martes, 18 de noviembre de 2008

Thoughts on Masks

Last week Paulo Coehlo in his discussion group on Facebook introduced the topic of Masks, inviting his readers to share in the exploration. This, on heels of some of my own personal praxis, prompted me to articulate some of my thoughts. Only a few weeks ago I created a mask as part of a costume for dance piece; the with the aura of Halloween in the air, I attended a costume party, went to a Halloween Night celebration in San Francisco and the following day, performed at a dance evening hosted in the South Bay-- all of which involved masks.

It seems to me that all of us are filled with a multiplicity of facets and characters we play out in different ways, most often unconsciously, and sometimes simultaneously and or in quick alternation-- the mask is a great tool of self revelation: to make this inner drama explicit, to make the implicit and unseen visible and therefore conscious. Through exploration, we can then begin to see the characters within characters and the mask that resides behind the mask. The mask can aid us in bringing a particular facet of ourselves claimed or unclaimed into the spotlight of our awareness.

A few months ago, I participated in an exercise led by Daria Halprin at the Tamalpa Institute that demonstrated these very principles: the facets, as well as the "onion" principal of mask within masks or masks behind masks. We were asked to embody on our face different emotions and then to explore what emotion was behind it. If the current mask we wear is sadness, in the game of masks it becomes natural to inquire, what is behind the sadness? If serenity is behind the sadness, what is behind it? And how does each aspect move? The naturally arising insight is that if we embody and embrace our masks we come to know our own story and the play of our emotions through these aspects of ourselves in a deeper way, with this knowing, our empathy and recognition of others grows deeper.

As pointed out in Paulo Coehlo’s discussion group, Make-up can be another type of mask. Some have pointed out it can be used to conceal, protect, disguise and deceive; but, it can also be about celebration of the natural beauty of the body, to create drama, a character for exploration, or a way to play to create new contexts outside of the quotidian familiar ego states.

Outlining the eyes so their shape and color and luster is accentuated is a celebration and an artistic expression; taken to greater extremes, it can imbue the wearer with a resemblance to a goddess or to a bird or a lion. And with the lips-- a deepening of the color and an outline bring more attention to their role on the face: speaking, kissing, pouting... By accentuating the features of the face, a whole dimension of messaging and communication is opened up. By adding more artistic embellishment, a vista of metaphors and the imagination is opened up. This gives adults a context for play, through theater, dance, costume parties, or other ceremonial occasions.

The mask can be used to free up the psyche, so we can explore and reveal real aspects of ourselves. By taking ourselves out of a mundane state of awareness, we can open up our psychic range of movement. The mask can heighten awareness and bring out the vitality of the human capacity to play in order to learn about our universe! I believe one of the many reasons adult learning slows so much is that they stop playing, a primary mode of human discovery!

Masks can be used to conceal and protect or to reveal. By using masks to create a ceremonial, playful or theatrical context, it can make it safe to explore some aspects of ourselves that otherwise might seem too threatening. The emotions themselves can be seen as a mask. Each emotion is revealing, but concealed behind it is yet another layer, another mask. Is there an ultimate “true self”, an ultimate truth, or does the truth lie in the continual play and revelation of itself? Masks may be personal, transpersonal, cultural or universal; expressed in something as common as make-up or as particularly contextualized as a Kachina dancer. Masks may serve to explore the interface between the archetypal and the personal and to open the realm of play.

[Images of masks from Masks of the World.]

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