I left my mask unchecked

Originally published on LinkedIn

I lived all my life, oblivious to the wounds I carried. The calluses formed, and armor layered on, the clinking of the chainmail no longer felt heavy, until it was, too much to carry.

In my 30’s, my body started to fall apart, cracks in the armor that was never meant to be carried that long.

It took time for the cracks in the armor to reveal what was underneath for me. The little space that opened up allowed the rumblings to emerge.

I tried to seal it shut. I tried hard.

It wasn’t until the headline news of George Floyd’s murder, on national TV that the bits inside started to emerge from the crack. It wasn’t the cop who pressed his knees on George. It wasn’t the seeping voice saying I can’t breathe. It was the cop in the back, standing silent, witnessing it all in front of him, oblivious to it all.

Voices are silent to the atrocities of the world.

Zooming down to a single person, the voice still silent.

The pandemic created space and time. It forced me to slow down for just a moment. The constant activity of life was just trying to keep that armor functioning, and the sudden slowdown revealed the weakness.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to meditate. Mindfulness was impossible because it was my form of protection, to keep going, never to stop, to work so that I wouldn’t have to feel.

Why was I so resistant to doing the work?

The armor I carried, the masks I wore, were designed for the purpose of keeping me shielded from what lies underneath.

It took the innocence away, and replaced it with thick skin, immune to the strong emotions triggered by the world.

I walked the world oblivious to it all.

The mask functioned well, it kept me from the hard feelings underneath, it shielded me from the systems of the world.

My first mask, Lt. Commander Data from Star Trek, held all the emotions.

So when my therapist asked me if I was feeling anxious, my response was a big f’ you, I’m not anxious.

It was an outsized reaction to a very legitimate question.

Why was it so strong?

Because the mask wanted to shut down that line of questioning, don’t poke. Don’t expose the weakness in the armor. Back off.

Spending time with my mask

I never realized how powerful my masks were. The minute I was aware of their existence, they shut it down.

It took quite some time to learn about Internal Family Systems, understand the theory behind it all, and then form the relationship with my first mask, and ultimately with all the masks I wear.

The masks are designed to keep people at a distance, to keep me safe. And I, too, am people, to be kept at a distance.

But over time, I started to form a softness with my masks, to invite them in, to thank them for the work they did, that they got me here, that I am now strong enough to care for myself, that they can rest.

My masks don’t like space.

They don’t like silence.

They don’t like rest.

When I slow down, it all starts to reveal itself.

So the pandemic, in hindsight, was the greatest gift I could receive. It was the gift of time. The gift of space. To sit in the discomfort that was and is to reveal what lies beneath.

I’m here for you

Along this journey, at each discovery, I’d run out to the world and say I found it. You all need to take this pill I took, and it will fix it all.

I would quickly realize how resistant people are to healing, and to acceptance.

Instead, today I simply extend an invitation. Listen to what emerges for you. Create space in your life by blocking out time to be still, to quiet the day, and to let time slow down for just a bit. Is there a knocking, a rumbling, or even a voice?

For just this moment, just be with it, rather than trying to fix it, understand it, or shut it down. Just be.

The light is on.

I’m here.

Published by Daniel Hoang

Daniel Hoang is a visual leader, storyteller, and creative thinker. As an experienced management consultant, he believes in a big picture approach that includes strong project leadership, creative methods, change management, and strategic visioning. He uses a range of visual tools to communicate business challenges, solutions, and goals. His change strategy is to build "tribes" of supporters and evangelists to drive change in culture and organization. Daniel is an avid technologist and futurist and early adopter.