Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid. I really loved getting dressed up in a costume and walking to school. I only lived a block from Breton Downs Elementary in East Grand Rapids, MI. I was thrilled by the idea of concealing my identity. On the outside, I could be anyone I wanted to be, while hiding who I really was on the inside. It was my secret.
My favorite costume was dressing up as a monster, the more gruesome the better, with a distorted rubber mask over my head, a hunchback covered by an oversized trench coat, and huge green, reptilian, rubber hands with wrinkled skin, large veins, crooked fingers (that I now recognize as severe arthritis), and long black fingernails. I was a scary sight for sure.
Once at school, all of the kids would parade around the halls single file to observe the creative costumes. Even the teachers dressed up in costumes. Then back in our homerooms we would have the big “reveal.” There was something about this that was so exciting and joyous – to come out from behind the mask and be yourself in the presence of others. As I look back, I loved the attention, appreciation, and expressions of surprise on people’s faces when they discovered who was really behind the mask – a moment of truth, a moment of seeing and being seen.
Concealment with the joy of revelation is one of the most fascinating teachings in Tantra.
The term Rahasya means a secret and refers to the nature of the universe. The universe reveals itself by secreting itself. The infinite releases finitude by concealing unity. In other words, the uni-verse, or the one song, conceals its oneness by becoming the multi-verse, the many songs, you and me. Our true identity is hidden within us. When you experience your true identity, or simply move toward it, there’s the joy of revelation.
This is one of the goals of yoga – to put you in touch with your true self, your unlimited nature, the effortless, flowing source of the lifeforce.
Life is hardly ever what it seems. There’s always so much more beneath the surface. We are complex beings trying to make sense of a complex world. Most everyone lives behind a mask. For our own survival, we hide our deepest feelings. We have to protect ourselves, not just physically, but psychically so that we don’t get hurt. The Chinese proverb, “Life is not so hard when you are not so soft” rings true. Only under the right conditions, and if you’re lucky enough to have close friends or a therapist who can hold space for the real you, do we open up and reveal what’s really going on. Vulnerability is concealed most of the time. But vulnerability is where our life is happening. We experience our life on the inside, then conceal it to keep ourselves safe.
These masks are normal and necessary. But the mask also gets heavy. Like my Halloween costume, it gets hot and cumbersome inside. After hiding behind the mask for hours, I remember becoming so hot and sweaty I could hardly stand it. The costume became a burden that I had to carry around. While at first, it was a lot of fun being someone or something else, it was a strain on my body that I had to get rid of. I’ll never forget the relief when it was time to de-mask. I really needed fresh air. Like that, we need to take off our “masks” for relief.
Yoga is the practice of being yourself, your authentic self, the self that is you underneath the layers of protection.
Underneath our core wounded identities, our self-judgments, self-doubt, unworthiness, and other self-limiting concepts, shines the light of our true self. This true self is vulnerable, but it’s also strong. Through my personal practice of yoga and meditation, I regularly unmask myself. I let go of who I think I am and try to get as close as I can to the presence of the light of my authentic self, the source of all that is. This is who we are underneath the “masks.”
The Five Divine Acts of Shiva are creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment, and revelation. We’re always doing and experiencing one of these actions at any given time. I sometimes like to reflect on my life and see where I stand with respect to the five actions. Especially when I’m feeling a sense of loss or grief, I recognize that that’s part of the natural cycle of nature and the act of dissolution. I need to let things go and let cycles complete themselves.
I may have shared this in a previous blog, but it’s worth repeating. My definition of grief is that life moved forward but you didn’t. Whenever we get attached to keeping things as they were, we’re stuck in the dissolution phase of the cycle. Not that we shouldn’t experience grief. On the contrary, all of the emotions are essential and need to be experienced – but with the insight that all emotions, especially grief, have a message to deliver. Staying stuck in grief for too long becomes a burden, a kind of mask, that prevents our life from moving forward. Ultimately we need to get to a level of deep acceptance of what is, before we can effectively move forward.
In Tantra, especially in the practice of deep mantra meditation, when you accept the nature of the universe which conceals itself in order to reveal itself, all self-judgment dissolves. Deep seated patterns melt away and suddenly you find yourself face to face with the source. This source is deeply rejuvenating. It restores the mind and body to its original “factory setting.”
Another Tantric teaching that has been useful for me is that we can only know 25% of anything. There’s always 75% concealed. Knowing this helps me relax my anxiety about trying to know everything or have everything figured out. So much stress falls away when I accept that secreting is the way the universe reveals itself. The infinite universe is concealed within me as me. When I have a moment of clarity, I let go of my stress and suddenly an insight arises within or a solution to a problem appears, or a feeling of peace overtakes me. I feel connected to something bigger. I have a moment of appreciation for the perfection of the universe exactly as it is and I experience the joy of revelation.
May you embrace both your mask and what’s behind the mask as your way of concealing yourself, only to have the joy of revelation. Concealment is the reason grace exists. It’s through grace combined with your own self-effort that the beauty of your life gets revealed to you.
I invite you to come “unmask” yourself and stand in your authentic self within a supportive loving community of great beings in one of my upcoming retreats or workshops.
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