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My life took an unexpected turn when I began reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I sat with the reverberations of that book for a week or two before moving on to his follow-on book “A New Earth”. I’m now experiencing another enlightening experience but on a deeper level. Tolle’s first book could be considered a primer for “A New Earth”. It lays the groundwork for his later heartier discussions.

One particular passage that I came across this weekend, as I sat outside enjoying the warmth of the sun, was about roles we play. I understood and agreed with his previous sentiments about our need to disidentify – we’re too ingrained in egos that aren’t really us. The discussion of roles shoots off of this idea in a practical way that I believe most of us can understand, at least in theory.

Each of us has at least one role we assume – teacher, parent, child, manager, customer, friend. Most of the time, we are not aware that our actions and thoughts change from one role to the next, from teacher during the day to mother or father at night. We modify our behavior in the most subtle of ways to fit the mold of these roles. Not only to align with our own conception but how others perceive this role to be as well.

I’m starting to see that a lot of aspects we consider to be our “personality” are actually part of roles that can be discarded. For instance, a child who is labeled by adults as shy frequently adopts all attributes of a shy personality believing that this is who they are. She goes through her entire life filling the role of a shy person, never considering that she has simply adopted a façade based on others’ opinions. But this is not who she is. It is simply a mask that she has been prescribed to wear. And like this little girl, the majority of us become these masks. We believe that we are what we project and what others perceive. He IS a teacher. She IS mother. No. These are roles. Simply roles.

I believe Tolle’s notion that these roles – an inherent part of our egos – are keeping us from meaningful relationships. If we’re all playing roles, we are all wearing masks, never offering up our true selves. While we may think we see the masks that others wear, the more important mask – our own – goes unnoticed.

Looking back, I can now acknowledge the masks that I have worn, which kept me from meaningful and lasting relationships. Again and again, I adopted the mask that I perceived to be expected of me from my significant other. In my first relationship, it was “silent and subservient girlfriend”. In my marriage, it was “dutiful housewife”. And most recently, I wore a double mask – the visible one was “poly girl”, which covered up another of “open girlfriend”.

Unconsciously and repeatedly, I not only adopted new masks eagerly but also more importantly BECAME that new identity. I quickly developed a conception in my head and did everything I could to fill that ideal role. But because none of these roles reflected let alone reconciled with my true essence, I could not maintain the facades for very long. And once the mask disintegrated any relationship was forced to crumble as well. They were falsities built on quicksand.

It’s not easy to admit. It hurts to admit that my previous relationships weren’t… well, just weren’t. But I guess I already knew that when they ended. While I know I caused undue hurt to others, I find some comfort knowing I didn’t do so consciously. All I can do is hope we’re all better off for the experience.

As I’m making my way through Tolle’s philosophy, I can see how it applies to me and those around me. At the moment, I believe the masks we wear are not detrimental in and of themselves and we may never completely divest ourselves of these facades. It is only when we completely identify with our masks that they begin to hurt us and separate us. If we can acknowledge a role as a role, acknowledge our reactions as our ego, then through such awareness we instantly come closer to revealing our true essence.

And I truly believe that an unconscious being cannot withstand the consciousness of another in intimate quarters for long. Either the unconscious are forced into consciousness or they must turn away, to remain happily unaware. And only when two beings are both conscious witnesses of the ego, can a true, lasting relationship exist. All other “relationships” are gross illusions attaching themselves to mere delusions of connection.

As many enlightened beings say, you cannot seek happiness, you cannot chase enlightenment, you cannot fight the darkness. These are all egoic endeavors (the ego seeks to achieve and succeed) that lead you further into unconsciousness. I also say you cannot destroy masks. Attempting to destroy any part of the ego is still ingrained in egoism – the belief you can conquer it sets “you” as superior to others. And as Tolle says, anytime we feel superior or inferior to another, that’s purely the ego.

To be conscious, you need not struggle or even try. All you need to do is acknowledge and accept, and in doing so create a space where light can shine.

And when we are conscious enough to witness our roles, our egos, we can ask ourselves, “What will I lose, what danger will my true self encounter, if I let go of this role?” And I’m hopeful that what we will soon realize is that all with which we identify, each one of our defining thoughts, only limits us and prevents us from the interconnectedness, the enlightenment, the peace, we truly want.

Yes, I’ve felt such peace. But I am still learning. I say various mantras to myself all the time – like “Just this”, “only love”, “be” – to remind myself to remain conscious. Somedays are more fluid than others. The most important lesson I’ve learned yet is to accept my moments of non-peace, not let myself become identified with them. These are simply moments, moments when my ego is desperately hanging on. And as soon as I see this…I smile. Because I know I’m on the right path.