Sometime in the early summer, I opened Nic Askew’s Weekly Film email and found this short piece:

by Nic Askew

A somebody walks into a somewhere and meets a someone.

“Why haven’t I seen you before,” said the somebody, on recognizing a brilliant, indefinable light set deep in the bones of the someone.

The someone then sets forth with the usual catalog of tall tales. Each a credible explanation that would more than likely stand up to the strongest of winds.

But, as ever, the true cause of this seeming invisibility was the absence of an answer to a single profound question.


Being seen. It can be the deepest yearning of the soul yet the greatest fear of the outer self.

The outer self (you might also call it ego) has been given an enormous job. It’s been given the responsibility of keeping us safe and ensuring our survival. However, it actually has limited resources to help it do that job. It only has access to the intellect, to its own past experiences, and to the five outer senses. On its own, it has no understanding of anything beyond the tangible, three-dimensional world that it can literally see, hear, and touch.

Because the outer self is very committed to its job of “taking care” of you, it prefers to be in control of the many aspects of your life. The outer self is very good at figuring out how to navigate circumstances and situations in order to keep a feeling of safety and security. Therefore, the outer self gets very good at choosing which mask to wear in any particular moment. It has a lot invested in maintaining its carefully crafted way of living and engaging with the world. Through day-to-day living, it can become masterful at creating the façade that fits the image it wishes to convey in any circumstance.

Much of the time, this is not a conscious process. It’s a part of the survival instinct that is programmed into us from birth. As we grow up and engage with the world as adults, we don’t even notice the façades we create. We do it without thinking.

As time goes on, the outer self can become more and more invested in maintaining that façade. It’s the way that it knows to survive. When driven by the outer self, our push toward achievement and accomplishment often comes from a desire to be seen in a certain way – a way that makes us look good and protects us from embarrassment, humiliation, or failure.

The soul, on the other hand, thrives on adventure, exploration, finding meaning, and a sense of fulfillment. Every soul has come into this world with a mission or purpose. Through the journey of living our soul mission, we learn and grow. In fact, in the end, that’s why we’re here. We’re here to learn and grow.

As we learn and grow, action is a natural response. Accomplishment and achievement are natural results. They are simply the byproducts of our learning and growth rather than of a need to control or impress. And those byproducts become the gifts we share with the world. When we are fully engaged in sharing our gifts, the outer self is busy serving the soul and has no time for putting up a façade. And so we are seen in our authenticity and truth. We are seen in our passion and commitment.

When the outer self feels safe and secure, it can let down its guard and allow the soul to shine. However, when the outer self feels threatened or unsure on any level, it will put up whatever façade it deems necessary in order to “safely” navigate the situation. The more we are able to give ourselves permission to live each day as an opportunity to learn and grow, and to find our safety and security within ourselves, the more we can let ourselves “be seen no matter what.”

However, my point here is not that “being seen” is good and “creating a carefully crafted protective façade” is bad. My point is to invite awareness of each moment. Be curious about what is going on inside. Ask yourself, “Am I living from soul’s great desire to learn and grow and letting my soul light shine? Or am I feeling the need to wear a mask?”

No judgment. Just awareness. Find the fears and listen to what they need. Come back inside. “Start close in,” to use David Whyte’s words that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Look for the safety you need within. As you find that safety, you can then more freely ask, “Is how I am showing up right now serving me and those around me?” And from your place of safety, you can choose how you wish to show up going forward.

Too often we are quick to judge, whether ourselves or others. Yet in most situations or circumstances, there are many layers of feelings, emotions, and experiences. Each person is living his or her own inner reality in that moment. What becomes possible if we acknowledge that there are many layers to what is happening, step beyond our judgments, stand in compassion for ourselves and others, and start with the question, “What wants to happen right now in service of all?”

This takes us back to Nic Askew’s question: “Are you willing to be seen no matter what?” I love this question. And in complete honesty, I have to answer, “Mostly.”

For me, the gift of the question is to become even more aware of when I allow myself to be seen and when I don’t, and especially to become more aware of the times when I don’t even realize that I’ve put on a mask.

This simple awareness holds important messages for us about how we are engaging with the world around us. Our job is to pay attention to the messages and ask three simple questions:

  • Is how I am showing up right now serving me?
  • Is how I am showing up right now serving the bigger picture of what is happening?
  • Having this awareness, how do I choose to respond?


P.S. Cutting through the many layers of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be challenging. One Transformational Presence tool that can be very helpful is The Three Intelligences. You can learn more about this simple yet powerful inner dialogue tool in Chapter 9 of my latest book, Create A World That Works, can be a great place to start. The book is also available in digital format.


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