Michelangelo, Masks and the Courage to be Naked

Updated: Sep 9

I am currently taking a White Tiger Qigong course and I read a post from the instructor Tevia Feng this morning that reminded me of a practice I did often in 2012. I had become interested in spirituality and wanted to know the True Self. I would often visualize myself taking off masks. I put myself in my mind’s eye, and visualized removing a mask, then another one, then then another one. This was not a practice that I recall learning from anyone, it was just something I did. The frequency dropped off after that year and I have only thought of it occasionally since, though I think that practice set in motion (or at least supported) an amazing spiritual journey.

I had perhaps been partially inspired by Michelangelo. I absolutely love his work. I have taken two extended trips to Florence, approximately 8 years apart. The first time I was absolutely amazed at Michelangelo’s David, but I was also intensely curious about the Medici Chapel. I noticed some small carvings of masks in the chapel and I wondered about the symbolism. I went on a research bender and read many books and articles by art historians about the Medici Chapel, but none mentioned these peculiar small mask carvings. When I returned to Florence in 2012, I had my own idea of their meaning.

As I write this, I am also reminded of Michelangelo’s painting The Last Judgement which is behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. There is an image of a flayed skin at the bottom of the painting that some critics have said represents a self-portrait of Michelangelo, though I am not aware of the source of this idea. The reason this image came to mind right now is because, like the masks in the Medici Chapel, it relates to shedding the false identity. Although I did not understand the connection to the art works at the time, that was what I was doing in my visualizations in 2012—setting the intention of shedding false personalities. The qigong article I read today is called “The 3 Stages of Shedding Your Identity,” which you can read here. Tevia presents a 3-part framework for shedding identity and I can say that this matches my own experience even though I had not analyzed it as such or gone about my process in a systematic way. He mentions some practices that may resonate with you, so I wanted to share the article.

Most certainly, finding authenticity is about laying ourselves bare. I have not read Michele Obama’s book Becoming, but the title has given me something to consider. I feel like the present self-improvement culture is quite focused on helping people to “become their best selves,” which is certainly an admirable goal. Though I would suggest that we are not adding anything, we are removing—or perhaps more clearly, we are uncovering. I have written in a previous blog post (this one) about my idea of being naked before God. Reading Tevia’s article today inspired me to write about this topic again.

To be sure, the removal process requires courage. It also requires patience, perseverance and most of all Trust. The thing I have noticed over and over is that when I can relax into Trust of What Is, I increase my ability to FEEL the vibration of my True Self. For me, a simple practice of noticing the tension in my body and consciously relaxing many times a day is very helpful. I sometimes also think ‘I Trust’ as I relax into the body.