Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Finite Mask That Covers the Infinite

Joseph Campbell is probably our best known contemporary expert on the subject of masks, and his work including his massive studies, Masks of God and Masks of Eternity, offer his keen insight into our own abilities to don a mask and uncover the masks we find.
What is it about us that put on our masks? What about us creates the need for one? When do we confuse our mask with who we really are? When are masks useful and when do they become obstacles for us?
I’m not talking about the functional, physical mask such as theatrical, surgical, protect and disguise mask etc. I am talking about the mask of persona, the way we pretend to be one way and are really another. Politesse is a good example and can often be a cultural custom. When our words and mannerisms are polite, but our actions and innuendos aggressive, we are wearing a mask. When we profess undying love as a means to an end, and walk away in the morning light, we are wearing a mask. Sometimes, we lose sight of our own masks and are confused about who we really are. Why?
What do YOU think?
Artwork by Susan Seddon Boulet Many thanks.


Christopher said...

For some people their world is an inner state of misery covered with a thin veneer of happy or joy. The veneer was originally created as a mask to present to the outside, but the person has come to believe the veneer as being true.

Juli said...

The inner pain people experience can be the result of life experiences, or simply the failure to develop an awareness of the alternatives. Either way, it takes courage to examine then face the reality of where you are at any given time.

The veneer of happiness can alternately be an affirmation of what reality the individual is trying to create, or it can be , as you say, a mask. perhaps the trick is to respond to the pleasure and joy of everyday existence, while also examining and changing the individual's relationship to the self.

Amy said...

How to interact with the true reality of the self underneath the mask, and not superficially by accepting the mask as truth (when we know or suspect this to be the case) without hurting, offending, or crushing spirit? -------for me, this is the question.

Hillie said...

When in a state of being, the feelings of joy and bliss are permanent. 'Being' is just that.
A friend of mine, who, when asked how he was, he told me: great!! I have a good thing happen to me ALMOST every day.

It was a that point, that I realized that the feeling of wellness, the feeling of gratitude for every tiny thing that happens, that feeling that is so nestled in your whole being, in your bones..... most people grasp for that. Always reaching for it, and when they experience even a fraction of that, they have to share that experience.

Joy and bliss is an inert part of our being, we instinctively know, but fear loosing that all empowering (however temporary) feeling of victimhood. It would mean taking full responsibility for our life, instead of waiting for others to fix us. It would mean going into the dark depths of our inner being, and deal with the fears that we store down there.

Christopher said...

Is your spirit so easily hurt, offended or crushed?

Amy said...

So it's only the ego that can be hurt, offended or crushed... I ultimately was referring to the spirit as what keep us uplifted, postivie, and hopeful.

I'm speaking about working with people everyday from a coaching/managing/in the work place perspective.

Yes, people have ego/pride/etc, but try to stay positive. But when the mask is not validated and the ego is not coddled, they can become resentful, unwilling, and unreachable. I'm currently learning how to use the language of the heart and common purpose to communicate in these situations.

Joshua said...

My masks include an image of a socially underdeveloped and emotionally immature nerd who can't be trusted to deal with any harsh realities and so must be protected by his relatively skilled and mature companions. I used to work pretty hard at this, often telling stories about my sheltered, conservative youth or about mistakes I made in my twenties that most people made in their teens.

Over the past year or so, in increasingly frequent situations, I can trade this mask for that of a belligerent, loud-mouthed, shit-caller with zero tolerance for exactly the sort of treatment the earlier mask invited. While donning belligerence I say some pretty rude and insulting things to my close friends, but they just laugh and think it's funny -- I suppose they're happy to see me being a bit less childish.

Another mask I like is one that wraps up a bunch of my older ideals about what it means to be a good person: rational, calm, dependable, mature, wise, and solid. Sometimes I react with subtle, passive-aggressive hostility towards anyone who challenges this. I might even try to make people feel like they have less of these qualities than I do, so that they'll listen to me more respectfully and without interrupting me. I really hate being interrupted. I also support this by picking up mannerisms and communication styles from people who seem to have these qualities - sometimes so much that people notice I'm acting a lot like someone else they know.

Hillie said...

There are three self's, from which we function. Our authentic self, that which was never born and will never die. That, which was the same when you were 3 or 12 or 50 or 80. It's that recognition of hey how come when I look in the mirror I look like 55 but I feel no different from when I was 16. The authentic self is the witness, it stands back and watches whatever is arising. Your thoughts, your feelings but isn't affected by any of them. It just is.

Then there is the ground of being... the place we go when we meditate, or in dreamless deep sleep. It is that vast space of nothingness, it's not an object, it also just is.

And last there is our Ego. From there comes every negative feeling, or thought...It questions everything, it tells us that we are not good enough, and therefor we need to bring out the box of B.S. to find something to cover up those feelings. the Masks.

What do you mean by spirit? Neither the 'Ground of being' or the 'Authentic Self' can ever be affected by anything or anyone. Think teflon, everything just slides right off, it has no meaning.
The only one holding on to it's existence is the ego, because that is the only part of us that can and will eventually die. Watch for the contraction in the solar plexus... that is the ego upping the stress level in our body.
The ego tends to hold on to the past and thinks it can control the future. Learn to only be in this moment, use the Authentic Self, the Witness, to become aware of the games your ego plays with you. Stand back and watch your thoughts, watch your actions and you'll be surprised how cunning that part of us has

Stacie said...

Hello Hello, Well yes I do believe we all wear many masks at different points of our day,or even lives, this is some times necessary. These masks do need to be peeled off to feel your innermost feelings for growth to occur. Being happy a majority of the time is possible, as it is just a state of mind. So you think, so you feel. I have experienced, in my past, bouts of depression and anxiety, so I really do know the difference between the different masks you wear. Will get back to this topic, must fly, have to put my happy mask on.

Stacie said...

Hello Hello, Well yes I do believe we all wear many masks at different points of our day,or even lives, this is some times necessary. These masks do need to be peeled off to feel your innermost feelings for growth to occur. Being happy a majority of the time is possible, as it is just a state of mind. So you think, so you feel. I have experienced, in my past, bouts of depression and anxiety, so I really do know the difference between the different masks you wear. Will get back to this topic, must fly, have to put my happy mask on.

Hillie said...

Masks are only needed, when you have something to cover up.
With taking responsibility for ones thoughts and actions, comes transparency. When you are transparent, you don't need any more masks. You don't even want a mask.

Happiness, as in something or someone is making me happy, is a temporary state. So are depression and anxiety.... all ego driven.

Happiness, as in contentment, is permanent, but you have to become transparent and you have take full responsibility for all your thoughts and actions.

Even during difficult times, sickness or loss, that feeling of contentment will not leave you. It gives you strength and clarity to create the next moment to the best of your potential. No need for a mask ever!

Christopher said...

I sometimes don masks to protect others, more than a need to protect myself. Other times the mask is a convenience.

Nikhil said...

Uncertain rejectional based cynic. To know is to prove, to prove is to understand, to understand is to be. Its a flawed belief.

The decisions I make, the things I devote my attention to are based on my perceptions, the reality of which I have no grounding for. Therefore, on what do I base my action? Where do I find a reference for how I should act?

Feryal said...

What is hapiness
At what cost re we happy
Ineer tranquality inner silence is ok by me
but happiness sucks
Whenever I m happy someone else suffers somewhere else
I guess Budhha is right
Nothing but suffering
And All these people re trying to get connected with the Whole.
These little magic words re nothing but Self Affirmations.
So I wouldnt call it pseudo-spiritual community
Where there is a good intention ,there is hope and growth
Lets not judge one another

Pauline said...

Good question. When going through a confusing and hurtful period I think most us put on masks to protect ourselves as you mentioned in your first paragraph. Years ago I wrote:

I meet my face in every shining surface.
My faces follow me in all my one-act plays.
I am a bad actor but my faces protect me.
I take care to pick a suitable one for each occasion.
i have forgotten what I look like.
Would my real face please stand up?

Having got that out of the way, most of the time purely social masks are very useful....our parents called them "Manners."

Another example is when something happens out of the blue and one needs some time to deal with it, I've found a mask comes in handy. I guess one has to see a mask for what it is and discard it when it is no longer useful.
But, I too wonder about people who "doth protest too much".

Joey said...

My favorite mask recently is one of "equanimity." I avoid expressing negative emotions, either through my words, tone of voice, physical posture, or facial expressions.

I think masks are unavoidable; our external presentation will always be a half-truth. So for now I try to pick masks that make me more aware of my internal workings, rather than less.

Nadine said...

Aside from the fact that most of the comments above seem to indicate that your "ego" is the one entity that is most vulnerable to being easily hurt, offended or crushed, but what exactly controls your ego? The ego can be comprised of a complex web of emotions that don't serve us well... for example "your hurt me"..."I'll get you back"..."so I'll put on my mask so that you will not see that you hurt me and made me angry".... so there!

It is my view that the vulnerability lies within a predominate "child" within our inner self. It is my observation that many people are actually behaving like children within an adult body. As such, when the child part of your psyche or your "adult" is responding to a situation, or guarding against a toxic person or situation, which mask is being worn by which entity within our inner self....or in the alternative, can it be possible to be wearing two masks at once? Unless an individual who has done their inner work, recognizing that their "child" is predominant, it would be prudent to use the "STOP" method which will allow the adult within your inner self to take back the control it truly should in order to maintain balance. Accordingly, it is interesting to determine which entity wears a mask most often.... the mask of the hurt, offended or angry "child", or the logical, undefeated "adult" in control?

As such, does your "adult" part of your inner-self require a mask at all...or is it our "little one" who wears charade of many masks?

Pauline said...

"If you can tell me....." One of my grandchildren, when he was about 5 or six refused point blank to have his face painted or wear a mask for Halloween. Why? "Because then I wouldn't be me anymore: I'd be someone else."
When it gets right down to it, we can get rid of most of our masks or learn to use them as necessary, but the last one, the final one beneath all the others? Good luck!

Chris White said...

I've been an actor for all of my adult life. Mask-work is one of the most interesting and revealing activities you can undertake. It's difficult work and should never be undertaken without an experienced practitioner or teacher, but it can open up so much of our interior life.

One thing any experienced mask-worker will tell you is that you can tell more about a person from the mask they choose to wear than you could if they were wearing no mask at all.

Pauline said...

Your last sentence immediately reminded me of someone I know and you are right. Although, behind the mask (which was habitual in social and more personal situations) was another mask. Sometimes that cracked, not taken off, and then one could glimpse why the first two were necessary for her. Oddly enough when I think about it, the first mask was similar in some respects to what was behind the second. I think my 5yr old grandson summed it up very well.

I don't know about anyone else but these days I keep my masks (the ones I am familiar with) hanging up with my clothes and pick one to go with my outfit and the activity I am about to take part in. I have no compunction in doing so. It is just plain sense. Besides, the masks I wear are just different facets of who I am. I have no illusions that any particular one tells the whole story.

Lisa Holliday Lee said...

reminds me of the "positive/negative" thought "stories" I had for so long, and still do somedays, and isn't that just dandy! Grin.

And this jumps to Wave/Particle Duality as described in quantum physics. (Note to lovers of the sciences.. also check out the Heisenberg uncertainty principle via google, and of course I recommend Dr. Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". And I am psyched, Stephen, that the latest emergency turned ... the direction of Body to this place.... :-)

And "thought doesn't protest to much?" LOL, I am hooked on phonics....

Again, Danke for these continued topics that remind me to look... within. Or Not.

Molly Brogan said...

Most of us are taught at a very early age how to act in public (polite), but we discover for ourselves how to connect and be with the larger society. One teaches us to create the masks, the other teaches us how to remove them.

Bonnie said...

The me that you see is always a mask of one kind or another. What else could it be. Without the mask there would be nothing to see.

Phil said...

I think I know what you are saying, Bonnie, as in, the real Self, what is there to see? But i think there is an important distinction to be made between the premeditated 'me' with all the agendas we all know so well, and the innocence of the spontaneous 'me' with no hidden agendas.

The small child has no mask, and yet there are wonders to behold. Wild horses wear no masks, and yet such freedom and beauty and grace.

Nick said...

We all have emotional needs. When our emotional needs are not being met, we do what we must, in order to get our emotional needs met. The more a person has a history of unmet emotional needs, the more that person becomes needy. This is what causes people to hide behind psychological facades ("masks").

In my humble opinion, being needy is the biggest cause of divorce in our society today.

Olivier said...

masks r layers...for each situation a layer...that's how we r...for time and creation is...sceals have to be to separate and long as there's evolution...eyes r the reason

Thomas said...

Wasn't it Shakespear who has answered that question?

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

No play without masks.

Molly Brogan said...

Shakespeare's characters used masks to either disguise, or allow the expression of otherwise difficult emotion.
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Geoffrey said...

I've always been fascinated by Joseph Campbell's work. Despite his many years of constant lecturing there is still a widespread misunderstanding of myths being equated with lies. My response to your question would be that we often wear masks or hide behind a projected persona because we feel we need to protect ourselves from others. It is very much a function of our ego - the need to define ourselves by our story and what we do etc. Many of us live in a constant state of low level fear and dis-ease disconnected from our natural state of bliss. I think the real challenge for many right now is to find the reality beyond our own masks and the masks of others - to contact and know that reality within ourselves and in the world of form around us.

countsneaky said...

I think it was Mark Twain who said that if you want someone to tell you the truth, give them a mask to hide behind. A very astute observation. We are in this society surrounded by mask wearers. But these masks are artificial personas generated for purposes of entertainment, employment, politics, and commercial purposes. In fact, we wear so many masks each day that it requires real discernment to separate them.Samuel Clemens, of course hid behind the mask of Mark Twain and was able to tell the truth because he knew who he was. So many of us do not really know who were are, much less, know ourselves that the making and maintaining masks is a very stressful full-time job. Self-knowledge is the only known antidote to all of this stress, bad behavior, and lack of concern for others.Put down your masks and treat the other mask wearers with concern and care and you probably will be happy.

Tim said...

It is so true. We have ceased referring to our being - instead we counsel our "understanding" - our "knowledge" - which are purely piecemeal. Imposing limitations, judgements, conceptualisations - not only on our world, but on ourselves - burying the true nature of our experience - infinite - behind a mask of the finite, or defined. A mask which only exists inside our minds. A false security built from the known - when the majesty, the mystery, the power, the potential - all lies within the unknown and unknowable - our being. Where is the doorway into our being? Right here - right now - in the surrendered silence, the fullness of acceptance, no imagined voids that require filling - only the casting out, those ghosts of sorrow - that require us to live forever tomorrow.

Phil said...

There's nothing wrong with responding to the situation you find yourself in. It may be fear or anger or joy or repulsion or comfort. We sometimes imagine an 'enlightened' response is always positive, but this is just another mask. Slap a guru in the back of the head and see what happens. Love-n-light? Maybe not. Better run!

Lee said...

I shall ask, are these masks we put on or are they just different facets of who we are?

When the man pleads undying love and then walks away after getting what he wants. Is he wearing a mask or can it be said that he is simply showing us that facet of himself that we may well call rattish?

Molly Brogan said...

Well, is a rat capable of undying love? If so, then I would say no mask was worn. If not, then he was donning the mask of the lover.

Allan said...

If I am pissed at somebody I am pissed,, why try and hide it.. if I like some one , I like them why hide it,, my wife tells me I am a grouchy old man,, now that is a mask I do use because it is really cool or sitting in a crowd quietly with my eyes closed,, definitely a escape mechanism

I guess I do wear masks

Lee said...

So then lying, or deception is really putting a mask on?

What if the nature of the man is deception, then he wares no mask?

Molly Brogan said...

You tell me. If he is lying, and tells you he is lying, where is the mask? If he is presenting his lie as truth, but known as a liar, is there a mask? If he doesn't understand his compulsion to lie, is it just a mask he does not recognize? If he says I am a liar, is he trapped in a paradox (OK Deepak...)

Lee said...

I would answer no he does not ware a mask, to all of those questions.

Indeed it is this very idea that we put masks on that I am inclined to disbelieve. What is meant by the word mask, do we mean only deception?

Francis said...

" ... prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet ..." (T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

The idea of masks is, in my view, closely related to (or, better, often presented as being opposed to) the idea of "authenticity", a concept unfortunately half misinterpreted to death in the 60s and 70s. In fact, the thought-model is much more complex, as is clear from Campbells monumental treatment of the subject.

I think, at least to an extent, we can easily set up false dichotomies here. As Lee points out, we can also see what some call masks as facets of who we are. Or the interpersonal interface of the different roles we play/are in different situations in our lives. These need not be "false", or "wrong"; in many situations they are necessary in order to function, something I think those who are involved in social professions are well aware of (otherwise most of those working in jobs like counselling or nursing couldn't carry on and retain their sanity - apart from being able to concretely help those who desperately need help).

The situation becomes dicey when we loose sight of the fact that our masks/facets/roles are just that - and not complete pictures of what we are. Or when we play roles which are contrary to our personalities (some might say, "our real natures" but I don't want to widen this out too much ontologically in this concrete situation). Nonetheless, I do think that this is a relatively common occurance in our contemporary society and is a cause of much suffering and, indeed, mental and psychosomatic illness.

It takes a lot of courage and trust to show ourselves to others naked, without any masks. It seems to me that those who have gone a long way on the journey to deep personal development may have less need of masks and that our reaction to such people is generally positive - although they can also provoke negative reactions from fearful, wounded others who feel threatened by such "authenticity".

Thinking about Molly's post, Dan Hill's song came to my mind. Yes, it's hopelessly soppy and sentimental, but it does express something deep about relationships: /watch?v=uVf940pO5ME

Molly Brogan said...

a humorous and courageous (although maybe not completely authentic) experiment in radical honesty: /honesty0707?click=main_sr

Guy said...

Wonderful question Molly. When I talk with individuals and groups I frequently mention that when we are children we are filled with hopes and dreams which are gradually beat out of us by life. People along the way tell us we can't be what we want to be and we begin to withdraw into ourselves and cover up our true selves with a mask. This has the lamentable effect of moving people away from their true calling, the place where they can find authentic happiness, because the mask seduces us into thinking that we are protecting ourselves.

The true result of covering up our true self is that we don't live the life we want. The heartening thing is that people have the ability to take the mask off at any time and many do. It's a joy to see people in all their glory, unmasked and rife with possibility and vigor.

Allan said...

I will wear a mask when I want to. It does have a whole lot to do with spirituality and who we we are, simply because your spirituality whether you are an atheist or of some other beliefs it still defines who you are and yes masks are disguises. There have been times I use a mask to protect another and that mask is used in kindness.

Ulysses said...

Ah yes, the masks! Somewhat of a parallel with the naked truth, the need to appear as something through facade. Don the clothing, drive the car, talk the talk, walk the walk and for sure the mask is complete. We are the deceivers that must overcome our fears, doubts and insecurities with masks. Society creates models of correctness, strength, beauty etc. that we are not only well aware of but strive to live up to the expectations. IF we cannot find comfort in our true selves then we will go to any length to find comfort in becoming that which we would deem ourselves to be, even if it requires creating falsehood via the mask. There is a complex thought process preceding the use of masks as each requires some exacting measure to fulfill the desired result. Social gatherings are usually full of masked participants in what is considered a meeting of equals to a degree, each participant will try to find common ground with the others though concealment of truth and elaborate fabrications, creating a shrewd shroud of deception. Masks are useful when there is something to gain but they can get sticky if they are used for prolonged periods of time. Masks somehow are a source of discomfort. Everyone really just wants to be themselves so using a mask is a self realization of being false, phony. This is the obstacle of using masks, not being able to be exactly truthful with self and the world and finding comfort more and more through the use of masks. It should be noted that masks are confined to the socio-economic group in which you live. One cannot simply climb the social ladder with a mask, it is something that only works within a specified peer group. If one is very skilled at masking as was the talented Mr. Ripley, then the possibilities are endless.

Martha said...

People can climb the social ladder if they have the instructions- it depends on the society. Are the criteria wealth or birth or excellence of a talent? I see the mask as protection also for a rebel who speaks too honestly. Certain conventions have probably always been in place in groups and societies under normal circumstances but break down easily in times of war or panic when our animal natures are loosed and survival is our only interest. On a smaller scale this latter notion accounts for social and economic ills. How many times, might one ask, have you known you were going to get screwed yet let the drama unfold and felt a sense of moral superiority? Then, who was wearing the mask?

Aurora said...

the only thing that can ever mask what we really are is believing the illusion of a separate person. Every person is just a "mask" playfully worn by the one Spirit. These persons then wear many masks, or better said play many roles- we can be "a mother" , "a neighbour", " a criminal", "a fire fighter" and what not.

We can play any role and wear any mask, and it will all be a wonderful experience of enjoying oneself in many forms... but this is only possible if we can let go of the mask of being a separate being than the one we are relating to. If we see ourselves without masks, then we will be that undying love even if we should of some reason choose to play the role of "impolite bastard" :) It would be just like when kids play "policemen and thieves"... when they finish playing, they hug each other and go home, happy for another wonderful day spent playing with friends.

Vamadevananda said...

Deception implies intent.

The most inscrutable masks we wear are the ones we are not even aware of.

The Inscrutability Level of the masks we wear are in the following increasing order :

Body, Face, Apparent Expressions.


Thought. Intent.

Knowledge. Facts.

The Idea we have of ourself - Ego.

The series does not end here ! Only, I do not know how to express it ... Primordial ... perhaps.

One can wear masks, for others, and still be true to oneself !

Lee said...

For many years now I have been quite Gummidge(Worrzel that is- Google it if you must) like, in that I certainly have a number of heads that I switch between depending on circumstances.

I have two main head, my 'I'm at work head' and my 'I'm not at work head', I like to clearly divide these two aspects of my life, and Lee at home is not really like Lee at work. Yet I hesitate to say that I am wearing a mask whilst at work, no I am merely showing that part of me that is more business focused, it is not separate from who Lee is, it is a part of me.

So the question then is, when we say mask are we talking about hiding that part of us that may seem unseemly, or do we mean acting in a manor that we would not normally do so?

Ulysses said...

I doubt that would be possible, truth to self would quash any masquerade. There are complexities I think that involve circumstantial instance, like Martha's rebel but I still present that 'that truth' to oneself is being less than whole, as the rebel image to one's self might be a mask in itself, otherwise the rebel would simply rebel. There is a certain loss of integrity in not being who you are especially if part of who you are is integrity. There must me some degree of self suppression when one has to masquerade.

Martha said...

Taking off the social masks are akin to declaring war!

Molly Brogan said...

My thoughts until now have been about how we use masks as self expression, either forming personas with ego, or expressing what is repressed by stepping outside our comfort zone with the aid of a (like rebel) persona. But this brings up a new perspective. When others judge there to be a mask, does it mean there is one? Communication is a two way street, and understanding isn't always achieved. Can folks seem to be masked because understanding isn't reached in the communication?

Chris said...

I have to say, I think the use of 'mask' is at the root of that discomfort, because of the assumption of a false face. I wonder if 'faces' might be more accurate. As Lee noted, we have different faces for work and home...additionally, we have different faces for friend, lover, parent...are any of them less than sincere?

Molly Brogan said...

The Zen tradition would take us back to the concept of our original face: What is your original face before any ideas, images, feelings that you have been carrying like so much baggage? When investigating "What is your original face before parents were even born?" we are thrown back on our most primal, original self. Seeing this face in others is rare, knowing it in myself is easier.

Are any other faces sincere? Well, we can let webster define sincere, and it seems that if a face is presented as an honest expression of self, then yes.

Richard said...

In Infinite Play the Movie (Google it) God wears masks so the one can be many.

Of course there is the general "fiction" that many live which makes it very hard for those wanting to live the truth.

I think it has something to do with the Holy Grail

Rosey said...

This facade that we adorn ourselves with has developed into an entity of its own. It's a compilation of socially developed morals and acceptances that we have evolved into. At home one tends to shed his mask but ever so slightly if he isn't alone. What I mean by this is, the shedding happens in intervals. Some are able to completely remove the mask as they feel comfortable enough within themselves and others to do so. One such extreme archetype could be masturbation (we are grown up here), some uncommonly do it in front of others, while others will never reveal committing to such an act, yet they succumb to it. However the mask can be quite complicated. An example as such would be, adult film industry. They say women engaged in such activities are being themselves, open with sexuality, callous to what society considers moral. Yet these women tend to wear the largest masks. As pretending to enjoy what they are doing for monetary gain is the mask itself. Sexual implication was not my intention (sigh...rolling my eyes), but it plays a key role.

What really defines a person that is not wearing a mask? Are there
people that truly do not display such a falsehood?

Molly Brogan said...

The Zen tradition tells us we only have one original face, the face we had before our parents were born, our immortal face. To them, all other faces are masks. I tend toward a less elemental view. I think that at any given time, we have a core identity that includes our honest, wholehearted, real, true, unfeigned self and if we are not wearing a mask to ease the abrasion of social interaction, we are revealing our true self. I also think that those masks become so comfortable, that we can see them as our true self, repressing the parts of us disguised so that we don't feel the rub of our activity with the larger world. The trick, I think, is to peel all of those away and find a way to move through the world without the need of a mask. This introspection can be filled with layers and painfully intense, but can also be the exhilarating joy of self discovery.

sajida naz said...

this approach leads us to what sufi-ism or spirituality is all about. So this also infers that we are our projection not us! This is strange to feel in the first place and to peel off the masks we are wearing sure can lead us to our true pure self.

Ulysses said...

Much of the unveiling of masks would be impossible within the socially set legal parameters. If a person's true self falls outside of the law the person literally has not choice but to mask the truth. This does not necessarily imply that the person is a serious criminal but simply may enjoy casual drug use or some deviated sexual activity which is considered illegal activity by state statute. So in that vein we should also consider what traditions define as wholesome living. What are the parameters, where do we draw the line, or is it always as it seems to be, anything goes and we should simply accept people no matter how deviated or debased they are?

Vamadevananda said...

I see the concept of unveiling or peeling off of masks. But I find it unidimensional, not root - cause based ; more like treating the symptons, quite like Quality Control vs Quality Assurance.

The effort, in one's awareness, needs to get focussed on what effects the ' other ' is having on us, how are we --- the ' I ' --- being affected, being determined, being formed and defined, by other (s) or in terms of other(s).

Ultimately, we -- the ' I ' -- must be free from ALL effects of OTHER and otherness upon us. Then, while being thus free, we can CHOOSE to be affected by the other, as and how we feel, think or know the necessity thereof.

That is when we can take on masks for others, while being fully aware of it ( the mask ), and remain true to ourself !

The method may be instantaneous or impossible, and any in between, depending on how mentally and emotionally evolved the individual is.

Martha said...

Also costume denotes hierarchy and a wealth of material signals from cars to homes to t-shirts and tatoos. A certain unassailable grace of posture and poise to a slouch. We pick and choose from the infinite variety.

Molly Brogan said...

Your post is beautifully stated, Vam.

Ultimately, we -- the ' I ' -- must be free from ALL effects of OTHER and otherness upon us.

This is a powerful leap in awareness. I think it occurs when we come to the understanding that we are all others. It is taking total responsibility, and with that, comes freedom. When we can become the one in the many, we still relate to others, love and care for others, but we can also see ourselves in all others... the ultimate, do unto others what you would have done unto you. At this point, everything you do to others, you are doing to you. What others do is a reflection of the true you of the moment and a sign post on the path to becoming. Like the end of a Shakespearean play, all masks come off.

Ulysses said...

There is always a sense of comfort in knowing one can be truly oneself when around others without having to use a mask.

Molly Brogan said...

and integrity. But I wonder if we, ourselves, understand how we use masks to face the world. As Martha said, the mask of a rebel can allow us to push against authority or each other. The mask of the warrior can allow us to defend a loved one when we are, at our core, peaceful people. The mask of a lover can allow us to say Olive you, when we are shy. I think the masks themselves allow us to try on and step into aspects of self that haven't been tried or aren't normally comfortable. At some point, if we find our comfort zone wearing the mask, we can take it off and integrate the aspect of being. This may be more along the line of what Joseph Campbell may have been thinking. We each go through our lives searching inwardly or externally for purpose or place in the world. The masks of God and masks we use all uncover the same thing eventually.

Ultimately, if we are feeling one thing and purposefully expressing another, we don a mask. Our reasons may be noble, as to protect a loved one, or self serving, as to drive our own agenda. But in the moment, we are choosing the mask instead of a legitimate feeling that allows us to connect with others that does not require a mask. We can choose our feelings and how we express them.

I wonder if anyone had a chance to see the BBC series "The Human Face" with John Cleese who tells us that there are thousands human expressions that convey different emotions. There is a science to understanding this, and here in the US, there is a prime time show that (in a feeble and sensational attempt) shows us how, with the CIA experts cracking cases by reading the faces of suspects. It is funny that they will show us the face of contempt on a suspect, and then flash to the face of Hillary Clinton with the same expression, mocking many of the world leaders who, at least for a moment, put their mask down and were caught on camera doing so.

Interpreting the masks around us, I think, must be more intuitive than mechanical. What a colossal waste of time it would be to walk around constantly, looking at faces and translating expressions. I think we do it quite naturally and intuitively, and might only need the practice if we were running into trouble with it.

Jo said...

faces may portray one thing, but the eyes are the window to the soul. somebody could be in a lot of pain and grimacing because of such...they might look offensive yet be the sweetest person around. facial expressions can be faked or portray the wrong message...just as some are able to pass lie detector tests while they are in fact guilty, and vice versa...

Molly Brogan said...

Indeed, interpreting the expression completes the communication loop, and is also fraught with complexity. So often, what is expressed is misinterpreted. Here in the web space, we do not have the body language cues to help us along in interpreting communication. I haven't decided if that is good or bad. I suppose it could be either, depending on the circumstance. We are forced to leave behind all of our biases to physical appearance here, along with the reactions of our ego to certain physical expressions. That could be a good thing.

Nonetheless, we pick up and put down our masks, even when using words in this space. And even when we put down our mask, it might be interpreted as wearing one by someone who has had a bad experience with a particular type of person or particular phraseology.

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the nature of expression through our eyes. There seems to be the possibility of a pure connection when masks are off and eyes are locked together.

Don said...

If I didn't wear a mask sometimes I wouldn't keep a job, a girlfriend or my own sanity. At an office party, for example, I have to practically become a different person because I have nothing in common with most of the people there and I don't want to get stuck with the small group I actually do have something in common with the entire evening. I have to work the crowd; network so to speak. Sure its false but it's how you transfer up or sideways to a better position with more upward mobility. Sometimes you get the knowing smirk from a friend that knows your game and gives you the wink or the finger on the side of the nose.

I'd wager the most popular kids in school all have one thing in common. They are skilled maintaining masks. Disguising one's thoughts/opinions/feelings is a useful skill. I wish I was better at it.

oprem said...

Masks can be used to disguise egoistic intentions. Masks can also be used to shield ourselves from the egoistic intentions of others. Masks can be used to facilitate ease of interaction for whether the intention is egocentric, altruistic, or spiritual.

Most importantly, for a religious/spiritual perspective masks can be a way to step out of our accustomed ruts and identifications and open ourselves up to other, deeper aspects of ourselves. Donning masks in this sense is similar to the use of metaphor, parable, allegory, etc to present spiritual lessons and truths which cannot be presented directly in language because of the inherent limitations of language.

Ulysses said...

I see a direct correlation between using masks and self image. I see the core issue as being self image. The self image is the center, shadow on the left and masks on the right. We cannot change the outward projection without recognizing what lies in the shadow. This recognition allows us to weed out that which we know is not our true being without which we continue to waver in the sea of possibilities. Masks are unneeded when self image is true. However, self image may not be something that people are aware of. Why?

Our self image has become increasingly dependent upon external influence. There are instances of self image that need to be stifled in order to adapt to external social settings, which are presented in the form of
media and controlled by a bombardment of commercialism aimed at self image in the formative stage. Individuals whose image has been firmly planted and deeply rooted will not succumb to the relentless onslaught geared towards image deconstruction, modification and reconstruction. Basically this is a reprogramming method of the industry and simply governmentality. In that sense I'm addressing the self image of the collective mass, which as we have seen recently has been going through the deconstruction phase via economic destabilization which has macerated our value judgment. What was once a robust image now appears to be emaciated. Now that our collective belief system has broken down we can ultimately seek a valid truth to instill within us that sense of image rebirth along with the sense of newness and open possibility.

This brings out a very important aspect of image development, that being one in which the image components are derived from a fallacy source. This aspect indicates conflict between the internal and external image. External image is manipulative and malleable in that it can be enhanced and does not reflect truth image which is internal. This is not to say that the internal image is fixed, however it is more likely to be based on "shadow truths" instead of image desirability. One cannot be what one is not. Regardless of how unwavering our imagination of self image is, it will not become one with external image unless the imaginative portrait is realistic and also adheres to fixed physical attributes. I think this clearly shows that self image is to some degree based on a limited set of possibilities established at birth, a parameter of raw truth, self truth.

Ulysses said...

I personally don't see much focus on self image as a facade. While self image can be and many times is a facade there is such a thing as a self image based upon truth identity. In light of apparent misleadings run rampant in our society I can see how the first inclination leans towards identifying self images as falsehoods (masks). I'm thinking on these lines because I feel the my personal self image is not a facade or a marketing strategy and never purport myself to be anything over and above that which I am. In retrospect I can see why many times throughout my life I was duped by people who's self image was highly based upon masking, while I was thinking, and I still do, that there was more integrity in a persons self image.

I feel self image coincides with and is pertinent to the life that we are living at the time. Our age, environment, circumstances all contribute to our self image. There may have been times where self image mattered not, but new environs awaken the need to (re)establish our self image. ie: The image of a playboy doesn't cut it in the nursing home, nor does the image of a sultry sex kitten. The complexity increases as we further delve into the perspectives of self image. It seems to me that self image must change with time and the parameters of life changes. For those who live their lives from birth to death in the same house, the same town with unchanging environs have little to no need to examine self image for it fits comfortably within their life circumstance. Those whose lives change often must often change their self image and some their mask.

Molly Brogan said...

Thanks for the deep sea diving, Slip. I too have been turning around some topics the past few days and one of them fits right it with your contemplation, here. The image of Christ at the fig tree out of season, telling it that no man would return to it. A simple and wonderful illustration of the notion that Francis brought to us about the non dual nature of the
sacred and the secular. In your reverie above it would fit into the integrity of the internal and external world, and how important that is to living from an unmasked self image.

Christ was a sharp enough guy to know that a fig tree out of season has no fruit. And yet, he was Christ, and probably could have caused the fig tree to bear fruit as easily as he could have caused it to wither (masks?) (Image derived from a fallacy source?) But I think that tree that Christ was speaking to was the tree of experience, and our experience has it's seasons. Our external reality comes to fruition according to universal law. What Christ knew, was that man could instead turn to the tree of life, his internal experience, and see the spirit or life in everything. By doing so, we create our experience according to universal law by planting the seed. If our self image does coincide with and is pertinent to the life that we are living, we are living in integrity, the sacred and the secular are one through us, and the seed planted is the blueprint of our unmasked self. All masks come off, take a bow.

I think it interesting that Jesus lost his temper when he was expecting more from his experience than it was offering him. We all do this, even among each other in here. It is, perhaps, as you suggest, our own shadow leading us on.

Allan said...

It is interesting when you look at the two different types of ?anger? I have thought about them often as being disgusted with the market people at the temple,, and it being more for dramatics than anything else making a point per say. now the incident with the fig tree. whether in season or out of season it does not matter because there was no figs he was angry, and well the poor Innocent fig paid the price. these quotes show me two things.
1: the humanity of Jesus
2: the absolute destructive power of anger.

Ulysses said...

Interesting example of self image and I would think that someone like Jesus would not have any need to mask but then again that in itself may serve as the example he was trying to portray. Was that image telling us it is okay to show anger, righteous indignation? I guess that would be a good non dual illustration. I certainly agree with and understand that IF our self image coincides with and is pertinent to the life that we are living, we are then living in integrity without the need for any mask. I would also add that living with integrity may be a downside when the outcome of integrity living leads to martyrdom.

Molly Brogan said...

I think I found the Matthew reference for this finally. In Mark, the reference is a couple of lines and then moves into the temple episode. Matthew gives it more dimension

12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: 13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. 14 And Jesus answered and said to it, No man eat fruit of you hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

20 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. 22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

If we can get past all of the 2000 year old metaphors and the problems in translation, I still think that what the story tells us is that instead of lamenting what is lacking in our experience (the fruit of the tree of experience) see the life, or the sacred in the experience, and our experience will be what we make of it. Forgiving our trespasses may just be another way of saying letting go of anger, hunger, doubt and fear. Seeing instead the possibility of life, and moving into that possibility that is based on our highest potential. A powerful self image without need of a mask, whatever the disciples are hearing.

If we can see ourselves as empowered in this way, there is no need for the human mask of anger (blaming the tree) and no need for our experience to wither and die.

Good story, I think...

Edward said...

I think Christ showed his humanity -- after all he was a man -- more than once. The account of his time in the desert shows him faltering before temptation but regaining his stature at the end. His plaint on the cross for this cup to be taken from him. His tossing the moneychangers out of the temple. His acceptance of sinners into this fold. I think Christ is an admirable example of humanity.

I think that points in the direction of where we seem to be headed, which is sufficiently strong within ourselves to be able to remove those masks, at the beginning for small periods of time, but eventually to discard them altogether. This goal may be a long far way off though.

ornamentalmind said...

Over the years, I've alluded to the social rules, sometimes calling them social lies. How I interpret 'masks' is associated with these lies. As members of a perceived society, we all make 'contracts' of all stopping at stop signs, written ones (marriage contract etc.), and hand shaking to name but a few.

These all have their function…neither good nor bad. Quite often it is practical. However, we know that such ‘contracts’ are seldom soul felt. In simpler terms, we don’t really mean many of them. Simple examples are tax evasion, infidelity, Wall Street crime, let alone the more serious ones like murder.

So, when we move through society, we all know what the current mores consider the proper rules of the day to be. And, we either move within those rules or we don’t…often both. How we present ourselves is included in this social lie. Few of us, if entirely honest, would act the way we do, say, at a party…on trial…while driving etc. So, we do lie…even if it is justified as being practical. Of course, this can be taken to the level of the clothes we wear (or don’t). . . to where we live, what we do…not just how we directly interact with others. However, that is the main thrust of such ‘masks/ lies’.

Sometimes, I suggest, we even try to lie to ourselves.

Martha said...

Well, sometimes we have no choice and the mask erodes by itself. Like nursing homes- if you have spent a lot of time in hospitals and nursing homes with your parents, life gets real in a hurry. But there are other situations also where this applies. Even two of my children are giving up their former notions of their "mother"- and I think raising their own families has helped. I think you are right about social relations in particular. I had a strange childhood and think this topic has been useful to understand how I coped and kept using the coping device later on- so yes, it is a demasking in progress.

Trevor said...

Sometimes the infinite that I feel that I am can be overwhelming, and I need a mask to give definition, or solidity, to bring that infiniteness into the realm of finiteness.
But in the end, aren't they one and the same? Isn't that the ultimate idea of putting on masks to define the infinite?

Gerda said...

Personally, I don't think that our “masks”, insofar as masks are metaphorical representations of apparent identities, cover anything at all. Personal identity is either a cultural construct or something that can be defined for pragmatic purposes in ethical and legal matters. But, the notion of a real self, as opposed to an apparent one, is something I don't find coherent. We are only the ways that we see ourselves, and the ways that others see us. Beyond those perspectives, we simply aren’t, but are rather only matter, energy, or what have you. All that exists are masks.

I don't find the notion of a "mask" to be the best metaphor however, as the notion of a mask has the connotation of deception, whether it is for malicious purposes or for purposes of entertainment. Also, the notion of a "mask" suggests that something underlies the mask, which, as I already mentioned, is something I deny. Although the use of metaphors is obviously based on personal preference, I find the notion of “roles” we adopt to be more intuitive. Roles can be more or less temporary. For instance, my role as a friendly or mean person or, if I were to be deceptive, as a love-stricken fellow is more temporary than my role as a student, which is in turn more temporary than my role as an American citizen. But no role is really fundamental—they are all, to some extent, simply roles that I adopt.

As for what it means for one’s true nature to be “the infinite”, I have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean. Do I admit that I have not read the book, so my lack of knowledge of the relevant passage might explain my being out of the loop. Would anyone care to explain? I think of the infinite as a mathematical concept. The only way that I can interpret what is meant here is that behind the mask, we are infinite insofar as we have the potentiality to don an infinite number of different masks.

Bruno R.Ramos said...

It's very reflexive your text. I would like to understand its deepy analyse.

Andras said...

We put the "mask" on as we realize that life (and death) as we know it is an illusion. A facade..To me this is the ultimate truth. Everything in this Universe (including the Universe) is perishable and finite but behind that facade or illusion is the Truth which is Infinite and unblemished - where there is no need of a mask. This is the meaning of the Hermetic saying “as above, so below”, since one is the mirror of the other.