“Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.”
—Beyond the Wall of Sleep, H. P. Lovecraft
When I was a kid, my older brother used to read books by H.P. Lovecraft like there was no tomorrow. He would talk about Lovecraft’s work late into the night and I rarely understood any of it. But, I believe some understandings embed themselves in a young brain just like colors and smells, a planted seed reemerging years later within proper context. These ideas are associated with the old saying, “when the student’s ready, the teacher appears.”
From my perspective, the “secondary and merely virtual phenomenon” of which Lovecraft speaks in this particular quote includes the various masks (personas) through which we present our collective, Universal Self. Our relative success in “waking up” from the illusion of being separated from nature, other people, as well as the divine, depends upon how well we manage the taking on and off of these masks within any given moment.
My ever-present and troublesome ego demands I receive and transmit via a mask whether it be the mask of a son or brother, dad or husband, boss or employee. Presenting inappropriate masks at the inappropriate time is the hallmark of an ego controlling a person rather than a person controlling their ego. Interacting inappropriately with the world is the source of suffering. Not understanding this truth causes people to walk around dazed, confused and angry. I spent most of my life wondering what was wrong before I learned about the ego. Then I got mad at my ego! But, that was just another form of unfortunate and unneeded anger.
Thankfully, a few years ago I learned this imbalance of ego, this mistiming of appropriate masks we all experience, shouldn’t anger me at all. A good and wise friend helped me understand that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of being mad at our ego. Rather, we should be as compassionate toward our own ego as we are to other people and apply our energy and practice toward wearing the appropriate mask at the appropriate time.
When we’re better at presenting the appropriate version of our self in any situation, ego melts away like the nebular hallucination that it is. And, that opens up space to truly understand and internalize that we’re merely presenting masks. And, most importantly it enables us to remember that behind our masks we’re merely variations of each other. Individuations of the universe being aware of itself.
So, now I know Lovecraft’s hunch was accurate. “Our less material life is our truer life.” That’s not a statement about money or material goods. That’s a statement about who we are vs. who we present to others. The internal truth vs. the external mask. The meal vs. the menu, so to speak.
Sadly, when we interact with the world with an inappropriate persona, a “vain presence…merely a virtual phenomenon”, the disconnect results in suffering for ourselves and others. People are dealing with a virtual you and they sense it even if they can’t articulate what their senses are are telling them.
But, when “who you are” is synced up with “who you present”, your relationship with the world is authentic and you and those around you are dealing with what is. People sense this, too. And, they’re attracted to it regardless of your physical appearance or station in life. Ultimately, people want to be with truth.
Now I know all H.P. Lovecraft was really saying was, “it’s better to just be yourself.” And, now that I think about it, that’s precisely what my brother was trying to explain to me all those years ago.
H.P. Lovecraft (at right) with poet and farmer Arthur Goodenough