Throughout my childhood, my father was a ship captain in the Merchant Marines. He sailed the world and brought home many fascinating items, one of which was a carved wooden mask about three feet tall.
Its image is so deeply etched into my memories that I feel certain I could, even now, some 50 years later, draw a life size replica capturing all the fine details. I remember running my young hands
over the rich dark wood and wondering who could have created this art, and why? On a technical level, I marveled at how the mask was formed given the incorporation of the grain of the unknown wood into the elements that comprised the design of the mask.
It was masterful and mysterious.
When I grew slightly older, I was delighted as a student in art class, to be given instructions on how to make a mask by layering gauze dipped in liquid Plaster Of Paris across my face. While I desperately wanted to fashion a mask of my own making, I was reticent to engage in the process required to achieve a haunting replica of myself. You see, even then I was a bit claustrophobic.
Would I be able to breathe with the straws in my nose as my assigned peer smoothed the wet gauze over my face? I remember the sheer panic. Could I trust them to keep me alive during the process? Could I quickly rip the half finished creation off my face if I thought it vital to my welfare?
I clearly remember the conflict of emotion as I weighed the dream of creating my own mask like the unknown masters from another continent against the potential for physical peril. It turned out, like so many things in life, that it was not worth the angst. I made the mask and painted it and felt so disappointed upon completion. The mask from Africa breathed vitality and deep emotion and my dinky effort paled in comparison and complexity.
I have over the years remained fascinated by masks. I have studied art history and learned that humans were wearing masks as early as the Stone Age.
Masks of animal hides and antlers were worn as camouflage to increase the success of the hunt. It seems we learned the art of disguise thousands and thousands of years ago, well before we developed other aspects of our intellect.
From that moment forward, throughout our collective history, we have used the technique of disguise for various purposes beyond sheer survival.
Masks were incorporated into Ancient Greek rituals and the worshiping of mythological Gods and Goddesses. They were oversized and exaggerated and depicted the range of perennial human emotions and tragedies.
The use of masks in art, theater and fashion continued into the Middle Ages of the 12th Century where Italian artists made famous the art of mask making, some of which now sell for millions of dollars.
It is this Italian tradition of wearing masks before the beginning of the religious season of Lent that gave rise to the raucous and mayhem of Mardi Gras. The popularity of masquerade balls and extravagantly bejeweled masks offered anonymity and therefore freedom to speak against oppressive rules and for controversial ideas.
It was the truth, not a guise of ones true feelings, which was offered while safely hidden behind a mask. As wild as our fantasies and dreams may be, our relationship to the masks we wear, visible and invisible, have matched our emotional need for expressing our human experience.
It was the truth, not a guise of ones true feelings, which was offered while safely hidden behind a mask
Not all masks through the ages have been made for the concealing or revealing of thoughts, emotions and identity. Masks have been made for physical protection in sports such as masks for fencing and for fly balls in baseball. Man has also created masks for warfare. In 1914, during World War 1, the “gas mask” arrived in history. What a horrible part of human evolution.
And now here we are in 2020 and our relationship to masks has become the topic of great debate. Many of you have undoubtedly not had any relationship or personal history with a mask of any kind prior to this year and yet...here we are. Plastered over the news for months has been the question of masks.
Do we have enough?
Should we save them for the healthcare providers?
What kind is “good enough”?
Can you please make masks?
How often can we reuse them?
Should they have a filter in them?
Is it against someones civil liberties to be forced to wear a mask?
Is it disrespectful to not wear a mask or just blatantly ignorant of science?
I have recently begun watching The Great on Hulu which is about Catherine the Great of Russia who lived during the mid 1700s through an outbreak of Pox.
The doctor was depicted in the series as wearing an absurd raven like costume with a long beak of a mask. I have done my research and discovered that, while this mask is one of the first “medical masks” designed to keep away what were believed to be contagions, it was specifically created so that the beak of the mask could be filled with perfumes and aromatics. DoTerra ahead of its time!
Personally, as a registered nurse, I historically loathed being assigned an isolation patient because, as a self diagnosed certifiable closet claustrophobic, having something over my face is my worst nightmare. Ohhhhh my! Yet I fully accept the necessity of us all wearing medical masks at this point. I might jump off the deep end if I were to digress and discuss the types and materials that, in my humble professional opinion, we should all have access to and be wearing. Please.
What was my intention in writing this today?
Through all the news and excessive coverage specifically about masks, has anyone asked you what is your relationship to masks?
Are you wearing one? Are you not wearing one? Why or why not? Are you wearing or not wearing one because you are practicing mindfulness and have consciously chosen your path after sincere contemplation?
The fact that the wearing or not wearing of masks has become a political issue reminds me that, historically, mankind has worn masks to both conceal and reveal their true thoughts, feelings and... alas…their reaction to rules, customs and conformity.
So while some may be unaware that they even have a relationship to masks, I encourage you to explore within yourself, with or without your medical mask of 2020, what do you wish you could reveal about your thoughts and feelings? What truth do you wish to speak and to who?
What dream or vision or role would you like to play out on this stage of life? And most importantly, what is the mask you are hiding behind and what support do you need to step into your authentic self?
If not now…when?
Peace and love