Unmasking Fear

October 26th, 2010

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. James Arthur Baldwin

Have you heard the vampire pick-up line: “What’s your type?” Hopefully now you are sucked in to the theme. So what’s your type? I don’t mean blood type, but personality type? What masks do you store in your personality kit bag? Halloween is a great time to reflect on the masks that hide your fears, and decide which ones, if any, are serving you.

Ancient cultures lived in dread of winter because of their superstitious beliefs that winter would only end if the gods returned from the underworld. Many believed that during this in-between time of year, the veil was lifted between the world of the living and the world of the dead and spirits moved freely back and forth. Their rituals were an attempt to appease the spirits and maybe purge their fear.

Our Halloween celebrations grew out of these ancient ideas. Kids dress up as people and figures that seem far away and sometimes scary, and dance on the line between reality and make-believe. They wear masks as if to poke a little fun at fear and claim some autonomy. We let kids walk the streets at night in supervised ways so that they get a safe taste of night life.

As mystery author Nevada Barr writes, “Halloween traditionally was the night we were given the freedom to explore the dark — not to find and be the evil but to see that the night was as beautiful as the day, that we were powerful, others were kind, that there was candy behind those closed doors and strangers who gave us treats….. On Halloween, we learn we can meet with our demons; that monsters are really and truly just us in other guises; that we can survive this interface. We learn that we are trustworthy; that our parents can dress us as demons, send us out into the night of demons to move among the demons and yet trust us to do nothing worse than to beg candy off the neighbors.”  Seeking Enlightenment…Hat by Hat.

The Hopi people have a fascinating rite of passage for their children. When they are young, the children experience a ritual during the corn harvest. Kachinas, masked holy men, parade into the tribe’s circle, bless the corn and bring gifts to the children. At the age of initiation, teenagers are taken to an alternate harvest festival.  During this occasion, something surprising happens. Instead of dancing, the Kachinas stand directly in front of the children and remove their masks. These men, whom the children had always thought were gods, are revealed in fact to be their uncles and neighbors. It’s a coming of age ritual, where otherworldly magic gives way to ordinary miracle. It’s a way of showing the kids that all of life, even the most ordinary people and situations, are full of divine wonder. They don’t need to live in fear.

Masks are important. They protect us, and its right to protect yourself. I think back to 9/11, and people running helter skelter through the streets of lower Manhattan with their masks protecting them from the dust and ash. I think of people at airports, protecting themselves from the swine and bird flues. Masks are useful for so many purposes. Humor can be like a mask, calming a tense situation. Masks protect your fragile sense of self worth. They give you a way to decide how much of yourself, and which parts of yourself, you reveal to the world.

Masks are healthy as long as you remember that it’s a mask and not the real you in any permanent sense. Beyond the masks lie your true self. The Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, tells a beautiful parable about life without masks-

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

At moments when you lose your fear and know that no circumstance, evil or dark night of the soul can crush you, your bare face and naked soul are touched by the sun and you dance in the oneness of life.

Wear your masks mindfully and know that they’re important, but they don’t define you. They are just masks you wear for a time and purpose.

You dance in life most gracefully when you know how to move between the various aspects of who you are. The more familiar you are with your own masks and personas, the more you realize how temporary and changeable they are. Every now and again, you remove the masks covering your essence and allow yourself just to be. The peace is transcendent. You let the masks slip and let someone see the real you behind all the personas. Whether in love making, or friendship, these are the precious moments of life, when you are stripped naked before another person and feel completely safe. In those moments you become one.

Happy Halloween! Fear is unmasked. Love lies beneath.

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  1. Joan Cook says:

    There is good wisdom here, Ian.  I have heard bits of it over my life, some large chunks, too.  Like so many other lessons, the full depth of the message is so clear now, after 66 years of living. And that is no mistake, taking so long to truly hear the big lessons.  Hearing it is only a part of the full experience of knowing.  It takes all the senses to feel, taste, see a lesson.  That’s how we live it , as we must, in order to know it.

  2. Yet another good one, Ian. I liked all the examples and illustrations, but I especially appreciated your reference to Marcus’ application of the term “mask” to the Trinity. It makes the Trinity idea (which I have all but put to the back of the closet) a bit more accessible and perhaps usable again (in a limited way). Thanks.

  3. Ishana says:

    Amazing. I have the urge to make my mask(s) material now. That would be a fun project, wouldn’t it? I wonder if a masquerade has the same notion of masks as you’ve laid out here: images of our temporary selves. You’ve given me a lot of material to think about. Thank you.

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  6. Ron Tedwater says:

    Really nice post,thank you

  7. I know you probably have to disagree, but if you can’t beat them, join them.

  8. I agree with most of your points, but some need to be discussed further, I will hold a small talk with my buddies and maybe I will look for you some advice shortly.

    - Henry

  9. Really nice post,thank you, best website ever

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  15. Tea says:

    I found your blog on yahoo. I think it’s awesome.

  16. You may have not intended to do so, but I think you have managed to express the state of mind that a lot of people are in. The sense of wanting to help, but not knowing how or where, is something a lot of us are going through.

  17. spel rea says:

    Really…? It’s sooooo cute. I just laughed. The best entry I have seen for a long period.

  18. If words are armor you’ve written a solid suit here. I can’t dispute the points you make here as they are just too well thought out and written. Thank you for writing this interesting article.

  19. I like your bold viewpoints on this subject. I can tell you have a passion for writing. Your writing style is both informational and persuasive in this article. I share many of your same views.

  20. I chose to bookmark your article so I can come back and read it again. It’s very well-written, interesting and intelligent. You’re an excellent writer with a lot of style.

  21. Deone Higgs says:

    Wonderful insights of wisdom here, Ian! It’s always inspiring to read what Soulseeds has for us. Thanks mate. :) 

  22. [...] Soulseeds » Blog Archive » Unmasking Fear. Share this:E-MailFacebookTwitterLinkedInXINGGoogle PlusDiggRedditTumblrPinterestKloutKredPeerIndexGefällt mir:Gefällt mirSei der Erste dem dies gefällt. Dieser Beitrag wurde unter Uncategorized veröffentlicht. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink. ← Layups Could Help Robots Jump Easier [VIDEO] [...]

  23. Reg Samuel says:

    Yet another great well written articleThanks Ian

  24. Larry Glover says:

    I just discovered your site from a tweet post. I appreciate the spirit and depth of wisdom you reflect here. Thank you. Oh but to honor the mask(s) and know it is not I!

  25. [...] ~~~~ Reblogged from Soulseeds. [...]