© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
This is part three of three
from an extract from a manuscript I used
in a class on spirituality and photography
at the Pacific School of Religion,
and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA
Over-identification with anything—or projection, idealogy, group, activity, or process—weakens potentiality for wholeness of self and endangers identification with humanity. If we set ourselves apart from other lives, we cut ourselves off from all life. Masks create unreality, for if the metaphor, World-as-God’s-Body works, and how we treat one’s body is how we treat the person, then to cut ourself off from a part of the world, is to amputate our self from the organism which gives us life. We do not dare to set ourselves apart from the world.
Once I discussed this with a person who felt there was no problem with making judgements on others. “If I see a nut case,” he said, “I see a nut case, and that is that! My recognizing someone as being a nut case has no bearing on me!” I wonder? Scripture is quite definite about humans wearing the mask of judge. Matthew 7:1 says, “Judge not or else you become as those whom you judge.” Psychologists would call this projection. To understand why we use masks for overprotection when a persona would do just as well, and why other’s masks can upset us so much, it might be well to explore the psychological term projection.
In my discussion of Erich Neumann, I wrote there are be certain parts of one’s unconscious mind that must be repressed for the person to be socialized. This kind of repression is part of the normal process of the mind’s journey to consciousness. There is a downside to this. Our minds also repress things it would be healthy to face—our fear of success or failure, our weak self-images, fear of lack of popularity. Unknown to us at the conscious level, these fears are hidden deep in our unconscious minds and are compensated for by over-achievement, risk-taking, over-assertiveness, or sycophantism. Our built-in mental protection mechanism is afraid of pain, is designed to avoid pain at all costs, so many things we might need to deal with or work on get hidden from our conscious view. When we are faced with these fears in others we react in a way that is out of proportion to the circumstance. I have heard it expressed in this way: we dislike intensely those who reflect to us our hidden fears–the fears our masks are supposed to hide.
Another way our projections trip us is when we project onto another person, or persons, that which we need ourselves at a depth level. I have noticed the following scenario in my own life experience. I will meet someone, male or female, who I see as exciting, or prayerful, or lovely, or very beautiful and I am taken up by their very essence. I want to be near them, learn from them, and I obsess about them. After awhile I find that they might be beautiful, and I was turned to gelatin when they smiled at me, but in reality they were pretty much a dud–boring. It might be I was overwhelmed by someone’s spirituality, and wanted to give myself completely to their holy presence. Later it turns out that while the person prays a lot, they have no sense of loyalty or do not care one whit for other humans.
I hate cute as a category, but we had a little cat which was the world’s cutest cat. We found her starving in the street as a kitten. She had brain damage from lack of nutrition and grew up slowly—very slowly. Her name was William, and we call her Willy, or Willy-yum because she was delicious, or Willie-bee because she buzzed around like a bee, or Little Bird because she chirped like a bird, or Bunny because she had rabbit feet. You get it. Well, Willy never grew up. She was what one might call suffering from developmental potential loss—she as retarded. She was a forever kitten. Cherie said, “she is like fresh strawberries which you have them for a while, and you know that they will not last, so you try to soak up as much of their flavor as you can.” That is how it was with Willy.
Willy was black and white with a pie-bald face that had the appearance of always wishing for something that is just wonderful. She had eyes that looked at me and broke my heart. She acted ferocious. She stole our hearts, and we doted on her. Her meow was more of a bleat than a meow, so we called her our little lamb.
Willy would look at a spot that nobody else could see and would follow it over her head until she fell over backwards. Sometimes Willy would jump at an insect, but miss it by three or four feet. She learned that she could train us to open doors by lying on her back and flashing her tummy at us. She learned that if she cried enough, and if we tried hard enough, we would figure out what she wanted and give it to her. So she cried on the floor beneath a window that had a sunny spot on it until we figured it out and lifted her up. She fell asleep. Willy-yum rarely walked anywhere on her own, she was carried. Someone in the house usually had her tucked on their arm.
I asked myself and Cherie if Willy was real or not. As wonderful as she was, she was only a cat. To this day, Cherie says Willy is an angel sent to teach us about loving. I suspect that Willy was a projection of some deep need we had. Her fur was the softest of any cat I have ever petted, but that is beside the point. I say she was a projection because when she squinted her eyes and blinked, and sniffed the air I seemed to melt inside, and I suspect that she met some repressed need I had to give myself completely to a being that could reciprocate without strings. She slept curled up on my chest or in my armpit at night.
Willy was a safe bet. She only asked me to feed her, to love her, not to yell at her, and to give her everything she wanted as fast as I could. A cat can get by with that, but if she were human it would wear thin in seconds. If she were a child, in nano-seconds. Also, if she were human, I would have been stealing her humanity by not seeing her for the human she was. Her cat-ness was secure with me, and, more importantly, my humanness was secure with Willy. If we were humans, we would destroy each other. As it is, we do not, but I wonder what healing I needed, to be able to give myself as freely to people as I did with that cat. When she was 20 years old, we held her as the vet injected her for her final sleep. Five years later I still grieve deeply.
This is the question for “Meditation on Masks”: what are the masks we wear, and how do we implement them? Photography leads us to meditate long on masks. We see them everywhere. Our lenses seek the masks which in reality are symbols of what is deeply hidden in human’s minds and culture.
Walk around. Think of still water and the deeps beneath its surface—that which lies hidden from our view. This is the material of fearful dreams. What is it we dream, and what in our waking world is reflexive of our nightmares? Think of still water and what is reflected on its surface–that which lies within our view. What are those things we see which bother us? Why? What do they represent to us? As we go about our day, what is it that shocks us? What surprises have been brought to us? It is in shocks and surprises that we get a glimpse of what we repress and hide from ourselves and others.
A shadow on the wall, a rock formation, the pattern left from too many bills posted on a building’s wall, an expression, a dog or cat, simply the seam of a skirt or the hem of pants: these can trigger emotions which lie beneath our minds, and help lift our masks. As we photograph that to which we respond, in a way we photograph ourselves. Go for the big emotive responses—love, hate, terror—but investigate the subtleties as well. A vague sense of disquiet many time needs to be explored. Has your breath ever caught when you thought of something? Why? Can it be photographed?
As you pray through this meditation on masks, keep your camera with you as a companion. Try to photograph whatever it is that you respond to—let nothing get past your sense of being. Think of what you see as a mask, and try to photograph what lies below the mask. Keep looking for yourself reflected in the world around you—beneath the masks. Listen to music. Be aware of images when you feel the music’s rhythms. Look for them later to photograph. Remember, in this meditation on masks we seek a self hidden deeply within ourselves, but reflected by life and lives around us. When we get visions, we photograph them and discover parts of our hidden selves.