But all of a sudden I realized that he knew also, just like I knew. And that everybody in the bookstore knew, and that they were all hiding it! They all had the consciousness, it was like a great unconscious that was running between all of us that everybody was completely conscious, but that the ﬁxed expressions that people have, the habitual expressions, the manners, the mode of talk, are all masks hiding this consciousness.
Passing money over the counter, wrapping books in bags and guarding the door, you know… all the millions of thoughts the people had… the complete death awareness that everybody has continuously with them all the time… all of a sudden revealed to me at once in the faces of the people, and they all looked like horrible grotesque masks… hiding the knowledge from each other. Having a habitual conduct and forms to prescribe, forms to fulﬁll. Roles to play.
But the main insight I had at that time was that everybody knew. Everybody knew completely everything. Knew completely everything in the terms that I was talking about.
—Allen Ginsberg, Paris Review interview, 1966
So there’s a story in today’s New York Times about a man who died recently in Poughkeepsie. He was found dead in his house at the age of 82. He had reported his wife missing 27 years earlier, and when they went through the house after his death… yeah, they found the wife’s body behind a wall in the basement.
What was really interesting to me was that nobody believed the man’s story that his wife had just up and left him. Everyone, even people who knew nothing about him, found him creepy. They all knew. Not the exact details, maybe. But they knew something was wrong. If they’d allowed themselves to sit more deeply with the knowledge, I think they’d even have intuited that the guy was a murderer.
Why do I think that?
About 30 years ago, I read a very long interview with Allen Ginsberg in the Paris Review, and he talked about this same phenomenon. The heart of his quote is excerpted above.
Everybody knew. Everybody knew completely everything.
Reading this had a profound impact on me. Because I knew that yes, I knew too. And that Ginsberg was right: everybody else knew.
No need to lie. No point in lying. No point in trying to be something you’re not, or pretend something is true when it isn’t. Because we all know the truth. No point, even, in pretending you don’t know.
Reading and absorbing this really changed me. I dropped a lot of pretense and falseness. I began to trust myself and my own perceptions much more. I started speaking the truth as I saw it, without fear. I began to disregard and ignore other people’s attempts at falseness, the “masks” that Ginsberg talked about, and speak to them more directly.
It was liberating. Because of course, other people (most of them) responded in kind. It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes… a fable illustrating how people pretend not to see what’s right in front of them due to fear or shame or social pressure, and then when someone speaks the obvious truth, the whole sham crumbles in an instant.
Because really, we all see so clearly. We know the truth. We may try to dodge and hide, but we know. We may not know what to do about it, how to feel about it, what will happen next after we admit it. But those things will all take care of themselves. In the meantime there’s nothing whatsoever to be gained by pretending to believe things we don’t believe.
So drop your mask. Believe your own intuition. Trust your own mind. Know what you know. And don’t worry about it. Because everybody knows.
Here’s the full text of Ginsberg’s interview, which is well worth your time: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4389/the-art-of-poetry-no-8-allen-ginsberg