"It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we're alive--to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are" Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
It is a rarity that I begin any writing with the words of another. However, this quote describes something I have been struggling with recently in the people around me, this need to have a facade and to wear masks denoting exactly what kind of person someone else (a parent figure, friend, enemy, society?) determines one should be. I tend to surround myself with people who have broken that particular mold and have chosen to be their own person. I surround myself with people who have taken a pretty honest look at themselves and determined that the limits others have put upon them are not sufficient. They have chosen to follow the axiom at the Oracle of Delphi, "Know Thyself."
In surrounding myself with those who have recognized and chosen to shed as many of their own masks as possible, I have come to see, very clearly, when others choose to wear a specific mask or another. In some instances, I accept these masks as who a person really believes him- or herself to be. It is simply easier to allow that person to live in the tiny box of limitation he or she has built. For those around me who tend toward this, they end up being acquaintances. I do this, not because there is something 'wrong' with them or they are 'bad' people, but because people who live with self-imposed limits tend to project them upon others. Those with self-imposed limits often can not comprehend why I would take the 'risks' I take and then, good or bad outcome, do my best to accept the consequences of my own actions.
I see those who need to be needed, the "yes-men" of this world. I deeply admire these people for trying to be all things to all people, but I also understand that if one keeps adding balls to juggle, eventually everything gets dropped. I see these people run on empty for months or even years and then something tragic happens, an accident, a grave illness, or worse. Once that happens, these people are left with little to nothing to sustain them. Their world shatters to pieces, that box they have lived in and been so comfortable in for so long is suddenly gone. Maybe this person is lucky enough to have people to help them, but often they don't. The people they so generously gave so much time and energy to simply disappear.
Then, I see those who fall into the media trap. They want so desperately to be 'normal' that they will do nearly anything to have that appearance. We live in a culture where women are supposed to be sexy or a mother and if she's both, all the better! I reject what the media tells me about how I should present myself. My hair is long because I don't like it short. My fingernails are long because I like a good, hard scratch on that mosquito bite. Yet, I do not exude femininity. (At least, I don't think I do.) My fingernails are often dirty in the summer. My long hair is pulled back in a ponytail or a bun. I say "Fuck". A lot!
I often see people in my life who hide behind masks. I see these masks and then I see the person behind the mask and I see the potential he or she has and refuses to acknowledge. When I see these things in spiritual people, I often wonder if this person is really spiritual or if this person has taken on another label that society has told them they must take on. Any spiritual path walked with curiosity, bravery, and honesty is the 'right' spiritual path. It is walked so that we, as the spiritual beings we are, can grow beyond our mortal trappings. It is walked so that we can look back at our own experiences and our own brokenness and nod confidently at those horrible things, recognizing that they were things that happened to us, they are not us. It is walked so that we may recognize that same brokenness in others and help them if they so choose.
Just because one person is not open to the messages I have to give them does not mean they are not open to the messages another has. I recognize this and I have no problem in taking care of myself and moving forward. I have been told that this makes me a 'bad person' because I will not invest time and energy in someone who, very obviously, has no interest in what I have to say. I have been told that my reticence to try and save everyone makes me a poor leader. Maybe these things are true. Maybe I recognize that not everyone can be saved. Maybe I recognize that some individuals can't be saved by anyone but him-or herself. Once that happens, then people like me can help the individual pick up the pieces and either discard them or put them back in the proper order. This is something I have come to realize and to recognize in my dealings with people.
In the same vein, I have been told that I am not approachable and that all leaders should be approachable. I, mostly, reject that notion. I do not appear approachable to those who would keep their own illusions. I do not appear approachable to those who fear change. I do not appear approachable to those who are satisfied with the status quo. Typically, I appear unapproachable because I show no fear. I walk through this world confident within myself and my choices. It doesn't mean I am not scared. It doesn't mean I won't fight change tooth and nail. It simply means I do not show my fears to others. That lack of fear within me is often misinterpreted as arrogance by those unable or unwilling to see past my own mask. While I don't, necessarily, like that misinterpretation, I understand that we all view other people through our own filters, so it is more a reflection of the other person than it is of me.
Those to whom I am approachable are usually those not scared of life, or who no longer want to be scared of life. A good example of this is my sweet, little Christian friend at work. She is this lovely lady, full of passion and conviction for her chosen path, without being overbearing and pushy about it. Life terrifies her. She is scared to do a great many things. She is scared to think a great many things. The threat of Hell keeps her 'in line', but she has a burning need to experience more than she has. Despite our vast differences (and they are vast), we get along like peas and carrots. We share, quite openly, our spiritual and life experiences and how they have made us a better person. She knows that, despite our different spiritual paths, we have come to many of the same conclusions and that she can say most anything to me. She admires my fearless attitude about most things (except that I don't have a fear of Hell and that puzzles her greatly). Just as I admire her deep passion for what little she has experienced, I also encourage her to get out and experience more. She, obviously, doesn't want to be scared of life any more. Something deep within her knows that there is more to life than just what she has experienced thus far. Even through her fears, she looks forward and tries to do things that scare her. I greatly admire that. That is fearlessness.
I look at this amazing world and all of the amazing people within it. I recognize that it takes all kinds. We all have our dysfunctions, our weaknesses, our faults. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we are both and neither at the same time. I look at those around me and I look to those around me. I see those who struggle to make the changes they know they need and I do what I can to encourage them. I do what I can to listen, if they want to talk or whine or cry. Everyone needs a little push in the right direction, on occasion. I look at those who don't seem to want that push, or don't know how to ask for it, and I mourn them. My heart breaks for what I know they can achieve. My soul cries out for the mortal injustice that our culture has imposed upon this unique spirit. Yet, I also know that unsolicited advice is often met with scorn, so I send up a thought or two in the hopes that this limitless being will one day see what I see in them. My eternal hope is that the spirit within does not allow itself to wither away behind a facade of cultural and societal expectations and limitations.
Namaste, friends, the spirit within me honors the spirit within you. Until next time.