Behind our masks, is there a monster within?
Victorian Literature is full of it. The idea of a darker self. A persona best kept away from the eyes of society. We see it in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The well-respected Doctor Jekyll invents a potion that turns him into the grotesque and corrupt Mr Hyde. All of his ugly internal qualities embodied in one monstrous man who carries out evil acts. The same with The Portrait of Dorian Grey, my favourite. Dorian is a pure and handsome looking young man. His image is captured in a portrait by a painter who is mesmerised by his beauty. But afterwards, Dorian’s life follows a downward track. As Dorian commits one immoral act after another, the portrait changes. His beautiful face in the picture alters into a monstrous demonic image, as though to reflect his inner ugliness. However, Dorian’s outward appearance retains his pure and handsome look. He has to keep the portrait hidden in fear that people will see it and realise how monstrous a person he really is. The life of Robert Louis Stephenson, the author of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde as well as the famous children story, Treasure Island, was fascinating. He was said to frequent the seedier parts of town, the taverns and the red light areas, at night. This is probably where his idea of a dual nature or a darker side comes from as epitomised in his character of Mr Hyde.
These examples show us these authors were expressing the concept of a shadow side in us. A side full of dark and immoral impulses. The side we must keep hidden. It is why these books have remained in our imagination even to modern times. We keep going back. Something attracts us. It is the dark side and there is something seductive about it.
We all have a darker side within us. A side, that we can’t show others. It may be some desire or a so-called ‘bad habit’. I don’t believe its anything to be guilty of. Unless, it causes harm to other people. If you cause harm to others, then it is very damaging to your spirit, body and health as it causes an internal tension. But if not, these inner dark sides are a natural part of us. They are there for a reason.
I’m happy to admit that I have a dark side. Perhaps there’s some pirate blood in me. Some of my ancestors are from the Caribbean. And a few of them were heavy drinkers. Rum, no doubt. Some of have died a little bit early too. I have a wild streak too and enjoy a party sometimes. It’s tempered by my English Christian roots, but it’s there under the surface. Some of my closest friends will see that side of me, but generally I keep it wrapped up.
These days, image is very important. We present ourselves as good and proper, just like the Victorians. But I wonder what lies beneath? It’s like the Vulcans in Star Trek. The causal watcher will see Mr Spock and conclude that the Vulcans are a peaceful, intelligent, logical and somewhat boring race. But the reverse is actually true. The Vulcans were actually a highly aggressive and emotional race prone to fighting and war. It was only when one of their historic figures pushed the practice of meditation and self-control on the Vulcans, did they transform themselves into these more calmer people. I think the Vulcans are a metaphor for us as humans. We have this darker side within, but we learn to subjugate it and to balance our emotions. It has enabled us to progress as a civilisation. So there is good in these masks. However, if we look at the Vulcans in Star Trek, there’s this kind of mating process called the Pon Farr. It is when a Vulcan becomes emotionally unstable and is unable to control his inner desires. A kind of hormonal imbalance. They become wild and aggressive, even murderous and want to mate. If they do not indulge this, they can die within 8 days. Even the Vulcans must express their inner dark desires.
So it still comes out. Our darker sides will always leak out, because things can never be suppressed. It is like trying to push a balloon under water. It keeps floating up. And if we push too hard, it only uses up more energy. Better to recognise our darker side. Perhaps indulge them a little if it’s safe and doesn’t affect others. It’s a kind of self-expression. But it’s also a kind of balance. If we release our dark sides too far, it may become harmful to us and others like in the example of Mr Hyde or Dorian Grey. But if we hold our desires too tightly, it also becomes harmful to us. Any internal tension is bad for us. Perhaps moderate expression is the approach.
I found this quote in this book, ‘Too few flies for so much shit’ by Joaquin Campos. It is the story of a middle-aged Spanish Businessman, living and working in modern-day China, selling and importing low quality wine to Chinese businessmen under the pretence of it being high quality. The story appears to be based his own real life experiences. He is a relatively rich man in a poor country and so in his spare time, he lives an excessive hedonistic life with drugs, Japanese beer and easy women. Perhaps not your cup of tea. These kinds of books are my guilty pleasure. My dark side. This quote from his book stood out to me:
“But I do think that secrets that go untold – especially if they’re unpleasurable ones – can take their holders to the grave in the form of tumours. At some stage you’ve got to let things out, both good and bad. Don’t we shit and piss whenever we need to? Well, lets relax, and let things flow. Open up our heads and hearts. Find room for things, let them expand and breathe”.
I can’t say if there is any truth in this. I have worked with people with cancer. I am sure they wonder why it came to them. I also wonder a lot. Some types of cancer have recognised causes. For example, Lung cancer caused by pollutants like smoking or asbestos. But some cancers have no obvious cause. I wonder if emotions could be a factor? Not the main cause, but a factor. Could internal suppression be a factor? If we don’t release or express our inner tensions or desires. Could this somehow weaken our immune system and lead to the growth of tumours? I don’t know.
I do know some things about myself. In times of my life when I kept things bottled up, especially when I was in a frustrating situation. The only thing that happened was it made me sick. I got a digestive disease and even today, my stomach muscles are still tight – a habit that comes from suppression – such as clenching your gut when you’re upset. And so it is with the body, when we suppress somethings within us too much, it causes an internal restriction – a tension. That impedes the smooth flow of Ki energy and is no good for our health. Acupuncture can help release that energy. It helped me.
But going back to my points on masks and this dark inner side. I can’t give any examples from my own life, because, it would mean revealing my mask. I can admit I’m not hedonistic at the moment. Our masks clearly have a purpose and so we must continue to respect and use them. But I think it is worth exploring what we are hiding. What are our deep and dark desires? And here’s the thing. Never felt guilty about them. Just accept them and see what they are teaching you about yourself. And perhaps, once you have discovered them and learned to accept them, you may find that other people may come into your life, who will help you indulge them. And release some inner tension.