Chapter 4 – The Mask of Illusion, and Related Paradigms
“BE the change you wish to see!” -- M. K. "Mahatma" Gandhi
"Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny." – author unknown
"Man must not allow the clock
and the calendar to blind him to the fact
that each moment of life is a miracle and a mystery." – H.G. Wells
“By perception of the illusion we experience reality.” – “Professor Hayne”
“Look, everyone – the king is naked!” – Hans Christian Andersen
E HARDLY EVER see anyone – all we see of the people around us (even those close to us) is the “mask” of false personality; that is, the shape of their agglomerated presentation of their habitual thoughts, feelings and attitudes. In a sense, it is invisible, because our own masks keep us from being aware of our agreement to pretend that we are dealing with each other, instead of with a decoy.[*] But the moment your own mask is removed (or at least moved out of the way), those of other people become quite obvious (but, just like in the horror tales, they won’t believe you, and you can easily come to doubt yourself).
Nobody is born with a mask – that’s why children are notorious for embarrassing us with the truth.[†] But by the time they are seven or eight years old, we have already told them that what they see is either not real or not permissible, and we have imprinted our lies onto them. Then they either adopt the form of insanity (as we discussed in the first chapter) that is standard for that particular culture, or they withdraw, go mad or become misfits or criminals.
No, of course we are not all misfits, criminals or psychopaths (not all) but, with rare exceptions, we are all in illusion[‡] because we are all subscribed to the conventions of the masks – we respond automatically to the signals of the false faces, even though we may be squirming inside from what we are really feeling. But a big part of the agreement is that we switch those feelings to ‘ignore’ mode and then deny that we ever had any misgivings, at least until they make themselves known through a car wreck or a financial or relationship disaster.[§]
Let’s first run down some of the typical qualities of our masks:
I suppose one might reasonably ask, at this point, “How can you prove that we have these masks?” Once again, we must make the distinction between a “provable fact” and a paradigm. They are on two different levels of ideation: the notion of a “mask” is a paradigm or model; that is, a metaphorical abstract – there is no actual thing out there in the world, with holes for the eyes and nose and an elastic band to hold it on your head. It is only a way of selecting and sorting examples and, if it is a good metaphor, it will help to explain our observations.
That is what science does, but any good scientist knows that a theorem works only within a given context, just as Newton’s marvelous “laws” work on everything in the visible world, but only in fields neither too large nor too small, nor too fast or too far away, nor too hot or cold and, ultimately, not within the event horizon of some super-massive structure (the Universe, for example); otherwise all bets are off, and those same laws no longer apply, at least not without some significant tweaking.[‡‡‡]
Since the mask is a metaphorical abstraction, there is nothing to prove, but only to examine how well it seems to explain our observations. But then, our observations are suspect – as I mentioned, we select (usually unconsciously) examples that agree with our preconceptions, and we ignore those which do not. But just how far off are we on our perceptions? After all, a tree is a tree and a chair is a chair, no matter your prejudices, right?
Well, there are several approaches to this question (approaches, not answers) – the first is whether you regard ‘things’ to be inanimate and happenstance, or alive and significant.[§§§] The second approach is about whether you regard everything as separate objects or as all made up of each other – for example, everything being composed of different proportions of the “elements” earth, air, fire, water, metal, æther, etc., or balances of yin/yang, cardinal/ordinal/mutable, or different “densities” and “positions” (positive, negative and neutralizing) of “hydrogens,[****]” and so on.
A third approach is whether you regard events as accidental or predestined (or at least guided), perhaps according to the enneagram, a given astrological system, the I Ching, one of the Tarot systems, or to any number of divining methods from esoteric disciplines.
Approach #4 is whether, like some modern scientists, you do not regard matter to exist at all, or at least as we’ve been taught to think of it. Instead, you might regard things as being entirely empty space, with only various propensities of interaction, or as probabilities rather than actualities. You may think of these propensities as a kind of “dance” or interweaving of waves of invisibility. Some scientists and mystics do not even subscribe to space-and-time, instead seeing everything as a sort of desire to take on a form and a sequence of unfoldment (but which are, somehow, intrinsic to the observer).
Another approach is to regard everything as Divinely appointed, whereby a Moment in which I-and-my-impressions exist, is exactly a breath of God, or some similar depiction. In many cultures (even very old civilized ones like the Hindu), everything that happens is from the interaction of the gods.[††††]
Yet a sixth approach is to realize that the “tables,” “chairs” and “people” I encounter in any given reality may not be represented the same way by a given shift of consciousness, just as similarly themed dreams may furnish their scenarios differently, and yet still give similar, related messages.[‡‡‡‡] In another way, in some mystical procedures, I have started out in a room of perhaps thirty people but, in the shift that took place, all those people (including myself) became abstracted into three or four archetypal beings for me, out of whom all the others “emanated” in some strange way.
The seventh and final approach that I’ll give here is to regard every moment of awareness as mutual intent “meeting each other” – the shape of my mask and the shape of your mask (or the shape of some ray of cosmic emanations) create a mutual event of interaction in the moment of the Present. Actually, it turns out to be equivalent to say: “The yearning of an event to occur creates me-with-my-shape and you-with-your-shape here/now.”[§§§§]
Now we should be able to answer questions like the example from Chapter Two, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to observe it, does it make a sound?” But there would be at least seven different answers now, one of which could be: “Even if there were an observer, it still would not make a sound, nor would anything ever even fall! (Just that the observer might have some subjective set of impressions internally.)”
Thus, within the context of this book, at least, we’ll have to assert that there are no provable facts at all, only ideas, examples, contexts, perspectives and challenges to our world view and our self-image. One type of practice for setting up such challenges is to go further than the changes of habit that we talked about in the second chapter; Castaneda called such tasks “not-doings,” Gurdjieff offered numerous types of these, such as the “stop” commands,[*****] and Zen Buddhism is replete with these. Actually, the exercise itself is only half of the procedure; the other half is the shift made in one’s awareness as our neurologies rewire themselves, with the concomitant changes in perception.
Some examples of not-doings (assuming that they are (not-) done for sufficient lengths of time, and varied so they don’t just become more habits):[†††††]
One thing to remember about these practices: make them real and sincere. Don’t just pretend to be sincere or eager – really move into that place in yourself where it is true. Another thing to remember: your mask will start to crumble after a good while of concerted efforts along these lines, so please make sure you have a safe haven for reorienting yourself – Buddhist and yoga retreat centers and some churches and monasteries are good for this; tending a garden full time can do it as well. Expect your life to be different – you’ll likely find that you can no longer talk to the same people as before, and that the old amusements can no longer hold your interest.
What will your life be like, without your mask? Will you miss your old drinking buddies and gossip circles? First of all, in a sense, “you” (as you’ve come to know yourself) will be dead – you won’t be thinking the same “thoughts” or having the same “feelings” as you do now. You’ll be seeing the world with the wonderment of a child, and nothing will seem impossible. You’ll easily remember everything you wished for as a child, and you will have all related thoughts on a subject close at hand. You’ll be acting out of conscience, meaning that whatever affects the other person affects you just as much. At times you’ll be really sensitive.
People who can recognize the difference will find you sincere and trustworthy, but others may not be able to “figure you out” and may oppose you or try to take advantage of your new-found innocence. The problems are mostly a matter of “learning to walk” all over again – finding your new center of gravity, your new world view and attitudes, and setting up your responses to everything that you originally did while forming your mask. But now you are forming your conscious face – the face of your Self. Obviously, as I mentioned earlier, there are sacrifices involved; you may even take a beating or two.
What would make such sacrifices and discomforts worthwhile? Not much, if you are already comfortable and satisfied with the answers you already have, if you have no doubts or disillusionment about the way the world and your life are going, if you are “on track” toward your retirement, have your RV and grandchildren (at least planned for), and the way you were brought up is the way “things ought to be.”
But if life never seems to add up, if the social order seems patently unjust, stupid and cruel, if nothing you can do helps you to fit in, and if you are mad with yearning for something more than society can provide, more than science can explain and more than religion can comfort and embrace, and you have enormous reserves of intelligence (not just I.Q.), commitment, perseverance and forbearance, and you prove to find enough help from the other side,[§§§§§] then “have I got a deal for you!”
We should really clear up the distinction between personality per se, and false personality. I have emphasized several times that the mask is the seat of the false personality, that which was not born with us. My claim is that the real personality can first shine through only when the mask is out of the way – then we see the genius, the brilliance, the energy, joy and humor and the childlike impetuousness of the essential, which we were born with. But with the mask in place, all that can show are, in a way of speaking, recordings – responses, expressions and gestures programmed to conform to unconscious entrainment of our upbringing (and, again according to our paradigm, vice versa – that is, the yearning of a certain grouping of emanations “caused” my-mask-and-the-type-of-upbringing-I-had to congeal, if that makes any sense[******]).
It should also be helpful to check out the differences in how the different influences and disciplines remove or disturb our masks – that is, up to a certain point, the displacement of the mask is impermanent and partial so, in effect, we will keep getting sub-masks until we have formed (or revealed[††††††]) permanent ego.[‡‡‡‡‡‡] Let’s go through what these influences are, and which submasks they’re likely to expose (notice that I have them grouped according to intentionality – the first ones are accidental, the next few are intentional but not from one’s own purpose, then by grace or fortune, and finally self-initiation):
Some people do become almost saints from such experiences, but then it’s likely that it was latent within them, and also that they have been do inner work or other disciplines; the ones whose lives and attitudes change completely from one experience are often called walk-ins, referring to spirits who come to inhabit bodies whose souls have given up on life. I suppose that’s possible, if you happen to like that sort of paradigm.
I’ve seen, just as often, people who become egomaniacs and start acting like a guru and taking people’s money for bestowing their special gifts upon them; in those cases, the displacement only created a bigger mask.[*******] Most of the time, the mask displaces only partially and the person has no idea what is happening. Usually they cover up the memories and then deny it all, but sometimes they have breakdowns.
The displacement type goes in the direction of terror,[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] for the most part, so it usually lasts only as long as the ‘sorcerer’ is exerting their influence, plus some extra time, depending on how long the person has been under their spell, how weak the person is and how good of a support system they have for recovery. Otherwise, insanity or suicide can result.
The mechanism for this is “harmonic alignment” which, basically, is a phenomenon like “contagious emotions,” as when everyone in the room starts laughing or beating up strangers. In the hands of an awake facilitator, the “vibrational field” of the unmasked people will cause a resonance in those near to them, and then those people will shift automatically, or with a little push from the teacher.
Where rituals are done with the aim of unmasking or awakening, and the facilitators have both the necessary knowledge and power, then a long series of such rituals, along with changes in lifestyle (diet, exercise, service, charity and tasks that are assigned), leads those who are called to the desired result, some after a decade or two, and some after a lifetime or so.
What do they find, out there at the edge (or inside the Mystery)? Aside from the indescribable, the ineffable, the Unknown, the Invisible Numinon, my experience of it is that it turns all thought into questions, all perceptions into transphasic, kaleidoscopic, interwoven patterns that, somehow, make irrational ‘sense, and visions, teachings and revelations that sound like babbling insanity when you try to ‘explain’ them to other people.[*********]
Some authors like to distinguish among these various types, but I’ve always found that they have different effects under different circumstances. For example, Terence McKenna once said that he didn’t like acid because it didn’t make him hallucinate, whereas I usually found it to be highly visual; on the other hand, I’ve had a number of experiences with LSD[**********] when the whole experience was in terms of feelings. Similarly, ecstasy is generally regarded as an empathogen, yet I and several other people have had visions with it.
Exercises for Chapter Four
References for Chapter Four
[*] In the movie Nell, the title character says, in her private language, “You see me as simple and in need of help to get along in your world. My life is very small, and my thoughts are small. You all have big thoughts in your big world, but you don’t look into each other’s eyes, and you don’t tell each other the truth” (slightly paraphrased).
[†] See the above quote from “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Exceptions are generally natives of primitive cultures living in close harmony
with nature, who have had little or no contact with ‘civilized’ society. For film examples, aside from Nell, I like The
[§] These disasters generally show up in our dreams first. More about that in Chapter 7.
[**] There used to be a bumper sticker that said, “CAUTION – I DRIVE LIKE YOU DO!”
[††] Being unmasked is one of the main steps toward entering Higher Consciousness (Chapter 10).
[‡‡] When we get more into paradigms (Chapters 16, 17 and 21) we may have to abandon the whole notion of ‘reality’ or, at least, any one particular reality.
[§§] These are don Juan’s (Castaneda’s) terms. Gurdjieff’s “formatory apparatus” fits with this as well.
[***] One of our paradigms is that there are no events except for what we create with the interactions of our masks (or vice versa).
I love the way this attitude is expressed among the Indians in Dances with Wolves and Little
[‡‡‡] Some of the “fudge factors” they use are the cosmological constant, superstrings, expansion, dark matter, dark energy, time-before-time-began, parallel dimensions, curvature of space-time, etc.
[§§§] In the movie Little Big Man, the chief tells Dustin Hoffman’s character: “To the Indian, everything is alive – the rocks, the trees, the earth. To the white man, everything is dead, including himself.”
[****] A great deal of Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous is about this subject.
[††††] I have had the “experience” of setting up an esoteric work in which we conjured up a Divinity who then initiated me into the very event whereby I conjured <it>. That is to say, the Being who was to be created directed that event to occur. More on this sort of thing in the chapter on Manifestation.
[‡‡‡‡] We’ll take this matter up again in Chapter 7 and elsewhere; in the meantime, try Castaneda’s The Art of Dreaming for some very good examples.
[§§§§] I should offer this statement as an alternative to the Theory of Evolution.
[*****] When the master yells “Stop!” you had to either hold whatever position you found yourself in at that moment, or drop like a sack if you couldn’t.
[†††††] You’ll no doubt recognize several of these from Castaneda’s books.
[‡‡‡‡‡] NLP calls these practices examples of submodalities. You might regard them as intentionally hallucinating.
[§§§§§] Meaning, “chosen by God” or just plain lucky. People have told me, for example, “Barry, you have the worst judgment I’ve ever seen, and the most improbable luck for extricating you from your predicaments.” Referring to this attribute, don Juan says “the Spirit knocks” or that “the Spirit has given you a link.” Gurdjieff calls this propensity “magnetic center” – somehow one’s yearning accumulates a new center of gravity toward the world of the spirit, and this in itself makes more possible.
[******] And, of courses, my claim is that there is a position of attention in which it does make sense.
[††††††] One of our proposed paradigm shifts is whether we create oversoul from our efforts, or whether it has been there in us all along, but dormant or, lastly, if the intent of the abstract oversoul creates us in order to manifest <itself>. Don’t laugh, but that last one explains more mythological and scriptural mysteries than any other paradigm I’ve come across (try it on the Christ gospel or the advent of Lord Kŗşna, for example).
[‡‡‡‡‡‡] We discuss what permanent ego is in Chapters 5, 7, 13, 16, 19 and 21.
[§§§§§§] Who, me? J
This difference is illustrated, to some cartoon-like degree, in the movie The Mask (the Jim Carrey version, not
[†††††††] Ok, I’m busted. J
[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] Such as eternal fire-and-brimstone, some horrible affliction, loss of loved ones, becoming outcast, etc.
[§§§§§§§] Harmonic Alignment is an important topic of this book, so we will be devoting attention to it throughout the rest of the book.
[********] No, it’s not a laxative. J
[††††††††] Accept no substitute. J
[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] Excluding, of course, the darker cults.
[§§§§§§§§] That’s another handy term from Castaneda.
[*********] Castaneda’s don Juan say, “It takes power to attain these insights, but more power to explain them.”
[†††††††††] “Birthing God within” – a substance which gives religious experiences.
[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] Empathogens induce states primarily of feeling and connectedness rather than the visual or revelatory experiences one has with psychedelics, per se.
[§§§§§§§§§] The main examples are various kinds of mushrooms, LSD (not a plant, but derived from rye ergot), ecstacy (MDMA, also not a plant – sorry), ayahuasca (a mixture of two or more plants) and salvia divinorum.
[**********] Of course at a place and time when it was legal to do so.
 Brain Dead (1990)
 Nell ()
 Ouspensky, P. D., In Search of the Miraculous, …
 Castaneda, Carlos, The Eagle’s Gift, …
 Little Big Man ()
 Ouspensky, ibid
 Author, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, …
 Wittaker, Kay, The Reluctant Shaman, …
 The Mask ().
McKenna, Terence, (transcript of a workshop he gave in