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I’m going to try to keep this post concise – weird, right? – and so I will get right to it…
As a writer, I tend to ponder over how some things in life are so common, so every day, that we can forget how interesting, how unusual, and how influential it is for us.
Take the average mirror, once upon a time known as a “looking-glass”.
Most of us are aware that the mirror flips our reflection back at us, right?
It reflects the scar on the right side of my forehead such that it appears as though on the left-side of my mirrored self (which is why pictures of ourselves can look “off” because it is missing our familiar flipped self).
Our brains adjust and we don’t ask any questions.
Which begs the question: what else have we forgotten when we look in the mirror?
Well, depending on the day and mood of the person, a mirror can show us many things.
It can validate our superficial ego or it can remind us of our secret insecurities.
It can be a simple piece of glass on a wall, an expensive interior fixture or the way in which some of us measure our self-worth.
It can be all of the above or none of the above.
Beyond simply mirroring our physical self, the looking-glass also serves as a way to reflect back at us how we react to our reflection.
What do we feel when we “see” ourself?
Do we feel hopeful or confident?
Do we feel indifferent or impatient?
Do we feel regret or disappointment?
No, I am not going to tell you to feel or not feel such-and-such about your reflection.
The point I am getting at here is how we feel about the feelings we feel, all of them.
Let us approach it this way:
It seems straightforward that pain is ‘bad’ and we avoid it.
But sometimes pain is perceived as healthy, constructive and willingly sought out.
The pains of exercise, for example, as muscles break and grow, is often considered a ‘good’ pain, a signal that we are challenging our bodies.
Another case of this is ‘bad’ so avoid at all costs.
Yet again, it varies by the perspective.
Not only is some amount of sickness ‘good’ for building our immune system, but seasonal, short-term sicknesses can be necessary resets to our lives, reminders of priorities and doses of empathy for those chronically and terminally ill.
On the other hand, this is something often associated as universally ‘good’.
Well, except when the content being learnt is incorrect or ignorant, misleading or misrepresentative.
Yet who decides which is which? Some knowledge learned in one religion, one country, one family is backwards to another. Some knowledge learned by a first-grade class is going to be basic to a third-grade class. And some knowledge learned by a younger self-centred you might be recognized as toxic to an older you.
Some of the most knowledgable insights in my life have come only after I had un-learned things I was believing, things that no longer served me.
Back to the mirror and what you see looking back at you.
Is it possible for each of us to step outside the story we tell ourselves, in the mirror?
Can we leave our seat in the audience and see this is all a performance, one of many?
And are we able to do all this without bullying or repressing the feelings flowing inside?
Consider this zen writing about tea:
Just a cup of tea.
Just another opportunity for healing.
Just the hand reaching out to receive the handle of the cup.
Just noticing hot.
Noticing the texture and fragrance.
Just a cup of tea.
Just this moment in newness.
Just the hand touching the cup.
Just the arm retracting.
The fragrance increasing as the cup nears the lips.
Noticing the bottom lip receiving heat from the cup.
The top lip arched to receive the fluid within.
Noticing the first taste of tea before the tea even touches the lips.
The fragrance and heat rising into the mouth.
The first noticing of flavor.
The touch of warm tea on willing tongue.
The tongue moving the tea about in the mouth.
The intention to swallow.
The warmth that extends down into the stomach.
What a wonderful cup of tea.
The tea of peace, of satisfaction.
Drinking a cup of tea, I stop the war.
This is not about telling you to feel happy or not happy.
It is about seeing feelings – including ones that come with looking in the mirror – as only a sensation of feeling, like snow falling from the sky…
But falling into the same old story, of feeling confident or insecure, beautiful or beastly, means chasing and clinging to those feelings, calling them your own – as if the snowflakes falling are for keeping and saving…
Not only does practising at this calm attentiveness, resisting the first (and second and third) urge to be swept up in your thoughts, help writers write, it helps people really live. It helps us all wake up and stay awake.
And that awareness is the quality of all good writing – words that wake us up.
So here’s to trying to look past the masks we wear, even the ones in front of the mirror.
Thanks for reading.
See you in between the lines…