“When the curtain goes down at the end of the drama, the hero and the villain always step out hand in hand and the audience applauds both. They do not boo the villain at the end of the play. They applaud him for acting the part of the villain so well, and they applaud the hero for acting the part of the hero so well, because they know that the hero and the villain are only roles, masks.
Behind the stage is the green room. After the play is over, and the before it begins, the masks are taken off. The Hindus feel that behind the scene, under the surface of reality, you are all actors, marvelously skilled at playing parts and getting lost in the mazes of your own minds and the entanglements of your own affairs, as if this were the most urgent thing going on. But behind the scenes, in the green room- in the very back of your mind and the very depth of your soul- you always have a sneaking suspicion that the you might not be the you that you think you are.“
— Alan Watts, philosopher, writer and speaker, best known for bringing Eastern philosophy to the Western world.
This quote from Alan Watts’ Collected Talks will be our topic of discussion today. I want you to think about the masks you wear. At work, at home, with your friends, with your family; the masks that exhaust you, the masks that energize you, the masks that scare you. What do I mean by masks?
Everyone wears masks. We try to look like we have it all together. We pretend that we aren’t secretly freaking out or utterly confused about life and our role in it. We post vacation pictures and tell our spouses ‘Happy Birthday’ on Facebook. With social media, our ability to manipulate our masks has hit an all time high.
Some masks are needed, required in order to make it in every day life, or in professional work environments. The masks that I am concerned with as a mental health professional, are the masks that depress you, give you anxiety, or make it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
We all try to be things, achieve things, project things that we think the world around needs us to be. Maybe you are a single mom that has to have it all together; make every soccer practice, be a PTO member, and hold a full time job. Maybe you are “the funny” one in your group of friends, or the “successful” one in your family. I once heard a researcher state that in interviewing people in Hospice, almost 80% of them stated that they “lived someone else’s life”. It can be exhausting to uphold these masks and sometimes we spend our lives dedicated to the charade. Or we get tired of being someone or something for everyone else that we feel depressed, inadequate, afraid and like a failure.
Now, we don’t have to quit our masks cold turkey. I am not asking for huge existential crises to all take place at once, but gaining greater insight into the masks you wear and the expectations that you hold yourself to, can lend you a greater clarity when that “sneaking suspicion that you’re not the you that you once though you were” reveals itself.
What masks can you let go of just for today?
“I was depressed because I was trying to be the Wizard of Oz instead of the sweaty guy behind the curtain” — Jim Carrey
Thanks for reading!