masks in relationships

I read an interesting article some time ago by coach Michael Neill on how there are different levels in our relationships with others. I’m not talking about literal closeness, for example a brother is closer than a colleague at work, but more about our ability to truly connect in an authentic way with an other person.

Have you noticed that you can feel a deep connection almost immediately with a stranger? Or feel like a member of your family is hiding behind a mask and being superficial? … That’s what I am talking about.

“Surface Level – How we pretend to be 

On the surface, people present themselves to the world in whatever ways they would like to be seen. They may be clever or cynical, light and cheerful or intellectual and deep. This is our persona or the “mask” of our personality, often revealing our fears, judgments, and insecurities in the very attempt to hide them.

Whether we enjoy or dislike someone’s personality is fairly arbitrary – an accidental coming together of our own innocently acquired preferences and prejudices from a young age.

But like it or not, at some point the mask slips and we see through to…

One Level Deep – The selfish self

Underneath the masks of personality, we’re continually navigating the world through a swirl of thought. Because we feel that thinking is coming at us from the outside world, we tend to see our actions, as one of my clients once put it, as being ‘the only sane response to an insane world’.
This is how we justify our ambition and ruthlessness; our cruelty to ourselves and others. After all, if it wasn’t a dog eat dog world out there, who would ever want to eat a dog?

When we see through someone’s “nice person” or “tough guy” mask, we often see only as far as this level. And it’s difficult for most of us to feel warmly towards someone who is seemingly only out for their own self-aggrandizement or self-preservation.

Until, that is, we see through to…

Two Levels Deep – Doing the best we can as we’re all in this together

There is a quote often attributed to Philo of Alexandria that we should “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is not only true in the physical world, where our bodies begin to decay long before our thoughts are ready to let go, but also in our innate psychology.

Every human being I know wants to love and be loved; to be happy more and suffer less; and to feel like in some way their life had meaning and value. How they go about achieving these aims is a product of their level of understanding and experience of the world.

It’s easy to love people “two levels deep”, because we see ourselves reflected in them. We all have a natural compassion for the suffering of others and an abiding conscience which ensures that while we may at times act in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others, we do it in spite of and not because of who we are at core.

Loving people at this level doesn’t mean we have to live with them or let them get away with murder, literally or figuratively. It just means that we don’t get so upset by their humanness or carried away by our own delusions that we can escape the human condition.

While seeing through to people’s innate humanity makes for richer and more wholesome relationships, there is a level beyond even that which takes us past the illusion of separation which allows us to play judge and jury to our fellow humans…


Three Levels Deep – Who we are before the fact of thought

Who are you before thought comes into the equation? Mystics throughout time have described our essential nature as being made of spirit – a name for the invisible life force that makes up the visible world of form.

It’s difficult to even talk about “loving someone” at this level because rather than two or seven or even seven billion separate people, there is simply the presence of Love with a capital “L” – and as we dissolve and surrender into that Love, we fulfill the age-old proverb that “we are that which we seek”.

We are one in shared consciousness and spirit.”

p.s. This makes me think about how that pesky neighbor, or annoying colleague and Donald Trump appear one level deep for many of us.

38 comments on “The Depths of our Relationships

  1. Nice one, Val, with important distinctions. I’ve had many relationships, ample acquaintances on that first level. But I seek out the deeper ones, have been blessed with just a few real friends. They are priceless, lifelong, kindred spirits. I am forever grateful. 💖

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I know people who have a ton of ‘friends,’ but really, they’re stuck on that first level. My mother always told me that we are lucky if we have one good and true friend in this world. Great post, Val! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Love this powerful — it makes me think of Tonglen breathing — how we must make all around us become that which is within us part of us and thus become the pain to heal the pain. That which I fear in the world is that which I must make peace with.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Val. It is food for my day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Val, what a wonderful and insightful piece from you! Would you grant me permission to republish this over on Learning from Dogs?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is so good Val, thank you for sharing it. x ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  7. John O’Donohue talks about love as a ‘recognition’ of the other half you were at the beginning of time. A recognition and a reunion which makes you whole again with your ‘Anam Cara’, your soul friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It sometimes takes us awhile to grow to the deepest level. I live in a neighborhood where so many are bickering with other neighbors about trivial things. I just pass out loving energy no matter what. I sure feel better. I can love all life deeply. What life does is none of my business. I’m not sure that made any sense. I guess I don’t want to be part of fault finding and judgement. But I make no judgement on that either. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You got it perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So interesting…I like the way it is broken down into levels… like going down stairs!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great information Val. I think the deeper we allow ourselves to be with one another, the more we learn and see about our selves and our purpose in the world. 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: We are what we think of most! – Learning from Dogs

  13. Ppl with happy relationships r blessed ones

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think if we could manage to see people at least “two level deep,” it would be so much harder to hate anyone. If we got to “three level deep,” the world would suddenly be a very lovely place, because we would have finally figured out that we really are all in this together, and connected on the most basic level. Thanks, Val!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I agree that ‘seeing through to people’s innate humanity makes for richer and more wholesome relationships,’ but, in truth, I can do no less. I’ve never been much good at hiding behind personae. It seems a perfect waste of time. Yet many cannot share what they, themselves are not aware of. The path is ever within the self. A lifetime’s exploration, that 😉 Aloha, Val. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So love your wisdom here Val.. Loved your Two levels deep.. Often seeing traits in others that annoy give us insights into our own reflections 🙂 as they are often mirrored back to us.. 🙂
    Wonderful post Val..
    Love and Blessings sent.. xxx


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