What lies behind the mask?

mtJM9mYI always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.

~ Lily Tomlin

So much of my personal journey has involved backtracking to a sense of understanding. I write from experience because experience has been my greatest teacher. But to fully understand my own experiences, I’ve had to turn to other teachers – people who’ve traveled a similar path before me.

One of my greatest teachers has been Dr. Carl Jung. He is widely considered one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. He was a Swiss psychologist whose most significant contributions to humanity came through his own spiritual/psychological experiences and patterns he observed in his clients. He spent 13 years in confrontation with unconscious content and described it as a period of his life in which he was “menaced by psychosis.” How ironic that someone who professed to be menaced by psychosis for well over a decade would leave behind a legacy of depth psychological insights that would alter the course of millions of lives in years to come. It is a testament to the power of experiential wisdom, I would say.

In any event, Dr. Jung’s work has contributed significantly to my own healing and self-realization processes because it has helped me understand so much of what I have actually experienced – especially in the last 5 years. It has also helped me better understand other people, which has been of incalculable value to me.

The connection between mind, body, and spirit is undeniable. And, when explored through the filter of actual experience, Dr. Jung’s work delivers tremendous insights into what I believe is the most powerful psychological force in humanity – the unconscious mind. It is a world of its own and, yet, it affects every aspect of how we live our lives. To quote Dr. Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Lest I digress, let me take hold of the point.

It was through Dr. Jung’s work (and subsequently Robert Johnson’s work) that I came to understand the concept of the “persona.” The word persona is derived from Latin and originally referred to a “theatrical mask” an actor wears. In modern, depth psychological terms, it represents the personality masks people wear – the appearances they present to the world.

When I was first introduced to the concept of the persona, my first thought was, “Wow! I could have used one of those all these years!” I’ve lived my whole life in a state of complete personal exposure. Like everyone else on this planet, there are many different parts of me; and my challenge has been in integrating all of my parts into a unified whole (not hiding them from the world). As fragmented as my true self might have been, I never understood the value of hiding any of it from other people. It was what I was attempting to hide from myself that became the problem. As such, I believe its safe to say I never adopted a persona (or personas). Sometimes, that worked out well because many people have found the “authenticity” refreshing. But, at other times, living in this world without the protection and security of a “mask” has been incredibly difficult and painful. For everything there is a reason, however, and it has worked out well for me in the long run.

Understanding personas and how they affect other people’s behavior has been important to my own transformational journey because I am highly empathic. As a friend once described it, I have x-ray vision for emotions. For most of my adult life, I could clearly sense the differences between what people around me were saying and doing and what I was picking up from them emotionally. It was very confusing and overwhelming, until I came to understand it better.

mtJOKFCWhat I have observed about other people and the masks they wear has been significantly illuminating. For many, the mask becomes a prison cell of its own. The “tough guy,” who is really tender-hearted and sensitive inside. The “hussy,” who desires nothing more than to be truly seen and loved by one man. The “pious one,” who hides their own shame behind a wall of judgment and moral persecution. The “intellectual,” who is too afraid to trust their own feelings, so they pretend they have none. The “sweet guy,” who harbors so much anger and resentment within that he fears he might explode in a murderous rage, at any given moment. And these are just a few examples of the masks that can imprison some people.

It has been my observation that most people do not wear masks as part of any nefarious intent to mislead others. They wear them because they feel much safer (in a world filled with so many uncertainties and so much judgment) when they cannot be clearly seen. Everyone has a right to feel safe; so I am passing no judgment here. Nonetheless, I cannot ignore what the evidence has shown me about people who lose themselves completely behind the masks they wear for everyone else. By my estimation, these people are the most miserable of us all – the ones who maintain the onerous task of keeping their true identity a secret. The sense of isolation that accompanies that kind of secret must be tortuous.

Sometimes, however, the masks are more subtle and easily removed. Some people put on the mask at work and take it off when they get home. Others wear many different masks, depending upon the people they are dealing with. Yes, the masks can bring the sense of safety and security I described earlier. But they can still be confining, nonetheless. Moreover, it seems to me that wearing the masks for too long would be a bit like wearing sunglasses. When we slip on our shades for a day at the lake or some other outdoor adventure, we are very aware that we have the sunglasses on. After a while, however, we forget we’re wearing them. Masks can have the same affect.

If we are to discover and free ourselves from anything that inhibits us from realizing our full potential, as spiritual human beings, we must first become aware of what it is that has been inhibiting us from the kind of liberation we seek.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you are an explorer. You are discovering your most authentic self; and you are not afraid to engage in the art of self-inventory. And, most importantly, you are up to the challenges associated with peeling back the layers of anything that is superficial or acquired to free your spirit. That being the case, I want to suggest to you a challenging but extremely valuable exercise in introspection. It will help you examine the masks you might have been wearing; and it will help you understand why you wear them.

I am not suggesting, for a moment, that you knock down any healthy boundaries you’ve established or otherwise set out to expose every aspect of yourself to the world at large. There is a difference between sharing only parts of ourselves with other people and hiding completely behind a mask that suffocates the whole Self.

What I am suggesting is that you simply take a look at any differences between the image of you that you may have been projecting to the world and determine how much of it is consistent with who you really are inside. There may be little difference in the two. But, if there is a significant difference, you ought to know about it. Don’t you think?

Exercise

Set aside some time to BE with yourself.

Find a quiet place, somewhere that you will not be interrupted by people or animals. Dim any harsh lights. 

If you find candles and soft music relaxing, add these environmental soothers.

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, but avoid getting so comfortable that you might drift into sleep.

Close your eyes. Breath in and out slowly, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Focus on your breathing and allow your thoughts to slow down naturally.

When you are relaxed, imagine yourself in a movie theatre. There is soft lighting, and it is warm. You are the only person in the theater, and you feel completely safe. 

On the screen, you see images of your daily life. In these images, other people are always present. You are interacting with them.

You are watching how you imagine other people see you. Let the images play on the movie screen. Notice the words that are being used; the postures; the actions; and what is not being said or done.

Try your best to observe the images without any self-judgment. All you are doing, right now, is gathering information. 

Again, there is no one else in the theatre but you. Any differences between what you’re seeing on the screen and what you feel inside are differences only you can know.

Keep letting the images play on the screen until you feel that you have a good sense of the “character” or “characters” you’ve been portraying in this drama of Life. When you are ready, return your attention to your breath and open your eyes slowly.

Breath deeply, inhaling and exhaling several times.

What did you see? How did it make you feel? Did any sense of conflict arise in you? If so, why? How would you feel about making some changes in how you conduct yourself in the world? Are there any changes that might allow you to feel more liberated?

You may want to write down what you saw and how it made you feel in a journal. If you found the exercise illuminating, I would encourage you to repeat it several times over the course of several weeks. You will want to allow yourself a fair amount of time in between these exercises to fully process all the information you’re gathering.

As always, remember to be gentle with yourself. You are pursuing a very important goal —  to live free and to be happy. And that is what really matters here. The process isn’t always easy; but the rewards are always great.

© 12/19/2013

All rights reserved.

Photos by Gabriella Fabbri

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26 Comments

  1. Clairsentient1

     /  December 19, 2013

    Reblogged this on Beacon of Aquarius.

    Reply
  2. Clairsentient1

     /  December 19, 2013

    thank you Sloan…

    Reply
    • Thank you Jim. I appreciate the reblog. Your site is one of my favorite sites to visit. You’ve done an amazing job with it. Such talent. Have a beautiful evening; and Happy Holidays! Namaste, Sloan

      Reply
      • Clairsentient1

         /  December 21, 2013

        you are most welcome Sloan…your kind words brighten my day…thank you..Happy Holidays to you are yours…blessings 😀

  3. Woe! Two things popped out at me right away. First, and this is really strange, just yesterday I discovered Carl Jung’s theories for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I’d heard of him and knew just the basics about the man, but not the depth of his work. It’s just so strange that you would post this blog the day after I was researching the man for the first time. I don’t believe in coincidences. Secondly, you explained something about myself that I hadn’t realized before. I too, see a different person than the one people present (the mask) to the world. I not only feel their emotions, but I pick up on body language as well. I always thought they were being fake and didn’t understand why. You’ve explained clearly to me now, that they may have been wearing those sunglasses for a very long time and don’t even know they’re wearing them anymore. Thank you, Sloan.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it Lori. Since you’ve taken an interest in Jung’s work, you might consider reading some of his work on innate sensitivity. It is the same concept that Dr. Elaine Aron discusses in her books on what she’s termed the “Highly Sensitive Person.” It is possible that you are one of the 20% of the population that was born with the high sensitivity trait (an innate state of heightened awareness, which often includes being highly empathic). I did a post on it last year. As always, thank you for sharing your insights and experiences. Have a magnificent holiday season! Love & Light, S

      Reply
      • Thank you for the recommends, Sloan. Some time ago I did read a book titled “Are You Too Sensitive?” I bought it because people (I knew) were always telling me I was overly sensitive, as if it was a bad thing. That book expressed a lot of the things I’d been dealing with, and described it as a person who picked up on other people’s emotions. I never looked into it any deeper, because that book validated and explained all of the emotions I’d been feeling at the time. That was a long time ago though. I’ll have to read some more on the subject.

  4. Brilliant post! Blessings!

    Reply
  5. As a long-time devotee of Jung, I think your article is first-class. There was a lot I had to learn about the anima and animus and the blending of the two in my personality. I look forward to reading many more of your comments.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Jung’s work on anima/animus was very helpful to me too. It helped me understand some negative relationship patterns, which I kept repeating until I understood enough about myself to make the necessary changes. It’s wonderful that we have the work of such great teachers to help us on our journeys. Many Blessings, and have a beautiful day! S

      Reply
  6. You are very intelligent, and an excellent writer. I understand what you say. Thank you and Happy Holidays!

    Reply
  7. Thank you for this, Sloan. I was just commenting on a beautiful blog post that my friend Tamara shared yesterday, about how her authentic voice is like a beacon in the dark that helps to guide the rest of us in our own unique process. I can say the same for your voice…always a welcome sound amid the clang and clatter of my sometimes internal ‘Critic,’ that cautions me to keep my ‘business’ to myself. Luckily, that is not an inner consensus! Our authenticity is a give we give willingly to a world hungry for ways of ‘keeping it real’ when all around us we are told to conform to this or that idea or thing…

    Much love and blessings to you during this new trip around the Sun and beyond, Jenna

    Reply
    • Jenna, thank you for the kind words and blessings. Ah, the inner critic does love secrecy. It’s so much easier for that self-critical voice to be heard and believed when there is no input from friends or loved ones to contradict it. I agree with you we’re lucky the inner critic isn’t in charge of the whole. Have a beautiful day! And Happy Happy Holidays! S

      Reply
  8. Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for the New Year! With love Maxima

    Reply
  9. A very positive exercise for those of us attempting to grow in enlightenment.

    Reply
  10. Beautiful post with rich philosophical content. The exercise is something I will practice. Thank you Sloan and have a wonderful New Year 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Dilip. Thank you for the well wishes. And a Happy New Year to you, filled with Peace, Joy, and Prosperity! Namaste, S

      Reply
  11. Beautiful post Sloan. Thank you for the information as always your wisdom is appreciated!! Must read some of Dr. Jung’s work, I have yet to do that..Now seems to be a good time to do so.. Much love

    Reply

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