Beginning around midnight all over this country and around the world, people will be lining up to see the latest film adaptation of another Harry Potter story. This time, it is the fourth tale in J.K. Rowling's series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Good books serve to nourish us psychologically, and—for those who are receptive—spiritually as well. One of the thematic messages that flows through every one of the Potter stories is a lesson that seers, scientists, and artists as diverse in time, space, and language as Lao Tzu and Albert Einstein have attempted to teach: the simple insight that god is not a man.
A great sense of freedom comes out of this plain realization, wherever it is deeply felt. For then we understand that there is no separation between ourselves and the ineffable; and therefore it is entirely unnecessary to imagine that one or the other of us has the inside scoop on who or what god is, and what group, nation, or ideology god happens to favor. In short, such an insight kicks out the false underpinnings of everything that supports the Osamas and Bushes of our world.
Harry Potter begins to learn this lesson from his very first moments of self-reflection, during his first year at Hogwarts. It is a teaching that bears restatement if only because it so frequently ignored. Here, then, is my small effort at recaptiulating what others more capable in art and science than I have taught before. It is from my book on the Harry Potter stories, The Tao of Hogwarts: Transformative Themes and Practices From the World of Harry Potter.
Chapter 5: The Cloak and the Mirror: Self-Images of the Individual Ego
It was a magnificent mirror, as high as the ceiling, with an ornate gold frame, standing on two clawed feet. There was an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.
—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 12
Christmas break is approaching at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Harry Potter is a cauldron of shifting and frequently aggressive emotions. He has just lived the greatest triumph of his young life—the capture of the "golden snitch" in his first competitive Quidditch game—but he is also troubled by his glowering Potions master, Professor Snape, who seems to have carried some sort of personal grudge into his relationship with Harry. There is also the increasingly annoying problem of Draco Malfoy, the school bully who is developing into Harry's personal nemesis among the student body. "I hate them both," Harry says of them, "Malfoy and Snape." Fortunately, Hagrid is there to call him back to the joy that has marked this time of renewal and discovery for Harry, ever since he had been rescued from the torpid superficiality of his oppressive boyhood home to attend this wondrous school where magic is ordinary and where his very name inspires respect.
Yet at this point, he remains trapped in a realm of oppositional thinking, where there are only friends and enemies, for and against, loyalty or hatred. Of course, this is as much as he's been exposed to at the odious home of the Dursleys, with whom he was raised. But he is now not only in the magical world, but in its educational element—he is in an academy of natural magic, where he will learn how to unlearn the ideology of opposition with which he has so far been conditioned. This is the beginning of a transformative path toward self-understanding. The way of this unlearning process will be marked by Harry's discovery of certain means of self-insight, as well as the formation of several interpersonal relationships that will teach him that, no matter what appearances may seem to dictate, evil does not always sit at the same table, conveniently marked with a large green banner decorated with a great silver snake. In the coming years, Harry will further learn that evil is not an inborn or natural trait, of either humans or the Cosmos, but that it is the apparitional mark of error—not the inherent stain left behind by some congenital inner defect. To help him through this process of inner growth, Harry will be given a number of metaphorical gifts—transformative objects, experiences, and messages—that will gradually lead him to the recovery of his original autonomy. In the first book of the Potter series, a number of these gifts will be introduced in the images of the letters from the magical world (and the owls that bring them); the marvelous train ride which becomes a part of every one of the subsequent stories; the grounds, buildings, and atmosphere of Hogwarts; the Sorcerer's (or "Philosopher's") Stone itself; and the two central metaphors of this "solstice phase" of Harry's inner development —the invisibility cloak and the Mirror of Erised.
The cloak is a Christmas gift—one of the first of Harry's life, since he was never given any by the Dursleys—which comes to him from his dead father through his mentor, Dumbledore: the unsigned note which accompanies the cloak only says, "your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well." The invisibility cloak is a magical (and therefore metaphorical) object of immense value and beauty: it is "fluid and silvery gray…strange to the touch, like water woven into material." Clearly, Mrs. Rowling is not writing this in a vacuum of invention: this is a metaphor of great historical depth and psychological meaning, particularly within the mythology of England and Ireland:
In the story Tochmarc Etaine (The Courtship of Etain), the god of the Otherworld, Midir, demands in compensation for the loss of an eye in a brawl, a chariot, a cloak, and the most beautiful maiden in Ireland as his bride…This was a cloak of invisibility (like Siegfried's tarnkappe in the Nibelungenlied) and of forgetfulness…The god Lug wore a similar cloak which enabled him to pass through the entire Irish army without being seen when he came to aid his son…To put on the cloak is to show that you have chosen Wisdom (the philosopher's cloak). (Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, pp. 205-206)
The invisibility cloak is an image of transformation, and not of self-obliteration, depersonalization, or disembodiment. For Harry, his body is still manifestly there—he can feel it, and so can others if they bump into him (indeed, this is part of the challenge in using the cloak). Whenever he wears the cloak over the course of the five stories, Harry's physical and intuitive senses seem to become more acute and penetrating: he becomes more open and alert to experience than when he is visible. The cloak's virtue is to take him to, and through, the experiences that will contribute to his inner growth—indeed, it is an active metaphor of the practices involved in the development of the true self. These include inner movements of one's total being—the intuitive, feeling, and spiritual capacities of our nature, that live and glow in quiescence beneath the often-repressive monarch known as intellect.
Harry discovers this the first time he uses the cloak: he goes to the library, thinking that this is where he "should" go, in order to obtain information. But he quickly discovers that he is being called beyond the realm of "should" and "ought," once he has put on this cloak—that he is being called to penetrate deeper regions of the psyche than he can reach through the symbols and instruments of intellect. This message is brought to him very quickly: the library is said to be "pitch-black and eerie"; the books "didn't tell him much," because they are written in "words in languages Harry couldn't understand." Finally, he comes to a book that screams into the night as soon as he opens it, and that drives him out of there, toward the place where a more potent image of self-discovery lies, which will engage his entire being. In his retreat from the images of intellect and the representatives of Authority (the caretaker Argus Filch and Professor Snape, who come looking for him), Harry encounters exactly what he needs to further his inner learning: the Mirror of Erised.
Mrs. Rowling leaves no question about what Harry is being presented with here: as many readers of the Potter stories have discovered, the inscription on the Mirror, read in reverse (ignoring the spacing) says, "I show not your face but your heart's desire." Harry looks into the Mirror and sees his family—several generations' worth of family :
The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness. (p. 209)
Harry abandons himself to this experience: in the following days, he shows no mind for food, physical comfort, games or sport, or even for his best friend, Ron (Harry drags him the next evening to the Mirror, in a rather imperious and evangelical display; then, after Ron retreats from the Mirror's danger, Harry's isolation becomes complete). Finally, Harry is even careless of external danger in going to the Mirror: on the third night, "he was walking so fast he knew he was making more noise than was wise, but he didn't meet anyone." The Mirror—its images, its presence, its identity—has become his very life, his obsession. Then, he is brought back to his senses by his mentor, Professor Dumbledore, who suddenly appears, armed with questions: "you've realized by now what it does? Can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?". But Harry has not paused to question the real meaning or function of this Mirror; he believes that he has found his Answer, and only wants to immerse himself in its static but poignant images. But Dumbledore presents him with a new perspective on the Mirror:
It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.
The Mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow, Harry, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared. It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live, remember that." (pp. 213-214)
It is no mistake that, a few pages after this lesson has been imparted and somewhat grudgingly accepted, Harry experiences (after a purgative physical workout on the Quidditch field) a coincidence which provides him the exact knowledge he'd been seeking in the library—the key to the meaning behind the name of Nicholas Flamel (as the possessor of the Sorcerer's Stone). This helps to illustrate a principle which can be experienced time and again in our own lives: inner clarity leads to outer accomplishment; because wherever clarity exists, expectation and projection are absent. The Cosmos is designed to deliver abundance that far exceeds the parochial boundaries of ego's projected desires. It is only ego, with its expectations, that promotes dependence and malignantly narrows the field of experience through the restrictive and oppressive weight of its self-images. This is the lesson that the Mirror of Erised brings to Harry; it is a lesson that we can benefit from today.
The psychologist and relationship counselor, John Welwood, has independently articulated Professor Dumbledore's lesson, in his book Love and Awakening:
When we are young, our parents reflect back to us certain pictures of who we are in their eyes. Lacking our own self-reflective awareness, we inevitably start to internalize these reflections, coming to see ourselves in terms of how we appear to others. This is akin to looking at ourselves in a mirror and then taking that visual image, rather than our immediate, lived experience of embodied presence, to be who we are…When seeing ourselves in terms of an image, we treat ourselves as an object. We become an object of our thought, rather than the subject of our experience. And this prevents us from knowing ourselves in a more direct, immediate way.
The problem here is that we take the reflections of ourselves in others' eyes to represent who we are, whether we like them or not…we fixate on these images, giving them more weight and credence than our own direct experience of ourselves. This makes them into soul-cages…we grow up seeing ourselves in ways that separate us from our true nature and its full range of powers and potentials. (pp. 36-37)
These false and limiting reflections, carried forward through our inner life into adulthood, become traps that close upon our true selves and keep us from the experiences we need to really grow. Worse still, when these conditioned self-images become what Welwood calls "the unconscious templates" in which relationships are formed and communication within them managed, then vast pools of inner resources are abandoned and left dry and poisoned, like the well in line 1 of Hexagram 48 in the I Ching. This is the time of estrangement, conflict, and divorce, when we have completely separated from the helping energies of the Cosmos through our own obsession with the wooden images of self. The poet Robert Bly, himself drawing upon metaphors from the I Ching, expresses this loss as follows:
The wagon behind bouncing,
breaking on boulders, back
and forth, slowly
smashed to pieces. This crumb-
ling darkness is a reality
too, the feather
on the snow, the rooster's
half-eaten body nearby.
("Visiting the Farallones," from The Man in the Black Coat Turns)
This is the wasteland of opposition, where so many of our relationships founder and die. Welwood refers to this dynamic as the "self/other setup", in which there is a dreary, stultifying swing between conflict played out in stereotyped, scripted noise and strife, broken by periods of withdrawal and icy fear. It is what happens when the fantasy-images of those old reflections so far repress our present experience of life that we may as well be dead—and indeed, we are. For Harry before the Mirror of Erised, this mood takes the form of that self-absorbed withdrawal into fantasy that is characteristic of the schizoid personality. Despite the instruction given by Professor Dumbledore, this mood will re-appear sporadically to Harry, in some form or degree, for years to come, as his learning unfolds. There is a certain learned rigidity—something like what Freud called the "repetition compulsion"—that tends to keep us locked in our "soul-cages." It is the images, and the narrow roles in which they imprison our true selves, that comprise the identifying noise of ego, where its societal and individual expressions intersect:
The ego can be heard as a voice within the personality, in the speech modes of the character or the role it is playing. Thus, when a person says to himself, 'I am a father,' he then takes on the role of the father in whatever way the idea of a father is defined by his group…So long as he identifies with the role, it dictates his life, for his inner voice is constantly checking to see if he is fitting the role, and whether others are recognizing him as such…All self-images are character-masks that live their 'lives' at the expense of the true self. The true self is thrust aside, gagged, and locked up in an inner prison cell, where it leads the life of a slave.
(Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog, I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way, p. 62)
For young Harry, the array of roles and images into which he has been, and continues to be locked is dizzyingly diverse. The repression of his true nature is thus reinforced via repetition: Harry's life often seems to be a Gordian knot of painfully iterative obligation and complexity. From infancy, the Dursleys filled him with images of unworthiness, dependency, and of his mere existence as a burden to others; from the point of his entry into the wizarding world, he has been fed self-images of the sacrificial victim turned survivor, the living miracle, the princely orphan, the magician, and that most destructive and confusing of all self-images, the hero. He is saddled with the relics of his parents' accomplishments and sacrifices, some of which exist even within the grounds of Hogwarts (such as the plaque in the trophy room which commemorates James Potter's heroics on the Quidditch field, and the stories told all over the school of his parents' heroic deaths). This cult of heroism, which distorts the true meaning of his parents' gift of protection, is what the magical objects and messages of the stories, along with the teachings of Dumbledore, are calling Harry to discard from within. This is a living, practical teaching, applicable to our own lives: whenever we are able to rid ourselves of the fixed and derived images of self and others, we are instantly freed to preserve and treasure the pure and abiding love of true nature—our own and that of the people we have loved and lost. This is the love that exists within and beyond the realm of death.
But Harry is particularly haunted by this image of the hero: he has been tabbed as the death-defying man-wizard, the vaunted defender of Good; he has been placed on a pedestal of fame and aggrandizement, from whose artificial heights he can only move by falling. Otherwise, he is frozen to the image, incapable of growth or exploration. Think of how often you have found yourself in this very predicament! Perhaps you have been trapped in the role of the ideal father or mother, the perfectly dutiful child, the flawlessly efficient or self-sacrificing employee, the straight-A student, the devoted, selfless, "unconditional" lover, or the faithful and submissive spouse: these are all heroic roles in which we are confined, and woe betide us should we place a toe across the rigid boundaries of their claustrophobia-inducing definitions. The further we become connected with these roles, the more vigilant must we become in supporting the connection, until the energy we pour into the effort of remaining balanced on that pedestal simply exhausts us, and we collapse into mute withdrawal, or the private hells of mental illness, abuse, chemical dependency, or perversion. Then, when our inability to sustain the image is finally exposed, we fall into disgrace and anonymity, with the all-too-frequent consequence of suicide. Once the true self has been effectively murdered, the act of physical self-destruction is a relatively small final step.
Sometimes, it seems we must come to the brink of such an extreme in order to realize that the outward-gazing fixation on the heroic, the god-as-other, can no longer be justified. Joseph Campbell recognized this, even in his own literary celebration of the mythology of heroism —he concludes this marvelous book by finding that the mythic hero of ancient, monumental spiritual belief needs to be pushed off the stage of our ever-diminishing, ravaged planet. At last, he calls upon each of us to recover the precious autonomy of inner life, "in the silences of his personal despair." He urges that the modern person "cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding." (p. 391).
This is the realization to which Harry Potter is led, through five books and some 2,500 pages of text: Harry, when read as a heroic character, is a literary dinosaur, as much a relic as the totem gods of antiquity. But when we see him as a person on the journey of inner discovery, as a spiritual child seeking the way to true growth through the identification and disburdenment of the acculturated self-images within—as a person, in Campbell's words, "through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected" as an undiluted self—then Harry has something to teach every one of us.
Meeting Lord Voldemort
At the climactic end to this first story in the Potter series, Harry once again encounters the Mirror of Erised—as indeed, Professor Dumbledore had obliquely predicted he would. This is also his first meeting with Lord Voldemort, the evil presence whose shadow looms throughout these stories, and who, as a fictional element, has been written off by some as a rather trite symbol of the anti-hero (or perhaps worse still, as the anti-Christ). Rowling, however, is not a trite author: to scratch the surface of Lord Voldemort is to gain an appreciation of the author's unique perspective on human nature and group ideologies.
As we have seen, Lord Voldemort is portrayed throughout the series as a parasite—an essentially dead entity with no independent or autonomous existence. In Lord Voldemort, we see a derived, artificial reality, which is the inevitable consequence of the feudal and tribal religiosity of centuries—a seemingly formidable pyramid of lies, built to conceal the hollowness of inner death that lies within its walls.
The institutional group-lie is the symbol of death—the death of Nature and of human nature, the only death worth fearing. Voldemort's character as the authoritarian liar is revealed in his first conversation with Harry: he tells him first that "your parents died begging me for mercy," and then almost immediately reverses himself: "I always value bravery…your parents were brave" (thus the title of the chapter in which this scene occurs: “The Man with Two Faces”). In this encounter, he also announces his essential insubstantiality: "see what I have become? Mere shadow and vapor…I have form only when I can share another's body…but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds."
Meanwhile, the host to the parasitic Voldemort—Professor Quirrell—cannot understand the Mirror of Erised except as an object which appears to "contain" what he desires. This is a fundamental error of the cult of institutional ideologies, especially in religion: the reification of the metaphors associated with inner life and growth. When we mistake an image for an object—the object—of our quest, then what begins as a helping insight becomes monumentalized as The Truth; and every form of murder, depredation, and tyranny will be perpetrated in defense of this act of reification. Quirrell cannot appreciate the Mirror as a transformative device, because he is (quite literally, in this case) possessed by the institutional lie; nor can Voldemort connect with the Mirror as the instrument of inner alchemy, though he does suspect that Harry has the ability. So, unable to manipulate the Mirror's images to present him with the desired object (i.e., the physical reality of the Sorcerer's Stone), Voldemort directs his host to "use the boy."
Indeed, Voldemort is right: Harry has the stone, but only because he does not want it, and does not want to use it. This, as we learn in the epilogue to the story, is Dumbledore's act of magical protection that he endowed to the stone. This is a beautiful piece of narrative insight on Rowling's part, for it brings closure and completion to the vision of Desire-as-attachment, which is embodied in the very name of this Mirror: the only person who is able to receive the stone is the one who has no ego-desire for it. Dumbledore's earlier oral teaching has now been realized in the field of Harry's experience; this, indeed, is where true learning is fulfilled for all of us.
An Insight Meditation: Experiencing Invisibility
Throughout the Potter stories, Harry—often accompanied by his friends Ron and Hermione—is brought to increasingly deeper levels of experience and understanding with the help of his invisibility cloak. It is more than a facile narrative device on Mrs. Rowling's part; it represents an insight guide for her characters, to which they turn in times of challenge and crisis—you might say that it performs the role of an oracle. That's why it is so interesting to find the following text in the I Ching, from Hexagram 52, "Keep Still":
He keeps still
And is not taken captive.
They pass his house
And he is not seen.
He escapes harm.
(from the translation by Greg Whincup)
This hexagram (and, I believe, the image of the cloak in the Potter stories) is a metaphor that teaches us how we may effectively separate from the invasions of ego—especially from the ego-invasions of others upon our inner space. This is the meaning of "they pass his house," where one's "house" is the psyche or inner truth. When we are able to "keep still," we cannot be seen by others as an object, an enemy, an idol, or a hero; thus, our independence is preserved and protected (the meaning of "he escapes harm"). To "keep still" means to retreat from acting out of impulse or aggression (which would only feed negative energy to the individuals or groups that place themselves in opposition to us); what it does not mean is that we become frozen in a state of passivity. To keep still is to let inner clarity catalyze outer action; this is the experience that Lao Tzu describes as wu-wei, or unforced action. Once it is practiced and the results experienced in real life, one realizes that there is scarcely a more pragmatic approach to daily living. When we are able to "keep still" within, we hold to our center of being, as Lao Tzu expressed in Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching:
Each compressed form bears yin behind
And holds yang before it.
At the still point in the center
These complementary energies merge,
And harmony is thus realized.
Lao Tzu emphasizes the image of merging energies in this verse, to remind us that "keeping still" is not passivity, but simply action of a different and more subtle, comprehensive kind. Consider a pond, or even a glass of water: how still it appears, though we know that if we were to place a drop of it under a microscope we would discover a world of movement and energy. This is the stillness that the I Ching and Lao Tzu encourage us to learn and adapt, each to his or her own unique personality and circumstances. Like Harry's cloak, this stillness takes us out of the realm of opposites—"mind over (versus) matter"—and into the center of being, where death and life, yin and yang, male and female, self and other, are no longer experienced as opposites, but rather as complementary energies. This understanding is the "realization of harmony" that Lao Tzu describes in his poems.
Here, then, is a brief meditation to help you in "putting on your invisibility cloak." This meditation has many benefits, which are best discovered through experience rather than suggestion, but one that deserves to be mentioned is the way it assists in re-balancing energy within the body, creating reduction where there is excess, and replenishment where there is scarcity. In terms of one of the more difficult physical problems faced in our current time and culture, this meditation may be considered helpful to those who wish to "lose weight" (a misleading and inaccurate expression for restoring energy balance). For those who wish to realize this particular benefit from the meditation, I would recommend doing it for two sessions per day—morning and evening—at 20 minutes for each session. For working through psychological distress, this meditation has been found helpful in overcoming anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, with its terrible symptoms of panic, in which the line between physical and psychological suffering becomes thoroughly erased. Finally, as an aid to concentration, emotional balance, and that clarity, discussed earlier, which is fundamental to successful action, this meditation will provide benefit even if practiced for a few minutes per day.
Begin by getting in touch with your body. Take a comfortable position in which you are relaxed and aware; if you are sitting, feel your spine become straight yet without stiffness, and your shoulders relaxed. Sense the weight of your body where it contacts the floor, chair, or cushion that you're sitting on; feel the connection between your feet and the floor. Note the sense of the clothing on your skin, the feel of the ambient air around you, any sounds that reach you in the moment, and the light and images before your eyes (whether they are open or closed). Feel each of these sensations in turn, and then the movement of your body-breath, in and out, without making any attempt to control or direct the experience.
Now begin feeling yourself—your whole being—as energy. From this point, let the experience become uniquely your own: see which of the following sensations or metaphors brings you the most benefit.
♦ You could feel an "invisibility cloak" passing over your body, and let its aqueous material reveal your light-body. As the cloak covers you, feel the transformation of your body from matter to energy.
♦ You may find that a feeling-image of movement is helpful: nebulae in motion, wind blowing through trees or high grass, microscopic cellular activity, radiant heat, clouds moving across the sky, osmotic movement between cells, an aura or energy field; or you may have a flowing sensation, as of moving water.
♦ Remember that the basic idea is to experience yourself as energy—activity, motion, formless, kinetic being without any particular material reference point. Consider the "stillness" referred to by the I Ching in Hexagram 52, and by Lao Tzu in his teaching poems. You are living the experience of your body in its vital and enduring Cosmic presence—as a dance of complementary energies, the yin and the yang commingling formlessly, effortlessly, and timelessly in a harmonic that Lao Tzu compared with the coalescing flow of the breath of lovers.
The variations, again, are seemingly infinite: one client of mine who regularly watched "Star Trek" found herself either in the "beam-up" energy transfer mode (matter to light) or as "becoming" (or sometimes simply feeling) the soft, blue light emitted by the "tricorder" mechanisms in those stories. You may find that any of these images, a combination of them, or still another not mentioned here that best suits you, will bring you the feeling of energy-presence, and the accompanying practical benefits.
I do not want to project anything onto your personal experience of this meditation, so I'll add no more about what I or others have experienced in this practice, except to note, in general, that most people have found this to be refreshing, insightful, often transformative, and always—in the spirit of Black Elk—a fun meditation.
Looking into the Mirror of Erised
Often, Mrs. Rowling depicts things in a grand size when she wishes to point up the metaphorical association between some of the objects in Harry's world and the monumental distortions of group ideology and its institutions. This seems to apply in the case of the Mirror of Erised: the mirror is enormous—it is said to reach all the way to the ceiling, and thus would be at least seven or eight feet high (maybe more, considering the general spaciousness that pervades at Hogwarts). Its size and magical qualities would seem to make it an intimidating presence indeed—especially to an eleven year old boy—yet it is, after all, "just a mirror." Professor Dumbledore helps to bring this point home to Harry: "the happiest man on earth," he says, "would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror…" Later, Dumbledore adds that, when he looks at himself in the Mirror, he sees himself "holding a pair of thick, woolen socks…one can never have enough socks." The Mirror, then, merely reflects us as form; what we project onto the reflection is another matter entirely.
The notion of looking into a mirror as an insight practice is not at all new or unusual. The Tibetan spiritual teacher, Akong Tulku Rinpoche, describes such a practice in some detail in his book, Taming the Tiger. He describes a very helpful meditation which you may wish to try for yourself. It involves looking into a mirror and allowing images and emotions to arise from within, and then "moving" these into the mirror on one's every out-breath. He then asks that we perceive the negative and positive qualities, traits, and emotions that pass into the mirror and then "take back" those we wish to keep within ourselves. While this approach will undoubtedly have value to many, I personally prefer a more loosely-structured practice, and I do not see the need to "take back" anything, since whatever is intrinsic to our true nature will never leave us or be lost. Now with that said, I think there is considerable benefit available to those who would give this practice a trial on a reasonably regular basis (Akong Tulku recommends 15-20 minutes, twice per day, but I've found that just ten minutes of focused effort on the exercise, a few times a week, brings plenty of insight and benefit). So here is Akong Tulku Rinpoche's "mirror exercise", adapted to the context of the inner work described in this book.
• Take a few minutes to position yourself comfortably as described in the beginning of the energy field meditation described above. Remember to have a small mirror available. You can do a little centering and relaxation with your eyes open or closed before you begin working with the mirror.
• Then, look into the mirror and begin to work with the images—those that arise from within and those that appear in the reflection (they will tend to coalesce after a time). Just stay within your own body and avoid the temptation to "get at" the images or the emotions you encounter in contemplating the reflection (in terms of interpreting, judging, or otherwise projecting upon the image before you). Nothing genuine can be taken from you, nor can anything be "lost to the mirror"—the images that we project are the ones we need to get rid of; everything that is unique and true to our personality is safely preserved. If you feel or see something in the image that you "want back," just look deeply into your reflected face and ask questions: "do I really need this? Is it really a part of my true nature? Or is it something I've been taught or programmed to be, a mask I've been told to wear, for the benefit of others or a group?" T.S. Eliot wrote that "there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…" He was talking about the masks that are worn in society, which prevent others from seeing us as we are, and which inhibit our self-realization. This is why, in the following lines from the same poem, Eliot describes "the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate…" I am encouraging you not to wait for Fate or trouble to intervene, but that you be the one to "drop a question," so that you do not wind up living behind the mask, while every day you make "a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea." The ego, with its capacity to steal our inborn creative energy, has devised a number of masks for all occasions—there is the corporate mask, the parental mask, the mask of piety, the mask of patriotism, a mask of asceticism and sacrifice—the list has been steadily growing for a few thousand years. If you see or otherwise sense any such masks in your contemplation before the mirror, ask for help from the Cosmic realm in firmly dispersing them from your psyche, and use the "inner No" method described in the earlier chapters to help you further in releasing this inner excess.
• I am now going to take you a little beyond Rinpoche Tulku's instructions, and ask whether you may need to apply some destructive energy to the task at this point. If you feel uncomfortable with this, by all means refrain, and continue to ask questions instead (of your feelings of hesitation, fear, or revulsion, for instance). Masks and images, after all, must be destroyed. Let your feelings guide you in the process, and allow spontaneous perception to lead you from there. Some folks decide to see the masks burned; some "shoot them" with the weaponry of disburdenment; some simply throw the self-images of ego out a "Cosmic window" where the dissolving and healing energies of the Cosmos can completely clear them from the field of consciousness—in effect, "kill them." This is the activity of what Robert Bly refers to as "the interior warrior."
• Finish by separating from the mirror and its contents (what you saw in it). As Tulku Rinpoche says, it's important "to realize that what you see is not at all solid." Let it become a pane of glass once more, and ask the Helper of Meditation to call you back to your center once more. Then, as always in completing a practice of your inner life, thank the Sage, the Cosmos, the helping energies of transformation, or whatever personal metaphor you invoke in your conversation with the invisible realm, for the help and insight you have been led to in this experience.