The Masks We Wear

“When it comes to recognizing the truth of our own identities, most of us experience a symbolic version of blindness that keeps us from seeing ourselves for who we really are.” – Christopher Heuertz

This quote just crossed my awareness, as I am reading “The Sacred Enneagram” book. Several recent themes in my life are converging – the Enneagram, a Deep Coaching Program (Enneagram based) I am about to embark on, and a yearlong Awakened Living program I am co-birthing with a dear friend and a professional collaborator. At least as much, if not more, the theme of this reflection aligns to my own journey of awakening, of seeing clearly the truth of who I am, and the masks I am wearing when hiding and protecting this truth.

Just like most of us, most of the time.

I used to be a very shy person, well into my twenties. It can be attributed to a variety of factors, with some of more impactful ones being growing up with the family of origin I had, and immigrating to a new country. When we immigrated to Israel, I felt like a stranger in a strange land for a very long time. I did not speak the language, did not have any friends, and lost all the “status” I had back in Russia, as one of the top students in the class, and the initiator of all the games we used to play with friends after school. Israel was not really very welcoming, at least not to a boy 11 years of age, and I felt like a second-rate citizen almost immediately. A mask was taken away from me and I lost all of my identity of who I thought of myself at that time. This mask, of “being a somebody” was gone, and was replaced by a mask of shyness. That shyness continued well into the university and my mid-to-late twenties.

Then, I remember a friend at my undergrad university telling me about a woman from my class who was interested in me. “If only he was not such an arrogant and condescending snob,” she told my friend, “he passes by without even looking at me.” These words were a wake-up call and a shock for me, because I actually really liked her and indeed passed by her many times. I was simply too shy to actually look at her, much less start a conversation. This dear friend was instrumental in helping me let go of yet another mask, the mask of shyness.

“The English word personality is derived from the Latin word for ‘mask.’ Simply put, our personality is the mask we wear. Taking off that mask, trying to get behind the mask, is the work of the spiritual journey.” – Christopher Heuertz

There are many other masks I have uncovered over the years. I’d like to say that I have shed them all, though this statement will be only partially true. Yes, I have shed some, only to uncover other masks hiding underneath. Some have proven to be very persistent, pretending to come off and be gone. Then, the moment I lose my presence and attention, they are back, usually catching me by complete surprise. “I thought I have dealt with you already,” I would usually think. Apparently not.

More and more, I have been seeing that this truly is a work of a lifetime, shedding the masks, inquiring into who or what is under all the masks. I see it with myself, and also with many others who work with adults. Coaches, educators, facilitators, counsellors – we have a whole lot of undoing to do, that goes back to our childhoods and all the unresolved baggage and trauma we carry with us. All these experiences were part of the creation process of the masks we wear. As we persist in this work of “undoing” with our clients, we get to see humbling, beautiful, and fulfilling moments when that shift and transformation happens.

I look at the process of awakening as one where we gather the courage to start facing our masks, shedding them one after another. Often, it is not an easy journey to take, taking an honest and authentic look into the darker aspects of ourselves, like our defense strategies, beliefs, judgments, and fixed ways of being. Our masks. Yet, I have also seen and experienced the incredible liberation that happens when one sheds a mask that has been around for a long time. Joy, peace, freedom are all symptoms on this journey of awakening.

“A mark of spiritual growth is when we stop polishing the mask and instead start working on our character. The Enneagram helps us do that character-structure work. The English word character comes from the Greek word meaning ‘engraving into stone.’ And that’s what we’re trying to do here with the help of the Enneagram—to chip away at our being, like the most talented of sculptors, and reveal our soul’s essence in its purest form.” – Christopher Heuertz