Do you really know yourself?
I sat staring at it for hours. Timeless hours, just as he had taught me. My back straight, my chin up, legs crossed in a half lotus which even my stiffening joints still permitted without excessive discomfort.
I pinned the mirror to a curtain, directly in front of me, just above the eye level. A small, oval mirror, less then four inches at its widest. The glass was held in a delicate carved frame, which looked like golden vine surrounding a deep pool of crystal water. But the frame could not have been made of gold. After all, where would an ancient vagabond, who spent his life begging for a bowl of rice, get the money to buy a gold frame?
Years had passed since he gave me this single gift––just before he’d left me. Before he left this world; dissolved, perhaps, into a better reality? The small rug, on which the old man sat, day after day and into the early hours, was all that was left. The old Master wasn’t there anymore. Not really. Only his smile lingered behind. As with the Cheshire cat. I still saw, perhaps imagined, his slow, enigmatic smile drawn carelessly, effortlessly, on his parched lips. It lingered on, even after his lean, brown face, the thin, beak-like nose, his gray, mottled hair, probably never combed, began to loose their definition. Then, an impossible, shimmering fog, seemingly filled with light, descended to cover his emaciated, undemanding body, which slowly suffused into that glowing mist, gradually dissolving into the pure, golden rays of the rising sun. It had been those transient, still horizontal, dawning rays that he had awaited with profound peace and joyful acceptance.
And then he wasn't there. He was gone.
In time, I remember, I withdrew my eyes from the now empty, dissipating mist. As I looked down, I held in my hand a small, oval mirror. And even as the last wisps of the shimmering mist cleared, I heard, or more likely imagined, his voice. His words had always been sparse, meager, even as his body and his habits, when he had walked the reddish, baked soil in his hardened, bare feet. He told me about the mirror. The thoughts had been clear, at the time, of this I am sure, but moments later they seemed to waver, hesitate, even as I always did. Later, for hours, even days, I tried to reconstruct that ephemeral moment when the Master had imparted to me that which I had since lost, yet I still feel, indeed I am certain, will regain, when the time is ripe.
On that, he had always insisted.
He had said that there is never any need to look for a teacher, a Master. He said that the pupil and teacher are like two sides of a single coin. Inseparable. Periodically, mysterious, invisible alchemists melt all the coins and transmute their material into ever more precious metals. Then, as a new, nobler coin is struck, the teacher, of the very same mould, is ready to resume his teaching, to impart a higher truth, higher understanding. The celestial mint is inexhaustible, he had said, so very, very long ago. It seemed like yesterday?
I gazed into the mirror. Each eye staring directly forward. Left eye into the reflection of itself, likewise with the right eye. The image I saw in this manner, was a single eye in the center of my forehead, staring back, demanding an answer.
But what was the question? What mysteries of life had drawn me into their tantalizing vortex?
This question had been and remained the greater part of my problem. I wasn't sure what was it that I had been searching. Satisfaction? The elusive state of happiness? What was it that I really wanted? Inner peace?
No. I wanted a challenge. Yet, I had to know where and why I’d embarked on this barren journey. Why had I developed this unquenched craving, this thirst for the unknown? Surely, not unknowable. Would it lose its allure when it was no longer unknown? Would the instant of discovery be paramount to the instant of death?
Each time I asked these and many like questions of the ancient Master––he only smiled. For some reason I was convinced that the man knew the answer. That he’d found it. And having found it––he left. He dissolved into the realm unchallenged by confused mortals.
That realm was perhaps the real, nagging enigma. What was it that lay beyond the scrutiny of our senses? Beyond our effervescent, boisterous, uncontrolled emotions, our marginally used, yet even then, so often abused mind. What lay beyond the constant, persistent chatter of our thoughts? An unremitting noise, sweeping in relentless waves through trillions of cells imprisoned in our skull . . . the endless streams of electrons, passing from one synapse to another, stimulating, ongoing, never ending . . . a mental clamor which, per force, precluded conditions conducive to greater understanding. The taunting, blatant, living turmoil, till finally, it seems, all functions defining our physical existence had to cease before we might, just might, finally, reach beyond and learn the origin of this demonic pandemonium.
I looked into the mirror.
The single eye stared back at me. Vapid, empty, surely, it wasn’t my eye. It stared at me, insisting….
Why did the old man give me this fatuous talisman? Was it yet another enigmatic test I was supposed to pass before taking the next step on the scale? The scale of evolution that advances at the rate of a paraplegic snail? I had no idea what it was that I was searching. I was lost in an ocean of apathetic indifference. Not an indifference resultant from a serene state of emotional detachment, but rather a lax indifference towards my fate, to the divine plan which had kept me ignorant of Its purpose. I gave up.
Year followed during which the offensive mirror remained unobtrusive, half hidden within a fold of the curtain. The flat, rectangular pillow, upon which I’d spent countless hours, cross-legged, in silent meditation, also remained neglected. I had not even glanced at the mirror's surface. I didn't need anyone or anything to tell me of my guarded discontent. Instead, to my own surprise, I began––living.
My involvement with life, with my immediate environment, began as a spectator, then a reluctant, transient tourist. I looked, I watched, until gradually, even as a humming-bird is drawn to a honeysuckle, I too, unwittingly, had been drawn into the stream of life. Once again, perhaps for the first time since my distant childhood, I felt blood coursing through my veins. My atrophied, or at the very least, dormant emotions stirred. I began caring. Caring enough to take a risk, to stick my neck out for whatever cause.
It was by shear accident that I chanced upon the old mirror. I had long since placed it, with other memories of my now distant past, in a side drawer of my desk. It lay there, ignored, forgotten, for more years than I care to remember.
My hand, quite inadvertently, trembled on contact with the forgotten talisman. My fingers recognized the carved contours of the gold frame before my mind accepted the mirror's dormant existence. Even though I had no desire to revert to my old ways of withdrawal from the stream of life, my fingers refused to let go. I took out the mirror and placed it on the top of my desk. There it remained for the rest of the day.
That evening I gathered enough courage to actually look into its shimmering surface. I did not bother to assume any meditative posture. I sat at my desk, vaguely annoyed, not knowing the reason for my discontent.
I had forgotten the parallel stare of the past, the effort it took to visualize a single eye. I simply looked at the mirror with anger. For an instant, what I saw fuelled my anger still further. Then, it had an unexpected, opposite effect.
When I first saw the reflection of my own eyes, I actually did not recognize them. They were the eyes of a man contented with life. There was absolutely no anger or even any frustration in them. The eyes that looked at me were bold, abundant in confidence that precluded the possibility of failure.
I poured myself a drink, and with controlled nonchalance I strolled back to my desk. My eyes chanced upon the mirror. I picked it up and nearly dropped it. Rather than seeing a reflection of, what I suspected I must have become, I saw eyes filled with shyness, almost servile, eyes of a servant, a perennial looser, a man afraid of his shadow.
I replaced the mirror on the desk, the angle of refraction now showing a small oval of the pale blue sky. There was a peculiar impersonality in this pale blue reflection. A dim memory of my long-gone indifference. I left the desk and clicked on TV. The news reported on a couple of rapes, two or three murders, and a general, wide spread Middle-Eastern mayhem with the attendant threats of war. Actually not war, just armed conflict. Apart from one or two anthropological throwbacks, we had long since grown out of having wars. We now vented our differences of opinion by carrying out preemptive strikes. Providing we were sure of total victory. The world seemingly knew exactly where it was going. Well, I for one, was not sure of anything, just then. The mirror was up to some tricks which, at the time, I did not understand.
Over the next little while, I became quite used to the mirror. It took me a whole week to confirm that the mirror had been showing the exact opposite mood, or state of consciousness, which I had manifested at that particular moment. Why this sort of thing never happened some years ago I am still not sure. Perhaps, then, I had expected the mirror to produce some special effects. Then, even as now, it refused to do the expected. I never knew whose eyes I would see in its enigmatic surface. I tried to second-guess it. It took me another two weeks to learn that the mirror did not show the opposite of that which I thought I felt, but rather that which had been blocked, deep within me, blocked from coming to the surface.
The mirror became my constant companion. I worked, traveled, relaxed with it. It remained, ever, within easy reach. Slowly, very slowly, the reflected images became less and less distant from the emotions that stirred or controlled me at anyone time. Perhaps it was I who was beginning to learn to control them. On quite a few successive occasions, the images began confirming that which I felt or thought. For some unexplainable reason this fact had given me an enormous, an almost sensual, pleasure. I concluded that finally I began growing up.
That must have been it! I was growing up, though quite unaware of the consequences. As I approximated the mirror's image with greater frequency, I noticed another strange phenomenon, thought I thought nothing of it at the time.
I am now convinced, that the mirror was and is, an instrument that teaches the essential duality which is the immutable quintessence of our existence on this, tangible, sensual, physical world. Even as there can be no concept of light without an attendant shadow, no mountain without a valley; no awareness of love without its balancing indifference. Also, there can be no teacher without a pupil.
For a while I expected the old Master to manifest his presence through the mirror. Now I know that would have been impossible. For as long as I looked for his presence, I found nothing. A void of indifference? Then, when I resumed my journey by immersing myself in life, in the process of becoming, the mirror began to serve me, even as my teacher once had.
I have learned yet another truth. There comes a time when a man can no longer rely on a living teacher. The mirror taught me that also. The dual component of my consciousness did not belong to the mirror. It had been I who had learned to see that which separated me from the state of balance. Any mirror can serve this purpose. I can now see this complementing reflection in the still water of a garden pond, in the shimmering air rising on a hot summer day, in the eyes of the people I encounter during my daily endeavor.
The gilt-edged mirror served its purpose. Even as I began losing the duality of my vision, its reflective surface began to grow dim. Then its reflection began to lose the precision of its contour.
Even as my image in this strange, enigmatic mirror grows dimmer, I am certain that I too begin to lose my solidity. Surely, you see, in a dualistic world, whatever exists must have its reflection. And mine seems to be dissolving; it's growing dimmer, ever so slightly dimmer….
My last thoughts seemed to emanate directly from the dissolving mirror. They were as clear as the voice of my Master at the beginning of my strange journey. I heard him distinctly in my head…. "A lamp am I to you that perceive me. A mirror am I to you that know me."
Site: Stan I.S. Law
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|Reviewed by Patricia Guthrie
Thank you for The Mirror. I'm always looking for a mentor/a teacher.
While reading this story, I suddenly realized that--I don't need one.
I have me.
(well, I'm not quite that self-reliant in all aspects of my life, but I got the philosophical concept) I think.
Patricia A. Guthrie
Stan I.S Law (aka Stanislaw Kapuscinski)