When was the last time you walked by a Halloween store and looked at all the masks? Could you imagine being dressed up as that character? Perhaps the mask was repulsing? Maybe it brought back a fond memory of a movie. Masks have a profound way of taking something that is one way and categorically changing it to be a different way. Jason without the white hockey mask is just a person wearing a mechanic suit. And Beast, from Beauty and the Beast, would not be possible.
Metaphorical masks can be somewhat similar. They can create a persona and keep others from seeing who someone really is. Not all masks are bad. Some are beneficial, some are benign, and some are detrimental. All of us have them. But unlike a Halloween mask at some point we must learn how to detect if we are wearing one.
A great question to ask is: Are you wearing the mask or is the mask wearing you?
Sometimes the answer is obvious and often it isn’t.
In 2017 National Geographic published an article called Behind the Mask: Revealing the Trauma of War. In part one, the effects of war and PTSD on individuals was shown through a series of self-created “trauma masks” as well as a short paragraph and audio segment. The masks are heartbreaking and effectively depict the difficulty these service members have had to live with. Through their participation in working with trained mental health professionals at a PTSD program these individuals were able to identify the mask that had been wearing them. In this case, creating the mask was as a physical outlet to see the metaphorical mask they had been wearing.
But masks are not always apparent. Decades of living and experiencing one’s humanness is more than enough for us to have masks on masks on masks. Truly, there’s no getting around it. So, how does one begin to recognize a mask if it’s wearing us? Or, if one recognizes a mask is being worn, where does one begin to heal?
Fortunately programs like Warriors at Ease (WAE) offer services, programs, and education designed to support healing. Through understanding how trauma impacts the nervous system, certified WAE teachers are able to meet people where they are and teach a safe and effective yoga class, meditation, and/or breath practice. Any of these practices are effective with moving “the issues out of the tissues” and physiologically harmonize one’s nervous system.
It’s not an overnight fix. Nor is it a one-and-done practice. It is a relationship that takes time to develop and trust. As the wise philosopher Anonymous said “it’s simple but not easy.” It takes courage to show up for yourself. It takes bravery to look in the mirror and see our mask(s). It takes guidance to heal and possibly remove the mask. Nobody can do it alone.
Masks in a Halloween store are easy to peruse and gawk at. They can encourage us to try a different way of being even for one night. As we enter into the Halloween season, I encourage you to notice what masks you wear and ask yourself if it’s still serving you? If it’s not – reach out. Find a facility, peer group, or individual to talk to. Warriors at Ease has an abundance of resources. Today I walked a labyrinth to meditate and pray. As I walked I was reflecting on this blog and what my intention was for writing it. I prayed to see the masks I wear and for the ones that are invisible to be made visible. I prayed for the courage to look at that mask and find what wound it’s hiding. I prayed to live into my heartfelt desire. And I prayed to remember the true essence of who I am.
All of us have a past. All of us wear masks. But not all of us are aware we do.
Are you wearing the mask or is the mask wearing you?
Resources: One of my favorite ways to recalibrate my nervous system is to do an early afternoon iRest Yoga Nidra practice. You can find them on YouTube, Insight Timer and Spotify to name a few. Here’s Robin Carnes iRest playlist on Spotify