Saturday, 15 November 2014

Masks & Persona's & a little on Worzel Gummidge

When I was a child I had an annoying habit of commenting on everything. My siblings would often cry “We don’t need a running commentary on this Danny” or more bluntly “Stop giving us a running commentary”. It was often at its most annoying in the car when I would pass comment on everything I saw from the window. This strange habit resurfaced in my later twenties, during the most difficult time of my life when I would comment, often in a cynically humorous way on everything I passed while staring at the world from either the back or passenger seat.

Looking back I think it was an attempt to connect to the world that seemed oh so far away. I felt very lonely at this period of my life and I noticed that the habit was stronger when I sat in the back seat alone and therefore ever so slightly more cut off.

These thoughts came back to me as I drove back from a spiritual gathering with two friends. The friend in the back seat spent the whole journey commenting and complaining and saying that they did not wish to sit in the back of my car again. It amused me so much and reminded me of myself or a self I had once been.

That night as I settled down and reflected on a wonderfully satisfying day, filled with meaning and purpose I experienced a sense of de ja vu watching television and checking out facebook. De ja vu experiences have been growing in me these last few months, I’m not sure why, but I suspect that it is due to the ever thinning of the layers of life while at the same time my moments of experience have thickened. As I lay there half watching “Match of the Day 2” many memories came flooding into my mind, my heart and my soul.

I wondered about the many persons I have been at different stages of my life, the many masks I have worn that I have believed protected me but have in fact only ever kept me lonely and cut off from experiencing all that is. I also wondered to myself who is the real me? Who am I as a person? I have lived many lives and at each stage it as felt real and yet now, looking back so many of the lives I have lived no longer feel real, feel authentic; when I look back now I do not see my face what I see is another person hiding behind many masks.

We humans have always wore masks, ever since the beginning of human society. The masks have depicted the multiple aspects of humanity, the many ‘selves’ that lie within each and every one of us. In the plays of ancient Greece masks were worn and exchanged by the players to depict each individual’s persona. The word ‘persona” itself is actually derived from per-sonare which meant “to sound through”? It was not only the face of the character that was expressed through the mask, but also the voice was exaggerated too. There is something beautifully powerful in this, it’s a wonderful metaphor for who we are as human beings. In many ways we can be identified as much by our voices as our faces and we can attempt to cover up who we our through our voices too.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how much my voice has changed over time, how my speech has altered. I have to some extent lost my accent, not completely I know but to some extent at least. This is no doubt due in part to having to speak publically and also not living in Yorkshire for nearly 20 years. Now my friend laughed out loud at this as to them I have quite a strong accent, but it is nothing like it used to be. I have not deliberately changed the way I speak but never the less it has happened. It fascinates me how some people seem to pick up accents very easily and yet others hang on to theirs even if they have left their homelands decades before. So much of who we are, our persona is caught up in our voices as well as our facial features. The masks we can wear not only cover our faces, but our voices too.

Masks of course are not only the domain of ancient times either. Many of our modern day heroes wear masks too. In many ways the hero has to wear a mask in order to protect his identity and therefore walk through life anonymously. It seems a hero cannot be a hero twenty four hours a day seven days a week three hundred and sixty five days of the year. The demands and the pressures it seems would be too much. Think about Zoro who has to don his mask in order to fight for his people; think about Batman and Spiderman too whose greatest fears are to be unmasked. There are numerous other examples too.

Now there is a part of me that just doesn’t like any of this. This idea of hiding who we are or having to be transformed into someone else to become a hero or a completely different personality. There is a loneliness in it that I want to rebel against. Think about it, all those heroes have a loneliness about them. They all have a dark side, they somehow can’t quite connect with everyone else.

As I thought of this those childhood memories came flooding back, of staring at the world from the car window. It particularly brought one image that has often haunted me, that of the scarecrow, perhaps the epitome of a loneliness in effigy. They are the loneliest of the lonely.

Now of course usually the scarecrow is depicted as a rather lonely semi-human creature and there was one that I had a deep affection for as a child. That scarecrow was Worzel Gummidge. Do you remember Worzel?

Worzel like so many other children’s characters desperately wanted to fit in to be a part of life, but never really succeeded. Now while he didn’t wear a mask he did something far more extreme. He would have to painfully remove his head and replace it with another totally different one that completely changed his personality. For poor old Worzel whatever he did always ended in disaster and he could never be what he tried so hard to be. He was always on the outside looking at the world alone, a scarecrow not a part of human life. He wore a different head for every occasion but that did not help him become what he wanted to be.

How many of us wear masks or put on different heads in our attempts to be accepted? Why do we believe we are not good enough just as we are, exactly as we are in this present moment, warts and all and beauty spots too? Why do we believe we need to act differently around certain people just to fit in? Why do we think we need to wear different masks or even heads for different occasions and even change the way that we speak in order to fit in and be accepted?

It never works you know, it only leads to loneliness and emptiness. Why? You may well ask, well because deep down inside we know it’s not who we really are. It means we just stand there as scarecrows staring at the world as it passes us by or we just sit there staring at the world giving our running commentaries and criticism without ever participating.

Last Sunday evening as I looked back at the person I have been at times in my life, I did so with compassion, with love. I need to do so in order to understand and accept others who suffer that sense of loneliness that comes when we hide behind the many masks we wear.

I believe that authenticity is at the core of the spiritual life. In fact I would say that the purpose of the spiritual life is to truly become real and to let go of the masks that we think allow us fit in and become acceptable to the world around us. It’s not about what we show to the world outside of us but how we live from our hearts and souls. It’s not about showing this stage character that we think the world wants to see but to be ourselves wholly and fully.

The purpose of the spiritual life is to become who we truly are. It is to remove the masks so that we can truly connect to life and to one another and see each other as we truly are, warts and all and beauty spots too. The spiritual life is about connecting to all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be so that time becomes thick and deep and therefore rich in meaning. In so doing we are able to truly serve our world and the people about us and therefore incarnate God’s love here and now and bring about the commonwealth of love in our very lives.

The spiritual life is about participating fully. It’s not about staring from our windows and commentating on all that we pass by it’s about being open, vulnerable and fully alive…

It’s about removing the masks that shield and separate us and seeing one another face to face and speaking our truth in love.


No comments:

Post a Comment