Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my younger self coming around the corner. Sometimes I see an old man, far past his bedtime. If I could, I’d live without them.
Imagine a life without mirrors. We’d never know these different selves we put on and cast aside. The only image of ourselves we’d know would be what the water told us. And we’d probably be skeptical of it, since we don’t feel the skin ripple with the currents.
It’s good to have a healthy skepticism toward reflections. Mirrors are notoriously untrustworthy, as are pictures and memories. With just a slight turn of my head, I can be a new man. And if the mirror’s below me and I look down at it, I’m Jabba the Hutt.
Our image depends on so many different factors, like angle and lighting. It depends on our state of mind at the time, too. On shitty mornings, when I feel barely functional and half-alive, I don’t like what I see. I see someone ugly, someone unlovable. But under those exact same conditions—but with a clear, upbeat mind—the man I see looks different. He looks better. Which one’s real?
Mirrors are great at teaching emptiness. Who is this person who never looks different each time I see him? What does he look like to other people? Do they hone in on and amplify certain qualities the same way I do? What does he look like when he’s alone, when he’s invisible to himself?
Mirrors help us get to know ourselves by showing us that we can’t get to know ourselves. Just like my image is a collection of angles—fixated on or glossed over by attention, and influenced by mood and light—my identity’s like that too.
With each moment, perception gathers up memories, wishes, and experiences and collects them into a reflection called me. But what happens if the mind doesn’t collect them? What happens if it gathers these things up and leaves nothing behind, meeting each change with a cloudless sky?
Stillness. Flowing stillness. Clear, bright, and free. What happens if, when we look in a mirror, we don’t see ourselves? What if we just see a mirror?