I've always considered myself a pretty authentic person, but one thing I've noticed as we've been in this extreme social distancing is a stripping away of much of my remaining artifice.
We all have a persona we present to the world. It's the public mask we wear. Persona is such a common concept, it's one of Carl Jung's basic archetypes. And even those of us who strive for authenticity in our lives have created a persona that we use as a shield to protect us from those who we fear might do us harm in some way.
For most of us, our persona is self-protective. It's a function of ego energy that we feel keeps us safe from rejection and hurt at the hands of others. It appears in the clothes we wear, the way we do our hair or makeup, the things we say, the filters we apply to our photos, how we publicly respond to things, and many more aspects of self we present to others. Persona is essentially the image we curate as we try to craft how others view us. While it is self-protective, personal image curation can block us from true intimacy with our fellow traveling souls.
The longer I am away from others (and my hairdresser) however, the more I notice those layers of persona falling away. Surprise! There are gray strands in my hair, wrinkles around my eyes, and freckles on my nose. My eyebrows have a tendency to grow bushy. My nails have a proclivity to break. My emotions swing naturally. Sometimes I am sad. Sometimes I am at peace. Sometimes I am content. Sometimes I am angry. And my facial expressions and words more frequently reveal any emotion, pain, or vulnerability that I may be feeling.
I know from my own experiences in life that image curation and hiding behind the mask of persona has allowed me to hold others at an arm's length and often blocked me from deeply intimate relationships with all but the few I've allowed in. I've always been self-protective in this way; very few make it into my inner circle where I trust them deeply enough to reveal all (or even some) of my shadows. I'm the person who smiles in public and grieves in private. And I decide which pieces of my story I choose to share and which I choose to keep private.
Although I am deeply aware of my own shadows, I am not historically someone who is comfortable with sharing them. And I don't think this makes me bad or different - we all do it. We all carefully curate our own images in order to attract others to us and keep them in our lives.
Isn't it interesting, however, that we have been driven apart by something that may push us now to wear an actual mask in public? My more superficial relationships have fallen by the wayside; but, the people I truly desire in my life and those I feel most connected to, they are still here. I find ways to connect with those who truly matter to me, and they find ways to stay connected to me. These are the people with whom I interact without wearing a literal or figurative mask.
But in public or among those with whom I don't feel as safe, I wear an actual mask now when I go out. I wear a mask that protects and hides most of my face from others. Hidden from view when I wear a mask are many of the parts of myself I use to curate my image: my microexpressions, my smile or frown, and the visual representation of the words I speak as my mouth forms them.
The lower part of my face - especially my mouth - is what I use to mislead others when I curate my image. I hide behind my smile and facial expressions as I form my words so that no one will recognize my shadows, and nobody will know if I am experiencing pain or discomfort. But my eyes and my voice -- those are the things that often betray me when I am curating my image -- and right now those are the only facial features others see when I wear a literal mask.
When you are no longer distracted by the expression my mouth makes, you can see instead my eyes, which are incapable of hiding how I truly feel. And instead of being distracted by the expression my face makes when I form the words I speak to you, you now must focus on my tone, and my voice almost always betrays me in terms of the true emotion behind my words. Suddenly, strangers among whom I've always maintained a layer of self-protection can only see and hear the parts of me that show who I really am.
This is no mistake. This is no accident. This is no coincidence. For, we all claim to long for intimacy and deep, meaningful relationships, but our fear and egos keep us from showing all but a very few who we truly are. What we are experiencing right now can change the world, or at least it can change our individual worlds if we allow it to. What many are coming to realize is that what we long for is connection. And yet, I suspect if each of you quieted the noise of distraction you are creating in your own isolation at this time, you would recognize just how deeply and powerfully you curate your own image as a means of self-protection, and just how much that blocks your ability to connect with another.
Surely COVID-19 is an opportunity and a wake-up call, as The Georges have been telling us it is. And the opportunity, while it exists for all of humanity, is also deeply personal. It is the opportunity for each of us to sit with ourselves and to understand just how ingrained our own image curation is. And then, it is for each of us to decide what to do with that. How much of that curated image do we want to hold onto, and how much do we wish to allow to fall away so we can connect on an authentic level with our fellow souls?
Along with all of the opportunities that exist for a shift in humanity's energetic vibration and awareness that have come with this period in our history, there also exists an invitation to greater authenticity. We all have the opportunity to recognize how we curate our own images, and whether that serves our greatest good in our genuine desire to connect with others.
And so, I sit here in my home. I am stripped bare. It is just me and my shadows. It is just me and the truth of who I am most moments of most days. Sure, I can distract myself with work, Netflix, books, classes - but I can only do it for so long to fill the hours. When the noise switches off, when the Netflix movie or Zoom meeting ends, it is once again me in the quiet with my shadows and my most decidedly uncurated image. And in those moments of quiet as I connect with my own soul, I recognize a deeper truth. I have nothing to hide, no matter who I interact with.
I have received the invitation, and I accept the call for greater authenticity and deeper connection. Because the other thing I've learned from this is that we need each other, all of us. Somewhere outside of our embodied experience, our souls are intertwined in the Oneness. And inside of the embodied human existence, we forget what the experience of Oneness feels like. So we spend our whole lives longing to return and reconnect with the Oneness while blocking ourselves from that experience at every turn because we live with the fear of betrayal, hurt, and rejection if we allow others to see who we really are.
You get to decide what you make of your experience. You get to decide whether you will continue to curate your image in order to maintain distance, or if you'll share with others a more authentic experience of you. I, for one, am excited to meet each of you as we step out of the shadows and begin living less curated, more genuine lives.