Monday, October 13, 2008

Behind the Mask: Your Authentic Self

Never for the sake of peace & quiet deny your own experience or conviction.
~Dag Hammarskjold
In the 4th grade, I went to school dressed as a cardinal—not the second-in-command of the Roman Catholic Church kind, but the North American Finch variety (cardinalis cardinalis); the state bird of Virginia. My mother helped me with the costume, which consisted of an oversized red sweatshirt, brown tights and a felt hood bearing the cardinal’s crowned peak. With nose painted black and fake bird feet strapped to my shoes, I boarded the bus with enthusiasm and pride. I returned that afternoon with trophy in hand—first place prize for “Best Virginia Day Costume.”

Later, in the 5th grade, I became a Dogwood tree. For this, my mother and I gathered flowering braches from the large Dogwood in our front yard, which I proudly strapped to my arms, legs and head, representing our State’s most cherished flower. Again, I took the prize.

By the time I reached the 6th grade, I was slightly conscientious about my look. To accommodate my more sophisticated tastes, I left behind my "childish" wildlife representations and dressed as the Governor’s wife--complete with my grandmother’s fox stole, pillbox hat and stunning silk suit; a mini-Jackie O in the making. I don’t recall if I took home a prize that year, but something tells me that I probably did.

Yet it wasn’t always about the prize for me. You bet I loved a good trophy—still do. But mostly, I was driven by the freedom of expression, connecting with that part of myself that lived in my imagination; always entertaining, always creating, always considering the next great idea. Back then, I didn’t care what the other kids thought. It never even occurred to me that I was one of only a handful of children wearing a crazy costume to school. I was living my creative truth.

But by the time I started high school—somewhere along the way—I had lost contact with my most authentic self. Instead, burdened with thoughts of fitting in, I learned to wear a different kind of costume—one that would help me to blend in with my surroundings, chameleon-like, so that I wouldn’t be thought weird or different.

We’ve all done it at some time: Feigning interest in things that we’re not really interested in just to be accepted by others, part of the crowd; withholding our opinions for fear of sounding foolish or ill-informed; hiding our true feelings because we don’t want to rock the boat or acknowledge the uncomfortable truth; holding back vital parts of who we are that might be met with disapproval by others.

Sure, I have always been an independent sort, more of a lion than a lamb. But my desire to be liked by others led me to connect with the externals of life—putting more emphasis on what others thought or said or did—conforming, rather than connecting with my personal truth. This was especially true in my early relationships where I found myself carried along on someone else’s agenda; wondering why, at times, I felt so frustrated and unfulfilled.

Old habits die hard. What started as an unconscious pattern took years for me to recognize as a destructive force in my relationships. Until I remembered my Cardinal-Dogwood Tree-Governor’s Wife-Crazy-Costume-Wearing-Free-Spirited-Self--learning to care less about what other people thought and trust more in the beauty of my uniqueness--I remained disconnected.

Authenticity demands that we get real, gently reminding us that the masks we wear will determine much about the substance and quality of our lives. When we hide our personal truth—for whatever reason—we disconnect further from what’s real and true within us. Then we may find that, while we attract people and experiences that match our false Self, we’ve done little to honor our authentic truth, keeping us evermore removed from our core desires and greatest potential in life.

Remember, little if anything can move what’s authentic from its foundation. Authenticity is next to perfection.
What masks are you wearing?

1 comment:

TR Hughes said...

I think we have all used a mask at one time or another...for society, our partners, or even ourselves. You are so on point. We all struggle probably more often than not to stay true to ourselves and capture that authenticity. Finding our true authentic selves is a journey on its' own and I, too, have played that game. Sometimes we simply absorb the characteristics of those around us and that is a shame. I think it takes growing into yourself to overcome that inclination. Great Post! I hope to recognize that tendency within myself as it occurs and rise above the social dharma to allow my most authentic self to shine.
TR Hughes