We gather in the teepee yet again, this time to honor our ancestors and ask to feed and be fed by the living legacy of this northwest coastal region. We will call to the spirits to animate our masks and to help us embody the beings whose stories need to be told. Already dressed in our costumes , we prepare to put on our masks.
But wait – this makes no sense. We’re putting on masks to expand our experience of our selves… How can that be?
Don’t masks hide our true identity? Don’t I, don’t we wear masks every day?
My Mother taught me to put my best foot forward, whatever that means. When I was young, she suggested I bleach my hair to make me more attractive, wear rouge and mascara to make myself pretty, as if my DNA hadn’t made me pretty enough, match my sweater to my skirt and wear matching socks. And though I fought it, I also complied to the best of my ability, whatever that means.
What are these false faces that we wear everyday?
An attempt to keep the world engaged with me, that’s what my mask is. Pimples and smells, creamy colored teeth instead of snow white, any deformity at all and even simply being plain don’t cut the mustard. Habits of personality have frozen our faces into certain configurations. We are all petrified versions of our natural spontaneous and warm hearted selves. Luckily, my sagging face has lots of laugh lines but for many, disdain, anger, fear and depression have left unappealing tracks.
I never even knew I wore a mask – until it fell off.
In 1982, I was co-facilitating a therapy group for men and women with my colleague, a male psychiatrist. One particular night I was feeling quite sassy and was zinging with helpful insights. I flung one to a woman in the group who zinged right back with:
Who the hell do you think you are?
I had not a clue.
Like mosaic shards crumbling off an old stone wall, my face shattered on the ground at my feet. There was a replica underneath that sort of looked like my old face but with more vulnerability, more realness. I burst into tears of shock. For hours I cried. Each heaving breath brought a sense of new possibilities and I became aware that I was undergoing an unbidden, uncontrollable deep cleansing of old cultural and familial habits of thinking about myself. A blessing!
So the mask of propriety and perfection is one kind of mask many of us have been taught to wear in our modern, urban world. There are myriad variations – pretending to be fine when we’re not, of being nice when we’re not feeling very generous or kind, of looking 25 when we’re 55, of saying what we think wants to be heard not what we really want to say, all false faces that dishonor our souls, hide our authenticity.
Then there masks worn by both hero and villain. Robbers, rapists, the lone ranger and superman all hide their identities behind the mask.
But today, the masks we are about to put on our faces reveal our deeper/wider selves. Masks crafted with the help of invisible energies and expansive ideas, masks which stretch our limits and enlarge our sense of self… revealing aspects of ourselves that we didn’t know belonged to us. These masks allow us to be more fully who we are and in service of something larger than our short lived selves.
It is these masks which we don now.