By Charlie Tranchemontagne (for Tiny Buddha)
“Our lives only improve when we are willing to take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” ~Walter Anderson
For almost two-and-a-half decades, I hid behind masks. I sensed as a very young child that I lived honoring my true self, like most children do, but as I got older, I started putting on masks as a way to fit in. One of my first masks was that of a juvenile delinquent.
Over time, this mask became almost embedded in my skin. I discovered the world of alcohol, drugs, and mayhem, and I felt trapped and unable to escape from it. Shame and guilt filled me with fear and kept me from breaking free from this chaotic lifestyle. I was afraid to ask for help.
But in the late eighties, I attended a self-help workshop. This presentation introduced me to a way of living that radically altered my life—inner journeying.
I was intrigued by the presenter’s story and his thoughts of living a life that required him to look inside for answers. I had very little understanding or practice with looking within.
The workshop opened up a whole new way of living for me. It focused on removing masks. As I listened to the speaker, I found myself thinking about my own life and the masks that I hid behind.
I felt uncomfortable, so I started to question myself on how I was living.
This new self-awareness pushed me to start looking inside of myself for answers to the problems that were plaguing me.
I was young and self-employed, on my way to making a name for myself in my business community. I was also self-absorbed with weightlifting and exercising. I was the typical story of the “skinny kid who transformed his body.” To others, my life looked good.
But my inner landscape told a different story. I was lost in a world of darkness, pain, and anxiety. Even though I was experiencing some modest success with my business, my past was starting to haunt me.
I felt like a fraud, and I was starting to feel like my outer world was about to crumble.
What had kept me going through all these years of turmoil was the fact that I had become an expert on wearing masks! I had no idea who I was, and despite all the good things going on in my life, I felt like I wasn’t being honest with myself. I wanted to be real.
When reflecting on what I could possibly share with others in regards to wearing masks, I immediately thought of a poem that I read shortly after attending the self-help workshop. The poem, written by Charles C. Finn was titled Please Hear What I am Not Saying.
The opening lines read, “Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the face I wear, for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I am afraid to take off and none of them is me.”
His words seemed to tell my story, and I knew after reading his poem that I wanted to start changing my life.
Change did not come quickly. I resisted anything that would disrupt my life. Spending time reading new books and reflecting on my life in solitude did not come easily for me. I had to rearrange my priorities, which took practice.
As I spent time reading and reflecting on the poem, my walls of resistance began to weaken. Light was starting to shine in some very dark places within me.
My initial reaction was joy, followed quickly by fear. I knew I desperately wanted to change, but felt afraid of the unknown.
When my masks started to come of, I felt like people could look right through me. I felt raw and naked. I did, however, experience a new inner freedom that was unfamiliar to me. My self-confidence rose along with my self-esteem, and despite the long road that lay ahead, I felt ready to start traveling it.
Presently, I am working on trying to remove a mask that has worn out it’s welcome with me. This is the mask that I started to wear shortly after I had a very profound experience through skydiving.
On October 8th, 1990 I was sitting on the floor in a small Cessna airplane, flying at an altitude of about 4000 feet. Resting on a small platform, with both legs hanging outside of the door, I was seconds away from jumping.
What brought me to this crossroad was the fact that, despite appearances, I was still a mess on the inside because I still lacked inner peace. The workshop and poem had helped move me in a good direction, but I needed something more to push me over the edge. Skydiving would be that push.
I had chosen to skydive as a way to surrender my life to a power greater than myself. I no longer wanted to endure the pain I was experiencing. I knew I needed help with overcoming this obstacle I was facing.
Sitting in the doorway of the plane was a surreal moment for me—one that would break through years of pain. At that moment before I jumped, I told myself, “Keep your eyes open,” and with a silent prayer, I leapt from the doorway.
In an instant, I knew with certainty that I would never be the same after this experience. Yet, as ecstatic as I was, I choose not to tell anyone why I had jumped. I thought it would be best to keep it to myself.
Up until that point, I had not shared with anyone about my inner journeying. Religious or spiritual “stuff” still made me a little uncomfortable.
I didn’t realize that in not sharing this, I was hiding my true self—my “real” self.
People around me knew that something was going on in my life, but I didn’t disclose the driving force behind the changes they were seeing. It seemed easy just to keep things quiet.
So here I am, ready to take this “closet seeker” mask off. How do I do that? For me it is about finally admitting to myself that the mask no longer fits, and I am no longer willing to live this way.
I wouldn’t say that I have a “one size fits all” mask removal strategy, but I have found that when I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, good things will happen. I need to trust that.
I also know that self-honesty has a way of breaking through walls—big walls!
What follows self-honesty, for me, is always action—taking some action, whether it’s a small step or a giant leap. Either way, it’s life changing.
You may need to take a leap of your own to get in touch with your true self. It doesn’t need to be huge, as long as you move forward in some way. Like the Nike commercials says, “Just Do it!” What’s important is to find what works for you and start moving, inch by inch, beyond your fear.
Writing this small post for Tiny Buddha is my way of trying to move beyond my fear, and removing this mask that has kept me isolated from other seekers.
Most importantly, I did this to be honest with myself. Being honest with ourselves is the surest way to move forward on the path of self-discovery.