You have likely heard the idea that we are all mirrors for one another. I certainly didn’t think of this idea as being valuable when I was a young child, and the response to being called a name or calling someone else a name might have been, “I know you are, but what am I?” or “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Do you remember comments like these? They seem so silly, yet there is a hint of truth in these childish statements that we can consider as adults.
Over the years, I’ve come to see that the reflections in the mirrors of life can show themselves in many unique ways, and that it is important to discern the differences and understand that there is learning in each of them.
I first considered the idea of others being a reflection of me in connection with what makes me uncomfortable or upset. If we are triggered by someone, the important task is to ask ourselves, “How does this show up in me?” If someone seems arrogant and it irritates you, ask how arrogance shows up in you. If you become upset by the lack of consideration in another, how does that inconsiderate behavior show up in you? If someone seems dismissive, angry, impatient, belligerent, or manipulative toward you, what in you is being reflected to you through these behaviors?
This tool of questioning helps us to reduce judgement toward others by directing our attention to what needs cleaning up in us, rather than blaming another for being the trigger. We begin to look at others as messengers with something to teach us, rather than condemning them for bringing the message.
This also has a shadow side. If we go too far toward the idea that everything that triggers us is in us, we can begin to think that everything we experience is “our fault” or perhaps “our doing.” This can generate a sense of inferiority, low self esteem, and constant self judging.
With this in mind, we must also remember that the mirrors are there to reflect our goodness just as much as they are there to reflect what needs cleaning up within us. Have you ever experienced being moved deeply in your heart as you witness the generosity of another? Have you found yourself in awe of the amazing skills of someone you admire? Have you witnessed another living with deep peace and joy, and then longing to experience that for yourself? The mirrors not only show what needs healing within us, but also reflect what is possible within us.
It is important that we not take the mirror or its reflections literally. The mirror isn’t there to show us exactly how things are. It is there to ask us to look within and find the reflection as it exists in us. If we see the skills of another that inspire us, we might not have those exact skills, but appreciating their skills and how they share them can help us to appreciate our own unique skills, and teach us how to cultivate them and share them with others. If we see something that triggers us, making us feel emotionally upset or uncomfortable, this too is not always a literal reflection. In my experience, it is rarely exact.
The mirror is only the messenger, asking us to find the source or cause of the trigger.
As we go deeper into the reflection, questioning ourselves and life more specifically, we find that the answers to the questions require more and more contemplation, and we begin to see the subtle ways the mirror works to support us. Some things are much easier to see in the mirrors than others. For example, while it is fairly simple to consider that when someone is being belligerent with me, there may be belligerence in me to name and work through, it is much more complicated to notice other things. Suppose you notice that you feel very upset when you hear of an horrific event in the news. You notice that you judge a person or people for victimizing others in a certain way. Then you remember to ask yourself how their behavior lives in you. You wonder how such atrocious behavior could possibly be in you. You think to yourself, “I would never do something like that.”
The mirror never lies. No matter how far fetched the idea of its reflection living in us may seem, there is something to learn from the reflection, and we must look more closely.
In looking more closely, we begin to notice the subtle ways in which the mirror communicates with us.
You might be asking, “But if I see a news story about a horrible murderer who has harmed many people, how could this possibly live in me when I know I would never do this?” I didn’t understand this for a long time. Then, one day I had an experience in which my children were at risk, and I noticed something in me that I had never considered. What I noticed was that I had frighteningly powerful, destructive forces living within, and I felt ashamed of this realization. I explored this shame and discomfort more deeply, and learned to integrate the emotions as part of me, a beneficial part of me that serves in protecting my children.
I realized that while we may have these intense emotions or potentialities within us, our capacity to control them is what is most important. We cannot cultivate this capacity without first developing the ability to recognize what is in us. This is what makes the mirror so critical. The mirror gives us the opportunity, ever day, to look more deeply into our being, discover the latent forces and emotions within our subconscious, both creative and destructive, and recognize them before they sneak up on us and perhaps generate reactions to our experiences that do not serve our growth and development, or that of others.
The mirrors can be direct, indirect, subtle and even inverted.
They can have many complexities and layers to them, often becoming more difficult to discern as the layers get deeper. But the wonderful thing about the mirrors is that they stop showing up with the same reflections when the content of those reflections no longer needs attention within us. Additionally, their reflections, and our reflecting upon them through contemplation, help us to have compassion for others and strengthen our capacity to stay centered, rather than being reactive or impulsive in the face of what triggers us.
Something that was a significant trigger in my life was the feeling of not being seen or heard. I began looking at this feeling by paying attention to the situations and people that served as mirrors to reflect this idea to me. First, I went within, considering what about the situation had me feeling not seen or heard, and wondering why I was so often feeling this way. Then I asked myself the question, “How am I not seeing or hearing others?” Over time, I began to see obvious ways in which I could be more present with and interested in others.
While perhaps a bit less frequently, the reflections that triggered this feeling continued, and when they did, the upset connected with them seemed to get stronger. I then began to look less literally at the reflection in terms of how I see or hear others, and took the idea within, noticing how often I don’t see or hear myself. I began to see that I wasn’t honoring my own intuition and listening to my gut. I wasn’t valuing or being compassionate with myself. As I began to give attention to my soul’s need to be seen and heard by me, the frequency of the reflections and their triggers around being seen or heard again decreased, and again became more intense when they did happen.
When I would be presented with a mirror that was bringing up the feeling of not being seen or heard, the intensity showed up as deep sadness and disappointment that my true intentions or feelings were not being seen and that I was being judged based on incomplete information. I have always tended to give people the benefit of the doubt, to see the best in them, and to be trusting. I couldn’t understand how a mirror that had me feeling that I wasn’t being given the benefit of the doubt or being seen in my best light was showing me something within me. Then I had the powerful realization that while I had always prided myself on seeing the best in others, this idealistic, naive view was incomplete. I often trusted without seeing the true behavior before me. I would see the best in a person or situation without paying attention to the behaviors they exhibited that were far from their embodied best. In other words, I was seeing what I wanted to see, and not really seeing or hearing what was before me. This version of the reflection I was seeing was inverted. I had been asking how the same situation showed up in me, and hadn’t considered that it was showing up in an inverted way.
When we can begin to see the many ways in which a reflection communicates with us, we can release the triggers, excavating the subconscious, layer by layer, and bringing awareness to the surface.
As we do this, the actions and words of others truly do begin to bounce off of us, and we begin to understand that sometimes, particularly when we find ourselves completely baffled by the comments or actions of another, rather than triggered or personally influenced by them, that we are simply serving as the reflection of the subconscious of another, and perhaps being projected upon as a result.
It is the point at which we are no longer triggered or upset by a mirror’s reflection that we know we have moved beyond the need for more reflection in that area.
Sure, we may fee sadness or compassion for a situation we witness, but we will not feel influenced by it. Our conscience will not be triggered. We will have a clear sense that what we are witnessing is not about us personally, but perhaps about the person projecting and/or humanity as a whole.
As you meet life’s mirrors, consider the following as you begin to deepen your own reflection:
- When you are triggered via emotional upset or discomfort, observe and name the upset, such as not feeling heard. Pay particular attention to those triggers that happen frequently.
- Ask how what you see in the reflection shows up in you. What is your felt-sense? What is the emotion that results?
- Consider how you behave in a similar way, or perhaps have a similar emotion toward others. Be honest with yourself!
- Notice how the frequency of the triggers changes as you continue to notice them and see what lives within you in connection with them.
- Go deeper with future triggers, considering how the reflection may be asking you to treat yourself differently, or how it may be inverted in the way that it speaks to you.
- Continue to be brutally honest with yourself about the triggers. Notice how your feelings toward others and yourself changes. Notice the level of triggering and how it dissipates over time as you uncover what is living within your subconscious.
I would love to hear from you regarding how you meet the mirrors in your life. If you have other ways of meeting them, or outcomes from doing so, please share by contacting me. If you think someone else could benefit from this sharing, please be sure to pass this along to them. I hope this tool of deep reflecting upon the reflections in life’s funhouse of mirrors brings you strength and deeper connection to your true, empowered self!