“I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.” – William Shakespeare
If you put 200 people – diverse in as many ways as possible – in a theatre and then project the world going by in real time, no doubt these 200 folks will have 200 different opinions, reactions, observations, judgments, or takes on what they’re viewing.
Reality vs. reality
As these folks sit and watch, what’s informing their interpretation, their perception, is their internal map of reality. While “Reality” (capital R) is what’s passing by on the screen, most everyone is seeing that reality from their own “inner” reality – their beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, misperceptions, premises, “stories” they’ve created, paradigms, that is, their history, memory and experience, describe what they’re viewing. No two people are “hardwired” the same; thus, their views about life and living are products of their respective life experiences, beginning at birth.
So, then, what is “real” reality and what is the reality we create in our immediate experiece? The answer to this question can help us understand why we experience so much conflict in dealing not only with ourselves but with one another – at work, at home, at play and in relationship.
In Zen and Buddhism, a “koan” is a challenging question or statement that prompts one to engage in reflection – the intention is to lead one to a higher state of understanding or awareness. There is a Zen koan that says: “Show me your original face before you were born.”
This koan asks us to stretch – in a way that allows us to access sour True, Real and Authentic Self – the self we are/were before being born. In this process, we transcend our “database” of thoughts, concepts, beliefs, etc., and move to a place of no-mind – where we experience Reality as it truly is, experience our self as we truly are. Our true face before we were born is actually who we were (and still are!) before we were shaped and crafted by our “life experience.”
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
The koan is not meant to cause a reactive: “How can I have a face, or exist, before I was born?” It is a question of “Who am I without my set of beliefs, or my image of myself or an identity that I’ve adopted for myself?”
Reflecting on the koan can help us see how attached we are to “my reality,” – my beliefs, assumptions, theories, perceptions, perspectives, etc. Deep reflection can also support us to flow in a space of no-mind, an “original space” of mental quietude, unencumbered by our thoughts and thought patterns – our history, memory or experiences.
The point is that when we become more natural and internally quiet, and we are able to let go, we can better interact with others, not as a robotic, human collection of beliefs, opinions, or assumptions, etc., but as one who is open, curious, and accepting in the way we experience our world.
“False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” – William Shakespeare
We sort of “re-birth” ourselves each time we draw a conclusion about “who I am.” Each time we make a decision/judgment about our self – “I’m not good in social situations with others,” I’m a great leader,” “I have problems with difficult people,” I’m not very smart,” – we create our identity, our “subjective face and move farther away from our “original face.”
But, each of us has an “original face” – the face of who we were before we identified with anything or anyone. And, the good news is we can return to our original face, the place of inner peace and well-be-ing, if we learn to let go of our “false face.” Our “original face” is not only devoid of the superficial, surface elements of make-up, but the “false face” of beliefs and assumptions about who we think we are, most often, beliefs that really don’t serve us and cause us pain and suffering.
Don’t take it personally
When we don’t take the people, events and circumstances of our world personally, we can move into a place of deep relaxation and peace – our “original face.” Here, we can watch the projection of the world go by right in front of us – at work, at home, at play and in relationship – without the need to become reactive. Rather, our experience is one without tension, pretension, fakeness, or phoniness – none of the “shoulds” telling us how to be or what to do.
“Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find his own.” – Logan Pearsall Smith
So, what takes us away from our “original face?” In a word, survival. First, as young children our survival – physical, emotional, mental, psychological, spiritual – depended on our unconsciously taking on others’ beliefs as to how we should behave. If we behaved accordingly, we “survived.” If not, we lost out on love, recognition, approval and for some, safety and security. As we developed, we took on more and more beliefs, assumptions and ways of do-ing and be-ing that we felt would help us “survive” – at work, at home, at play and in relationship.
Now, as adults, we no longer have access to our “original face.” We wear masks, and have various personas we take off and put on daily so we can “survive.” Having lost our “original face,” we’ve become unconsciously controlled by our ego mind as reflected by our inability to just let the world pass by as we sit in that theatre. Rather, we have an unconscious need to react, judge, compare, contrast, offer opinions, and be “right.” We put our best face forward, to survive. We hold on to all our faces so we have them just in case.
“Solitude: sweet absence of faces.” – Milan Kundera
When we let go of our false faces, of our need to “survive,” and habitual and patterned ways of thinking, do-ing and be-ing, and allow ourselves to sink into and penetrate deeply into our core Self, we set ourselves free – free to allow our “original face” – free from self-limiting, self-defeating, and self-sabotaging thoughts, beliefs, “stories” and identifications. In this place we can sit in the theatre of life and experience the world – at work, at home, at play and in relationship – without needing to take it “personally.”
Our “original face” is what supports us to see the freshness of life, in every moment, free of conflict and the need to be judgmental, confrontational, combative or controlling.
Some questions for self-reflection are:
- When was the last time you experienced your “original face?”
- Aside from physical elements such as make-up, surgery, or hair coloring, etc., what mental, emotional or attitudinal elements obscure your original face?
- Do you tend to take people, events or circumstances “personally?” If so, how so and wy?
- Do you recall behaving in ways you didn’t want, as a child, to get your parents’ or primary caregiver’s attention, love, acceptance or approval? Do you behave in those ways now to get others’ acceptance and approval?
- If you were sitting in that theatre, would you be able to simply watch, witness and observe without feeling the need to judge, critique or inject your $.02? Be honest. How about in your everyday world?
- In addition to your closet of clothes, do you have a closet of faces and personas you take out and put on for different events, circumstances and people? Why is that?
- Would folks describe you as authentic? How do you know? Would you ask them? If not, why not?
- What was being authentic like for you when you were growing up? Were you able to have your “original face?” Were you encouraged to have your “original face?”
- Can you envision a world where everyone wore their “original face?”
“There are people who think that everything one does with a serious face is sensible.” – Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
(c) 2014, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.
Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.
What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”
I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.
I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, www.truenorthpartnering.com or pvajda(at)truenorthpartnering.com
You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.