Are you ready to take off your mask?
Of course, you are.
And you do it all the time – after you leave the store, after you get back in your car, after you get home . . .
Hopefully, you know by now that the air outside is safe to breathe and you aren’t still compulsively denying yourself this opportunity. (No, maybe not you, but I still see it all the time in my neighborhood.)
Even if you are vaccinated by now and you mainly wear a mask when you don’t want to make others worry, you wait and anticipate that wonderful moment: when you take it off again.
If you still wear a mask while walking your dog or even driving your car, please stop reading this right now, go outside and enjoy at least 20 unrestricted breaths. I promise it won’t kill you. It might even make you feel more alive and human.
Many human lives have been lost to this pandemic and we will never get them back. If you and your loved ones were not affected, you are incredibly lucky. But no one escaped the way that the patterns of our behavior were suddenly tilted sideways all across the planet.
We’ve lived this reality for over a year and in some ways this chapter is now coming to a close. But not really.
Besides the fact that this experience remains markedly different in each locality across the globe, even where the virus has been mostly stamped out, the imprint of what we’ve been through is still indelibly marked on all of our psyches.
And our bodies express our psyches.
Maybe you’d like to close your eyes now for 10-20 seconds to confirm that.
When your eyes are open again, reflect on what you just felt (or, if you like, close your eyes and do it again).
Did you feel the current state of your psyche?
I’m going to assert that yes, you did. Whatever you just felt was the result of the way you are currently living in your body – which is always influenced by your state of mind.
Only in that magical category of experience called “flow” do you truly eliminate the sense that your body and mind aren’t the same. But even in more ordinary moments, the quality of your thinking and the quality of your movement – especially your breathing – are always completely interwoven.
Now, please try one last little experiment.
The next time you close your eyes to feel your psyche, create a vivid picture of walking outside without your mask. Stay in this story and watch yourself interacting with friends or strangers – the way you used to always do, without hesitation.
Notice what you feel in your body as you follow this movie. Try to feel the rhythms of the imaginary movement in your body. Notice if your breath shifts in any way.
Most importantly, notice if your body is attracted by these images or if you feel that yourself contracting inwards.
In so-called normal times, or even “good times”, we’re all more comfortable in some situations than others. We’re one way when we’re in the midst of our predictable routines. At other moments we recognize that we are out of our element.
Some people actually thrive on being out of their element because they tend to focus on the novelty and the opportunity for learning in these situations. For others, any and all unknown variables give rise to fear.
Of course, these are the two edges of a broad spectrum. We’re mostly somewhere in between and we all sometimes feel the pull in each direction.
But for over a year, just about everyone on the planet has been pushed towards fear.
Not only that. Movement has been restricted. Breathing has been threatened. Social connection has been reduced. Receiving the evil eye from strangers has been a common experience. Anxiety of every variety has expanded.
It happened to you and it happened to me. And you and I haven’t been together for a long time now.
But tomorrow we’re finally getting together.
How do you feel about that?
These are questions that are worth asking yourself seriously and frequently. And to get answers, the best thing is to pause and feel. Especially if, after having felt so much, you have adopted a habit of trying not to feel. It’s tempting – and even understandable – but it’s probably the most destructive habit of all the bad habits we’ve adopted.
As the world changes around you again, the more often that you pause to tune in to what you feel, the more you will be able to make intelligent use of new opportunities and avoid unnecessary pitfalls.
And don’t forget – everyone else is doing the same thing. So even if you feel quite comfortable when we meet, you might find that I’m an amped up bundle of nerves.
So even if you’re cruising, now you’re going to have to navigate my neuroses. If you are skillful, you might do just fine with that, but did you anticipate ahead of time how tricky this simple interaction was going to be? Were you prepared to hold this much space for me? How much capacity do you have for this kind of thing?
This is just you and me getting together, but everyone else is doing it too. Hopefully you and I are cruising, but, even if we are, you can be sure that someone else (somewhere nearby) is not having such an easy time of it.
It doesn’t really matter whether your main focus right now is just keeping yourself sane or if you have grounded sufficiently that you are looking for more ways to support others.
Either way, now is a good moment to be more conscious of how you are showing up in the world.
With that in mind, consider the image of taking off your mask as a special kind of invitation:
To show the full expression of your face.
To open your ears and make space inside yourself to listen to others.
To open your mouth and speak your mind out loud.
To feel the sun and wind on your skin and taste the air.
To reduce the distance between yourself and others.
And perhaps to touch.
To feel human again.
This is my wish for all of us. I think it’s the most important thing that we each can do right now.
It’s not easy, but we can make it a little easier if we do it together.
You are invited to an interactive online community exploration of this process on Sunday, June 27 1-4pm EST. Click here to learn more about Taking Off Your Mask