A World Without Masks
My intention as a teacher is to create a flourishing community that allows people to be themselves, as they are, not as they think they “should be”. Our egos with their accompanying superegos dictate rewards and punishments for our self-concepts that are fanciful, at best, and prisons, at worst. Our environments mirror or threaten these self-concepts such that in either and in both cases, we only strive continuously to prove the manufactured concepts to ourselves and to others, once and for all. This then ever so subtly becomes the unconscious, unexamined, autopilot mission of our lives, and we may be the last to find out what we’re up to, if we’re even so fortunate as to find out at all.
The prime travesty of this futile quest to create a self on top of a self is that we fail to see the inherent gifts that we rightly possess and undermine them by playing to our weaknesses while proclaiming them strengths. In this way, we all wear finely decorated but highly delicate masks made of self-image, and we are helpless to relate to others in a world of more masks. Thus the heart longs for connection not with apparel but with oneself and other real selves… This is a state the great Danish philosopher and founding father of Existentialism coined as quintessential “despair”. Offering hope through the sadness of this pervasive paradox, he writes in The Sickness Unto Death:
“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”
In other words, in order to be ourselves, we must stop identifying with things other than ourselves and relate to ourselves, as we are, willfully, embracing who we naturally, intuitively, and primordially are. The “establishing” of this can only come, Kierkegaard underscores, by confidence that 1. We don’t need the masks to live up to our full potential 2. That it is possible to give up the masks because others have done so in past, and 3. There is a relationship with a power that created both person and mask, which awards freedom to the person who throws away the mask. That is how a self is effectively established throughout the ages.
Now this may sound lofty in its philosophical and theological imports, however, one can grasp the very reality of masks and personhoods beneath the masks in but a moment of sincere introspection or authentic self-expression. Honesty is the chief characteristic that defines life without the mask and often translates into an intelligent and discriminating vulnerability, which invites genuine trust, care, and the subsequent comfort for removal of masks around us.
These unmasked moments are the most refreshing in all existence, I would assert from my own personal experience, and when accumulated over time, build the confidence to laugh at the mask, if not leave it altogether ultimately, as we realize its obsolescence in the face of the real. And in so doing, we discover connections and bonds, which pacify the primeval cravings of the heart that drive mankind to distraction (cravings both Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis coined as Sensucht), for they, are in fact, what the heart was made for.
Seeking the accumulation of life-giving experiences within a mask-free environment and inspired by the incisive wisdom of the Bhagavad-Gita as it pertains to contemporary life, Rasanath and I co-founded Gita Sutras (now known as Upbuild) in 2008 – an educational social enterprise – which we continue to run as our full-time occupations. As we evolve through our own studies and practices, sharing what we experience via workshops, courses, and other programming innovations, I find that I now have the unique privilege to witness and partake in the blossoming of a beautiful new community. Together, participants co-create cutting experiences of depth and wonder by the simple confidence that we don’t need our masks. We can leave them at the door, and taste freedom for a time, until we can, at last, live that freedom timelessly.