The Mask is Never Not On
You may know that Halloween evolved from the fall pagan festival of blessing the harvest, Samhain, and the opportunity to honor what we have brought forth from this earthly realm. The Halloween tradition of putting on masks is only a small step beyond the original conceptions of what is possible for us in this season of the waning of light.
On Hallow's eve we wander with our children through fields of candy bowls (dopamine) and ghastly ghosts, (norepinephrine), masquerading as something other than ourselves. It can be terrifying, or playful and light. But it is stimulating! Our normal tendency to stay on the surface of things dissolves, and we indulge oft-repressed fascinations with what lies beyond.
Spiritual life, at least for me, lends itself to tearing off the coverings in just this way.
If we let it, Halloween can draw us into a strange interfacing with the fact that we have no idea what this little life is all about. Amidst all the blustering commotion of good against evil and order over chaos, all our efforts still land us in the same place: dust.
And yet... Does anything ever really die? Does anything ever really release itself, when it sheds this mortal coil, or do we simply cycle on and on and on?
Lao Tzu wrote: "Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides."
This is the trick, and the treat, of a good life. Don't get caught in black and white thinking. Let the dark and the light commingle.
On Halloween and the Day of the Dead, they say the veil is thin between the worlds.
We have more sensitivity to the mystery of the spirit, and it opens us up to something beyond the self. It’s a rare and precious opportunity to pay homage to our ancestors, and to inquire into our own confusions around letting go and being real.
Last I blogged I wrote to you about the goddess Durga, who once tried to slay a wicked foe without a whole lot of luck. The demon was called Rakta-bija, which means Blood Seed. Every time Durga slashed her sword, each drop of demon blood spilled became a seed that sprouted into another demon - a clone of the first. Legions of warrior demons descended upon the goddess, and in every corner of the earth there was terror. Durga became incensed, and from the deep concentration of her fury, she changed form. She became Kali.
You'll perhaps recall that Kali opened her gigantic mouth, outstretched her behemoth tongue, and lapped up each demon and each blood-seed drop on the battlefield. Her rage vanquished the demonic force! ...but she didn’t know when to stop. She was overtaken by the trance of rage.
Enter Shiva. Shiva arrives to see his beloved Durga transformed into a trance of destructive vitriol. Afraid that Kali would destroy the world, Shiva did the only thing he could do. He threw himself down at her feet. In moments, she came to. She saw her beloved and returned to her other self: the calm, full, beatific form, who rests in peace.
It’s said that truth only ever appears as a riddle. The jig is never actually up. We never know the whole truth. We never see through all the veils completely; we just get glimpses of the ground of being.
May we stand upon all of the edges of magic today, peering into truth. May we stand just beyond our own polarized thinking and make space for both the black and the white of the world. May we crack open the door to our own cages of dualism, and flirt with the riddle of things.
The jig is never up!
But neither is the jag. The dance goes on and on and on! We cannot see the mask, while we put it on. But nor shall we tear it haplessly off, for it has its role to play. The mask is never not on.
A toast, to that rich fecundity, the never-ending interweaving of all concepts, into the muddy compost, from which the lotus rises.