Tuesday, 14 February 2017

I Looked In The Mirror And Discovered That Hamsters Were Taking Over The World

45. Mirror, Mirror: What if you mirror started talking to you?

On Saturday I spent a few hours in a studio often used for dance classes.  One wall was a mirror.  It did not speak to me.

I have a mirrored wardrobe in my bedroom.  It took a while to get used to it.  It has not spoken to me.  I have spoken to my own reflection in that mirror, most profoundly when I arrived at the point at which I could accept myself as female.  I've also tried something that various new age proponents call hoʻoponopono.  They call it that but it doesn't bear much resemblance at all to hoʻoponopono as it exists within the cultures where it developed.  Simply put, these proponents will tell you to stand in front of the mirror and speak to your reflection and say "I love you.  I'm sorry.  Forgive me.  Thank you."  That's all.  Perhaps there is a psychological power in that.  But it has little to do with any traditional form of hoʻoponopono.  And they don't mention the teachings that led to that mantra - such as that you are responsible for everyone else's actions; if there is a problem it arises with you; everything is a projection from you; and you're trying to get to a point where you have no memories and no identity.  Which, in my very humble opinion, is all complete bo**ocks and on psychological and practical levels is very dangerous indeed.

Try telling the woman who has been raped that she is responsible for the actions of the rapist.

Try telling the abused child that they are responsibility for the actions of the abuser.

Try telling yourself that you are responsible for my actions, and those of both Donald Trump and the Dalai Lama.

It's nonsense.

Try telling yourself that you are responsible for the civil war in South Sudan.

It may not be a coincidence that when people gushingly tell you of the mantra they don't tell you about the source of the mantra.  More usually they'll say it's an ancient practice from Hawaii.  It isn't.  Don't believe them.  Both practices aim at forms of reconciliation and forgiveness and there is a historical link.  But to pretend that the mirror work is the ancient practice is like pretending that the religion of the Baha'i is the same as that practiced by Muslims two hundred years ago.

Nevertheless, look the mantra up and try it if you want.  People find it useful and you may too if you divorce it from the several modern hoʻoponopono teachings and theories that developed within the last fifty years.  To be reconciled with yourself and to love yourself are two wonderful achievements.

When we moved into our home I did not know whether I would be able to cope with having two large full length mirrors in my room.  I thought I might have to hang something from the ceiling in front of the mirrors so I couldn't see them.  Even now, six years on, I generally leave the wardrobe open.  One of the mirrored doors slides behind the other.  And the other is mainly covered with eight posters, each containing a pretty image and one phrase from the Lord's Prayer.  I don't pray that prayer but when I bought the posters it was still very important to me and the posters remain.  For now.

There was a time.  For much of my life.  I would not have slept in this room at all.  I would have refused.  Being in a room with mirrors was hard.  Sleeping with them was impossible.  I'd been building up.  In our previous house the bedroom had a dressing table with a mirror.  That took some getting used to.  The only other room I'd had to sleep in that contained a mirror facing the room was at college.  I used to cover the mirror at night.  Hang a blanket over it.

So I couldn't see in.

And they couldn't see out.

That was my great fear.  The world beyond the mirror.  The evil world beyond the mirror.  It was never a good place in my imagination and the people within were never savoury characters.  If I were to pass through the mirror I wouldn't find a curiouser and curiouser adventure like Alice.  I would find myself in a hell in which my own reflection would destroy me.

As I looked at my reflection, when I wasn't being sorrowful I was often being afraid.  My reflection never did anything out of the ordinary when I looked at it.  There were rules to my fear.  Reflections only had a life of their own when they were unobserved.  They were the Weeping Angels of the mirror universe.  At night they were independent.  Scheming.  Loathing the greater reality of our world and hating.  Hating.  Ugh!  I just looked at my mirror and shuddered.  Perhaps I should not be thinking of any of this.  Perhaps I will realise what I always thought I knew.  That there is life behind the looking glass.

I suspect I was always wary of mirrors and I know I spent a lot of time staring into the mirror in my parents' bedroom.  I didn't stare at myself much.  Just at the reflected world and I would try to analyse the angles and check for ways in which the reflection wasn't quite right.  But there is one man I can blame more than anyone else for turning my suspicion to terror and an unease that still persists more than thirty years after he screwed up my life.  He did it!  I'm not going to be a good hoʻoponopono practitioner and take responsibility for his actions or for the fact he wrote something so horrible and stuck it where it would take me completely by surprise.

That man was Gerald Durrell.

He of the nice animal stories.  He of the good zoo on Jersey.  He who told funny stories about his family.

It was Gerald Durrell who ruined me.

At the age of ten - and that's a rough figure - I borrowed another of his books from our local library.  That volume of hilarious stories is called The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium.  At the age of ten I found it very funny although I confess that I didn't quite understand why some of Marjorie's malapropisms were amusing - "She had an ablution."

I enjoyed myself immensely with that book.  Funny, funny, funny.  Get it.  Read it.   I was very glad I had chosen such a volume from the library.  But then everything changed.  I reached the final story.  It was called The Entrance and it wasn't about Gerald Durrell and the eccentricities of his life and the people around him.  It was fiction.  And it contained mirrors.

I do not want to tell you anything at all about the story.  I read it before (attempting to) going to sleep one night.  "I'm having so much fun, I'll just read the last story."  And I was completely terrified by it.  My little innocent mind wasn't used to reading such things and something clicked in my head by which I could never shake the feeling that at the very least the story was based on the truth of something sinister lurking behind the mirror.

Seriously.  Read it.  It's a brilliant story.   Hunt around enough and you'll find a free download online.

I was ruined.  In case the mirror spoke to me.  Or, not the mirror, but what the mirror contained.  My wife is a huge fan of the books of Gerald Durrell.  For many years I refused to let her own that book because of the memories it held for me.

Mirrors have stayed with me and they continue to stay with me.  During what may have been my first visit to the Writers' Cafe I wrote the beginnings of something about mirrors.  I'd planned to work with it today and see what could be created from a mirror that slowly shows not the protagonist's reflection but that of someone else.  I'd planned to work with it too after that cafe session.  One day it may happen.  What that day showed me more than anything was that while I haven't published things or found an audience of a size known only to the likes of J. K. Rowling I have a right to refer myself as a writer.  I found that I didn't feel out of place among the cafe people.  I'd assumed for years that I shouldn't go because "that's where the proper writers hang out."  I found instead that I should be there.  Maybe there are others who feel similarly about themselves and about creative pastimes.  Believe me, give it a go with whatever it is.  What I've found is that the kind of people who meet in such groups aren't the sort who turn round and say, "You're crap!  You're no artist.  Get out and don't darken our door again!"  They're encouraging and want to help each other in the creative process and in supporting each other in the highs and lows of creating a story or a picture or whatever it is.  While I'm sure they exist I haven't met anyone who doesn't simply enjoy it when other people want to create.

A case in point for my life.  During the weekend I attended an introductory session for acting and theatre.  It was very introductory.  Lots of icebreakers, games, and some basic acting and improvisational games.  I was scared of that.  It crossed my Facebook wall as many things do for reasons I sometimes don't understand.  And there was the magic word.  "Free!"  I realised it looked like it might be fun and since it was free I could happily walk out if I couldn't cope.

I went anyway.  Believing I probably would have to walk out.  Believing that it wouldn't really be a good time.  And yet it was.  I fitted in.  Of the people there I'd spoken to one before, in a very different place.  Everyone else was a stranger.  It was one of those times when I find I can just throw myself into something and leave my head a little bit.  The games were fun.  The silly activities to break down barriers.  And the basic improvisation took me by surprise.  I was called upon to speak to the rest of the group as someone who was the world's leading expert on "Where the moon goes during the day."  An incredible amount of total garbage proceeded from my mouth taking in The Bible, Nazis, holographic emitters, the moon flying off at speed to hide behind the sun, and a plot to populate the world with 18 foot tall hamsters.  Total garbage!  But it was also funny garbage.  People laughed.  A lot.  Not at an idiot but at someone presenting material that amused them.

I hadn't thought I'd be able to cope.  Hadn't thought I would fit in.  There was even a totally safe space arranged that I would be able to run to on the same floor of the same building and I was quite prepared to run there.  Instead, there I was performing some utter nonsense and making people laugh.

Massive confidence boost.

My message is this.  If there are things you want to try, try them.  You may be very pleasantly surprised.

My second message is this.  If they go wrong, it doesn't matter.  Learn from it and either have another go or find something else to try.  If it goes wrong that doesn't mean you're not valid or somehow less than you were before.  I've tried things and they've gone very wrong.  I've tried things in the last couple of years and been totally crap at them.  It doesn't matter.  Not at all.

So chase your dream.  Enjoy yourself while you chase.  And if that dream doesn't work out, chase another until you find what brings you joy.

There will be further acting/drama/theatre sessions in the future.  The person running them hasn't got  a specific plan.  In a way he's just like I was at the session.   He doesn't know whether what he's trying to set up will flourish or fail.  But he is chasing.  And in the chasing there is life in abundance.  If I am able I will go along again and throw myself into whatever is presented to me there.  I look forward to it.  Who knows?  Perhaps this will be my second wonderful creative surprise of the year.  And it's only the middle of February.

I have departed from mirrors and yet somehow ended up in the room I mentioned in my first sentence.  I haven't followed the writing prompt or written the stories that my head would like to tell.  That's okay.  They're still there and they will wait with the fullness of patience.

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