Working with the Mask
By Dennis Klocek
In the beginning stage of nigredo or blackness, a soul alchemist comes into contact with the roots of personality. Persona in Greek refers to the mask that the actors spoke through in the Greek theater. Persona means speaking through or sounding through. A personality is a mask that I speak through rather than revealing my true feelings about myself. I form the roots of the personality when I experience in childhood that my true feelings and creative impulses in life are not being recognized by the world. I then seek to adapt to the world by forming inner pictures that allow me to avoid conflict by repressing pictures that come from my deeper sense of self. The repression is a subtle source of irritation. I then hide my irritation about not being able to express my true feelings under a series of masks that help me to compensate for my feelings of insecurity. This is the dynamic of the persona or mask.
The image of a gateless iron fence around a pile of manure is an image of the attempt to manage or repress my irritation at not being accepted for who I really am. Soul transformation begins with the realization that I have an inner source of irritation that is hidden to others, and often to me. I try to protect myself from allowing others to access the pile of irritations because I believe that if others gain access to my hidden pile of irritations, I lose significance in the world. As a result, I need to secure my secret pile deep within myself and form a mask that becomes like a fence of beliefs. Each irritation and compensation has its own series of inner pictures that arise when I get near a situation resembling the original situation that caused me to form the mask. Often, the fence that I build in my heart is so subtle that it doesn’t even allow me to get access to my own secret pile of irritations when I want to change my relationship to them.
To change this situation it is useful to employ imaginative faculties. The eventual goal is to gain access to the unconscious formative processes in your soul life that give rise to inner pictures. These imaginations are symbolized by the planetary glyphs hovering above the manure pile in the image. A useful beginning is to practice seeing yourself as if you were looking at the back of your own head. Try to imagine that you can slip out of the back of your body and look at yourself from behind. The first few attempts usually seem silly. These feelings gradually give way to a deeper sense that you live naturally a bit behind and above your daily viewpoint on the world. This is a very valuable insight emotionally.
Through practice other variations can be added. While you are talking to someone and become aware of a growing irritation, make a mental note to do the following later in the day. Imagine seeing yourself from behind yourself. In your imagination replay the irritating encounter but watch to see just what is was the exact source of the irritation. Was it the way that the other person looked at you as they spoke? Was it the content of their message? Ask yourself if you suspected a hidden agenda behind what they were saying? Did you find their tone of voice or body language irritating? Do they remind you of someone in your past that you found unpleasant?
Imaginative Exercises to create awareness of inner pictures
Identify an irritating situation in your life. Then imagine that the irritating event is a small mound of manure that mysteriously shows up over your back fence every morning. Imagine piling up each mound in the fence without reacting to it in the moment. Just imagine adding it to the pile and walking away. Imagine coming back later and seeing a pile of beautiful compost inside the fence but the fence you built prevents you from getting access to the compost. Imagine taking the fence down and then putting the compost on the garden and watching the plants grow.
Variation: Imagine that you are renting a new apartment. The last occupant has left a large pile of trash in a closet. You are too tired to clean it out. When your friends come over you lock the door of the closet so that no one can see the pile. Over time you begin to use the closet for your own trash so that it is filled with old newspapers and pizza boxes. One day you find you can’t get into the closet. You decide to clean it out and it takes a few weeks of intense work. You finally get to the floor of the closet and find a small box filled with mint condition gold coins.
As a final thought, the reason that the mask is so powerful in our lives is because we are unaware that we are compensating when we use the mask. It seems natural to us. The previous exercises are aimed at bringing the mask or compensating behavior into awareness. The true difficulty is that we are unaware of these compensating behaviors. To enhance this work it is useful to keep a journal of any time that we recognize a compensating behavior during an exercise. By journaling the experience we move it out of the darkness of the nigredo and towards the light of awareness where we can eventually find out why we are reacting to particular situations. Journaling takes down the iron fence around our manure pile of unconscious memories. It helps us to recognize the difference between an authentic soul experience and a mask.
Dennis Klocek, MFA, is co-founder of the Coros Institute and a faculty member at Rudolf Steiner College. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released Colors of the Soul; Esoteric Physiology and also Sacred Agriculture: The Alchemy of Biodynamics. Dennis is also an international lecturer.