The Hall of Mirrors: Everything is a Reflection

I want to set the stage for this important understanding with a powerful, if disturbing, Sufi teaching story that lays the ground work for appreciating what both our dreams and our everyday life experiences can teach us.

Here’s the story, taken from In Search of the Miraculous, by P.D. Ouspensky, p. 8

A dog lost his way in a palace. The walls and the ceiling of the palace were made of mirrors, so the dog was in great difficulty. Wherever he looked, there were dogs, dogs and only dogs. He became very puzzled: so many dogs all around! He was alone and yet surrounded by so many dogs. There was no way to get out because the doors were also of mirrors so he saw dogs there too.

Then he began to bark, but all the dogs in the mirrors began to bark with him. And when the bark filled the room, he was sure his fears were not unfounded and that his life was in danger. He went on barking and all the dogs barked even louder. He ran here and there to fight them; the dogs in the mirrors did likewise.

All night he exhausted himself barking and fighting the dogs in the mirrors, although he was alone there! In the morning he was found dead inside the palace by the guards. The dog died running barking and fighting with the reflections, although he was alone there. When he died, all noise subsided; the mirrors became silent.

Our dreams are reflections in the myriad mirrors of memory, just like those surrounding this poor dog. Every time we see someone else, every time we see an “other” doing something, it is our own reflection that we are seeing. Although this seems impossible, and clearly not what we believe is actually happening, if you can transport yourself into the body of the dog in the story for a moment, you’ll see that for him too it was impossible to believe that these “other” dogs were only reflections of himself. The illusion is complete, but the reality is very, very different than we think.

If you really allow this story to work its magic on you it can change everything. In my experience, the very hardest leap to make is this one–completely receiving the fact that our life experiences, from both daytime and nighttime, are reflections of ourselves. When we begin to fear, to protest, to fight with some of these “others”, or when we project stories about what those “others” are thinking and doing and why, the reflections get more and more disturbed and disturbing, which in turn causes us to fear, protest, fight, and project more. It’s no wonder life wears us out.

But it doesn’t have to. If we are able to sit quietly in the center of this hall of mirrors without believing the reflections to be real, everything is perfectly still and calm. Even when there is something that looks scary, we must accept unequivocally that “This is some aspect of myself that I can’t yet recognize.” This is the state from which we can best observe and learn from our dreams, as well as from our waking life experiences.

The more you work with your night time dreams, the easier it is to recognize that the collection of all our waking experiences (what I call the Waking Dream) are as much reflections of ourselves as are our night time dreams. In just the same way that we can remain still and calm in observing and exploring our night time dreams, we can be just as peaceful at the center of our lives, despite the appearances of scary images in the mirrors that surround us, and that we have heretofore believed to be so real.

That’s the lesson at the core of Not So Big living. We learn to see all that happens in life as reflections in the hall of mirrors, understanding that, although they may look scary, it is only because we are reacting to the images and believing them to be real. When we calm down, and become the quiet observer of all that appears to happen, life gets vastly simpler and vastly more meaningful, because we are engaged in the moment, and not projecting all our fears onto all those “others” who are in reality reflections of ourselves.

Keep this story in mind, and the next time you find yourself less than calm and centered in what is happening around you, realize that you are acting just like that dog, barking at all those “others”, and exhausting yourself in the process. Take a time out, meditate for twenty minutes or so, and watch how the reflections quiet down. You’ll be amazed.



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