I started meditating in my early 20s and although I had some success sitting in the local Zendo, I felt more comfortable pouring my heart and soul into my journal. It wasn’t until I read Natalie Goldberg’s The Long Quiet Highway, that I realized that my hours coffee drinking and journal writing were also a legit form of meditation. Soon after, I also came upon mirror meditation.
One day, as I began my meditation practice, I found myself sitting half lotus in front of a, yet to be mounted, tag-sale mirror. First, I tried not looking at myself, deferring to the customary soft alert gaze of my standard meditation. However, as got deeper into my meditative state, I heard a familiar critical voice that seemed to be coming from the mirror. I practiced bearing witness without judgement and realized that voice was my own and I was reciting memorized beliefs that I usually repeated to myself unconsciously, whenever I looked in the mirror.
I’ve never been someone who thinks talking to oneself is “crazy” and comfortably started an inquisitive dialogue with myself. I have come to think of this primary investigator as my higher self, or inner BFF (I’ll refer this voice as YoBFF - your own inner best friend forever, because it makes me laugh and sparking joy is an important part of the process). We may be blessed with loving family and friends, but there is only one sentient creature that will be beside you all your days, and that is you.
Continuing in this process, my eyes began getting teary. Of course this was partially because my eyes had been open and staring a while, but I also felt deep emotion well up. As I started into the eyes of the person I knew so well, I realized I was only ever telling her what she was Not; not pretty enough, not thin enough, not tall enough…I respect striving to be the best one can be, but this was, at best, negative motivation and I prefer carrots over sticks.
In my group, Navigating Beauty Culture (NBC), we learn how to pursue beauty for the pleasure of self-love and creative expression, while learning to love the essence of who we are right now. An important take-home assignment for NBC participants is mirror medication. Here are the basics:
Find a quiet, gently lit location in front of a mirror that at least shows your entire face
Set your a timer for 10 minutes, using a peaceful alarm, so as not to jar yourself from your practice
Sit or stand comfortably, breathing in relaxation and exhaling physical tension
Gaze into your eyes, without forcing yourself to keep your eyes open wide
Bear witness to thoughts and feelings as they emerge
Begin a compassionate investigation and challenge negative beliefs with curious loving-kindness i.e. “Who told me I'm not beautiful? What did they have to gain by saying that?” As a baby we delight in our bodies and in the loving gaze of the other. Nothing about our bodies feels ugly or without some pleasure. It is as we grow and culture acts upon us, that we start to feel discontentment and shame with our bodies.
Ask yourself, “What if this, that I see, what if this is beautiful.” I am not a religious person, but I do love the concept that we were all created in God’s image. If we were all created in God’s image and there is an infinite variety of physical aspects, doesn’t that mean that God, the embodiment of beauty and love, has a multiplicity a physical aspects?
In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf claims that low physical self-esteem stems from the myth that beauty is something separate from us, and almost universally unattainable. She posits that the beauty myth is the modus operandi for maintaining control by institutions of power and reinforced by cycles of self-hatred. In order to break the cycle, she writes, “A [self]-loving definition of beauty supplants desperation with play, narcissism with self-love…It admits radiance: light coming out of the face and body, rather than a spotlight on the body, dimming the self.”
Therapy can assist in breaking this cycle. It can be especially important if the reason we criticize ourselves is because there is something else, something we fear worse, brewing underneath. Self-criticism, especially for women, feels safer, more familiar and more controllable. However, this defense mechanism literally projects all our fear and pain onto a very vulnerable party, namely ourselves, until we insidiously we start to believe it.
Mirror mediation cuts the ties of projection, by not allowing ourselves to drink the kool-aid, instead rejecting the false belief that we are limited by our appearance. With the help of YoBFF, evoke the sage words of Stuart Smalley, “I am good enough, I am smart enough and doggone it, people like me!” If you find that mirror meditation brings up more negativity than you can transmogrify alone, immediately reach out to someone you trust, or seek the services of a licensed counselor.
Hey, Beautiful, you do not have to do this alone.
Update 7/25/19: Blog entry selected as a featured resource for the Anxiety Relief Project . Check them out. They have a well-organized collection of articles that address anxiety relief from an exhaustive array of helpful perspectives.