This photo was taken at my daughter’s wedding in 2013. What a fun time playing masquerade in the photo booth with my beautiful friends. Who would have guessed we’d be wearing masks to survive 8 years later. I had been thinking about what our current masks might be trying to show us? This photo spoke volumes.
I was a brunette with the assistance of hair coloring back then. People couldn’t wrap their minds around me being a grandmother at the time of these photos (me with my son to the left). I enjoyed those compliments. I’m not going to lie. Would they have ceased if I hadn’t been masking my silver?
I met 3 of these dear friends in the above photo during my ski instructor days. When training to be an instructor one of the first things they did was strip us of our bad habits. It was both humbling and gratifying to be observed through a magnifying glass. Of course we wanted to know about anything that was preventing us from being better skiers.
Looking back I can equate my “bad habits” to times when I was in “survival mode.” They were the techniques I had come up with to avoid falling versus to enjoy skiing. As I learned the art of carving my turns—riding the skis, at one with the snow—skiing took on a whole new dimension for me. With commitment, discipline and practice, rather than muscling through a run, I found myself descending with a newfound grace.
There was a period of undoing and then retraining. Muscle memory is a thing. We needed an educated eye to point out what we were doing wrong and how to correct it so we didn’t pass it along. The trainers were essential. Clients come to me for similar reasons. They are looking for an educated eye. If they could see how they were contributing to their discord they wouldn’t be doing it.
Watching my grandchildren play dress up is always delightful. I enjoy watching their creative imaginations in action. The dressing up and pre-wedding pampering were delightful as well. But these masks we've been pressured into donning don't feel particularly delightful.
How might humanity be unknowingly contributing to the wearing of masks, I wondered.
As kids we develop survival skills too. Our survival skills are who we become when it doesn’t feel safe to be us. Our parents and teachers are often the ones with whom we learn to not feel safe. At one time or another we have to figure out who we need to be in order to feel loved and who we need to be in order to avoid feeling harmed by the very people who are supposed to be our symbols of safety, security and nurturing. Even with the best of intentions, parents and teachers fall short periodically. If you are a parent or teacher, and reading this, you know. It’s inevitable. You're human, not perfect. Some seek training when they fall short and child and adult grow together through it. Others don't think much of how they come across.
When parents muscle through the slippery slopes of parenthood with limited skills, children must come up with their own techniques for surviving them. To avoid feeling hurt we create masks—who we need to be in those moments. Get hit (literally or figuratively) a few times with someone's shame and you figure out pretty quickly what they are looking for from you. It's essential for children in these cases—they are captive audiences. But by the time we are adults we have it mastered. You might have grown to believe that behaviors such as agreeing with people when you truly don't, giving 150%, telling white lies, pretending something doesn't bother you when it does, or volunteering to be the sufferer to maintain connections is normal—healthy even. In fact, we often think nothing of it. Masks have become like a second skin. We can seamlessly switch from one to another.
I find it interesting that here we are wearing masks—the macrocosm reflecting our microcosm. We call it our new normal but these trick-or-treatish facades are not new. Pretending to be something we are not to fit in has been going on for generations. But at the end of the day here’s the thing… maybe everybody else likes us for how we make them feel but not ourselves.
Our society has taken masquerading to the nth degree. Look at all the money invested in our efforts to appear younger, cooler, smarter, more fit and successful. We've gone from makeup to plastic surgery; the job a bachelor's degree used to afford us now calls for a master's; the thinner we shoot for the larger the portions restaurants provide. It's madness. For what? Following a passion is energizing but if your motivation is, "What do I need to say or do to feel loved and to avoid feeling harmed?" it will either leave you feeling exhausted, defeated, pissed or procrastinating. You can never relax. The lengths we've gone to fit in and feel enough or not too much have reached epidemic proportions.
I was explaining how I thought our proverbial mask-use needed to be addressed along with the vaccine to get out of these troubled times with my chiropractor and biology teacher friend, Dr. Jess Meade. She got all excited because I was unknowingly describing much of how the coronavirus works. This is what she had to say about the virus in response to my sharing.
“Coronavirus spike proteins fool our cell’s receptors—masquerade as what the cell is looking for. It fools the cell into accepting and bonding with the virus. The spike binds with a cell receptor creating an opening for the virus to send its genetic material (mRNA) through. Once inside the host cell, the cells machinery uses the instructions to start making proteins. Instead of making the cells proteins, it makes virus proteins. The virus gets fully assembled inside the host cell and then new viruses are released into the blood. The host cell dies after this usually.
The cells that are susceptible are epithelial cells. These are everywhere. They are our lining cells. They are the lining of the throat, nose, stomach. They are all over the body. It’s like our skin beneath the skin.”
I was gobsmacked by the similarity of our behavior when we proverbially mask. When masquerading for survival's sake, we too are attempting to fool others into accepting and bonding with us. And what does always trying to be something we are not say about what we think about our true selves? Not much. In our effort to feel loved and not feel harmed we concluded that who we were was often either not enough or too much: not loveable enough, not valuable enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not grateful enough, not this enough, not that enough or too sensitive, too loud, too free spirited, too selfish, etc. We believed those who didn’t accept us for who we are were right, and in some cases took it to the degree of self-loathing. The little “s” self we created to compensate, born of fear, moved in and made itself at home.
We have been tricked into believing that our outward image is what counts; that love and value can be earned; that busting our butts will somehow hide our insecurities and make up for our wounded self-esteem. COVID-19 has put a stop to the party—to this downward spiral. And what happened to our true self, the big “S” self born of Love, when our masked version stepped in? Fortunately it didn't die. We just got separated.
The child with the mask has learned from the adult with the mask and so it goes. We have forgotten about our true self and consequently why we are here. It’s like a mass amnesia. Much of humanity has been unknowingly operating as though it’s still in survival mode and now we are. We've been living as though we're still a captive audience and now we are. We’ve been behaving similarly to the coronavirus and unknowingly passing these destructive habits along.
To those of you who are on the front line and/or in the throes of emotion with this virus may I offer you my empathy and a cyber hug. To those who feel gobsmacked awake, have been wanting to help, have felt a call to come out of hiding or a desire to live and love with a bit more grace, I offer you the challenge of identifying, owning and removing a mask.
Much like training to be a ski instructor, to undo and retrain from avoiding falling to enjoying living can sometimes feel as easy as flipping a light switch while other times it feels more like a journey requiring commitment, discipline, practice and a trainer. The first step is conscious awareness. What do you do in moments when it doesn't feel safe to be you—in your effort to feel loved and avoid feeling harmed?
With each journey you will likely learn something about yourself, confront an insecurity or two, possibly rattle some relationships, heal a wound and in the end be reunited with your true spirit self, born of Love. If my hunch is correct, I also believe it has the potential to assist with the vaccine in moving this virus on out for good by addressing its root cause. And what would we be moving in and passing along as we heal this separation? More truth, love, openheartedness, compassion, lightness and grace for appetizers. Playing "dress up" would be for fun and a means for expressing ourselves. We'd be inviting people to step into who they truly are rather than criticizing them. Love would be our motivation rather than fear. I've experienced some glimmers. Sign me up for that party!
Fortunately wisdom can be born of experience. My hope is that we can look back at some point with gratitude for this wakeup call. And not that we'd ever want to go through anything like this pandemic ever again but that's what it took for humanity to turn a corner. We'll be able to see how everyone had a valuable role to play in bringing awareness to and healing this separation. Those who feel called to remove a proverbial mask could be part of the spiritual front line for ushering in a new normal we can thrive on. Who knows. If you have come out of a crisis with a greater capacity to love you've experienced a glimmer of what I'm talking about.
You've always been enough. You just forgot for a while. Me too. I hear you.
Friends in this Love,
I've been working on my part. The latest mask I've felt a call to surrender, although appearing superficial, has deeper roots. (excuse the puns) It has provided a bit of a journey. I'm sure my lady readers can relate. More on that in another blog.