Have you ever noticed? We are inundated by the human form, from the moment we get up in the morning and look at ourselves in the mirror, or see our sweetie on the next pillow, till the moment we fall asleep at night. And then, there they are again in our dreams: more people. What with TV, movies, magazines, FaceBook, smart phones, plus all the live people that cross our paths, we must see hundreds, maybe thousands, of humans every day, in one form or another.
Yesterday I decided to keep track of the number of times I see my own reflection during one day here at home. I’m astonished at what I discovered. There I was, reflected over and over again, in mirrors, house windows, car windows, store windows, others’ sunglasses, the grocery store’s frozen food case doors, even cellophane packaging. Most of my looking at myself wasn’t even conscious, it’s like a tic: if there’s a reflection, I look. In fact to not look took effort.
In contrast, I recently came across an account I had jotted down of another time I spent looking. It was an afternoon a few years ago, up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, when I sat on a rock by the side of a field, shaded by a tree. I spend many hours like this wherever I’m camping. I got comfortable and sat and waited for my mind to settle down. At first I was aware only of the vast beauty all around me. Then a butterfly came to check out my red sweater, a clump of lacy grasses swayed, an ant walked along my foot carrying cargo, a squirrel ran up the neighbor tree and chattered at me, tiny bright blue flowers caught my eye, many birds flew about until a hawk came into sight, a deer leaped past, small pebbles and mysterious indentations in the earth could be seen through the grass, clouds passed over the sun, bugs of intricate variety went about their business, a chipmunk sat on a rock across the field looking at me. I noticed more and more and more life pulsing around me, and slowly it dawned on me: I’m merely one of the many life-forms here, we’re all in this together. It’s always such a rush, that moment. My compass gets reset, all feels right with the world.
You’ve probably stood looking up at the stars and for a split second felt, really felt it through your whole being, Earth’s minute place in relation to the entire universe. That’s what it was like, sitting in that field. I palpably felt myself in relation to Earth. And it’s odd: when I truly sense what a tiny speck in this whole picture I am, that’s when I start breathing more slowly and deeply, and an extraordinary feeling of peace descends.
It was quite another story yesterday when I was tracking my mirror reflections. There were a number of reactions going on in me, and I imagine there were many I didn’t even notice. I saw myself of course in different lights, in different moods, with different expressions on my face. I felt reassured if I looked okay to myself, and disgruntled if I didn’t. The context made a difference. Right after looking at a magazine with all those ideal human images in the ads, I saw only all the spots and splotches on my face. Right after someone had said something positive about me I saw myself smiling. If I had just seen an appealing man many years my junior I frowned at myself regretfully. If I was thinking about the cruel thing I had said to a friend – without meaning to! – I didn’t even want to look. Most of these reactions were split-second and only noticed because I was making a point of it. I think they’re always there and they flit by so quickly I’m not aware of them.
In the mornings when I’m camping I look into the little mirror hanging in my tent when I pin my hair up on my head. When my bun passes muster I solidify it with hair spray and then forget it till the next morning. In fact, for the rest of the day I pretty much don’t give a thought to how I look. After all, the people around me are all strangers, I probably won’t ever see them again, so what does it matter? I’m so much less aware of my Self, my body, how I look. I’m not plagued by all those split-second reactions to my image that whiz by when I’m at home. Living out in nature provides me a vacation from all that.
Such a dichotomy! My whole life has been split in this way. As a psychotherapist, I spent hours every day intensely engaged with people, my eyes riveted to their faces, my whole attention locked on them. When I got to work in the mornings I had already practiced my cello for a couple of hours, and in the evenings I played string quartets with my musician friends. Two such totally different universes! All my psychologist colleagues experienced burn-out now and then, I never did. I attribute that to my being able to restore myself in the world of music, in the same way I restore myself now in the world of Nature.