Ancient Greek actors wore over-sized masks to be better seen by members of the audience who sat distant from the stage. A crude mouthpiece inserted into the mask served to project the actors’ voices to be better heard by the audience. That is rarely why we wear masks today.
This election season, there has been a near-constant argument about whether the main candidates were truthful and authentic in the faces they showed in public. Were we witnessing the “real” Trump or Clinton? Their speeches were analyzed in terms of what they revealed and in terms of what the speeches seemed designed to obscure. Now, in the election’s aftermath, the only consistent sentiment I’ve found across the social-political spectrum is total uncertainty about what will happen, what we’ll discover, and what consequence we’ll face as the face of our shared future reveals itself.
Wearing Psychological Clothing
The central issue remains for us all: Is our public face authentic? Robert Johnson said that who we show ourselves to be in public represents our “psychological clothing.” That clothing is like a mask we wear as we attempt to show the world who we want the world to believe we are, while at the same time hiding or “masking” the parts of ourselves we have come to believe are unwanted, unaccepted, unworthy, unvalued, or in some other way undeserving of being shown in public. Who are we beneath our psychological clothing?
How appropriate this Halloween season for us to ask ourselves who we are… really? Brené Brown’s work has made it abundantly clear that being our true and authentic selves requires regularly receiving doses of courageous vulnerability. Revealing who we are convincingly shows us and others that being our true selves is all we can really ever be. Even the moon knows this is true! It can be a new moon, all but invisible in the sky and yet that dark shadow remains full of promise. It can be slivers of varying size during the month. But, it can’t ever be more than a full moon, and neither can we.
Unmasking Healthy Aging
In life’s second and third chapters, we too often fall victim to the idea that we are past our prime; that our light no longer shines, and that our vitality has dimmed. Too often, we start wearing masks that hide the glory of our accumulated life experiences. Unlike the moon, we sometimes forget that we still cycle through stages of growth and contraction all the time, sometimes shining brightly, confident, and publicly radiant and at others being humbler, less visible, and more still and contemplative. These phases are all different variations and expressions of our full glory.
I wonder if that is what philosopher Martin Buber meant when he said, “To be old is a glorious thing when one has not unlearned what it means to begin.” Every 28 days, our lunar cycle begins a “new month.” We can learn a lesson from our closest heavenly body. We can stop wearing false masks that show what we pretend to be while hiding our true nature. We can begin anew!
Ask yourself, if you created a mask that highlighted your full self, a vulnerable yet courageous self, an experienced and wiser self, a self that draws on your past but still longs to discover the adventures that lie ahead, what would that mask look like? Wearing that mask would be vital and exciting. After all, it would allow you to be fully seen and heard all the way to the back row of life’s theater!