As my grandkids prepared for Halloween night, costumes may have provided great appeal, but they were really in service of achieving their actual goal: Candy! The more the better, with sugar-highs waiting in the wings for the next few weeks as careful parents portion out their haul. And, although I may actually be even more drawn toward sugar than they, at this point in my life, I find the costumes themselves far more interesting.
On Halloween, kids are invited to pretend to be someone else. I remember drawing a beard with the burnt edge of a cork, and placing stick-on oozing wounds where they would appear most gruesome. Sheets made us ghosts and capes made us superheroes as we sought more powerful, or at least more frightening, personas for that sugar-filled night.
There is something appealing about dressing up and pretending to be someone else. Perhaps imagining that people really don't know who we are, as if stepping into a different identity for a night. That's the part of the holiday that appeals to me the most these days, offering space for the question: If I could be anyone other than myself, who would I wish to be?
Perhaps a night that invites us to disguise ourselves provides us the possibility of a brief respite from our usual mask -- for isn't our personality simply a rather complex mask that we have developed to establish and support our separate identity in the world?
Psychologists have long talked about the nature and the impact of birth trauma. Many of us have stories of our own births that clearly support some of the personality traits we have developed to counteract experienced wounds. But it may well be that birth itself, when we find ourselves suddenly trapped in separateness, is the instigating trauma that supports our masking that separateness with an identity that becomes the personality we nurture through the years.
Awake behind our usual identity
You may be, like me, on a spiritual quest to discover the greater Identity behind your personal ego mask. If so, it is likely you have met that greater inclusivity, that more profound interconnection with all of life, at precious moments through the years. Sometimes through meditation, often through relationship, perhaps in the awe of the natural world, we find ourselves awake behind our usual personal identity. We meet the One whose brilliance fashioned our precious personality in the first place. We meet the One who is always present, who is always the Presence whispering from the silence we share.
For the past several years, I have been encouraging that awakening by pointing toward the one thing that all human beings share -- the one thing that has stayed the same through our entire lives -- the one absolutely unlimited voice of Presence awaiting us always.
What is this thing that is constant and all-inclusive? It is what we call "silence." There is no such thing as Jewish silence (though sometimes I think that may be an oxymoron), or Christian silence, or Muslim silence. There is no such thing as Buddhist silence or Hindu silence. There is just silence. One silence. The sound of one hand clapping.
We clothe that silence with the garments of personality, and Halloween provides an opportunity to experiment with other garments, and, to the extent we are able, with other personalities. Such moments can be liberating, freeing us from the constant demands to protect and promote our own personal institution of personality.
Our personalities represent an identity with which we sought to secure, as best as we could, the love and the support we needed in order to survive in the world we found ourselves. The fact that we are still here indicates that we have been successful. At the same time, our attachment to our personalities has institutionalized our detachment from a shared consciousness that may well have been our state prior to awakening in the separate shells of our bodies.
The greater Self provides the vision and the way
The personas that provide our sense of self in the world are fragile identities. We are vulnerable in so very many ways, and we know that there is always personality death awaiting us at some unspecified time in the future. So we feel the need to defend ourselves, to compete with other personalities for what may seem like the limited prizes required to bolster that personal identity.
What if Halloween were a time to become more aware of the masks we are already wearing? What if the permission we are given to dress up in alternate personalities is meant to serve as a reminder that we are already dressed up?
Spiritual teachers of all great traditions have brought us a central teaching that has been called the Golden Rule. However it is stated by those different traditions, the premise is the same: We are to treat others as we would most like to be treated ourselves.
Some years ago, it occurred to me that this was more than simply a "rule," that it might better be called the "Golden Reality." The rule is designed to encourage the ego, the personal self, to give only what it would like to receive. But the teaching emerges from a greater Identity, behind the ego, that realizes the one Life we share with all beings. Any pain we bring into another's life we also bring into our own; any gifts we bring another are gifts we ourselves receive. We are One.
This more spiritual identity, this greater Self, awakens behind the constant competitive polarizations of the ego-world. For those of us wondering how we can possibly conspire to heal all that is broken in our world, that greater Self provides the vision and the way. To realize the Presence in all persons, to appreciate different personalities as conditioned identities helping to support the survival of the individual organisms, is to step beyond polarization into the Light and the Love that holds the healing we need.
The sweetness is not in the candy
Halloween. Perhaps a time to appreciate more fully the masks, the costumes, the personas that we wear. Perhaps a time to appreciate the vast array of costumes we meet in the world.
Halloween. Perhaps a time to remove the mask, to emerge behind the personal identity where we can not only meet each other as One, but where we can more fully appreciate the individual identities we have created.
Halloween. Trick or treat? The trick is how convincing we have made our personal identity. The treat? The One waiting to be shared behind that mask.
The sweetness is not in the candy, but in something far more profoundly nourishing. The sweetness is in the remembering, and then bringing the Golden Reality into our lives and into our world through acts of greater wisdom and compassion.