Yet Untitled 079 - A Reflection on Reflective Surfaces
On the many mirrors in my life
Dearest Yet Untitler,
My mood is a bit heavy. There’s a lot going on around me. There’s a lot going on around the world! Things are affecting me and I’m unsure exactly how I’m feeling.
In the effort to isolate what I need to remedy - I have been searching. Perhaps I’m looking for a mirror to reflect back what I cannot see. While writing this installment, I realized that, as humans, we are obsessed with mirrors. Mirrors are everywhere! I searched my archive, and saw how many photos I’ve taken of mirrors which supported this thesis considerably. But, it seemed that I was looking for othe sorts of mirrors than the ones that are predominantly seen in our bathrooms, bedrooms, cars and malls. Where would I find them?
I’m lucky. I have many of these mirrors that I’m looking for; mirrors that show me who I am at any present moment of time. Today, I want to talk about a few of them.
…at least the “writing I do for myself” is one mirror I possess. As I write, I wonder if there is such a thing - “writing for myself”, because I don’t think there’s anything I write that I don’t want read by at least someone along the way. But I always try to have one kind of writing going alongside the rigamarole of writerly life that is still just…kept to me alone for the time being. There may be an intention of sharing with others later, but for the time being, it’s a quiet place for me to come to and…Express? Create? Emote?
The more complex the verb, the less accurate the description feels. Thinking about it, such writing is a clear mirror I take the pain to stand before as often as I can. My continuing commitment to rent this room in my life (time, foremost is the rent I pay) probably comes from experiencing the effectiveness of Julia Cameron’s morning pages, something that gets a frequent, honourable mention in YU. Here’s one:
I enter this activity with curiosity, because it reveals. It shows me where I’m at , who I am at present and what my concerns are. My desires, my worries, my questions all make it onto the page in this form of writing in a far more authentic way than the other kinds of writing I do, a lot of which serves interests other than mine. Clearly, it is so because it serves my curiosity rather than a brief.
In serving my own needs/desires/concerns with honesty, this sort of writing often becomes something that is of value to others as well. As one user of YU 073 observed:
The honesty and the details of your relationship with your body are so finely observed and beautiful placed that their being acutely personal makes them universal.
Hearing this was a great affirmation which had kept me going and told me what a useful mirror writing can be.
You could say that ‘Yet Untitled’ has evolved from my continuing practice of this sort of free writing, which is something I don’t do with the clockwork regularity of YU, but whenever I’m doing it, I feel its benefits, the foremost of which is some sort of Clarity.
Good mirrors provide clarity.
The Gohonzon is a scroll that I chant before as part of my Buddhist practice. It has been described in many ways, but I find its comparison to a mirror as its most powerful and most accessible description.
The Gohonzon could be described as a snapshot of the Buddhist monk Nichiren’s life when he attained enlightenment. It shows, in a powerful diagrammatic form, the life-condition of ‘Buddhahood’ - life at it’s Wisest, most Courageous and most Compassionate - placed front and centre amid the other lesser life conditions present in life’s spectrum - anger, greed, suffering and so on. On the Gohonzon, Nichiren wanted to capture the fusion of his own life with the life state of Buddhahood, and guided his followers to see this mandala as mirror, i.e. a means of showing them that their life too was already enlightened. The only reason why they weren’t able to immediately see it, or - feel its benefits - was because their mirror was muddy, preventing them from seeing things as they really are.
Polishing their mirror through their Buddhist practice as Nichren taught was a way for his disciples to see the actual truth about their lives - to perceive the Gohonzon as a mirror that showed them their true, noble selves - that they were already Buddhas fully endowed with all the Buddha’s qualities.
I come to the Gohonzon every day to connect with the least distorted and most positive aspect of myself - one that my practice tells me is the truth. It’s a powerful affirmation, perhaps the most powerful I’ve ever encountered. I also recently read about the transforming power of affirmations in Louise Hay’s ‘Heal Your Body’, which from, from a more secular standpoint, resonated powerfully with my understanding of the Gohonzon - you become what you place at the centre of your life.
Our world slings a lot of mud onto my perception daily, giving rise to feelings of doubt, inadequacy anxiety and many other negative things. That too constantly. In the face of this, I am grateful to have a great mirror such as the Gohonzon in my life and I know from my relationship with it, and from my practice of writing, that the gift of a clear reflection is earned, not guaranteed.
This left me with a thought to chew on: we must choose our mirrors carefully.
My Friends and Family
Vani takes one look at me and knows if something’s different. My mum hears one word of mine over the phone and asks me whether something’s wrong. My friend Takesh knows when, towards the end of the evening perceives the exact point when I’ll drop off to sleep in a social scenario (he knows the longevity of my social battery far better than I do.
When I’m confused about how or what I’m feeling, I’m learning that the trick is not to hide it before those who are close and to be myself as I am. Unless I do that, they too could miss the telling signs that would reveal clues to both of us. There is a saying my my Buddhist practice - chant before the Gohonzon as you are.
This prompts me to consider - the value of our relationships with mirrors is contingent on honesty. How honestly do I receive what my mirrors tell me? Especially when they tell me things I don’t particularly want to hear?
How am I doing?
Perhaps it’s a question I should be braver about asking those I trust, and ask it more often. The other day I asked a fellow Buddhist practitioner directly - what am I missing that’s preventing me from overcoming a particular challenge I’m facing? When I asked, it was surprisingly devoid of fear, and his answer was cautious, conscious that I may grate against what he’d say.
It was freeing to ask directly, and to hear plainly. It gave me a direction to find a solution in.
I asked one of my daughters plainly about a particular challenge she’s facing (9-year olds today face surprisingly complex challenges!). Her response surprised me - she was unwilling to engage any further in any such plain talk, and even the initiation of the conversation seemed to pain her.
Clearly, mirrors can be painful. Mirrors can make us uncomfortable. Don’t I know it, as I expanded on how I avoided my bathroom mirror for decades because I struggled with what it showed me. You can read about it here:
New Experiences are Internal Mirrors
I lay down this provocation: new experiences change our perception of who we are.
In the fact that they stretch us out and reshape us, our internal sense of self perhaps can’t always keep up, acting as a kind of internal mirror that cannot reconcile ‘Us the Object’ and that ‘Us’s’ reflection.
After significant milestones of experience, I have not only felt different, but even wondered where ‘I’ have vanished. I have felt this in the journey of fatherhood as my kids grow up. The New Experience of being their parent as they transition from being ‘little children’ to ‘big kids’ has me reflecting back at them in ways where I cannot recognize myself sometimes.
It’s disorienting, to say the least.
And, what do I say about living in a world that’s changing so fast? A world that’s making me, day after day, reflect back new fears, new worries and new terrors?
The fortress of friends, faith and the fountain pen
That alliteration was my best remedy against the palpable shudder of the last sentence. It’s a remedy because it’s a reminder that I have fortifications against the distortions of fear, confusion and delusion, and that I must choose these over any other mirror that life presents me.
It’s hard work. But it’s effective.
I’ve always been fascinated by how mirrors have been used to treat phantom pain in people who have lost limbs. It’s no co-incidence that in films, portals to other realms are often shown situated in mirrors.
Mirrors are a way in.
This gives me hope.
Inside each of us, there’s is a rich universe that’s a mirror image of what’s on the outside, mixed homogeneously with our lives. By telegraphing objective reality inside ourselves, I feel we change it by mixing some of ourselves into it. For us, it exists as a function of how we perceive it.
My Buddhist practice says - when our perception changes, reality changes. Actually. As in, the Real shifts to match our Internality. I’ve never believed this more than at this moment, having just written about it to share with you, and it’s empowering.
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Dear YU-er, it feels as if this page, you and I form the apexes of a triangular mirror that has strengthened my understanding of a great truth. I’m very grateful. The only way for me to thank you is by not keeping it to myself. By writing it and sharing it.
Thank you for listening, and Let me know if any of this resonates. I’d love to hear from you.
Lots of love