24 June 2016

There are mirrors that stop us

Did the night notice how the mirror looked at you while you were asleep?

There are times I feel that there is nothing more fascinating than a mirror.  No, I am not talking about the vanity-element embedded in mirrors and what they do, meaning ‘reflection’.  Take mirror and use it as metaphor and I believe a can of worms is immediately opened, a can that we don’t want to open but we have to if we are to purge ourselves of ego and other unholy and/or intellect-clouding things. 

Human being are vain creatures. We doll ourselves up in ways that we believe make us look pretty/acceptable to those we care about or who we wish to attract or impress.  We do it with clothes, hair-gel, hair-style, lipstick, shoes, sandals, colour-mix, accessories, gestures, tone of voice, choice of words, planned silences etc.  ‘I do it to feel good about myself’ some say, but that’s incomplete answer.  Yes, there is an element of feel-good-need that is factored into the dolling process, but a large part of the ‘I’ of the ‘I feel good’ is but an aggregate and mean of the ‘I’ that people get to see or the ‘I’ we want people to see. 

It is nothing extraordinary.  As social animals, we are defined by who we are and by who we are not, the places we inhabit and the places forbidden to us, the love we give and the love we get, the things we take and the things taken from us and of course we are all shaped by the eyes that we permit to look at us. ‘Permit’ meaning those eyes, voices, minds, hearts and bodies whose opinions shape in one way or another the choices we make. 

To the extent that we depend on other people, form associations, are ‘social’ in our interactions, we are to a greater or lesser degree victims of this condition. In other words, we cannot operate as though we are alone or that norms, values, laws and other contracts and relevant obligations do not exist.  On the other hand, we must not forget that there’s a point in this ‘contracting’ and ‘being’ (read, ‘living up to others’ expectations’) beyond which we lose ourselves, a point where we are called upon to exchange face for mask and beyond which mask replaces face forever.

Who are you? Who am I? Do we dare, ever, ask ourselves these questions?  As we walk through the field of masks and masking that constitutes most of what social life and intercourse is all about, are we conscious that we might be approaching this point, the mask-replace-face point?  Who do we belong to when we concede self in order to satisfy self-requirements of society or some institution, a set of laws, household ‘prerogatives’, the responsibilities of role, chosen or chosen for us? 

There is a moment when we fall asleep. Is ‘Slumber’ a country where we can be who we are?  Is this why we dream?  Is ‘dream’ nothing but longing for a real ‘us’ that we cannot be, paradoxically, in reality, in our wakeful hours?  I like to think that in these hours of sleep, the invisible but ever-present mirror that helps us define the we that we ‘ought to be’, takes a break as well, sitting on our beds, looking at our faces.  I like to think what kind of footage we would get if there was a set of cameras set up so that the face on the mirror gets recorded, the facial expressions, smiles, grimaces, frowns and other contortions, just so that when viewed, we would really know where we stand, who really calls the shots, who laughs at us, who is sympathetic etc. 

I sometimes think that the mirror is key, not reflection, not us, that we are both creator of mirror and created by mirror.  I believe that we are imprisoned, from birth to death, by the tyranny of mirrors (I am remembering Bruce Lee in ‘Enter the Dragon’ and the lacerations that mirror, (mis)reflection and the image-fracture engender). 

I think life is nothing more, nothing less, that a systematic as well as random battering of senses with a myriad mirrors and that these, rather than reflecting and showing us who we are, in fact do the opposite, distort, refract, deflect and in other ways confuse us and worse, prevent us from making headway along the path that leads to ‘re-discovery’ of self and thereafter the true meaning of who we are. 

We don’t notice whether the mirror looked at us while we slept, but it is not hard to imagine.  Why let others judge us when we are perfectly capable of judging ourselves?  Why judge others when we haven’t even started the long process of self-interrogation?  How can we pronounce sentence when we haven’t stood trial and haven’t exposed ourselves to the most formidable prosecutor, that shady and utterly laze creature called ‘Self’? 

I asked this question a long time ago, ‘Did you notice how the mirror looked at you while you were asleep and how the shoes took a walk wearing your skin?’  I didn’t comment on the second part.  I think that’s what happens when we look at mirror and see reflection and not glass, when we look at ‘film’ and see the play of image and story line and do not see screen.  Yes, our shoes take a walk, wearing our skins. We wake up and are clothed in foreign skin. That is the source of our eternal discomfort with self-image and why we use make up and dress. 

There’s a mirror somewhere.  It is saying softly, ‘investigate me’.  We can hardly hear.  It is so inaudible that we could easily tell ourselves that we heard nothing.  The next time, though, it will scream in the manner of the random victim of the green-red bheeshanaya, when silenced in the form of a pen being hammered into ear drum.  

The article was published in the Daily News, June 24, 2010 under the title "
On the necessary investigation of mirrors whose existence we refuse to acknowledge

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene. 

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