There is no “real self” underneath the masks we wear, aside from archetypal themes each individual falls into, which others have occupied repeatedly throughout time. There is nothing unique and individual under the sun, but our potentials exist within a certain axis. At our best we would “align” with a cosmic purpose that our character is able to channel or fulfill. At worst we would separate ourselves from that and force ourselves to enact a rhythm that is unnatural for us, thus falling out of harmony with the world. The “real self” is not something “under” our masks, but rather something that we must strive to become.
The deepest “illusion” we fall prey to is that we’re separate from the cosmos; that our individual life is an independent entity. It is a biological imperative to feel this way, because it results from fear of death which feeds our survival instincts. Due to fear of death, we lie to ourselves in a desperate attempt to individuate. But true individuation and realization occurs when we realize death is just part of a cycle. We all know this intellectually, but we feel it when we are aligned with a greater purpose, and we see our influence conjoined with others to contribute to the collective. Anything less than that, and the only thing we can do is make our lies bigger and louder, to feel like we matter on our own.
The idea that we possess a true self “beneath the masks” implicitly separates us from alignment with the whole. Its a lie we tell ourselves which feeds our survival instincts, but weakens our awareness. If we conceive of the masks as an expression of self, then we come closer to acknowledging that our performance in the world is fulfilling our connection to the greater scheme, which is the most honest thing we can do. Humanity will last longer than any single one of us. We are each one note in a cosmic song. Playing the wrong note “just to stand out” – or feeling like our real note is something other than the one people are hearing – is clinging to an illusion.
There is a real self, but it’s not separate from presentation; rather, presentation is the path toward actualizing it, so that the idea of self is not just empty chatter. Some people believe their real self lies beyond the masks they wear, yet fail to realize this type of chatter can be empty even if they keep it to themselves. They have a narrative or some amorphous sense of “who they are ” that they think they’re hiding from the world, but it is merely a fantasy. A lack of words or “keeping it hidden” doesn’t actually protect this narrative from being false. It just heightens the sense that the “presentation” is separate from the “real” identity, which is a lie, so the lies build upon lies until nothing is real.
To me, we are all animal, human and symbol. The animal is our instincts, which are the same for everyone. The human is the mind that decides what we will do and who we will be. The symbol is the impression we leave behind for others. Many of us try to control that image, but the symbol is out of our control. The collective will see us how it sees us. We can’t control that, but we can control our actions which lead to choices, which then leave an impression. If we align our animal instincts with our human mind, achieving inner balance, its very likely the way we see ourselves will match how others see us.