“IT’S LIKE WE LIVE IN A WALL OF MIRRORS.”
A friend casually used this as a throw away line the other day in a meeting and it immediately resonated with me. He was describing men in midlife and how they see themselves. In essence, it means that everywhere we look, we only see ourselves. We have surrounded ourselves with ourselves. Ego has driven us to this point and the cravings that it creates drives our search for power, success, money, sex and all the “trappings” that we think we need. It becomes embedded in us and the longer it lasts, the harder it is to break loose.
But break loose we must and it is only when we see a flicker of light filtering between the mirrors that we discover there is a world outside that we have become emotionally disconnected with. Despite what we might think, we have stopped relating to our partners, our kids, our families, our friends and colleagues. It has become all about us. Our conversations are never conversations. We are never listening to the person opposite us; we are only waiting to tell them what we think.
After listening to Melbourne philosopher Damon Young at a reading forum recently, I bought his book Distraction. It’s described as a philosopher’s guide to being free. In a section on the great novelist Henry James, the author (Young) describes how solitary James was. He had a fear of intimacy,
Sounds familiar? James saw his “authorial enterprise” as his true abode in life. The place where he always landed.
James had a great friend Miss Constance Woolson who is “fiercely independent and genuinely gifted.” He writes that their friendship was “a slow, tentative dance of proximity and distance. It was Platonic.” She was a fine novelist and poet. Neither of them admitted affection or intimacy. Constance ultimately left for Venice where she became anxious and alone. She ultimately was found dead, “broken from a fall from a second-storey window.”
How sad was that? They were both so consumed by their work and their unwillingness to “let go” that they let life go by. They let love go by. They let intimacy go by. Woolson died without knowing what she missed. She died still surrounded by the mirrors. James was lucky. Something changed as he grew older and “his fear of intimacy dissipated, his passions rose to the surface.” Leon Edel wrote “The frigid wall of his egotism had been breached.”
We all need to break that “frigid wall” and hopefully sooner rather than later. Buddhism talks about change and reminds us that change is inevitable. Social Commentator Ruth Ostrow wrote recently in The Australian newspaper that it’s all about how we deal with that inevitability that counts. “Pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional.”
We have to break through those chains that bind us. They always strangled me until depression taught me how to break through. But like James how sad was it that I wasted so much time to “break free?” I wasted time when there are those important people in my life. Wasted time feeling unfulfilled, sad and lacking real purpose.
And as Ostrow says in her article from her Indian teachings, “The only way forward is to create community and connectivity by giving. Go out and be of service to others or you are worse than a tree. At least trees give oxygen, if you don’t help, you will just suck up air.”