Peeking Beneath the Mask of Apathy


By Terence Stone

I can’t fight this feeling

One of my best friends is going through a bit of a rough patch. In fact, he’s more than a friend. I think of him as a brother, and so does the rest of my family.

He’s younger than I, and he graduated college about a year ago. I can’t say what he’s going through is really unusual. He’s a bit confused, overwhelmed, lonely, and he feels lost.

When I graduated from college, I felt all of those things, plus I was gearing up to get married. The two years after school were probably the most stressful years of my life to date.

In any case, on a recent trip to my hometown, I was able to spend some quality time with him. I could tell he was reluctant to open up at first, but slowly we got to talking.

Without getting into too much detail, what struck me the most is that when I asked him where he was emotionally with all of this, he said he felt nothing. No anger, no sadness, no anxiety; just apathy.

The neutral mask

We have all probably been there. Apathy is kind of a built-in defense mechanism – a barrier of sorts. It acts to separate our minds from our hearts. When consciously recognized, it can be a great teacher. If written off, or resisted, it can be very detrimental.

What I said to my friend was this: It’s a mask for all of the pain. The sooner you realize that, the closer you are to beginning the healing process.

As I think on it some more, the analogy of the mask is really pertinent. Think of wearing a physical mask with a very neutral expression. You could be quietly crying or laughing underneath and no one would know. You are a blank slate. Others who see the mask would start to get a very neutral feel toward you. They wouldn’t pay much attention.

This is apathy, except that the ‘other people’ are your mind, and your true face beneath the mask is your heart. Your mind looks at your heart and says, “Hm. Things are looking fine. Nothing to report.

Of course our minds and hearts are not truly separate. On some level, the mind knows there is something amiss underneath. However, apathy makes that very foggy and difficult for the mind to see.

Getting beneath the mask

This is where being present comes in. Are you surprised? I think it is so important to be aware of that moment when the mind makes its inspection so we can say, “A-ha, wait a minute, there is something there. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s kind of uncomfortable. I need to explore this.

Yet, I can remember a number of times where I’ve come to that moment only to let it pass me by, or to make a quick U-turn, because ultimately I didn’t want to see what was there. Many of us do this. We’re afraid, and rightfully so in the face of something that feels so volatile. But we must go there.

When we are present with full consciousness, then the mind has an opportunity to get beneath the mask and be the mechanic. Then, apathy works to our advantage. It serves as a buffer to keep our pain from overwhelming us while our mind attempts to adjust some things.

Of course, sometimes in the process of those adjustments the mask gets blown off, and that’s OK too. If that happens, it’s probably something that needs to happen. We then need to brace gently and allow whatever that is to envelop and flow over us.

Final thoughts

Finally, I’ll leave you with something else I said to my friend (and I hope you’ll excuse the verbal nuance): “Sometimes life sucks. It’s painful, and scary, and we’d don’t want to deal with it, but we do it anyway…or we don’t.” 

We all want life to be easy, and I do believe that it is possible to achieve a state of ease, but not without effort, intention, and presence. It’s important to remember that even apathy, the lack of feeling, is a feeling. We just need to find the courage to peek beneath the mask.

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Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.

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