The mask is the outer expression of who you are. It is also called the persona. Your mask makes up much of what you might think about when you think about “you.” How you choose to cut your hair, what you wear, and how you connect socially are all a part of the mask or persona that you choose to put out to the world. Sometimes the mask gets a bad reputation. New age rhetoric and self help books tell us to be authentic and to be our true selves. Some spiritual traditions emphasize dropping the illusion of the self for a deeper connection with the spirit. Let’s also consider the benefits of the mask.
The mask is a useful and important part of who we are. At its best, the mask is an outward expression of who we feel ourselves to be on the inside. It can be the creative material of our deeper expression. When our mask is in alignment with our deeper nature, it feels authentic and is fun to play with.
On the other hand, when we overly identify with our mask, and think that it IS who we truly are, we live a life of subtle or not-so-subtle anxiety. We suffer from feelings of emptiness and feel a profound loss of meaning. Our defenses are grounded in our mask. When we live in these defenses, we can find ourselves caught in the drama of life, fighting often, or feeling the victim.
Our deeper nature exists as the part of the self that is differentiated from the oneness of everything, but fundamentally expresses our essence. This is often called the true self or the core self. This is distinctly different than the no self that is discussed in Buddhism. The no self is when we are able to completely step outside of our personal identity. In this space we are able to connect with the infinite. There is a lot to learn from this experience of the no self. I find it is the true self that helps most people live fully and create a life of meaning.
As I mentioned, we can live our lives believing our mask is our true self. Often times, this illusion only gets dismantled when we have significant crisis that pushes us to question how we have come to see ourselves. As our mask is challenged, we go searching for something else and this search can lead us in the direction of our deeper nature.
We do not need to wait for crisis to begin our journey. Some of us feel a call to look for something deeper and more significant. Some of us are fortunate to have maintained a strong connection with our deeper nature. Others of us might experience a generalized sense that there is more to our life than what we have previously lived. But regardless of how we start, the way that we get there is by challenging the hold of the mask, dismantling the beliefs and emotions that hold us to experiencing the world through this limited view, and learning how to express our deeper nature through the filter of our mask.
In my LifeWork Community program I teach a number of ways that we can more productively work with our true self and bring its expression through our mask and into the world. The following are some of the areas that I address in my program and questions that you can use to support yourself in moving towards living your true self.
People sometimes believe that you do personal development work if you are broken, but that is not really the case. Yes, it is true that hurt people work on themselves to feel better. However, it is also true that the best place to start your work from is a place of total acceptance. When we do our personal development work from a place of more and more appreciation, we gain so much more for our efforts.
What is one thing that you get on your case about that you can start to accept about yourself?
Personal truth can sound like a lofty concept and like it is detached from everyday life, but this does not need to be the case. Our personal truth can be a felt and lived experience. In fact, it is. When we live our personal truth we feel happier, more loving, and more energized. When we step out of integrity we feel less happy, closed, and like we have lower energy.
When do you feel that you are connected to your personal truth? What does it feel like to you?
Forgiveness is a pathway to healing. Healing is a state of harmony and peace. When we hold onto grievances from the past the pain of these events is carried in us and is reflected in the world around us. We continually activate the pains so that they can be healed. The idea is not for us to suffer through life but to become aware that the pain is there so that it can be transformed.
What are you carrying from your past that needs to be let go of? What needs to happen for you to be ready to let it go?
Our most highly attuned state is a creative state. Creativity and its expression are the result of being able to be in the present moment, spontaneous, and positively focused. Creativity is a form of healing and an aspiration of conscious growth. We cannot create without the willingness to see more than what has previously been.
How can you nurture creativity in your life?
People crave a sense of meaning and purpose. Without it, we often feel lost at sea. The trials and tribulations of life are hard to weather because we face them with no sense of what to do with them. We may even end up feeling victimized by life and see ourselves transform into a perpetrator. When we have a sense of meaning we create a pathway through the challenges of life and create a sense of inner peace.
What is most important to you? Why is it most important?
When it comes to the “true self,” one fixed point for contemplation is the relationship between your ego and your essence. The terms “true self,” “ego,” and “essence” are broad and have many associations attached to them. Let’s take a look at how you can make your ego work for you as a tool to help you fully unearth your true self.
We need to have a working connection with our true self to feel a sense of success and fulfillment. Put another way, it’s only through our connection with our true self that we’re able to feel satisfied by the positive outcomes of our efforts.
Our ego is both an obstacle and an ally. On one hand, if our ego ran amok and ruled every decision we made, it would be impossible to experience our true self. On the other hand, our ability to fully access and express our true self emerges with the help of our ego.
Personal development work requires that you become aware of your ego and your true self. Further, this work teaches you how to use the many aspects of who you are in a productive way.
There are several common problems that people encounter along their path of personal development. The main problem is that once we realize that we’ve previously been totally consumed by our eg, we forget that we’re actually part of something much greater than ourselves.
As Eva Perakkos says:
“Even those of you who have, for years, formed a concept of the real self, of the creative substance that enlivens every human being, forget in ninety-five percent of your daily lives that this creative being lives and moves in you and you live and move in it. You forget its existence. You do not reach for its wisdom. You stake all your reliance on your limited outer ego self. You neglect to open yourself for the deeper self’s truth and feelings. You go blithely ahead as though there really were nothing else but your conscious mind, your ego self with its immediately accessible thinking processes and will force.”
If she’s right and we do indeed forget to draw on the infinite richness always ever-present outside ourselves, what can we do to change this? How can we live from our true self more fully? How can we connect to our true self so that we can create richer and fuller lives?
I propose that we look at the ego as if it were a tool. Think of it this way: if I can use a hammer, then it can serve me. If I think I’m a hammer, then I will be used by something else to serve some other end (and most likely hit up against something quite hard in the process.) The only way that we can stay conscious of our ego is to employ it.
You can’t get rid of your ego, and you can’t ignore it either. And if you stop using it to help draw out your true self, you’re likely to fall under its illusion. So, how can you make your ego work for you? Well. You can draw on the will of your ego to focus yourself on removing obstacles to your true self. You can also work on strengthening the lived experience of your true self so that it becomes less and less of a concept and more and more of an indelible part of your everyday experience.
The intellectual acceptance of the real self as a philosophical precept will not alleviate [the problems] because it cannot give a sense of reality and true experience of the real self. This requires more. It requires an actualization of the faculties of the real self.
What this means is that you’ve got to train your ego to sense and support the expression of your true self. The truth is that you really can feel into your true self. To do this, you need to use your ego to plug into the wants, needs and full expression of your deeper self and remove the obstacles to it along the way. All the while, keep your eye on your ego so that you do not fall under its spell.
Awareness, of all kinds, is not the end of the road. Rather, it’s part of a cycle. Once we have an awareness we need to learn how to apply it, live it, work with it.