identity, or belief, can be seen as a mask, whether it is a sannyasin identity, a wealthy one, a creative one, even a more loving one, a less jealous one, anything that we identify with, that we feel is a comfortable identity to wear. The thing to me appears to bring consciousness to what masks we wear, and to try living without them.

Published in the Here & Now magazine, August 1999

Related to - Musings about ... | Inner questioning

By Mark O'Brien

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