I had an experience a few years back that seems particularly relevant right now, so I thought I’d share it with all of you wonderful readers out there.
A few years ago, while struggling through very difficult time in my life, I went away for a three day intensive retreat. It was very helpful, and I’ve been reflecting on something that happened while I was there.
One of the assignments we were given was to pull up a picture of ourselves on our phone and look at it. I mean REALLY look at it. We had to stare at ourselves for several minutes without looking away or being distracted. Having done quite a bit of personal development and self discovery over the years, I thought I had a pretty good idea of where this would lead.
My assumption was that as I stared at myself I’d go through some process of seeing myself with fresh eyes and find my way to greater love and acceptance. This would be followed by some form of self forgiveness followed by a renewal of my commitment to being the best self I could be.
Sounds reasonable, right? Interesting things happen when we stop and take the time to look in the mirror. It can be quite cathartic. I figured since this workshop was an immersion in finding ourselves and building our confidence, I’d find inspiration and validation staring back at me.
Yeah, I was wrong. Here’s what actually happened:
I scrolled through my pictures until I came across one that seemed ok. I remembered taking it. Gracie and I were on a walk on her favorite trail, it was a beautiful day, and I just snapped a quick picture of me smiling down with the trees and sky in the background.
I chose the picture because it was taken before things got really rough. I remember being grateful for the time with my four legged best friend. I remember feeling quietly happy. This isn’t all that unusual for me. I’ve always chosen to smile often and cultivate a positive outlook of life. I do my best to shine light on those with whom my path has crossed.
As I looked at the picture of my face smiling back at me, a weird thing happened. At first, I found myself smiling in response to the memory it triggered. I began to prepare for the coming self realization that life was ok, and better times would come around again.
Then the picture stopped smiling.
It was like the picture sort of shifted. My face started to look strained. This person that was supposed to be me didn’t look all that happy anymore. There was tension around the eyes. I started getting this feeling of looking at someone who was trying to put their best face forward when they weren’t really feeling it.
This face that was supposed to be my face looked like it was in pain.
This was an unexpected turn of events. I was even more shocked when I realized that I was crying while I stared at this picture which a few minutes earlier had been smiling back at me. What an odd experience.
When is the last time you looked in a mirror?
No, really looked in the mirror. When’s the last time you looked at yourself without automatically filling in all of the details your past you so conveniently provides?
Go ahead, look in the mirror. Keep looking at yourself until you actually see the person you are right now in this moment staring back at you. You’ll know it’s happening when you suddenly feel like a stranger is looking back at you.
When that happens, some very uncomfortable questions may start popping up. These questions usually have some underlying themes like: “When did that happen?!?” “Who am I?” and “How did I end up here?” Life’s cumulative effects can sometimes go unnoticed for a long time.
When that stranger looks back at you, and the picture starts to come clear, don’t stop at the physical. You are a whole lot more than your own physical reflection.
What is the mind behind those eyes like right now? Is it dynamically engaged or is it stagnant? How about the heart hiding behind that chest plate? Is it open, loving and forging new connections, or is it closed up and hiding from too much exhaustion and sadness?
When I really looked at myself, I learned some things. I think we forget the value of listening to ourselves with our full attention. I think the part of us that swims deeper is leaving us clues. Those clues can help us navigate our lives a little more safely and gracefully.
I’ve learned to check in with the mirror regularly. There have been several times when my reflection has told me things that helped me course correct before I ran head first into a wall. Having a healthy relationship with ourselves is a valuable thing. We should take the time to check in and see how we’re doing. I know I have a habit of forgetting to do that. Maybe you do too.
My dream for you today, is that when you look in the mirror, you take in what you see in all its joy and sadness. May you let go of judgement. You are who you are, and you’re here now with the rest of us. You’re evolving anyway, so let the story that got you here be an interesting post card from your ongoing journey. It doesn’t define you unless you let it.
The story that really matters is the one you are writing right now. What’s etched in the mirror are the many souvenirs from the places you’ve been and the life you have lived.
The person in the mirror is a trusted guide. That person is your friend. They are part of a story unlike any other.
That story is you.
Keep living it :)