Take Off Your Mask

There are festivals of masks and the hidden in many cultures.  In American culture, Halloween is one of the most dominant festivals of the mask.  Children particularly love dressing up and pretending to be someone else.

For many adults, the images of the hidden that dominate Halloween are the uncertain, frightening, and dark side of the hidden.
Many people have moments where they feel the masks that cover the world, and sense something hidden beyond them.  How often do we let ourselves notice the hidden in ourselves, and ask the question: Who’s behind the mask?

There are some questions that are rarely, if ever asked.

“Who am I?” is one of those questions.

Sure, we flutter around the edge of the question sometimes, with questions like these:

  • What are my natural strengths and weaknesses?
  • How am I different than other people?
  • How am I the same as other people?
  • What would I like to study in college?
  • What kind of career/job/business do I want to work in?
  • What skills have I learned?

But “Who am I” is a much deeper and more dangerous question than any of those. It includes questions like these:

  • How real is the world that we “live in”?
  • How much is our sense of the real colored by our limiting beliefs?
  • What are the most radical boundaries to who I can be?
  • If you strip away my experience and beliefs about what is possible and impossible for me, who could I become?
  • With a dramatically different environment and set of experiences, could I be almost anyone – someone I admire or someone I despise?
  • Should I think of myself as awareness and intelligence, with a personality plugged in, like a program loaded into a computer?
  • Is it too late, at any age, to change dramatically?

In The Matrix, the character Morpheus  says to Neo:
“What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life: that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there.”

It’s fairly common for children to feel at one time or another that the world surrounding them is mechanical, unreal, robotic, and somehow they are the only real ones in this pretend world.  As a child I was often haunted by this feeling/image.  As in The Matrix, the mask that covers reality seems to hide something frightening and ominous.

When adults still feel that way, is this some kind of neurosis?

Carl Jung speaks of a personality archetype associated with a mythological character called Puer Aeternus,  Latin for “eternal child”. In mythology this refers to a childlike character, forever young. Jung speaks of this adult personality as a person who is stuck in a childlike attitude toward the world. He wants freedom, can’t handle boundaries, restrictions, and responsibility, and feels that everything is unreal and a prison.  

But what if you’re apparently grown up like me, handle responsibility just fine, yet you still feel the burden of arbitrary rules everywhere?
What if you handle the world fine, yet you still feel that there’s a mask that covers the world, giving us only a shadow of a greater world?
What if you feel that a child’s freshness, creativity, and ability to change is what we all need to cultivate?

Join the club.  I love Jung’s writings, and while I seem dangerously close to the Puer, I don’t want to hide in my childhood.  I want to build a world where we leverage the power of childhood in the service of building a magical world.

When I was about 20, I become haunted by another feeling/image that came to me one night while walking in Marin County, CA.  The world seemed to become so thin, as though all we see is a two-dimensional image projected onto a screen of paper.

If we could only reach out and tear through that thin paper, we’d find a richer, real world waiting behind it.  This is a different kind of mask.  It’s a richer world that’s hidden from us by the mask, not a dark one.

Is there another me and another world waiting if I find the courage and the way to reach out?  

I had a friend in high school named Wayne.  Wayne was a philosophically minded guy and loved questions like, “How do we know that we aren’t in a laboratory with our whole experience being simulated in some way?  I wonder sometimes if Wayne still has his “childlike” ability to put reality into question?

Many spiritual traditions teach that this world is only a stepping stone to another spiritual world, and this world is unreal in comparison.

But even within that approach, there’s a way to look at this world that gives our life a whole different tone from the “world as illusion” mindset.

We’re not in the malevolent prison of The Matrix.
The world is a rich simulation, here for us to learn from.  And this is not a “sit back and watch the movie” kind of learning.

It’s a “learn by doing” kind of learning simulation. We learn  — by building, by testing the rules and testing ourselves, by changing ourselves and the world, not by sitting around.

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