The Fun House of Mirrors — Seeing Light in Everyone

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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

The world is a looking-glass,
and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you;
laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion…
—William Makepeace Thackeray, from Vanity Fair

The experience of walking through a fun house of mirrors offers a metaphor for what is real and what is illusion. Having sampled this experience, people laugh at themselves or others that appear distorted—bodies that look short and round, long and tall, or twisted and squiggly. Egos place everyone in compartments—age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, attractiveness, body type and so on—that are usually taken seriously. Are these attributes any less ridiculous then the fun house caricatures?


Sage Ramana Maharshi offers a complementary example. Images of fire and ashes, water and destruction appear on a cinema screen, but the dry screen remains unscathed. The projected images are not real; only the screen and its light are real.

The perceptions, the very lenses one peers through, are in fact grist for the mill of healing. In an oddly ironic way, there is no one “out there” other than oneself. Whomever one rejects or accepts, shuns or embraces, loves or hates is oneself. The possibility is to see through each mirrored image as no one projecting nothing onto no one, and purely a figment of one’s imagination. A still mind that accurately reflects reality sees Truth.

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A mirror is a lovely metaphor for essential Being and True Nature since at once it is steady, unchanging and empty as well as transparently reflecting all it beholds. In other words, a mirror gives you a taste of both the timeless nondual Absolute with its subtle stillness of space itself and a taste of time-bound duality in the empirical world with the movement of experiencing perceptions, feelings, thoughts and actions all at once.

The mirror reflects the image but the image does not improve the mirror. You are neither the mirror nor the image.
—Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

On the level of ego in the relative world, one keeps “running into oneself”; that is, running into one’s current level of consciousness. One is ever attracting and engaging one’s present developmental level of consciousness. This is a spiritual principle: one will not attract anything unless there is something inside of oneself to attract it and draw it to one. Submissive, passive people may attract dominant, aggressive persons (and vice versa), each drawing to them what is unfinished within that person. Each one is a vital complementary resource in completing what is unconsciously incomplete. Each has an opportunity to face the next level of developing consciousness and transform oneself.

Similarly, greedy people looking for a good deal often find con artists eager to offer them nothing, but at a terrific price! With this opportunity, both can learn about greed and responsibility, exercising good judgment and maturing. Until the lesson penetrates deeply into one’s being as reflected in intention and behavior, the same pattern is repeated. Freud named this “repetition compulsion.” One who is aware can see this feedback as the surfacing of unfinished programming and conditioning.

I am only acting as a mirror to your life, in which you can see yourself as you are; then you can throw away the mirror; the mirror is not important.
—Jiddu Krishnamurti

Once one transcends a previous level of consciousness, not only does one no longer attract such experiences, one actually releases and surrenders them. One outgrows experiences of that previous level. Thus, in every moment, it is clear that one’s present level of consciousness is precisely what is in this life, what is attracting and selecting, tightly holding or freely letting go, every moment.

Everyone lives according to one’s own level of consciousness, along with anything that is incomplete in one’s openness to being whole, being One. One tells others what one is here to hear, just as everyone is teaching others what is essential to learn oneself. A Zen saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Equally, “When the teacher is ready, the student appears.” Therapists find the most fitting clients and vice versa. We all find ourselves in each other.

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