We cried in bitter anguish, we cried in utter bliss. We felt the devils anger, and the sweetness of a kiss. We meditated for so many years. Had therapists and many tears. We got drunk on beer and wine and whiskey and vodka and life. We got high, and we got low. We felt the heat and the ice.
We got sober. We ran away. We found the fields and the jungle and mountains and the cave. We drank the wicked brew and saw our lives break open. We travelled the world across land and ocean. We learned to be mindful, we learned to be still. We learned to forgive, just a little.
We did so much. And how we tried. And how we cried. We cut. We loved. We fucked. We sunk in to the ocean. We danced among the stars. We lied and we cheated, we collected many scars.
We tried to make things right. We tried to be good. We tried to live up to the expectations of others the best we could. We tried not to care. We tried to conform. We tried to be free. We tried to just be.
We tried to find the answers but we didn’t know the questions. We tried to find our way but we didn’t have directions. We sought protection from the world but we had no protection from ourselves. We were our worst enemies, not anybody else.
We tried to find god or spirit or love or nature or ecstasy or something. Anything, bigger and greater than ourselves and our parents and our education and our politicians and our culture and our society. Something to hold on to. Just something we could cherish and belong to. Something worth living for.
We never stopped searching. We kept on believing tomorrow might just be worth living an extra day for. But tomorrow never came. It’s still always today. And I’m still me and you’re still you. And we still want to change but we don’t know what to do. We still wish we were someone else. We’re still waiting to be saved.
When will this stop? When will this end? When will we get there? Does ’there’ even exist?
After all these years we’re still broken. Perhaps it’s unspoken, perhaps it’s not quite so much as before, but we’re still, frustratingly, achingly sore.
We still hate ourselves. We still feel weak. We still lack power when we speak. We still dream big, but our doubt is bigger. Too scared to try to actualise dreams, still scarred by painful memories of previous failures. Too self aware. Too hurt to care. Too clever but not quite clever enough. Too intimate with our minds and our flaws. Still unable to open doors.
Still unable to love. Still jealous. Still children, still seeking approval. We try and fail to be grown up. Trying and failing to be a success. Confused as ever about what we want from life, and still no clearer what any of this is for.
But there is no ‘off’ button, and we will go on. Learning, sharing, hoping, daring. Giving up, trying again, holding on, letting go. Finding ourselves, while getting lost.
When I was 16 I had an embarrassing experience that at once humiliated me and taught me an invaluable lesson. I was in my first ever sociology class at college and the lecturer had asked a simple question: ‘How long can a man survive without food and water?’ Without thinking, I instinctively and proudly blurted out the answer: ’40 days and nights!’ I declared.
Before the words had even finished leaving my mouth, I had an awful feeling that something strange and terrible had just happened. Years of religious indoctrination that I thought I had battled my whole life to successfully repel had indeed penetrated my thoughts and being at a fundamental level after all.
Stories about Jesus on an epic desert mind-bender had somehow got muddled up with what I thought I knew about survival. Humiliated by my completely factless answer, I realised with a crunching and disheartening feeling of dread that I couldn’t trust my own mind.
To his credit my lecturer’s ploy had worked, his point had been made, and in a subtle way my life and how I consider myself would never be the same. I felt a lot of shame that day in class as I so nakedly revealed to my cohort the extent of my religious conditioning. These days I’m grateful for the lesson I received though, for it highlighted how easily we humans have a capacity for absorbing and communicating bullshit.
‘Question everything’, my lecturer later said—and these words have never left me, as pertinent now as they were then.
For those of us interested in discovering what life is really about, there is much to question. Government propaganda, mainstream and alternative news providers, inescapable, omnipresent and manipulative advertising, PR campaigns, supermarket shelves, laws and rules, religious and new age thinking, science, popular cultural values, social norms, education, childhood upbringings and more, all convey messages that influence our thoughts and behaviour, and all implicitly or explicitly provide instructions for how to live.
The cultural and institutional structures that shape our world tell a narrative we could take as the truth if we chose not to question everything.
As a result of this conditioning, our minds are a quagmire of deeply held assumptions about the way things are, that may or may not correspond with ‘reality’, whatever that is. There’s a lot out there to question, and even more to distract us from doing so. But if we want to live lives that are a product, at least to a degree, of freethinking and autonomous decisions, we have to take this journey.
If we’re trying to work out how life might look if we could discard the myriad ways we’ve been conditioned, if we want to live lives that are real and meaningful we must be prepared to consider the possibility that everything we know is wrong. In fact, I would suggest, this is a pretty good place to start.
You know when the mask begins to crack. The mask you’ve worn for so long no longer feels comfortable. Not that it ever truly did, but now for some reason you cannot pretend it’s okay. Once the mask has cracked things cannot and will not remain the same. Though for a while you may resist, inevitably, change is coming.
The cracking of the mask occurs when it is no longer possible or desirable to conceal the true nature of who and what you are. It happens when you realise your old ways of being, thinking and doing belong in the past. It comes when you acknowledge that who you’ve been so far is a relic of your old, limited and conditioned self, and that it is time for change. To paraphrase those oft quoted words of Anaïs Nin, the day comes when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.
And when that time for change comes, you will not be able to rest easy until you’ve taken action. Though there may be those around you who do not understand the path you’ve chosen, or who are threatened by your new disregard for convention, do not be perturbed. Remember that fortune favours the brave, that on your deathbed you want to look back and know you had the conviction to follow what was right and true.
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of passively accepting a lack of fulfilment in our lives. It’s the path that rarely brought anyone a deep sense of meaning, but it is what is expected of us, and it’s reinforced by the cultural narratives we are surrounded by. No one warns of it’s pitfalls. For those of us not clear enough in our minds about how we want to live, or not strong or confident enough to do anything about it, the path of mediocrity sucks us in like a black hole consumes whatever has the misfortune of straying too close.
Do not fear the cracking of the mask. Though change is afoot, what you lose you won’t miss, and what you gain will be immeasurable. Have courage, believe in your values, and remember you will not only be doing yourself a favour by embracing a new mode of being. By choosing this path of authenticity you will inspire others to do the same. You will be a more positive presence in the lives of those you know. Though challenges await, know that nothing of worth was ever gained easily.
Do not fear the cracking of the mask.