Masks and the Game of Hide & Seek We Play with Ourselves


Masks. There are women who have no inner life wherever one looks for it, being nothing but masks. That man is to be pitied who lets himself in with such ghostly, necessarily unsatisfying creatures; but just these women are able to stimulate man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their souls–and searches on and on.
– Nietzsche

And this is how I read/interpret this:

Masks. There are women (and perhaps this may hold true for men as well. What do you think?) who have no real identity or core self wherever one looks for it and so ultimately are nothing but masks. And it’s thought that perhaps a man ought to be pitied who lets himself caught up with and beguiled by such a ghostly and inconsistent creature, such a chameleon. Yet perhaps he ought not be pitied; because it is just this type of woman who is able to stimulate a poetic and philosophic man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their soul–and he does so on and on and on. Such a woman is perhaps the ultimate form of stimulation for some men who are by nature philosophic, poetic, in other words, psychologists.

The excerpt from Nietzsche also reminded me of something I had read many years ago in “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck—

The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. The evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness, continually sweeping the evidence of their badness under the rug of their own consciousness. The problem is not a defect of conscience but the effort to deny the conscience its due.

We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves.

Evil originates not in the absence of guilt and shame but in the effort to escape from these. Evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can be perceived ahead of the misdeed that it is designed to hide—the cover-up that is being created before the fact. We see the false smile that covers over the hatred and anger, the smooth and oily manner and the false laughter that masks the hidden fury or resentment, the velvet glove that covers the fist. The disguise is often impenetrable. But what we can catch are glimpses of that “uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.” (Martin Buber, Good and Evil).

The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While those who are evil or morally bad seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. But their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. Which is why they are the “people of the lie.”

What are some of the characteristics of those who are evil, or who are on the way to becoming evil?

– Consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior (blaming others) and abdication of personal responsibility, which may often be quite subtle.

– Excessive, albeit usually quite covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

– Pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability.

– Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like or dissociative disturbance of thinking at times of stress.

People are more willing to change their circumstances rather than change themselves, because they are so attached to their self. Yet this is the ultimate attachment that we must overcome in order to truly grow and heal—the attachment to the self, to our persona, self-image, our masks, our false or pseudo-selves.

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Unmasking & Facing Oneself


I didn’t make you do anything that wasn’t in you already. People are such hypocrites. They walk through their whole lives playing innocent until the day they die; but they’re not innocent. I showed you that.” – from the motion picture “Bad Influence

“I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws.” – Nietzsche

How much do any of us really know about ourselves and what we’re really capable of unless we’ve been tried and tested at the extremes, or at least outside of our comfort zone?

We gain knowledge and glimpses of who we are and might become whenever we’re forced outside our comfort zones.

But most of us fight tooth and nail for our comfort zones and to not have to leave them. We fight for safety, comfort, routine, security. And thus in many ways, these fights are for our own survival—for the continuation of who we think we are—the idea or concept we have of ourselves, and fights against new and likely deeper self-knowledge. Instead we tend to fight to stay in our comfort zones and for the reinforcement of the limited information we already possess about ourselves.

Thus what we know of ourselves may really be knowledge of a very limited self—and thus it is a false- or a pseudo-self, a mask.

“The being of man is situated behind a curtain. . . . What he can know of himself is only what is lent him by circumstance. My ‘I’ is hidden from me (and from others).” – Simone Weil, “Gravity and Grace,” pg. 85

“Our shortcomings are concealed from us as long as luck helps us.” – Hadrat Ali, “Living and Dying with Grace,” pg. 8.

“Through changes in circumstances the essence of individuals is known.” – Hadrat Ali, “Living and Dying with Grace,” pg. 41.

What we are know of ourselves is likely a “cloistered” or “hot house” version of ourselves. It’s not a very full or large version of ourselves—not a self based on a wide breadth of exposure to different difficulties and circumstances, but rather a self likely based on a rather limited exposure to life and circumstances.

Who we truly are, deep down, likely requires us to be exposed to a wide variety of circumstances and experiences, so that we can better become aware of our potentials and tendencies and traits.

To discern our essence, to unmask ourselves, likely requires that we live and think and read somewhat more broadly than we are now—that we consider this phrase of Terrence’s a bit more closely : “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto“—”I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.

Which doesn’t mean that we just start throwing ourselves around willy-nilly into every life situation and difficulty that we can, irrespective of consequences and dangers, but perhaps that we start to understand better the possible consequences of honoring our comfort zone and saying no to difficulty and new things too much.

[E]ach human being has a set repertoire of roles which he plays in ordinary circumstances. He has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life.

But put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role—if only for a short time—and for that short time he becomes completely himself.

Each person’s repertoire is very limited. And each person is not one “I” or role; each person has at least five or six I’s or roles—one or two for his family, one or two at the office (one for his subordinates, one for his superiors), one for his friends when he’s out on the town with them, and perhaps one who is interested in high-minded ideas and likes intellectual conversations.

And at different times the person is fully identified with one of these I’s and is unable to separate himself from it.

To see the roles, to know one’s repertoire—particularly to know its limitedness—is to know a great deal.

But more important than that is that, outside his repertoire, a person feels very uncomfortable should something push him, if only temporarily, out of his usual routine or accustomed ways, and he tries his hardest to return to any one of his usual roles.

Eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, he falls back into the rut, and everything at once goes smoothly again, and the feeling of awkwardness and tension disappears.

This is how it is in life.

But in order to grow, one must become reconciled to this awkwardness and tension and to the feeling of discomfort and helplessness. Only by allowing oneself to experience this discomfort can a person begin to really observe himself.

And it is clear why this is so. When a person is not playing any of his usual roles, when he cannot find a suitable role in his repertoire, he feels that he is naked, undressed. He is cold and ashamed, vulnerable and exposed, and he wants to run away from everybody.

The question then arises: what does he want? A quiet life? Or to work on himself?

If he wants a quiet, comfortable life, it’s clear what he must do: he must certainly first of all never move out of his repertoire. Because in his usual roles he feels comfortable and at peace.

But if he wants to work on himself, he must forsake his own comfort and destroy his own peace. Because to have them both together—a quiet life and to work comfortably on oneself—is in no way possible.

A person must make a choice.

(G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky “In Search of the Miraculous,” pp. 239-40.)

Sigmund Freud once asserted, ‘Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.’ Thank heaven, Sigmund Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on a couch designed in the plush style of Victorian culture, not in the filth of Auschwitz. There, [in Auschwitz,] the ‘individual differences’ did not ‘blur’ but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.” (Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” p. 178)

Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?


Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all . . . ”

(Compare the following excerpt with Pascal’s thoughts on “Flattery, Truth, and the Ego.” This is how most of us develop and maintain our sense of self and borrow our emotional pseudo-stability. And it’s really quite sad. Because if we stopped to look at what we’re doing to ourselves and if we really thought about it, is this really what we would want for ourselves? Or for our children?—is this what we would want to raise them to do and how to be?)

“Most people must look at themselves only from a distance—and only through the false and distorted reflection of others—in order to find themselves at all tolerable or attractive to behold. Self-knowledge is strictly off limits for them. Thus people such as these (which is to say the vast majority of us) are very well defended against their own spying and sieges, against their own attempts at self-knowledge. Their self-attempts at self-knowledge are futile—they are rarely able to make out any more of themselves than their outer fortifications. The actual stronghold is inaccessible to them, even invisible—unless—unless friends and enemies turn traitor and lead them there.”

– Nietzsche, from “Human All Too Human” # 49, and “The Gay Science,” # 15

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Metal health will drive you crazy, metal health will cure you sane” (or something like that)

(From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 50-63.)

Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

What does a life of total dedication to truth (reality) mean?

First of all, it means a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination.

We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we most not only examine it, but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.

Examination of the world without is never as personally painful and unsettling as examination of the world within, and it is because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the vast majority of people steer away from it, distracting and anesthetizing themselves to it through various means (drinking, shopping, television, movies, bar-hopping, superficial relationships and interactions, “having a good time,” dissipating ourselves in thousands of ways).

Yet when one is dedicated to the truth the pain inherent in it seems relatively unimportant—and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful)—the farther one proceeds down the path of self-examination.

Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. To overcome this pain we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our own comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of total honesty. It means a continuous and never-ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our words and deeds match and that our communications invariably reflect as accurately as possible the truth or reality as we know it.

Such honesty does not come easily or painlessly. The reason people lie or shade the truth is to avoid the pain of challenge and it consequences.

Insofar as the nature of a challenge is legitimate—and it usually is much more often than not—lying is an attempt to circumvent legitimate suffering and hence is productive of mental illness.

Most people are resistant to challenge. They talk volubly enough about this or that, but they leave out crucial details. They are wasting time in their effort to avoid challenge, and usually they are indulging in a subtle form of lying.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way to revise our understanding of reality is to expose our map to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed-system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy—rebreathing our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusions.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality, we almost always seek reflexively to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity.

Leading a life of total dedication to truth and of openness to challenge may seem like a never-ending burden, an extraordinary task, a “real drag.” And indeed it is difficult; it is a never-ending burden of self-discipline and calling ourselves out on our self-deceptive and avoidant tendencies. Which is why most people opt for a life of very limited openness and honesty and relative closedness and self-deceit, hiding themselves and their maps from the world and others.*

It’s easier that way.

Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people and strengthening as human beings. Through their courage and openness, they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively and more deeply than closed people can. And because they are dedicated to being impeccable with their word and not speaking falsely, they know that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion and darkness in the world. They don’t have to slink around in the shadows, construct new lies to hide and maintain old ones, and waste time and effort covering their tracks and maintaining their disguises (their false selves).

Ultimately open and growing people find that the energy required for the self-discipline of honesty and dedication to truth is far less than the energy required for secretiveness, deception and avoidance. The more honest and transparent one is, the easier it is to continue being honest and transparent, just as the more lies one has told, the more necessary it is to lie again and more frequently.

By their openness, people dedicated to truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become more and more free from fear.

The healing of the spirit has not been completed until openness to challenge and a fierce dedication to truth become a way of life.

(*Peck is talking about the “emotional cutoff” here. He is talking about the tendency that the vast majority of us have to act out on what’s worst and weakest in ourselves and to emotionally cut off or banish those who do not flatter us and who do not reflect back to us ourselves in a way we wish to be seen. Those around us who see us too accurately, or whose gaze is too perceptive and unsettling, so much so that it makes us uncomfortable, we avoid them, emotionally cut them off and cut them out of our life, banish and excise them. We’d rather live in a hall of mirrors life in a funhouse, being surrounded by those who are so weak and unloving and who care so little about us that they reflect back to us our distorted and malignant sense of self while we provide the same disservice to them. [a mutual admiration and distortion society].).

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Rilke on “Acting Just Once with Beauty & Courage” (from “Letters to a Young Poet”; letter no. eight)

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it.

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.

If we imagine the being of our person as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. And in this way they have a certain security. Yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells? We, however, are not prisoners.

If our world has terrors, they are likely our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. If only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

And this fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has, as it were, been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a fallow place on the bank where nothing new can occur. For it is not inertia and indolence alone that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another human being as something alive and will himself sound and draw on the depths of his own being.

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“Get busy living or get busy dying,” or “If you’re not growing, you’re dying . . . “

(From “The Way of Transformation,” by Karlfried Graf Durchheim, pp. 107-108.)

[T]he aim of a genuine spiritual practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a person to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, a person’s spiritual practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered—that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life go in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life in all its intensity, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.

When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the fears and anxieties and demons which arise from the unconscious—a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces.

Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of discomfort and annihilation can our contact with what is Divine, and with what is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more we learn wholeheartedly to confront the world and a patterned way of living and reacting that threatens us each with isolation, the more the depths of our own being will be revealed and the more the possibilities of new life and inner transformation will be opened to us.