Masks and Burning It Down

Some say the end is near. Some say we'll see Armageddon soon. I certainly hope we will. I sure could use a vacation from this Bullshit three ring circus sideshow of freaks
Some say the end is near.
Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon.
I certainly hope we will.
I sure could use a vacation from this
Bullshit three ring circus sideshow of freaks

Last week, I wrote about the Mask, also known in the Jungian-verse as the Persona. These are the identities that we assign ourselves and they consist of a myriad of different masks that we have and use. Think of the mask as a role, and the idea might be slightly clearer.

The interesting thing about how Jung viewed the Persona/Mask is he felt that they are necessary for the well-being of society. I put my mask on because it is my duty to social peace, and social progress.

This goes against my 90s Seattle-self. The grunge and hard rock era of Nirvana and Marilyn Manson, when those who were in their teens embraced a f*ck society kind of approach to the world, all the while attempting to discover our authentic selves. We resisted any attempt by our parents, teachers, and elders to place identities upon us, and those who did “conform” to social expectations were shunned and looked down upon as weak and willing.

This is the environment I grew up in.

Fast forward a couple of decades.

I am a mom, wife, and daughter.

I am a writer.

I am, as my lovely friend so lovingly puts it, a big-headed owl.

Which of those things are my authentic self?

None.

But also all of them. Just a little bit.

When I was a teenager, and even more so when I was in college surrounded by super-rich assholes and professors that catered to them, I wondered at my authentic self. I was angry. I viewed the world through a lens of red upon a pedestal of self righteousness.

Was that, then, my authentic self?

Or is it who I am now, sitting on my couch in my yoga pants, too big Old Navy sweatshirt, and computer on my lap? I count down the minutes until I have to leave to pick up my son from pre-school, while simultaneously trying to be there for my husband who stayed home from work today because he isn’t feeling good.

Wife. Mother. Writer.

Are these aspects of my authentic self, or are they masks that I wear?

And that is where the interesting dichotomy lies.

The mask, according to Jung, is that aspect that you perform in order to better society. Put it like that, I sort of see myself wearing a mask when I am unfailingly polite to the cashier at the grocery store or my local barista. I might be in a terrible mood, but those individuals will never know it.

Jung says that the “persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

But what if the persona/mask is deeper than the fake smile you plaster on your face for strangers? Is the mask at the level of identity? What is this “true nature of the individual?”

Identity is an amazingly complex and confusing rabbit hole. What is it? How do we become it? What is the purpose of it?

These are questions that philosophers have tackled for as long as there has been the ability to tackle complex thought. The basis, however, is the need to have an identity. I find myself most at sea, most lost, when I am not able to say I am something that I respect, or the identity structure I have created is unraveling because of a lack of success, or inability.

So. Where is the line? Where is the link between our authentic self, that identity that is our true being, and those masks we place on in order to fit in, and in order to better society?

Is my role as mother, wife, or daughter a mask, or an aspect of my true self?

What about writer?

Cook?

Reader?

Or perhaps the line does not exist and there are pieces of me scattered like the red, orange, and brown leaves scattered across my front yard.

Pieces.

Jung says that “if we do not fashion for ourselves a picture of the world, we do not see ourselves either, who are the faithful reflections of that world. Only when mirrored in our picture of the world can we see ourselves in the round. Only in our creative acts do we step forth into the light and see ourselves whole and complete. Never shall we put any face on the world other than our own, and we have to do this precisely in order to find ourselves. For higher than science or art as an end in itself stands man, the creator of his instruments.”

My world is fragmented. Perhaps that is a clue.

I am fragmented in my fragmented world, with a need of restructuring.

Rethinking.

That seems to be a theme.

What are the masks that you wear? Do you feel they are a piece of your authentic self, or entirely separate?

A Beginning

The Masks
The Masks

I mentioned in my post yesterday that one method of self discovery is understanding how we interact and assign meaning to certain archetypes. A name for this journey is individuation. Individuation is a spirit journey, “the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual,’ that is, a separate, indivisible unity or whole” (Jung).

C.G. Jung underwent a series of self-examinations during a three-year period (1913 – 1916), using creative methodology to find his personal myth. This process of individuation he collected and later put together in one folio he called Liber Novus, better known as The Red Book.

The process he underwent was a deeply personal one, and during that time he continued his professional work, developing his theories on the psychological types introvert and extrovert; and later, partially due to his personal exploration, the idea of archetypes and the collective unconsciousness.

I say we undertake a journey of our own, going through the different archetypes and exploring how we view them. Let’s start at the beginning and work through how each archetype gives us clues as to what is True for us (understanding that Truth is not a singular construct).

Before we get started, however, let me break down some terminology.

Collective Unconscious

“A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the personal unconscious. But this personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the collective unconscious. I have chosen the term ‘collective’ because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is, in other words, identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us” (Jung).

This is the home place of archetypes as Jung explained it.

…and just to reiterate.

Archetypes

Ancient mythologies, religious texts, fairy tales and modern media all deal with the SAME kind of forms and images that appear to transcend time and place. Jung says the “archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes colour from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear.”

Archetypes have no inherent meaning, the viewer (the subject, us) assigns meaning, but we know them when we see them. Most anyone has and does attach meaning to the concept of “mother,” “hero,” or “trickster.”  Jung used archetypes in his work with patients, having them “converse” with different archetypes as a way of reducing their psychosis in the way of an alchemist reducing metals into their pure form. He called this active imagination.

THE ARCHETYPES

anonymous-maskPersona

“The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual… Society expects, and indeed must expect, every individual to play the part assigned to him as perfectly as possible…” (Jung).

The persona, the mask, is an essential aspect of society’s health. We must play roles; neurosis develops when those roles overtake the individual self. The Mask has always existed as a Role(s) that is required. We, through interaction and social pressure, assign meaning to the universal image. Often times this meaning is in the form of our gender-based identity as a male or female.

Anima/Animusyin-yang-male-female

“It is a well-known fact that sex is determined by a majority of male or female genes, as the case may be. But the minority of genes belonging to the other sex does not simply disappear. A man therefore has in him a feminine side, an unconscious feminine figure – a fact of which he is generally quite unaware. I may take it as known that I have called this figure the ‘anima,’ and its counterpart in a woman the ‘animus'” (Jung).

In correlation and intertwining with the idea of the persona, is the idea that we encompass both the masculine and feminine. Like the idea of yin/yang, we combine the male and female to create an individual structure, SEPARATE, from the persona that we present to the world.

The anima/animus are those flashes of “otherness” that take hold on occasion, those quick feelings that are opposite of how we would normally act. Our anima/animus present themselves in dreams (day or sleeping) and in bursts of energy, thought, or even vocalization that is at direct odds to how you would normally act.  

Where to Go From Here

With the persona and the anima/animus in hand, where should we start our exploration, or more specifically, where am I going to start my journey? My persona and my animus are linked, pieces of identity, but as I have talked so much about social expectations and what I am versus what is expected of me, I think I am going to start with the masks… the persona.

This should be interesting.

Where is your jumping off point?

Rediscover Self with Archetypes

Jung's amazing Red Book... a journey of self discovery
Jung’s amazing Red Book… a journey of self discovery

I have dusted off the books. On my desk there is a stack of C.G. Jung books that I have not delved in for at least a year. They are well-worn from my days in grad school, combined with the years of thumbing through to read passages here and there.

I have forgotten how brilliantly well done are his ideas.

I have vast array of different Jung material, but by far my favorite and most insightful take away from Jung is the idea of archetype. It is a fairly common word now, with a lot of people understanding what an archetype is and is not, but just in case, here is a brief overview of the original definition.

The Archetype

Archetype is an idea or theme that is primordial, meaning it is something that exists before we assigned meaning to it. It does not ave inherent meaning, more it is an empty vessel, something that we dump meaning into thereby creating individualistic meaning, unique for us as the interactor.

Archetypes include God and Goddess, Mother, Father, Hero, Trickster, Shadow, Persona and of course the Anima/Animus (Jung terms for our opposite gender side). There are others, but those are some of the most familiar.

The beauty of archetypes is that they, by their very nature, malleable. They are reflections of us and our society.

Superheroes are a perfect example of this phenomenon. Read a 1940s superhero comic (Superman) and you are going to get a much different picture than a 1980s superhero (The Watchmen) and the 2015 superhero (Thor, Ironman, Hawkeye, etc. etc.). These heroes are reflections of the social construct that created them. The creators and the audience mold the hero to be relevant to current issues, thought, and culture.

How cool is that, seriously.

And it isn’t just comic books. No. It is art: literature, music, art. All the creative endeavors that surround us are made up of archetypal thought patterns, reflecting and broadcasting the way society sees and hears and knows the world. It is why art (in all its forms) is so incredibly important.

It shows us reality no matter how much time has passed, or how our own thoughts influence the current outcome… art is like a time machine.

Magnificent.

But I got off track.

Archetypes.

Archetypes is the bones of it all.

Jung identified them and believed that in understanding our relationship to archetypes, we are able to know more about ourselves. It is self study, a way of finding and understanding our own myth:

“I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: ‘what is the myth you are living.’ I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust… So in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth, and regarded this as the task of tasks—for—so I told myself—how could I, when treating my patients, make due allowance for the personal factor, for my personal equation, which is yet so necessary for a knowledge of the other person, if I was unconscious of it?”  (Jung, Red Book, 15)

What is our myth? How do we view the archetypes I listed above? If they are but empty vessels, everything that we think about those identities, those ideas, are significant in understanding ourselves.

It is a road map to the psyche.

How brilliant is that?