Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
I’m one of those women who can’t walk by a mirror and not linger. Usually long enough to attract a few knowing glances, shame-inducing smiles. We all do it; we’re just not supposed to get caught.
Shiny storefront windows in the city, shelf walls of the produce section, side-view mirrors in parking lots. Single-person restrooms where I can be alone with my floor-length reflection in all her glory. Poking, prodding, picking, plumping. Self-monitoring in mirrors of disappointment with a body I’m obsessed with, yet have never learned to love.
It’s vanity, I know. Full ego getting the best of me. Over-identification with my self-as-body illusion.
Knowing all that just makes me want to do it more.
My favorite memory of myself in a mirror comes from the last night of a three-week surf trip to Senegal. I had avoided the night scene in Dakar after confronting the paralyzing injustice of an overpriced dinner with a banquet-sized table full of Europeans along a street lined with dark, shoeless toes, pinkish palms outstretched in need, and the bright-white eyeballs of men and women and babies whose legs I nearly tripped over on the sidewalk, yet whose suffering I would never possibly come to know. Hiding out helped me hide the guilt of privilege I couldn’t wash from my skin.
On my last night in that city of waves and wonder, I got wasted on pricey gin and tonics and danced my ass off among a sea of Senegalese until my friends drove me to the airport for a five a.m. flight.
My only regret from the trip, I told them as we stumble-kissed goodbye, was not learning sooner that the walls of the dance clubs in Dakar were made of mirrors—ceiling to floor. And that people dress themselves to the nines and dance with their reflections until somebody cuts the music and turns on the ugly lights. And that that happens every night of the week, and I missed it 20 times in a row.
That single night of unadulterated bliss, dancing with myself in the mirrors, lost among the sweaty crowd of rhythmic bodies unashamed by—and perhaps in love with—their own reflections; that whirling memory of me-in-the-mirror let me see into parts of myself that had never felt so free. That had never felt so much like me. As I danced, drunk to the heavens, I wasn’t judging my body, its movement, or that of anyone around me. I was watching, seeing, moving, connecting, vibrating in the essence of our collective energy reflected in mirrors—bodies unafraid to be themselves. It was confusing. It was ironically ego-erasing. It was powerfully liberating in ways that, five years later, I’m only now beginning to understand.
I didn’t recognize her then, but in the rarest of places, deep in my sweat-soaked, gin-induced soul trance, there among the flashing lights, unrelenting beat, and a club full of Senegalese strangers, I met Kali for the very first time.
That moment marked the beginning of the life-long death of an ego-self who’s kept me playing small, enslaving my divine essence for decades within a body I often call me.
In what my estranged mind can understand of Hindu scripture, Kali is the goddess of liberation, that aspect of the divine feminine, the Divine Mother, whose fierce compassion destroys the illusion of the ego. Kali teaches us that the unadulterated essence of self can only achieve enlightenment after all ego barriers have been removed, particularly that of identification with the body as self. Kali slays the most gruesome demons and holds a severed head to remind us that our attachment to the physical form keeps us enslaved within ourselves. She stands victorious atop no one other than a blissed-out Shiva, the supreme masculine deity whose own ego proves no match for the all-powerful Kali.
She keeps our sh*t in check.
Kali is pure cosmic energy. The ego slayer. And she takes no prisoners.
A few years after my stint in Senegal, Kali showed herself to me again in new, unexpected ways, mirrored in a soul whose blessings of presence and divine lessons cut around the core of my truest sense of self, accelerating my personal growth and destroying parts of me I wished would die but had been scared to shed alone.
I began living with a man who saw me so completely, in ways I rarely dare see myself, and in whose eyes I couldn’t hide if I tried. It’s what they tell you about soul mates—that you know them when you find them, that their love feels like home, and that your journey together involves deep spiritual work on your shared path. This man was my lover. My teacher. My Kali incarnate in the bones and flesh of my desire.
When we met, I feared the future I found in his eyes as much as I desired to be with him.
I want him, my heart told me what my body already knew.
I’m not ready for him, my ego foresaw the deaths that knocked at my door.
I need him, my soul spoke blasphemy to my well-cultivated feminist independence.
Despite the obstacles, something was pulling me toward him, strong and subtle like an inner knowing I couldn’t deny. Despite myself, I listened. I dove head-first and knowingly into a love that held the power to rip me inside out.
And decided to never look back.
“Soulmates aren’t the ones who make you happiest, no. They’re instead the ones who make you feel the most. Burning edges and scars and stars. Old pains and pangs, captivation and beauty. Strain and shadows and worry and yearning. Sweetness and madness and dreamlike surrender. They hurl you into the abyss. They taste like hope.” ~ V.Erickson
When we moved in together, our little love shack had only a round, face-sized mirror that lived above the kitchen sink. Washing dishes, I’d stare at my reflection, examining blemishes, moles and imperfections as usual. I’d stand on my tiptoes, trying to fit the image of my torso into that small, circular space—to little avail.
Meanwhile, there were bigger fish to fry between us, like this propensity toward escapism I couldn’t seem to quit, the crippling fear I felt in the face of my own innate power, and insecurities to overcome so that I might truly live the dreams intended for me by the divine.
I cried all the f***ing time. I got used to metal spoons living in the freezer—the best home cure for swollen, red, puffy little eyes like mine.
Marshall Rosenberg, the grandfather of the Non-Violent Communication movement, said once that a truly liberated being would be crying always—half in joy and half in sadness. Letting it flow like rivers in response to the changing winds within.
I found solace in that sentiment in the moments I felt most bipolar in this relationship with my ego-slayer boyfriend. As Kali forces us to do, I confronted a whole slew of demons once held dear—pride, insecurity, blame, fear of intimacy, distrust, jealousy, my inner control freak—blankets of false security stuck like glue in the places where trust, freedom, loving-kindness and faith had a hard time getting in past the sturdy walls I’d built around the hurt and pain of past love turned sour.
In the hours I wasn’t crying like a baby in the painful process of constant ego-destruction and self-renewal that accompanied the type of growth I was settling into, life was a whirlwind of unadulterated bliss. Wild laughter. Crazy tickle fights. Screaming orgasms. Snuggling in bed till noon on weekdays.
Extreme, yes. In joy and pain, hot sweat and tears, he unraveled the parts of me I’d hidden so well that I had forgotten who to be without them. In his love-drunk gaze lived a homecoming into my truest sense of self, where I felt eons more like me than I’d ever felt on my own. Sometimes it felt psychotic. Sometimes it was horrifically ugly. Sometimes it was poetically beautiful.
All the time, I knew it was necessary. I knew he was vital to my spiritual growth and divine evolution. I needed him, like Kali, to chop off my head so that I might live a little closer to the heart of what matters—deepening into the pure consciousness beneath the hardened layers of my self-conscious skin.
That knowing was terrifying. It meant I needed someone. I couldn’t do it all myself. I was going to have to learn to trust a man to help me get where I was meant to be going.
That is still perhaps the hardest ego-slaying lesson of all.
“There is a mirror-like quality when we come into contact with our twin flame—everything that we have spent our lives running from or denying is suddenly in front of us. These types of lovers confront us with our very fears and ego driven desires…. it has the possibility to be that once in a lifetime—ain’t nothing ever gonna be the same—type of love.” ~ Kate Rose
Five months into our living together, all that was left of that kitchen mirror was a diamond-shaped shard we used to check our teeth before leaving the house. As the mirror self-destructed over time, at some point beyond my own rational cognition I stopped obsessing with my physical appearance. I gave up pouring over the imperfections on the skin my soul lives in. I cared a little less about the shape of my torso and a little more about the blood in my veins and the guts in my glory—a little less about what to wear and a little more about the ways I’d write my story.
We don’t need mirrors to see ourselves. Not the shiny hand-held or magnified side-view or flattering floor-length kind, anyway. Those mirrors keep us small, obsessed with the body, judged incessantly by the mind. Those mirrors, I’m learning, we can do without.
The mirrors we’re used to couldn’t possibly reflect the profound depths of all we’re meant to be, everything our eyes have never been trained to see.
Because who needs mirrors on the wall when you’re sleeping with Kali, the fairest of them all?
Author: Tara Ruttenberg
Image: 1. Courtesy of Author (Tarantula Surf on Instagram); 2. Photo Credit: Pete Brosius
Editor: Toby Israel