Seeing Through the Mask

In these weird and crazy pandemic times, I’ve learned a few things about myself. I’m a homebody who doesn’t like to be told to stay at home (but I am). I’m an introvert who enjoys being around people (but I’m not). I’m a professional health educator who understands the rationale behind wearing a mask but who feels uncomfortable doing so (but I comply). And I’m learning that there are unintended consequences to all of this.

One of our wonderful Steady Warriors teachers shared a brilliant observation with all of us in a recent virtual meeting. She noticed that when wearing her mask, it sometimes brings on anxiety. And when she uses the tried and true “just breathe” to work through the anxiety, she finds it difficult because of the mask itself. There is a physical barrier that interferes with a deep, extended exhale, and if glasses are involved, here comes the fog! Hearing this bit of wisdom sparked a whole new conversation that day, and we had a broader discussion about the nervous system, social engagement, and what we and our community of warriors might be experiencing with all of this change to our usual way of public living. Why might it feel like we’re encountering more discontent when we go to the grocery store? Why might it feel like we’re less connected, even when we’re around other people? And if we’re covering our noses and mouths to keep each other safe, why might we feel so unsafe? It’s time to see through the mask.

Just like all living beings, we want to survive. Safety first. Even if we don’t recognize it intellectually, our bodies know this truth. Our nervous system is equipped to receive and interpret messages of danger and to react accordingly. These messages come in through all of our senses all the time, no matter what environment we’re in. Bear coming down the path? Danger! Loud crashing sound? Danger! Smelling smoke in the building? Danger! But when we’re in close proximity to other people, the best way to gauge the potential threat is to look for signs in the.... FACE. If we can’t see the face, all of it, we are missing some of the signs. Period. Without realizing it, we may default to the danger zone simply because we can’t tell if that person is smiling or frowning, and then our survival mechanisms automatically kick in. If we want to stay connected, healthy, and feeling whole, we will need to learn how to adapt to noticing what we can still see. It may feel awkward at first, but let’s try looking each other in the eyes. The eyes are the window to the inner being, the soul, and that is where truth lives. We don’t have to be “woo woo” about it to understand that lying eyes, crying eyes, wandering eyes, sad eyes, smiling eyes, bright eyes, and every other expression of the eyes can provide us with a ton of information! If we start by looking in the vicinity of the eyes, for smile lines in the corners, or even frown lines in the forehead, we might eventually begin to feel more comfortable looking at the eyes themselves. And then we can learn to see what’s really there, and respond in a more appropriate way.

At the end of our trauma-informed yoga classes, some of us use the word Namaste as a final moment of connection before everyone goes their separate ways. The translation of this Sanskrit word that I find most helpful is this:

I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides.
I honor the place in you where lies your love and your light, and your truth and your strength, and your uniqueness and your peace.
I honor the place in you where, if you were in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.

In that place, no mask even exists. Namaste.

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