Wearing Another’s Mask

Everything was perfect – theoretically anyway.  I had finished an MBA and a Masters in Geriatrics and the world was my oyster.  I had a consulting business, a care management business and was working in sales while I continued to grow my companies.  But I hated it.  I just absolutely could not stand going out and trying to sell machinery that I could not possibly care less about.  Because of my lack of interest I completely sucked at selling.  I didn’t have the drive to market my own businesses and was utterly miserable.  So, I went to seminary.

This is not to say that seminary is for everyone.  Ministry happens to be my vocation and passion, so it works for me.  If it wasn’t, I would merely be continuing to feed into my False Self – the ego that led me to go to law school and business school in Japan.  If I was a lawyer or a businessperson, surely people would approve of me and I would have the status that I needed.  Of course this all only served to feed the fears of inadequacy that I was trying to quell in the first place.  As the cognitive dissonance grew, so did my misery and the awareness that there was another “me” that was being ignored.

That self is the True Self.  Richard Rohr defines this self as “the mask that I wore before I was born.”

In his New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton warns for himself that if he puts on the mask of another and tries to be someone that he isn’t, then, “I shall spend eternity contradicting myself by being at once something and nothing, a life that wants to live and is dead, a death that wants to be dead and cannot quite achieve its own death because it still has to exist.”

When I was four, my dad put me up on the kitchen counter in our small apartment in Rochelle, IL and told me that he was moving out.  He said something along the lines of things weren’t working out with my mom and it wasn’t my nor my brother’s fault that he had to go.  He failed to convince me because I did think it was my fault.

A year later, he asked me if I wanted to go to preschool or stay with him at his girlfriend’s house where he was living.  I knew he would just sleep all day and get upset if I woke him for anything because he worked third shift at the Delmonte can plant.  So, I decided to go to preschool.  That was the last time I would see him for 12 years.  He took his girlfriend’s luggage and left for Florida, Alaska, Arizona, and eventually back to his birthplace in Utah where I would meet up with him years later.  I often wonder how things would have went if I would have elected to stay with him.

For much of the years to come, I would have a sense of inadequacy.  An impostor syndrome coupled with the perceived need to be good enough for those around me followed me wherever I went.  I had a recurring dream that I ran into my dad at a truck stop.  Pumping my gas, I saw him on the other side of the pump, usually with one of my half brothers.  I would tell him to wait there while I go in and pay for my gas, and invariably I would come back out to find him gone, again.  I’m not sure if the likeness of the dad in my dreams was accurate or not because by then I had probably forgotten his face.

I can’t fully blame the insecurities that would follow on my dad as I was responsible for dealing with my own issues.  I had to initiate the healing and for a long time, my failure to do so only resulted in me hurting others.  It’s true what they say: hurt people, hurt people.

I finally realized that I had created a False Self to protect me from my fears who usually just hurt myself and others.  Like Merton, I finally had an awakening, noticing that to be seen I would “wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself.”

When these bandages finally come off, however, (and they always do), we see that there is no substance.  There is only a hollowness temporarily filled with things that never have and never will exist.  Merton says that these things are “all destined to be destroyed.  And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.”

While our stories are our own, we rarely own them.  Instead, we see ourselves as the culmination of mistakes – our own and those of others.  We spend a life time trying to cover the hollowness with things that are no more real than the void we wish to hide.  Deep inside that void, however, is the real us, the True Self.

The Self that is us in God and God in us is the point at which we are all interconnected.  At this point, there is redemption, there is forgiveness, and there is at-one-ment.  Far beyond the sins of our fathers lies a reality that is more real than the stories we tell ourselves.  It’s a point in time, space, being, and all that is.  When we awaken to our True Self and decide to do the inner work required to find the real me and the real you, we not only find ourselves, but we find God.  As usual, Merton said it best: “At that moment the point of our contact with [God] opens out and we pass through the center of our own nothingness and enter into infinite reality, where we awaken as our true self.”

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