Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rick Hanson - Who's Behind YOUR Mask?

We all have multiple selves and multiple masks that we wear in the world (father, son, brother, employee, coach, teacher, friend, mentor, employer, teammate, and on and on). Hanson talks in the singular here, but we are multiple (in a good way) and so we have many masks/roles we wear - and hide behind.

But how often do we reveal the person behind those masks, the true selves we inhabit, often without awareness? How often do we even reveal to ourselves the people behind our masks?

How often do you allow yourself to be seen, let others know who you are? Do you reveal the parts we are often afraid to let others see? How often do you truly see others and not only the mask or your expectation of who that person is?

Who's Behind YOUR Mask?

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. - Neuropsychologist and author, 'Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

Posted: March 24, 2011 08:54 AM

Most of us wear a kind of mask -- a persona that hides our deepest thoughts and feelings and presents a polished, controlled face to the world.

To be sure, a persona is a good thing to have. For example, meetings at work, holidays with the in-laws and first dates are usually not the best times to spill your guts. Just because you're selective about what you reveal to the world does not mean you're insincere. Phoniness is only when we lie about what's really going on inside.

Much of the time, we interact mask-to-mask with other people. There's a place for that. But remember times when someone saw through your mask to see the real you, the person back behind your eyes? If you're like me, those times were both unnerving and wonderful.

Even though it's scary, everyone longs to be seen, to be known. You long to have your hopes and fears acknowledged -- the ones behind a polite smile or a frown of frustration. You long to have your true caring seen, as well as your positive intentions and natural goodness. Most intimately of all, you long to feel that your innermost being -- the one to whom things happen, the one strapped to this rollercoaster of a life, trying to make sense of it before it ends -- has been recognized by someone.

This goes both ways. Others long to be seen by you. Besides the ways that seeing the person behind the eyes benefits others, it's good for you, too. Being seen is often the real stake on the table, the top priority, more important to other people than whether you agree with them about something. When someone gets that sense from you -- that he or she exists for you as a person, not just as a pain in the neck or as someone with whom to get through this meeting, dinner, bedtime routine, phone call or sexual experience -- then it's much easier to take care of the matter at hand, whatever it is.

Sensing the deepest layers in people can nourish you in other ways, too. For example, I had a relative with a big heart but a difficult personality who drove me a little crazy. Finally, I started to imagine that being with her was like looking at a bonfire through a lattice covered with thorny vines. I focused on the love shining through and warming my own heart, and didn't get caught up in the vines. That helped both of us a lot.

This week, with different people, get a sense of the person behind the eyes. It's not a staring contest; it can actually help to look away, so you're not distracted by surface details. (While I'm using the word "see," of course you are also hearing the person behind the words and sensing the person embedded in the body sitting across from you.)

Take a moment to relax and set aside your case about the other person, and open to the being down in there somewhere, maybe rattled and defensive and acting in ways that are problematic, but really just yearning for happiness and some way to move forward in life.

You could also sense your own innermost being, and then imagine that core -- that sense of being alive, the recipient of experiences, the one for whom life is hard sometimes -- inside the other person.

Let that recognition of the person over there show in your face, in your own eyes. Be brave and let them see you seeing them.

Notice how this recognition changes the course of an interaction -- perhaps softening it, making it more authentic, leading to a good resolution more gently and quickly.

As an advanced practice, you could even raise the subject with someone of the degree to which you feel seen (or not) as persons by each other. That kind of conversation can transform a relationship.

Lastly, enjoy being a person yourself, the channel through which your life streams, with some of the richest streaming being the other persons all around you.


Just One Thing (JOT) is the free newsletter by Rick Hanson that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

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