Masks, masks, everywhere you look this year. Usually, we only associate them with costume parties and Halloween. The custom of altering our appearance with costumes and masks dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on the first of November.
This day marked the passing of summer, the end of the harvest, and the start of the dark, cold winter. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On October 31, they celebrated Samhain when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
I love that last line because it can be applied to the invisible masks we wear, which are the attitudes and obfuscations we don so that other people will mistake us not for fellow spirits, but for fellow people, people just like them. These masks help us fit in and provide camouflage, so we don’t stand out.
For example, we smile when we’re sad. We reply, “I’m fine” when we’re angry. Some of us take it a bit further. The “class clown” instigates laughter to fit in. Even in adulthood, comedy is a powerful tool for hiding pain or shifting focus away from what is uncomfortable. Others purchase expensive, unnecessary items they can’t afford to create a facade of success to mask their feelings of failure or inadequacy. Many hide behind social media masks, posting smiling faces of family members and exotic vacations when the truth behind the photos is far less Facebook- friendly.
When we hide behind a mask of any sort, some unintentional things happen. Hiding our true nature or aspects of our life experience cuts us off from finding others who share similar experiences or pain. Anything less than authenticity in the way we speak or choose to share means that our relationships never attain the honesty and depth we crave. In short, how can you be truly known to another if you refuse to let them see you fully?
“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.”
― Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It
All relationships—the wonderful and the complicated alike— provide significant opportunities not just for enriching our life experience and bringing us great joy but also for spiritual growth and transformation. Yet, rich and fulfilling relationships can only be built on a foundation of honesty and authenticity. The work that we put into becoming our most authentic self is the work that earns us our true connection with others.
To create deeper connections, a good first step is to nix the masks.
This sounds reasonable, and it may even seem easy, but taking off our masks and exposing our authentic selves can require real courage. We’ve created our masks because they serve us on some level. Discarding our safety nets is scary. We risk rejection and loneliness. Yet, as the Silverstein poem says: “if you wear a mask to hide yourself, how will your friends find you?” And if they’re wearing a mask, how will you recognize them?
I encourage anyone looking for a closer relationship—from friendships to finding a soul mate— to be brave. Take off those masks.
So how can we be more authentic? Start with a trusted friend or family member, someone with whom you share significant history, and take some time together.
Be vulnerable: It may make you uncomfortable to share sensitive information, but that’s the reason to move toward it. Friendships can and should help us to evolve and grow into the highest version of ourselves. Share your fears, dreams, and let yourself be seen. Let those you trust see you in a less-than-favorable light. Accept yourself, all the wonderful parts of you (as well as the areas you’re working on). You are giving them the gift of the perfectly imperfect you.
Be a true friend: It’s time to reciprocate. Listen to your friend when they open up. Once you start being more vulnerable, your friend will feel free to open up too. Let them be them without judgment, and refrain from immediate suggestions for how to “fix” it. This builds trust and solidifies connection. Hear their pain, their worries, and their challenges. Cheer when they succeed. Support them in their journey.
Be present: When they talk, listen deeply and fully. Ask questions, get curious, and stay attentive. When we focus on another person as they’re sharing, we create an emotional feedback loop. Stop, look, and listen. See how their body moves when they are stressed and how their face looks when they’re sad. Lean in. Create an environment where the other person feels relaxed, safe, and accepted. That’s intimacy.
Be trustworthy: Just as you expose yourself, your friends are returning the gift with their own story. You may hear secrets unveiled, dreams shared, confidences whispered. These gifts are yours and shouldn’t be given away to others. You may become the safe haven for your friend, in the same way they are that for you. You should feel free to shatter your own masks either over time with effort or aggressively and abruptly, but when a friend opens up about the experiences and reasons behind why they have created their masks, be gentle and handle with great care.
Rethink Moment: A good step on the path to meeting your soulmate or having authentic relationships is taking off your mask and allowing yourself to be known. This week, look into your heart and identify a mask that needs to go. Maybe it’s as simple as responding honestly when someone says, “How are you?” It gets easier the more you do it, I promise.