Remember when deciding what you were going to be for Halloween was the most important decision in your life? Were you going to be a superhero or something more traditional, like a witch or princess or ghost? Did you have one of those creative Moms who could turn you into Peter Pan or a fire hydrant with a whirl of her sewing machine? My children were at a clear disadvantage in that department, having me for a Mom. I remember one year Kate was a mouse. We used sheets that I somehow stitched together and filled with wads of paper for fullness, and another year Geof was Goldy Gopher, the University of Minnesota mascot. I think I made the tail to go along with U of M sweatshirt and pants and a mask or maybe my talented sister made it for him.
Halloween was a challenge for me, but that's not to say I haven't worn many masks, many costumes in my lifetime. How about you?
The Costumes and Masks of Life
I have worn costumes called student, mother, wife and daughter and friend, business owner, spiritual director, teacher, and writer. For the most part I have loved those roles, and they have represented true aspects of myself and the life I have been privileged to live. However, there have also been moments when I have questioned my own authenticity.
Sue Monk Kidd in When the Heart Waits, Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions says, "We become adept at playing games, wearing masks as if life were a masquerade party." p. 47. She wonders, "Had my masks gotten stuck to my face?" p. 53.
I have worn the mask of confidence when feeling little or no confidence in myself. I have worn the mask of contentment and ease when my heart was breaking inside. I have worn the hostess mask when I would have preferred to be completely alone. I have worn a mask of courage, when I have been scared, and the mask of adulthood when I have felt like a child. I have worn the mask of seeker when I have instead been lazy. I have worn the mask of anger when what I really felt was fear. I have worn the mask of belief when I felt on shaky ground.
To quote Carl Jung, "We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life."
Beyond Costumes and Masks
Occasionally over the years we bumped into an identity crisis. Perhaps when our youngest child went off to kindergarten or when we faced an empty-nest or when we lost a job unexpectedly or a long-term relationship ended. Those raw times became doorways of discovery leading to our True Selves, or as Meister Eckhart identifies, "There is something in the soul which is only God."
What in you is only God?
How does our True Self radiate over and around the margins of the mask?
Who are you beyond masks, roles, work, skills, history, experiences and associations?
If all my identifications -- "Bruce's wife, Kate and Geof's mother and Maren and Peter's GrandNan, Betty and Dick's daughter, a spiritual director, a teacher, a writer, a friend --were suddenly stripped away, and some day they will be, who would I be? Who am I?
This is the work of these years. The work for today.
Today's Challenge and Opportunity
Many of our roles have already disappeared or at least are worn less frequently. Fewer costumes in the closet may make it easier to "embrace our new wisdom face as it emerges," says Angeles Arrien in The Second Half of Life, Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom. p. 45 or we may continue to mourn their loss, refusing to see they are two sizes too small or frayed around the collar. Send them to the resale shop. It's someone else's turn to use them wisely.
"Embracing our wisdom face, we can meet the challenge with which the eighth-century Buddhist Sage Hui-Neng is reputed to have confronted his disciples: 'Show me the face you had before even your parents were born.'" (Arrien, p. 51)
So how do we do this? This is the time to fully engage your spiritual practices. This is the time to know the part of you that is "only God." This is the time to get a bit uncomfortable and ask yourself what roles, masks and costumes you are having a hard time releasing. This is a time to "stop performing, pretending, and hiding to sustain our false identities and cultivated masks," (Arrien, p.48) and instead, "to be someone who is fully alive, a courageous explorer and adventurer who is willing to discover the true face that lies beneath family conditioning and cultural imprinting." (Arrien, p. 47).
Open yourself to a time of moving beyond what you have always done and whom you've always been.
This is a time of deepening.
Share the masks and costumes you are leaving behind and what you are discovering about your true essence. Angeles Arrien suggests stretching yourself in order to learn something new about yourself everyday. I would love to know about those discoveries and adventures.