I Am Not I, You Are Not You: Removing the Mask of Identity


It was a dress that made me fall in love with Halloween.   A pink cupcake of a frock, it hung suggestively on the wall of a vintage store in Vermont. Strapless heart-shaped bodice, tight satin waist, skirt erupting into sweet, frosting-like layers of tulle, it transported me towards a vision of myself like some spirit guide inviting me from one world to another.  Miss Indiana, 1962.  On my arms, my great-grandmother’s elbow gloves.  Across my chest, a silk sash announcing my home state.  On my head, a silver crown.  And there were roses, too.   An armful of roses I could toss to my admirers, revealing in addition to my great beauty, how good, how generous, how humble I was.

Having just ended my first marriage in a manner I would now, fifteen years later, call unskillful, I was all about a costume that made me believe I was better than I suspected.  Mixed in with my largely unacknowledged grief, guilt, and self-doubt were the front-line feelings on which I instead chose to focus: relief, excitement, and possibility.  I clung to these expansive emotions like a princess to her title, and my new boyfriend was happy to assist.  Nothing like my ex, he was a bohemian, wild-hearted performer with a passion for theater, and with him I felt that I would discover my true nature.  I would explore repressed, forgotten parts of myself.  I would free my voice and break out of the life that I once loved but now deemed restrictive and rule-oriented.
Horrified that I had rarely participated in the festivities of Halloween, my new guy - as Evil Knievel in a star-patterned cape - threw a party at his café/bar.  Costumed bodies jammed themselves into the small space that had become like my living room, and the band played all night, parading us out the door and down the street while we danced and touched and laughed, all of us bigger and louder and freer than we were in everyday street clothes.  As if in a dream, I moved through it all as Miss Indiana, trying to embody the version of a self I longed to be.  When my boyfriend wanted a jump for his three-speed bicycle, I helped him set it up with plywood and milk crates. When I saw how far and well he launched, I lay down in front of the ramp, carefully arranging my dress. When the crowd gasped at my gesture and the band played a drum roll, I pressed my white gloves onto the grimy sidewalk and smiled.  My mask of boldness positioned.  My visage of ease in place.  My new identity solidifying.

“Your sense of yourself,” writes Pema Chodron in her book Living Beautifully, “is actually a very restricted version of who you truly are.”   Identity, she goes on to say, is not the reliable, fixed thing we want it to be, though we convince ourselves otherwise. Though we cling to notions of I am this or I am that, hoping to simplify the often baffling complexity we carry within.

Certain moments, circumstances, and conditions support this delusion of a fixed self and we hold the delusion close, believing we can leave the rest of ourselves behind.  That particular Halloween, for instance, I felt how soft the veil between the worlds, how quickly I could dissolve my notions of what I thought I was for what I wanted to be.  I felt a loosening rather than a restricting as the bike sailed easily over my body, landing far away with a thud, and when I jumped up, breath-less and pink-cheeked, I felt as alive as I had ever been in my life.  I loved it, this adrenaline, this vitality, and though I could have stayed open and loose and let the experience move through me and shift as any experience does, I, instead, held it tight, clung to it, hardened myself around it.  At that moment, I thought, This is me, this is who I am, this is what I am meant to feel. The now-torn dress, the cheering crowd, the lively band, the fragrant roses– all of it conspired to support my attempt to solidify this moment into an identity, and later I fell asleep in my costume, loath to let the night end.  When I woke to Evil Knievel sneaking into my room, I, for a ridiculous second, felt that I would never have to take off the dress, I would never need to wash the makeup from my face, and always I could be that beautiful, that bold, that alive.
Choygam Trungpa calls this habitual, very human desire to cling to a steady definition of self as “putting makeup on space.”  Whatever that definition might be (smart, clumsy, organized, bold, fat, tough, shy, etc.), it is in service to making ourselves feel safe and secure.  Our true nature, as Trungpa suggests, is not actually so delineated.  It is limitless, undefined, and infinite, more like the empty space that surrounds a planet than the planet itself. We are as wide and far reaching as any galaxy.  

But our egos freak out with so much space. Our egos want solidity, predictability, and certainty. And so, we create that with masks and makeup, layering on ideas and stories about ourselves and the world that to us make sense, and this caked-on makeup covers up the truth that we are actually not so flawless, not so symmetrical, not so this or that.... at least not all the time. We are instead as complex and changeable as the tree who glows golden in Autumn and then surrenders her bold beauty to winter, easily letting go her decoration to reveal what is beneath:  the naked skeleton of her body.  Sharp edges. Twisted trunk. Funky bark. Cacophony of limbs.

Can we just as willingly shed our masks and costumes? Can we loosen the grip we have on our sense of self and be curious about what is revealed?  Can we dissolve the make-up of personality and surrender into who we truly are:  spacious beings “in the process of becoming,” as Chodron writes, “neither doomed nor completely free, but creating our future with every word, every action, every thought?”

It takes great courage to shed such masks and even greater courage to stay in this place of vulnerability, connecting with our hearts and creating the next moment without an agenda.  The good news is that it’s a process, and we have 24 hours a day to practice such brave disrobing.  Maybe all we do is try pulling off one glove from our costume – or one finger of one glove! Maybe we go for it and ditch the whole dress only to panic and quickly put it back on.  No big deal.  This process of dissolving our identity-masks requires only two things:  a willing spirit and the patience to stay with the process for the long haul.  

Spiritual practice helps.  Meditation.  Yoga.  Breathwork.  Prayer.  Stillness.  Nature.  Whatever pulls us away from the material, ego-driven realm and invites us into our humble, true hearts.  Whatever connects us to the source that leaves us feeling nourished, strong, and aligned.  Whatever builds our courage so we can trust the truth of who we are:  limitless as space, infinite as the sky.  Always Becoming.  Ever growing.  Still a work-in-progress.

“Do I contradict myself,” asks Walt Whitman in his poem Song of Myself.  “Very well, then I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain multitudes.”

The more complex truth of that pink dress and that halloween and that time of my life is that while I was busy reinforcing my love of labels, I was also in a process of deep transformation.  The costume I wore, the vitality I felt in it, and the big-hearted, forgiving love I was receiving and giving… all of it opened me up to new parts of myself.  More gracious, more creative, more expansive parts of myself.  (Masks have the power to do that, too... to clear in ourselves new paths of boldness... to help us break out of limiting fears and definitions.)  But the mask alone was not enough. Only when I witnessed, reckoned with and connected to the sometimes harder truths in my heart - without ignoring, hiding, or changing them - did I grow. 

And, so, I saw over time how large I am. Larger than a pink dress on a halloween night.  Larger than the unskillful actions of my past.  More spacious than any single moment of emotion.  We all are.   This and also that.   Contradictory galaxies that are better off unconfined, without makeup, without labels, so that the whole of our darkness can be seen and all our authentic light can shine through.  Please come to Catskills Yoga House and be supported and celebrated as your whole, large, shining self. 

Always I am yours - in contradiction and costume -  in shedding, becoming, and moving.



with Jessica Caplan, Sean Hoots, and Eva Geisler
Saturday, December 1  *  4-6 pm  *  $25 pre-reg   $35 same-day

 Join us for a powerful afternoon of ceremonial healing and joy. Jessica, Sean, and Eva co-facilitate this vibrational healing  weaving together meditative sound with sacred chants, medicine melodies and original songs crafted with intention and spontaneity to guide participants on a journey that brings them home to their hearts. We are all beings of sound - our cells vibrate and our hearts beat rhythmically.  Sound is thus a potent tool that helps us to reset, nourish and stimulate transformation in mind, body and spirit. The soundscape blends a wide range of instruments, including Himalayan and crystal bowls, voice, shrutti, gong, tuning forks, guitar, charango, drum, and rattles. I am not exaggerating when I tell you you will be deeply moved, transported, and restored.  Come melt into the waves of vibration!  

No experience necessary.  A desire to lie down and rest and receive is all that is required.  Dress comfortably and bring any extra props or blankets you might need to be at ease.  Tea will be served after with an opportunity to connect with others.

with Julie Peacock
Nov. 1-10  *  $175
For many reasons, fall can be a challenging season culminating in disequilibrium for our bodies, minds, and spirits. We often feel more depleted, and our digestion, sleep, immune system, skin, energy level and overall sense of well-being can take a beating.  Connect with my sister Julie Peacock - long-time yoga teacher, dietician, wellness consultant, and cookbook author - to reset your whole being and move into the holiday season feeling strong and healthy.

On days 1-5 we will limit animal protein (fish and eggs OK) and remove gluten, dairy, highly processed soy and other foods, (including caffeine, alcohol and sugar). On days 6-10, animal protein will be removed altogether.

The cleanse includes a 20-minute coaching call with Julie to share current challenges and, more importantly, intentions for the 10 days as well as daily nutritional guidelines (a blend of seasonal and anti-inflammatory foods), simple yet delicious recipes, instructions for mindful routines and rituals, and tools for cravings and a supportive community. Together we will realign our physical and emotional bodies by reprioritizing the time spent taking care of ourselves. 

More information on Julie here.
Email Julie here to participate.

9:30-10:45 am  open vinyasa wake-up for the week with SARA
5:30-7 am   yin/restorative with RICARDA

6-7:15 pm   basic forrest-style with CHRISTIE

6-7:30 pm   renew/restore with SARA

9:30-10:45   basic vinyasa with SARA
5:30-7 pm   yin/restorative with RICARDA

10-11:30 am   open vinyasa with SARA

10-11:30 am   open vinyasa with SARA
12-1    gentle community with CHRISTIE
1:30-2:30   mat/pilates with JENNIFER