Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Mirror

 A friend shared a teaching with me this morning from Shams Al-Tabriz, the teacher of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi.  Shams said that people keep asking him for a mirror, to learn who they truly are.  But when he offers it and they look into it, they don't like what they see and they blame him for what appears in the mirror.  

When we practice meditation in the Zen tradition, we are instructed to look at ourselves as directly as possible.  Shams, like anyone who teaches and practices in this manner, knows how hard that can be.  My own experience tells me that when I look into my mirror, into my biography, the set of stories that I tell myself to explain who I am to myself, I can find all kinds of terrible things:  some of them done to me, some done by me. I can use these elements to judge myself and others  harshly.  On the other side, I tend to ignore all the evidence from my memories of my past when I behaved or was treated in a loving and helpful way.  

But whether we call the remembered events that constitute our personal biography horrible or wonderful, the incessant judgment of the self is a habit that leads nowhere.  Instead, the instruction, again and again, is to see through the self as some kind of permanent object, something to be judged or loved, and to see how the elements of the self are actually constructions.  True freedom, alignment with reality, comes from seeing through the self-construction, not abandoning it, but not treating it like something inscribed in stone either.   

Instead of spending our lives explaining ourselves to ourselves, perhaps we could do as Shams himself advises, "When everyone is trying to be something, be nothing."

No comments:

Post a Comment