What do I see when I gaze into a mirror…? Am I doing the seeing or am I being the seen? When does seeing (or being seen) become not an act of will, but simply being – arising, hanging around, then dissolving?
I have been exploring different practices introduced to me in this year’s study group of the Pratyabhijñahrdayam, a text that has offered me a rich experience of the non-dual philosophy of Kashmiri Shaivism. One of those practices is mirror gazing as a meditation, as an exercise in “interchangeably playing the roles of object and subject.” (From Ruvinsky et al., translation of verse 3 in The Recognition of Our Own Heart.)
I gaze at my reflection in a mirror, first as the subject, then as the object, and then perhaps being both, “reciprocally adapting.” While doing so, I can get caught up in the thoughts and the doing of this reflection practice:
What a big forehead. Such bushy eyebrows. My right ear sticks out. Aging, ugly face. Why am I doing this practice? What would happen if I let go of assessing, comparing? I remember the eyes of the homeless man. I sense something more behind my reflection. Ever-changing. Appearing. Dissolving. Blinkless blinking. I’m bored. My eye disappears. How am I seeing without my eyes? There It is! Then it’s gone. I start over.
So, to shift my attention away from the mental activity and to invite wordless receptivity, I decide to add drawing to this mirror practice. After an initial few minutes of gazing at my reflection, I reach for pen and paper and begin to draw. Without looking down at the paper, or lifting my pen, my hand traces what I am seeing. Thoughts intrude and “I” get in the way as again my mind wants to take over (I look down “what a bad drawing,” “that’s not where my nose belongs” or lift my pen and place it where it “should” go). But each moment presents me with the choice to let go of the mental control and return to just gazing and drawing.
After the meditation, an hour, a day, a week later, the drawing is coloured. I reflect on the created image. It is so ugly yet so beautiful. It doesn’t look like me, yet it does. I am fascinated! I and the drawing reciprocally adapt to our interchangeable roles of subject and object. Any attempt at judging the created image can’t be sustained and slowly dissipates; the colours and shapes are so unusual, so NOT “me.” Yet, I experience a felt sense of recognition. This is also me; this is also She. This felt sense of recognition reminds me again of the homeless man … when we gazed at each other and “even in our individual forms, embodied the One”.
Adding a blind self-portrait to my mirror gazing meditation practice helped me remember what it feels like when Grace reveals Herself in me, in others, and even in a simple drawing.
Brigitte Dupuis is a retired food scientist, yoga teacher and spiritual director. She enjoys gardening, bird watching and being in all its limitations and possibilities.