THE MASK I WEAR by Charles C. Finn
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks-
masks that I'm afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature to me
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake, don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure
That all is sunny with me, unruffled
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water's calm
and I'm in command,
and that I need no one.
But don't believe me. Please!
My surface may be smooth, but my surface is my mask,
My ever-varying and ever-concealing mask.
Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me
in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.
But I hide this.
I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my
weaknesses and fear exposing them.
That's why I frantically create my masks
to hide behind.
They're nonchalant, sophisticated facades
to help me pretend,
To shield me from the glance that
But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only salvation,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
and if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself
from my own self-built prison walls
I dislike hiding, honestly
I dislike the superficial game I'm playing,
the superficial phony game.
I'd really like to be genuine and me.
But I need your help, your hand to hold
Even though my masks would tell you otherwise
That glance from you is the only thing that assures me
of what I can't assure myself,
really worth something.
But I don't tell you this.
I don't dare.
I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh,
and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing,
that I'm just no good
and you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game
With a facade of assurance without,
And a trembling child within.
So begins the parade of masks,
The glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's nothing
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying
Please listen carefully and try to hear
what I'm not saying
Hear what I'd like to say
but what I cannot.
It will not be easy for you,
long felt inadequacies make my defenses strong.
The nearer you approach me
the blinder I may strike back.
Despite what books say of men, I am irrational;
I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.
You wonder who I am
for I am everyman
who wears a mask.
Don't be fooled.
I came across this poem, while I was in college, a time in my life when its sentiments resonated very deeply within me. It was featured in the textbook of a friend, who was taking a psychology class.
Though I have moved through and healed the underlying issues that gave rise to the affinity I felt when I first read it all those years ago, there is, in spite of that work, an undercurrent of recognition. It was not all that long ago I was grappling with these very same feelings.
My experience with my guru, Sai Maa, in the Journey of Profound Healing, provided me with the opportunity to begin to remove my own masks, in a safe and sacred space. In an atmosphere of unconditional Love and non-judgment, I was able to get to the roots of my own feelings of unworthiness. Not only was I able to understand them intellectually, and the function they served in my life, but with Maa’s guidance and Grace, I was able to transmute them energetically, to release what was holding me in my self-made prison.
As we enter the season of Halloween, masks of all sorts creep into our consciousness. Originally called All Hallows Eve, it is a holiday that has its roots in ancient tradition. Our current mode of celebrating Halloween evolved over hundreds of years, beginning with the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-win). In early Gaelic culture, late fall was the time of year to take stock of the harvest and make ready for the shorter days and longer nights.
The ancient pagans also believed that, during this season, the boundaries between the physical and spiritual planes were more fluid, and the dead would come back to life, causing mischief, or worse havoc, like sickness, or perhaps the destruction of the harvest stores that would carry them through the long winter. Bonfires were lit to ward off these evil spirits, and traditionally masks were worn, in an attempt to mimic or appease them.
Our current tradition of dressing up in costume can be traced back to the Middle- Ages, when people would don disguises and go begging from door to door. This is similar in purpose to the tradition of Christmas wassailing. “Trick or Treating” evolved out of the late medieval practice known as “souling,” when the poor would pass through town, receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on Hallowmas, Novemeber 1, what we now call All Souls Day.
The sentiments in Finn's poem, point to the fact that we wear masks all the time. Some are more obvious than others, like moustaches, beards, glasses, colored contacts, and makeup.
Many are now going to more extreme measures to change their features permanently, through implants, tattooing, plastic surgery, and the like. The name, plastic surgery, itself, indicates it is artificial, synthetic. Clearly, some procedures have more practical functions, but they all serve the same purpose, to alter our appearance in some way.
Halloween masks typically represent our worst nightmares - monsters, ghouls, ghosts, and various political figures. These terrifying creatures are, however, only reflections of our own fears, all of which are manufactured in the mind. They don’t exist anywhere but in the mind. So, too, is the need for a mask a construct of the mind, the false, or ego mind.
A mask, therefore, is a cover, a false face. One derivation of the word, according to etymology.com, is from mas que la cara, which in Spanish means “more than the face,” or “added face.”
The word disguise has its root in guise, first used in common parlance in the 13th c. It meant “style or fashion of attire”, from the old French guise, meaning “manner, fashion, or way,” which evolved from the Frankish or German wise, or weid, meaning “to see,” or “to know.”
Dis-guise has its roots in 14th c. French, deriving from desguiser: “to change or to put out of one’s usual manner or appearance.” In 15th century French, it referred to a “strange style of dress.” The Italian travestire, means “dressed in diguise,” from the Latin roots tran + vestir, meaning “over dress.” This is where the English word travesty has its source, which means “a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something.” So the purpose of a mask or disguise is to dis-allow others to see or know who we are.
The author of the poem speaks of his calm, cool, collected exterior as a façade that hides inner states of confusion, fear and aloneness. Yet he knows this is a game, and dislikes perpetuating the pretense. The narrator believes, however, that salvation will only come in the form of someone else’s reassurance that he is worth anything. The real confusion lies in the belief that the deliverance this everyman (everywoman) seeks can only be found through external means.
I have a friend, who was struggling with an alcohol addiction some years back. I asked him once why he drank. He said he felt like when he drank he could be more “himself.” The drink made him feel more confident, outgoing and funny. He felt that the booze was serving to open him up. I was hard pressed to convince him his thinking was convoluted, and the alcohol wasn’t his liberation, but his ball and chain. He wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge he had an addiction, or to address the years of patterning and conditioning that were at the root of his inability to access those innate aspects of himself. He was convinced he was his personality, that he was the mask. He didn’t want to remove the mask; he just wanted a better one.
Any addiction is a mask, a travesty, a distorted representation of our true selves. It may free up the personality to a degree, it may appease the ego that is fearful and seemingly in need of protection, but ultimately it entraps us, and adds, yet, another layer of separation between us and our true nature. I’ll repeat here what my guru, Sai Maa, teaches regarding maya. She tells us she is not interested in “making the illusion better”. She wants us to wake up and step out of the illusion.
In Shakespeare’s comedies, he often uses the theatrical device of disguise. In “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night,” Rosalind and Viola, the lead characters in each, respectively, disguise themselves as boys, as they journey into new, perhaps dangerous environments. A mask or disguise creates an air of anonymity, a clever veneer that provides a means of protection. It also affords a way to let go of one’s inhibitions, to lose all self-consciousness.
The disguise becomes a form of liberation for these characters, through which they experience a certain level of self-discovery. But many of the problems Rosalind and Viola encounter are, in fact, due to their disguises. Rosalind, instead of telling the man she loves who she really is, decides to use her disguise to get Orlando to prove his love for her, and in the process, another woman falls in love with Rosalind, believing she is a man.
Viola’s disguise keeps her from revealing her feelings for Orsino, and Olivia, Orsino’s love interest, falls in love with her, thinking she is a man. Though these disguises serve to create two brilliant comedies of error, which are eventually resolved, it is still undeniable that what first served as a means of liberation for these women, ultimately becomes their trap, a self-imposed prison for both.
The usefulness of the mask is ultimately limited. It can only serve each of these women to a point. It does, indeed, afford them a means to move beyond the bonds of their era’s limiting gender roles, and their station in life, even to express sentiments to the men they love that custom would likely have forbid them reveal. They do, in their duplicitous schemes, grow exponentially. They learn things about themselves they might never have know otherwise. Yet in the end, each discovers the ultimate cost of perpetuating the disguise: the loss of authenticity, of integrity, of true freedom.
The brilliance of Master Shakespeare’s works is their universality. He displays before us the depth and breadth of the human experience, so we may detect a bit of ourselves in each of the characters, and perhaps experience a catharsis that brings us to a new state of awareness. Through these men and women, we can easily appreciate our humanity. Still, if we look more closely, he also allows us to recognize our Divinity.
We may easily acknowledge, at one time or another, we too have behaved like one of these characters, donning a mask or disguise of some sort, to protect our fragile ego. We may even be able to see how, after a fashion, it no longer served us. But let’s now move beyond the world of appearances and delve a little deeper into what lies at the core.
In the poem, this soul, who is hurting profoundly, says, “Do not be fooled by me.” It is, precisely, to the Fool we must look to help us resolve the dilemma of the disguise. The Fools in Shakespeare’s plays, who may dress in motley costume, a disguise of sorts, represent true freedom and liberation. Though it may appear they are bound, in servitude to a duke or a king; they are the only ones who are actually free. They act as counselors and guides for their masters, they are the sole characters who freely speak their minds, and they always function as the voice of Reason or Truth. For the Fool, in these classic plays, the role of servant is never seen as a detriment, because for them, freedom is always a state of mind.
King Lear’s Fool, for example, looks to no one for acceptance, for assurance of his worth, not even the king. He knows his inherent value, because he truly knows his mind. He has control over it and his emotions, so he can be the voice of reason, even in the midst of chaos. It is this aspect of ourselves we too must access. This facet, what we might call pure consciousness or super consciousness, is what is hidden behind the façade. We must peel off, layer by layer, all that stands between us and our true selves, to reveal the Higher Self, that which we are inherently, that which is perfect, that which is Divine.
The Fool, the first card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, gives us the initial key to unlocking our true essence (see image below). The vibrant youth walking off the cliff represents the super consciousness, and is a symbolic representation of who we are before incarnation. We are pure vibration, pure consciousness, pure Spirit.
Behind the Fool’s head is the Great Central Sun, the Limitless Light, the Source of our Being, and of everything in the universe. The Fool holds in his left hand a white rose, which represents pure desire. It is God’s desire to know itself that is the cause of our being, God’s Will that brings us, as vibratory beings, extensions of the Divine, into creation. At this point, our own will is passive, signified by the black staff; there is no personal volition at work here.
Personal desire and will constitute the seeds of polarity, the essence of duality. It is only once we incarnate that our own desire and will are put into play. When we enter physical form, we begin the cycle of cause and effect, action and reaction. We step onto the carnival ride called the Wheel of Karma, and the fun begins!
Were our desire and will to remain pure, our turn on the wheel would be very short, but the choices we inevitably make in our quest for experience move us into a state of imbalance. Through a series of life-lessons, each incarnation offers us an opportunity to reestablish our original state of being, to balance the energies we set in motion in other lifetimes.
So, time and again, we step off the cliff into the world of duality, symbolized by the two mountains below, depicted in the contrasting colors red and green. Each time we take birth, we, like Rosalind and Viola, journey to a new environment, and we take on a disguise. We put on this costume, this mask of flesh and bone, and we forget who we are, for the purposes of our own soul evolution. Limitless Light cloaks itself in the human body. For this reason, the black tunic the Fool wears is described as the “cloak of ignorance.”
The soul, then, is an amalgamation of all the experiences we have ever had, accumulated lifetime upon lifetime. This is represented by the Fool’s “bag of tricks,” the satchel on the staff he carries over his shoulder. Just to be clear, I say he, but, in actuality, the soul is genderless.
The bag is red, representing the soul in action. Once on the wheel, it is our own desire and will that keep us there. When we surrender to the Will of God, the path back home is much clearer and shorter. The eagle and the eye, depicted on the pouch’s flap, show us we must rise above our lower nature, raise our vibration and use the creative, Life Force Energy, or the kundalini, to ignite our spiritual sight. Once we have done so, we may access what is contained within the bag sealed with ten stitches. It remains sealed until we have control over the body, mind, and emotions. Then, in an elevated state of consciousness, we will have the discipline to use the information of our past life experience to further our evolution, rather than squandering it, lost in the illusion of the physical senses and material distraction.
The Old Testament story of Adam and Eve is symbolic of these very teachings. Once they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, meaning they passed from a state of Oneness with The All That Is into one of polarity, it is said they covered their “nakedness” with fig leaves. Their nakedness was their purity of consciousness, unblemished by dualistic thinking. Mistaken by the world of appearances, unable to recognize their true selves any longer, they donned these disguises in shame for their “transgression”. This word transgression means to "step across" or "go beyond". Adam and Eve, symbolize the conscious and subconscious minds. It is only in the mind that we ever go beyond our state of Oneness with God. Our "own" mind is a mask or veil that disallows our unlimited access to the One Mind, or Cosmic Consciousness.
When we wear a mask or put on a disguise, we lose the ability to truly see, to really know ourselves. A mask may, at first, appear to serve us, but like any crutch, it can ultimately hinder our healing and growth, particularly if we hold onto it well past its usefulness. Our salvation is our own willingness to look below the surface, first at our habits of thought and behavior, our karmic patterns that keep us bound, and then to go even deeper. We must remember who we are, beneath the mask of personality, beneath the disguise of our physical body.
We have spent too many years, too many lifetimes, being Masters of Disguise. We now have the capacity to become Masters of Transparency, with nothing to hide, nothing to fear. We may now choose to reinvent the ancient tradition of “souling.” Let us not go from house to house begging in exchange for prayers for the departed. Instead, may we knock at the door of our own heart. When we unlock this energetic gateway, we are not offering up some tasty throbbing meal for a zombie, but opening the portal to the soul. We can then invite the soul to take up residence in our body, and take control of our life, putting the ego in its rightful place as its servant. In this season of Scorpio, alive with the energy of soul transformation, instead of dressing up in costume, dare to be your Self, your true Self. Instead of reenacting The Night of the Living Dead, let this simply be the Dawn of the Living.
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.