Spring and summer are finally
here, surrounding us with new life that is fresh, vibrant and hopeful! Everything seems to be in full bloom and is
flaunting its radiance. For the flowers
and trees, this is not a time for subdued responses to life’s provocations, but
rather an opportunity for glorious celebrations of their multicolored truths. Would that we humans could follow nature’s
unabashed example and reveal with both pride and pleasure the essence of
ourselves. Unfortunately, our masks get
in the way. As Paul Laurence Dunbar
wrote in one of my favorite poems:
We wear the mask that grins and
It hides our cheeks and shades
This debt we pay to human guile’
With torn and bleeding hearts we
“We Wear The Mask” captures the reality of most people,
especially those of us who have experienced oppression, alienation and
separation. Who among us has not had
cause to wear a mask – to at some point conceal our thoughts, mute our voices
or temper our actions? While it’s
appropriate for us to be sensitive to our environment, we suffer when we
repeatedly deny our truths and forfeit our authenticity. Survival, circumstance and fear might compel
us to accommodate, but over time we often come to identify with our pretense,
mistaking the mask for our true face.
Shedding the false selves that imprison us in painful dynamics
is central to our well-being. We can do
this by asking, “What habitual ways of thinking, speaking and acting drain us
of our energy and power?” “What patterns
do we need to confront and ultimately transform so that our true selves can
emerge?” Answering these questions
honestly helps us to identify our masks.
By naming and claiming them, we move our distress out of the shadows to
the forefront of our awareness. We can
then gain even deeper understanding by exploring the wounds that lie at the
center of our distress and asking, “What am I covering up that wants to be
revealed and more fully expressed?”
When I asked and answered these questions, I was enlightened
by what I uncovered. I had spent years
playing the role of “Elastigirl” – the one who stretches herself thin to
support and rescue others. I donned
Elastigirl’s mask early in life in response to a parent’s addiction. I later came to live in the mask, wearing it
almost daily in my interactions with others.
While I was born with a helping spirit, chronically overextending myself
made me tired and resentful. It also
robbed others of the chance to do their work and grow.
In this new season and stage of life, I’m learning that I
don’t have to trade service for love and approval. I’m also coming to accept that there are
others who will support me if I ask for their help. Removing my mask has made
it possible for me to experience these truths.
May your efforts to live authentically be so handsomely rewarded.