I remember my first favorite pair of shoes. I was about ten years old, so it was sometime in the early 2000’s, and they were Skechers sneakers. They were shiny black patent leather with sparkling silver glitter and chunky white platforms.
I begged for them in the Nordstrom store at the mall. Reasonably, my parents worried that the shoes were too racy for a girl my age, but they ultimately indulged my pleading.
I was a good, quiet kid. Those Skechers were as close as I got to playing out my saucy Spice Girl fantasies. I tied the thick white laces up with pride.
I also remember my first favorite piece of clothing. It was a tiered, multi-printed patchwork skirt, and I held onto it for years. I’m wearing it in two of the four childhood photos that I have pinned to my bedroom bulletin board; between the two, my hair and height differ by at least six inches, my age by at least a year, but that skirt is the same, and my smile, with my head cocked coyly at an angle.
When I outgrew the skirt and passed it down to my sister, I cried.
There was something whimsical about the flounciness of it – the way it opened up like petals circling my waist. I remember fluffing it around me when I sat down to play at the piano, pretending I was a professional performer with a sparkle in my eye, tucking a bit of unwieldy hair behind my ear.
I started straightening that unwieldy hair in high school. Straight hair exuded refined coolness – as if ironing out my frizzed curls meant ironing my personality to sleek and smooth.
Today, I still wear my hair straight sometimes. Other times, I let it run wild. It depends on my mood.
My current favorite shoes are a different pair of black sneakers: faux-leather Adidas, studded with tiny gold hearts. Their soles are splitting apart, but I can’t find another pair to adequately replace them. They’re my butt-kicking shoes — casual, stylish, sporty, and girly, all at the same time.
I wear lipstick more days than not. One simple swipe makes me feel bolder — bold lips, bold mood. Often, I choose bright red; other times, a deep mauve, almost purple.
It’s all a costume. It just depends on who I want to be. We each wear costumes every day, without realizing we’re doing it.
The rips in your jeans. The rings on your fingers. Your baseball cap, backwards. The way you part your hair.
Your resume is a costume. Even your latest Instagram post is a costume.
Every bit serves a purpose in playing out a particular character. It’s the difference between who you are, unguarded, and who you want to be.
For the past year, I’ve been devouring different flavors of spirituality like I’m at a multicultural all-you-can-eat buffet. Through books and articles and podcast interviews and Youtube videos with various spiritual experts and leaders and guides, I taste everything, so I can see what sits right in my gut. I go back for seconds and thirds when something piques my palate.
Amid the bounty, certain concepts stay with me like shirt stains. One of those is a quote by Caroline Myss that I wrote down to convert it to memory:
“Spirituality is the search for truth. It is bowing your head, walking humbly, and saying nothing, except in yourself, that says, teach me never to say one word that is not the truth. Not one word. Not one word. Show me my dark agendas toward other people. Reveal to me what I need to see about myself. Show me. Show me my underbelly so that I do no harm to another human being. Show me what my pride is capable of; the sins I commit because of pride; who I judge, who I attack, who I am jealous of.”
In other words: a spiritual search is a process of unbuttoning the costumes. Unzipping the disguises. Slicing off the masks.
I think that’s why I’m so hungry for spirituality in the first place. I want to expose the heart of humanness that hides deep down, unfiltered, uncolored, unlaced, underneath the armor.
Different flavors of spirituality reflect different versions of the human heart. Whether you subsist on atheism, an organized religion, or an odd melange of practices tossed into a melting pot, that’s what nourishes your understanding of the world. That’s how you find your place at the table.
But if there is one god that we all agree to follow with committed fervor, it’s fear.
When faced with hard decisions, we turn to fear to make the calls. It’s why we take jobs we don’t want; why we marry people we don’t love; why prejudice, politics, and war persist so brutally.
Modern news media — our cultural bible — speaks scripture built on fear. As I write this, these are three of the headlines on the Yahoo News homepage: “Root of all stomach problems? (4 dangerous foods.)” “Romanian nightclub explosion leaves 26 dead, dozens injured.” “Haunting social media posts surround Brendan Creato’s death.”
Fear, says Caroline Myss again, is the reason why people like me are always trying to pick apart spirituality with study and science. It’s because we are frightened to simply believe in anything without proof.
And fear is why we dress up in daily disguises. Our disguises are camouflage to keep us safe. To help us fit in, because we’re scared of nonacceptance. To make us stand out, because we’re scared to be ordinary. To appear braver than we feel.
If subtly, if unconsciously, we’re afraid of the vulnerability that comes with shedding the shields and revealing our unguarded hearts. And so we contort ourselves into costumes to cover fear with comfort.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that horror and Halloween go hand-in-hand. When we dress up as angels and demons, cheetahs and superheroes, perhaps we’re merely modeling the different faces of fear.
There is power in disguise. In a sense, aside from spirituality, the capacity for costume is what separates humans from other mammals. It’s our ability to transform; our flexibility for the fantasy that’s inherent in playing pretend. That’s how we experiment with the full range of our potential — like we’re devouring life’s different flavors, taking tastes from a bottomless buffet.
We get to be whomever we want to be. When you think about it, that’s as terrifying as anything, because it means we’re responsible for choosing to be good, brave, kind, and authentic, even when fear makes those values difficult.
If we’re going to dress up, we might as well do so valiantly. We might as well use our outer coverings to get closer to the inner truth.
This Halloween, I double dog dare you to dress up as your biggest fear, so you can see that it’s bearable (and beatable) after all.
Your wildest dream, so you can realize (and realize) its attainability.
All of your doubts and your worries, so you can drag those monsters out from under the bed and into the light.
Your greatest guilt and shame, so you can spook the ghosts that haunt you.
Your former selves, so you can feel the way those masks no longer fit.
Your brightest, boldest, best possible you – and keep that costume on forever.