Wipe the Mirror

In Zen Buddhism, teachers instruct their students to practice “wiping the mirror” of their minds and hearts. By this, they mean to intentionally clear away anything distorting the student’s ability to see life in its truest essence. The student should wipe the mirror of distorting thoughts, stories they tell themselves that may not be true, and biases they hold that create blind spots. 

The Apostle Paul taught something similar when he said, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The spiritual life, he says, is the path to clearer seeing and knowing. 

People who have overcome addiction might call this kind of seeing “sobriety.” To see clearly, we must give up the illusion of our perfection. We must give up the games we play, fears we hold, filters we use, and stories we craft to avoid seeing the truth about ourselves and others. We strip our seeing down to the essence – Who am I? What is my agenda?

I’ve often struggled with this practice. Our ego exists for the very purpose of not stripping down our stories, illusions, and filters. To help, I appreciate the work of Byron Katie. The foundation of her teaching includes four inquiries you can ask yourself as you “wipe the mirror” of your mind and heart:

  1. Is it true? (Is the story I am telling myself about what I am seeing/experiencing true?)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Is it possible that it isn’t true?)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? (What do you gain or lose by holding that thought?)
  4. Who would you be without that thought? (How would you rather live if you were free from that thought?)

You can keep your thoughts, Byron says. No one will take them from you. But if you ask yourself the questions that remove the illusion, you won’t want them anymore. Jesus knew this too: “Blessed are the pure in heart,” he said, “for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). In other words, wipe the mirror. 

We are in this together,

Rev. Cameron Trimble
Author of Searching for the Sacred: Meditations on Faith, Hope and Love

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