What’s A Mask Without A Masquerade

posted by Roman Hanis on August 14th, 2020

With everyone wearing covid masks while out and about these days, it makes me contemplate the symbolic role masks play for each of us in the cognitive evolution of our species. 

Image by Jondolar Schnurr

Throughout human history, masks have been closely tied to theatrics and creative expression – the word persona originates from ancient Greek and is translated literally as a mask. The mask in itself is neither good nor bad. Sometimes our personalities become conduits for creative life-force and other times they stand in our own way. Since these personas are conditioned by dogma, stereotypes and belief systems, it can be difficult to remember who we are beneath our professions, our favorite sport teams and public figures. On the other hand personality can also serve as the conduit for the passion of each unique human spirit to uplift the greater whole. The personality as the proverbial rice hull is essential only as long as the seed of life inside is honored.   


No Challenges, No Evolution 

There’s a saying in the Peruvian Andes and Amazon rainforest: “Excessive comfort makes us weak.” In other words, there have to be some challenges in our lives for continuous evolution to happen. In these cultures the masks are meant to reciprocate the wellbeing of the whole ecosystem. Positive change has to start from inner wellbeing. Yet today’s modern society is designed around a false sense of security to the point of imminent danger to the entire civilization. All because of being immersed in a sea of distractions that hinder the collective and individual evolutionary process. There has to be some genuine inner struggle beyond seductive social and political narratives that condition our thoughts, words and reactions. To ignore our deepest evolutionary impulses is to unconsciously serve someone else’s agenda. 

Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen, Peru

The Scary Dream Of Separation

For many people these days stillness is an uncomfortable quality to embrace. We have become so accustomed to the constant stimulation of our modern world that it can feel overwhelming when the background noises subside. Even when we wish to confront our deepest challenges, we often don’t have access to the necessary tools and practices, a supportive community, safe container, or guides and mentors along the way. We can experience such intense fear that we become unwilling to admit these unresolved issues even to ourselves. Not knowing any better, some of us create an entire show pretending to be well adjusted adults in a society where inner peace is ignored. 

The show must go on. However, no matter how good the show is, or how expensive the entire production is, there are still many gaps and imperfections in our facade. The symptoms of our emotional implosions may show up in other ways like physical illnesses or the nightmares in our sleep

Picture: Tibetan dance of the wrathful deity protectors

In the Tibetan culture, nightmares are known to be essential communications of the higher self. People come to elders with “scary” dreams that are then decoded by the ancestral language of evolution. A poetic language of symbol and metaphor that all ancestors used to be fluent in, is now mostly forgotten. Remembering this language uncovers the deep meaning behind all appearances and allows us to see the monsters beneath our beds as none other than our own shadows.

Evolution keeps pointing out the unconditional love that transcends the dream of separation. We’ve been taught to cover-up the truth of who we are with our personality, but what if this truth is a fierce undying love? As St. Augustine said: “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”

The Many Masks of Ignorance

In my own journey I can see how all of the different coping mechanisms, habitual reactions, and other unconscious patterns have served their purpose and allowed me to survive up to this moment. In this very moment it’s up to me to find all the support necessary for taking an honest look at what’s underneath the masks. Once I am vulnerable with myself and others, life can be engaged in a more meaningful and compassionate way. Seeing the meaning beyond the masquerade, naturally, negative habits begin to fall away. No need to fight, force or fix anything. There is no sense to keep being stuck in a scarcity mentality once one knows the inherent potential of the heart to transform reality. 

Picture: Venician Carnival Masks

What if all those masks have simply formed out of ignorance; the ignorance of not knowing how to be with the raw experiences of this tumultuous life? Aware of this, one can cultivate healthy habits, by collaborating with the personality to face life and not avoid it. It’s a practice in checking yourself: how long can you be present without getting lost in the emotional turmoil of the monkey mind?

Many ancient wisdom traditions from around the world cultivate the art of no resistance. This is essential in the process of discovering one’s own true nature beyond all identities; opening oneself to one’s inherent and essential human qualities while getting to know one’s own imperfections and blind spots intimately. I have to really get to know and see my life objectively, without being disturbed or dramatic about it, to find the greatest strength in the deepest wound. 


These ancestral teachings are definitely not about blind faith. It’s up to each of us to recognize that the only way out is through, after checking all other options. Life graciously reflects to us through all of our stress and dis-ease the inescapable need for self-reconciliation. All these triggers of fear and anxiety can also be loving reminders to face our shadows. What I mean by shadows is everything we push into a dark corner and allocate a lot of effort into hiding it under a plethora of masks. 

Since reconciliation involves emotional energy, it’s essential to learn how to be a skillful channel of energy. To not be at odds with the stream of constantly changing life is about letting go of resistance and being with what is. This doesn’t mean numbing out but quite the contrary; the issues in life can be engaged with as a peaceful warrior not driven by fear and animosity.

Artwork is a remake of the original by Frederick Stuart Church

The first step in this journey of applying these ancient teachings is the realization that it’s possible to face and embrace all we perceive as unbearable – the good, the bad, and the ugly. That recognition of the forest behind the trees is in itself a huge step in knowing our ability to navigate life’s essential thresholds such as pain, aging and dying with grace. 

We don’t have to avoid ourselves until the very last moment when the Pandora’s box of our persona breaks apart. 

Here are some essential ancestral reminders I find useful to be alive for: 

  • Remember you are a human being and not a human doing, with unlimited potential of heart-centered presence.
  • Train your personality in patience, generosity, receptivity, compassion and other essential human qualities. 
  • Start recognizing stagnant behavioural patterns while envisioning a more inspiring, and drama-free life. 
  • No need to revolve your life around fighting yours or other’s identities – that just makes it worse most of the time, instead try reciprocating your life energy, uplifting oneself for the sake of the greater whole and vice versa. 
  • Witness the personality patterns without judgement, while focusing on what you’d rather do that is truly fulfilling and inspiring.
  • Keep seeing all life circumstances as opportunities to let go of self-absorption and be in tune with the interconnected nature of reality.

In many ancient world traditions, masquerades served as a way to celebrate the real essence that unites us all beneath the tricky masks of everyday life. Take this body for example – it is also a type of a mask – a mortal and impermanent container. The sooner I realize this, the better chance I have of finding a purpose greater than this temporary self. Finding something that lives on; the spirit of the heart’s deepest calling of oneself in others, and others in oneself. 

Papua New Guinea Festival of Independence, image by Rita Willaert

Honoring the Ancestors and Future Generations

Ancestral wisdom invites us to participate in the endless ingenuity of love; a path of wholehearted service to the community of all beings that form the web of life. Just like our ancestors that gave their lives so that we can live today, we too can realize that we have this body, but we are not this body. This body can be dedicated to uplifting the greater organism we are all a part of. 

With that said, the issues of today’s world do need to be addressed, for the sake of all future generations. We each have to wear many hats and masks in our lives to navigate the harsh socio-environmental terrain, yet the masks we wear can help express the love at the core of who we are. Instead of hiding from ourselves in the world we can be reminded by the world to return to our essential nature beneath all appearances. 

Gary Snyder, one of the world’s greatest environmentalists, was asked for advice about the climate problems, global warming, rising oceans, and loss of species. He responded: “Guilt and anger and fear are part of the problem. If you want to save the world, save it because you love it!” 

Image by Gholib Gholib

Innocence when honored and upheld by society is capable of transforming all the injustices of the world.

The heart can both remember the ancestors and consider future generations while practically addressing the issues at hand. While the masks themselves are not the problem, we can engage with the masquerade inside and all around us in a meaningful, and evolutionary way: a way beyond the appearance of separation. Not getting disturbed or throwing in the towel in the face of adversity is a great start. The journey to freedom from all limitations begins with a single step – what better time than right now to begin seeing the masks of our world as poignant reminders to return to what is most true and essential!