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EAL #17 — The Mirror of Erised

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I kind of don’t like that she called it the Mirror of Erised — just writing a word backwards seems cheap relative to the rest of this brilliantly imagined story.

If you have managed to avoid one of the 500 million copies of Harry Potter, basically in the first book Harry finds this mirror, the Mirror of Erised, and looking inside, sees his parents smiling beside him. Addicted by this vision, Harry returns nightly to the mirror, until one night Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, finds him there.

The mirror, Dumbledore explains to Harry, shows you what you most want. For Harry, orphaned of both parents and stuck with the intolerable Dursleys, this is naturally a vision of being with his parents. People have wasted away before it, says Dumbledore, but the happiest man would look into the mirror and see only himself.

Life is a Hot Mess

This human life is a hot mess, it is quite natural that we want to make it just right. But our attempts to change what was and force what will be are futile, yet some portion of our mind denies this. Our unresolved selves struggle with the past and dream of a special future that will finally settle into the blissful perfection we so deserve.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Dumbledore admonishes Harry. But Dumbledore is going too fast. It doesn’t work that way. Harry can’t just walk away from the loss of his parents. We cannot just abandon our dreams at will.

The Mirror of Erised shows you the tenderest parts of your soul, the parts that long for something you hold so dear but (probably) can’t have. Yes, it can delude you, tempt you into living in a fantasy. But it can also be an awakening, an invitation to look deeply at that which holds you.

These things you want so much, they are you. They arise from your most basic needs for safety, for love, for mattering. They must be seen, they must be honored before we can let them go. So we need a mirror, something that will allow us to see that which holds us.

Last I checked though, none of us have access to Hogwarts.

Awareness is a Mirror

Mindfulness practice, this process of befriending your own mind, of being willing to look inside and beginning to see all that you’ve suppressed, all that you’ve deemed hideous, is our mirror.

We look deeply into our minds, our hearts, and bravely encounter our deepest dreams and greatest fears. We start to see how we chase the impossible, how we tell non-stop stories about our own deficiencies and about what we need to do to fix them and finally become perfect.

We begin to understand how we continuously stir up the sand in our fishbowl in our frenzy of becoming. How our attempts to change our world are a habit, one which taints this beautiful gift we call life. But the good news is habits are behaviors, and behaviors can be changed. Or maybe we should say surrendered.

The Cessation of Becoming

I have heard the peace of surrendering to what is referred to as embracing the “suchness” of life. It is the experience of now just as it is without any attempt to lean forward into the future, hold on to the past, or change the present. It is the natural perfection of life when we are not trying to change it.

Mindfulness practice is about leaning into the suchness of life, about the cessation of becoming. (There is something referred to in the literature as a “cessation event,” which is when a part of the mind let’s go of its resistance to experience. Of course, these only visit you when you don’t chase them — the danger in knowing about the possibility of peace is that it may encourage the very habit that makes it elusive.)

Happiness is wanting only that which you have. It is the wisdom to see that which you have as enough and that it is our desire for more that makes us unhappy. The happiest man would see only himself in the mirror.

But Harry must first sit in front of the mirror. He must first see the deep grief and loss he holds over his abandonment and feel keenly his longing for a different experience. That which you want so dearly must be honored so deeply before it will leave you.

And so we sit and look with gentle curiosity into the mirror. Not to get lost in fantasies about that which could have been, but to make peace with that which is.


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