Clear Water SC Blog
Human connection

Mirror Mirror Everywhere

This story was featured in the February 2023 edition of the Clear Water RoundUp, #083
Every Monday I can, I attend Conscious Dance Mondays (CDM) in Hong Kong. Conscious Dance “can be defined as unchoreographed, intentionally nonevaluative mindful movement commonly practiced in a group setting for purposes of authentic self-expression, self-discovery, interpersonal connectedness, and personal healing or growth.”

Each week at CDM Hong Kong, we dance to a different theme facilitated by that week’s facilitator, who choses the theme, constructs the playlist, and speaks guidelines into the session as needed.

At one point in the dance last week themed self-love, the facilitator invited us to find a partner. This partner would be our mirror. My mirror was about a head taller than me and of a different hair color, hair curliness, accent, gender, and face structure than my own. “Is this what I look like?” I thought.

The music invoked activity, we danced facing each other, shifting side to side, first with subtle arm movements, then larger ones, then more dramatic shifts from one leg to the next, then they jumped and I jumped. Jump jump jump. Star jump. Jump and spin, jump and spin. They jumped and touch the ceiling beam. I jumped too and Ah! I couldn't reach it! I tried again, then touched it with my finger, but breaking our mirroring. Looking jubilant, they returned to spin jumps, raising an arm in celebration, and I returned to mirroring them. Jump spin left. Jump spin right.

The song completed as the next began, this one active yet flexible. "I am your mirror now," they told me. I thought I'd carry forward their energy but my body thought otherwise. I still wanted to be strong and powerful, but I found myself slowing down, gradually transferring weight onto one leg, the other leg bending while the foot slid up the standing leg, slowly, as if prepared, then straightening, extending into the air, pointing the foot as upward as it would go, torso leaning the opposite direction to counterbalance. My mirror followed. The foot in the air came down and my weight transferred through what we call horse pose in tai chi. Weight now shifted, the first standing leg now repeated the movement, bending, sliding the foot up the standing leg, extending into the air, torso leaning the other opposite direction in counterbalance. My mirror followed, wobbling.

The hovering leg returned to earth, and my next movements were a series of lilting, still transferring weight from one leg to the other, neither of them leaving the ground this time. I perceived my moves as simple and slow, and I perceived my mirror concentrating, almost reproducing my movements but not as fluidly as I perceived them. Was I not fluid, was I wobbling too? Or maybe, I was challenging them, thinking, “hey, can you do this? Oh look, yes you can!”

My lilts slowed, I stood straight, then put one hand on top of the other, both on top of my hurt. I lowered my eyelids leaving just a crack, breathed deep, smiled, and stayed there. The music continued and I stood still, and stayed still as the mirror segment of the session ended.

After the dance, our group contemplated their experience playing with this theme of self-love on the dance floor. As I listened to others’ sharing, my mind couldn’t let go of the mirror experience… something felt… complicated.

I think this is why… facing our mirror is the most complex part of self-love.

In the mirror dance, I faced someone so apparently different from me, but I found myself capable of the same actions - whether it was jumping, spinning, trying to balance on one foot, shaking and falling down - perhaps not an exact mirror in detail, but certainly in form.

Here’s the question that rose from the contemplation:

When have I looked at or observed someone seemingly different - in appearance, behavior, even values - then learned that they reflected something I too possess or am capable of - for better or worse?

Maybe on a crowded sidewalk someone suddenly stopped and changed direction and I crashed into them, getting angry and calling them an idiot. Didn’t I change my mind about which train to take when I was in the subway station the other evening and reverse direction in the rush hour crowd?

Maybe someone seemed disproportionately over-shrieked at a cockroach and I felt contempt. Didn’t I scream and jump that night I found a spider between my shirt and jacket? (I like spiders for the record, I was just startled.)

Maybe someone cut in line and I thought they were an inconsiderate and unfair person. Oh, have I never done that?

Or worse mistakes.

In psychology, the term for this is projections and refers to attributing one’s own emotions or traits to another person. This is usually unconscious and involves failing to own one’s traits. Often it is discussed negatively - someone being unable to admit their own anger, fear, jealousy and accusing another person of behaving that way. Admiration, when taken to the extreme of idolizing, is also a form of projection, of attributing seemingly positive qualities onto someone else. Either way, when one is projecting, one is emotionally involved with something they are not owning, and distorting their picture of the human they are projecting onto.

Why not own it?

It can feel highly uncomfortable, even scary, embarrassing, to admit our flaws and mistakes. We also may have hangups or insecurities about owning our better qualities and skills too.

Projections occur naturally as a way humans relate and read each other, but taken to extremes distorts our perceptions of reality, causing issues like shifting blame. Overall, when we project something about us onto another person and disown it in ourselves, we give away our power to do something about it - how can we control something we believe we don’t have?

So what did my mirror dance remind me about life?

Face people, see how they mirror me - they need not be my doppleganger to reflect something about me - accept and own all the ways in which they mirror me, and love the full package.

See how they mirror me for worse - what do I despise in them - have they done something that seemed vain, inconsiderate, narrow-minded, absent-minded, simple-minded, un-minded… and for better - what do I admire in them - have they done something like told a good story, be kind, made me laugh, created something interesting or impressive, solved a problem, had a great idea, sat there and listened well.

Chances are, I have all those traits in me - perhaps blended in a different formula of proportions - they’re all there nonetheless, and life is a lot easier if I accept that, maybe even love it.

This is probably not what you expected from a scientist - scientists are very human though - if you are a scientist, have you ever labelled a labmate as inconsiderate for something using up a supply and not replacing it, or labelled them as conniving for sharing your idea with someone else, or assumed brilliance in a famous professor?

Regardless of how you self identify - I invite you to a 5-minute contemplation.

Recall a time when you faced someone you didn't like or who did something you didn't like. Unhurriedly, describe the time, sticking to the facts, including what you felt and thought.

And if you try this exercise, do you notice anything happening in your body? Maybe something in the pace of the breath, maybe in the heart rate, maybe warm or cold sensations. Just notice.

Try this again, now recalling someone you admire.

Now that that's out, what are you learning about yourself?