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The Hall of Mirrors

February 13, 2012

 

There are some minds like either convex or concave mirrors, which represent objects such as they receive them, but never receive them as they are.” ~ Joseph Joubert

When I first started college I had a full-length mirror that I had hung on the back of my dorm room door. Having a mirror there made practical sense; I could check how I looked on my way to class; make sure that I had zipped up my jeans and had put on matching socks (both things that I tended to overlook, especially if I was on my way to a 6:30 a.m. class).

The problem was that every time I glanced in that mirror it made me feel fat – bloated almost. I don’t care how good I felt before that; how energetic. It didn’t matter how good I knew I looked or how thin I knew I was, as soon as I glanced in that mirror I felt like I’d gained ten pounds. I felt heavy, sluggish and tired. Suddenly all I wanted was to crawl back into bed. I could almost feel my jeans getting tighter and my face puffing.

And then one day about six weeks into my first semester, a friend of mine stopped into my room, took one look in my mirror and said “What’s wrong with this thing? It makes everything look bloated!” She then proceeded to take the mirror off the door and peel off the backing; exposing the back of the mirror itself, which had, at some point in its manufacturing (whether due to pressure or just some defect), developed a slight convex curve that just barely distorted everything it reflected.

Chagrined I threw the mirror into the trash. It had all been a lie. I’d been trusting in the reflection of a distorted and defective mirror to tell me how I looked; letting what it showed me dictate how I felt instead of trusting to how I felt about myself; instead of trusting to how I knew my clothes looked on me. And then it occurred to me, how often we do this to ourselves.

Think about it. Here I was accepting the ‘truth’ of a mirror that was defective; a mirror that had developed a warp that made everything it reflected appear bloated slightly. But how often do we accept the truth about ourselves as reflected by those around us, by our friends, family and co-workers? In fact, doing so is a lot like accepting the truth of a fun house mirror; the kind that shows you all distorted. What do you think would happen if we accepted as reality the image that these mirrors presented to us? What kind of twisted monster would we think that we are?

And yet, there are those who say that those around us are our mirrors; that they reflect back to us our true natures and the true nature of our reality. While this may be the case with mirrors that have been well made; or with mirrors that have been recalibrated; and that take time to reflect a little before throwing back the image, it is not necessarily true of all of those we come in contact with.

While our interactions with others do serve as a sort of hall of mirrors, just as when we are observing ourselves in the distorted reflection of a fun house mirror, it is up to us to determine what it is that the reflection they cast is showing; to discern whether the reflection that we see is a true representation of who and what we really are; of our authentic self; or if it has been distorted by the mirror itself; by the prejudices and perceptions as well as the societal, religious and familial conditioning of the one doing the reflecting.

It is up to us to make use of the only mirror that we can trust; the only one that reflects us back to ourselves exactly the way we are, and that is the mirror that the heart holds up for us to see ourselves in.

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