I think we’d all agree that 2020 has been a year like no other. For the first time ever, the world over, we’re masking up, and rightly so in my view. With the exception of my seven year old grand daughter, I know no one who actually enjoys the ritual, but mostly we accept it to protect ourselves and others against a deadly virus about which we still know very little and one that’s wreaking havoc with lives and economies.
Pandemic aside, it’s amazing how few of us think about the social and cultural masks we wear daily, some of which we’ve been wearing from childhood, that can stop us from showing up as the most authentic versions of who and what we really are.
The development of the Persona (Latin for mask) is of course, vital to the healthy development of the child and is a necessary part of adapting to and preparing for adult life. The big danger though, is over-identity with the roles we play. Many people can’t make the distinction and wholly identify with the constructed Persona. People can end up with little or no concept of themselves as distinct from the roles that society expects from them or the roles that they have carefully crafted for themselves over the years. The popular culture encourages the idea ad infinitum.
But authentic, courageous spiritual journeys always involve the unmasking of the false selves we’ve created as a barrier against being known. The Persona is a kind of facsimile of a larger truth. It’s not wrong per se. It’s just not authentic. You can get so attached and protective of your image -whether it’s being the best mother in the neighbourhood, the holiest member of your church, the most successful businessman on the block, the most original artist in the town, the most well travelled bon -vivant, the most clued up politician, executive, entertainer, actor, doctor, scholar, professor-whatever the role, it’s not actually you at all.
If we’re lucky, life intervenes and we might be in regular contact with our shadow side which reminds us that were not all that we seem to promote to the outside world. Sometimes life presents us with a dose or reality and we can suddenly waken up and see through the illusion. Such transitions often occur at times of significant loss, or failure.
Generally speaking, the more carefully and systematically we have cultivated the false self, the more shadow work we’ll have to do, which is bad news for those of us with big egos because that represents a real threat. In fact many of us will just never see it. When you have a huge persona to live up to, you can live in a life-long delusion.
But if you’re fortunate enough to be called to make the shift from a life of ambition to a life of greater meaning, when the call comes, everything will be up for review. The mask will start to seriously crack. You’ll experience callings and periods of confusion. Your previous ways of being will cease to satisfy, whether it was for fame, status, power, money, success job satisfaction, relationship satisfaction -whatever ego-based values that you once cherished will lose their meaning and you’ll get started on the what is classically called the second half of life journey. The mind has been designed to grow, not stagnate and grow it will, come what may.
These transitions can occur spontaneously, but more often crises rarely occur smoothly. You may have periods of questioning or confusion or in extreme cases, all out despair. It looks like anyone who seeks out wisdom will have to pass through certain gates. The urge or individuation that Jung spoke about, or Eros as Ken Wilber describes it, is rarely straightforward.
The loss of Persona is not necessarily an easy thing to embrace and can result in significant psychological turmoil for some people. It’s a downward journey and will be recognised as such for those who have experienced it. This stark encounter with reality can be very disorientating. It really is a process of dispelling all that is at odds with our essential being. that’s why, I believe it’s important to have a deeply developed spiritual practice that can be trusted to carry your through the threshold, or at least some certainty of love and understanding from those around you. Though the disintegration of the Persona is in itself a spiritual practice it can leave us anchorless with nothing to hang onto. To become fully developed human beings, we must confront both our demons and our angels. If we can do this successfully, we free ourselves from the illusion of who we think we are. We are delivered into the mystery of our true, essential being and move into a new domain of freedom that is anchored in wisdom, love, and expansive inclusivity.
This journey may be perilous but at the same time it’s been taken countless times throughout human history. We can interpret the death and rebirth experience in many different ways. Contemplatives will see it as death and resurrection, whereas psychedelic researchers might use the words temporary collapse, disintegration and reconstitution. The wisdom is the same the world over. It represents a deep archetypal shifting in the psyche. One of the founders of transpersonal Psychology Stan Grof says of the process: “powerful experiential sequences of dying and being born again can result in dramatic alleviation of a variety of emotional and psychosomatic and interpersonal problems that have previously revisited all psychotherapeutic work”
Author and Integralist Roger Walsh in The World of Shamanism says:
“Two thousand years ago Jesus offered us a metaphor that has echoed across the centuries. “A grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls to the ground and dies; but if it dies it brings a rich harvest.” The experience of death can bring a rich harvest and, as with so many psychological and spiritual transformations, it was the shamans who first recognised it and harvested it.”
It may be an heroic journey but it is as ancient and deep in the psyche as humanity itself, a truly perennial experience. I don’t know about you, but I find it deeply comforting to know that we are standing on the shoulders of giants who have taken the hero’s journey before us and returned with the harvest, reborn, healed, integrated and whole, unmasked and free.
2 thoughts on “Unmask Yourself to know Your Self…”
This is brilliantly expressed…I would make one correction though…more often than not, you will need to let go of the need for the “support of loved ones“.. you most likely will be viewed as strange or even crazy as you step away from the herd. Expecting to be understood will only add to your suffering. This is a solitary journey and there are no others to align yourself with to give you a sense of being grounded.
Thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree. It’s a distinctly solitary trip. I doubt if ‘solitary’ is a strong enough word to describe how forsaken one feels. I’m not so sure I was referring to that kind of support but I know exactly what you’re saying and I appreciate you taking the time. Put it this way, someone fed and watered me. It wasn’t me. On thinking more about it, it’s a journey that can only be taken alone. It’s almost like life conspires to bring you to that place.