I love the colors of fall. They take me back.
They take me back to other times and places, to other ages and stages, to other roles and responsibilities with all with the challenges and blessings that is my life.
Most recently, the colors of fall have reminded me of the days when I was teaching preschool special education in the urban public schools. Young children love the colors of fall too. And, they love the crunch of the leaves, and the scurry of the squirrels, and the search for acorns, and the carving of pumpkins. But most of all, they love the masks and costumes of the upcoming holiday of Halloween!
In the falls of my past, I made Halloween masks. A lot of them. The simplest of these were made of paper plates. I have cut paper plates with two eye holes and one nose flap by the hundreds- nay, thousands. Weekends in October were spent cutting a pile of paper plates that the children, armed with crayons, would transform into cats and dogs, tigers and dinosaurs, mommies and Bob the Builders, and a plethora of Disney princesses. The masks changed day by day as the children explored and expressed through their imaginations a limitless number of characters, personalities, roles and ways of being in the world.
I loved watching them. And I loved playing my role as teacher in their journey to self-discovery.
Coincidentally, I first walked into a yoga studio during this period of my life. Also in the fall. And one of these very first classes had quite an impact on my journey to self-discovery.
After greeting the class and directing us to child's pose, the yoga teacher suggested that we "take off our masks." She continued to talk about the masks we wear in our lives. The roles that we take on in different situations. The personalities we express. And how our various ways of being in the world, functional or not, are simply masks. Some we are conscious of but many we wear unaware.
How refreshing it was for me to feel the tight muscles of my face relax. What a relief it was to feel the mask of ‘teacher’ slide off my face after a long day. Perhaps you know the feeling.
My fascination with masks was apparently legit. When I got home that evening, I walked into my living room and stopped dead in my tracks. On the wall hung a collection of wooden masks. I had hung them there myself. At the time global décor was popular and I had collected masks from my travels to Guatemala. Nonetheless, after the yoga teacher’s comments, I was startled to see masks hung so prominently in my home.
I walked across the living room and took each of the masks off the wall. I set them on the floor in a neat and tidy row. I stood back and looked at them. And I asked:
· Why am I so fascinated with masks?
· Could my interest in masks be related to the masks that I wear?
· Exactly what masks do I wear?
· Would I be better off removing one or two…or all of them?
Thus began a study of and appreciation for my masks.
The mask of mother. The mask of daughter. The mask of teacher. The mask of athlete and cyclist. The mask of 'yogi’. The mask of ‘always late’. The mask of ‘sooo busy’. The mask of ‘people pleaser’. The mask of ‘I can do it all myself’. The mask of ‘my life is a train wreck’. The mask of ‘I’m there for you’. The mask of ‘nasty ex-wife’. The list is long.
Most of these masks were chosen by me. Fair enough. Some, however, were not. Some are imposed upon me by other people. Some are there by default. And I was wearing all of them.
But this what I had learned in preschool: Masks are not really ME. And masks can be changed.
I can get out my paper plates and crayons and make a different mask. I can throw away the masks I’m done with and make a new one. I can try on… play with... as many masks as my imagination can create!
If you’re curious about the masks you wear, reflect on your life beyond just the mask. Consider the roles you play in life as if you were a character on-stage in a theatrical production. What costume do you wear? Who are the key players? What’s the theme song? The title of the story? Look for patterns. What things work for you? What things no longer serve you? Would it be helpful to edit the story?
And if you’d like to remove your masks, consider a little face yoga. Face yoga claims to strengthen and tone the muscles of the face for a more youthful look. However, it is equally effective at releasing the stress and tension in the face. As we relax, we relieve the holding patterns (aka masks) of the face.
Try these simple moves:
· Release the strain across the forehead by forming both hands into fists. Place the flats of your index and middle fingers at the center of your forehead. Using gentle pressure, drag the knuckles out from center across the forehead to the temples. Repeat three time. Sit quietly with eyes closed to experience the relaxation across the forehead and through the eye sockets.
· Release the tension through the cheeks by wrapping the lips up and over the teeth. Form an O with the mouth and then form a smile with the mouth. Move back and forth between these two positions while keeping the lips wrapped in front of the teeth. Finish by lifting the chin and making a chewing motion a few times. Release and breathe. Feel the flush as tension releases from the cheeks and jaw.
· This one is unusual but it works. Gently tug on your ears. First give three tugs to the ear lobes pulling downwards. Then give three tugs to the back of the ear flap by pulling backwards. Finally give three tugs to the top of the ear by pulling upwards. Sit in stillness and notice that there is a flush through the face as the tension releases.
And remember, everybody wears masks. We are all alike in this way. Consider the masks those around you wear. Perhaps some you assign to them. Offer compassion and forgiveness to those who don’t practice yoga or lack self-awareness. After all, we are all doing the best we can.
I extend my most sincere blessings as you enjoy the colors of fall…and the leaves, the squirrels, the acorns, the pumpkins…and the masks.