Part III – Chapter20

Forget your face.

We live in an age of utter narcissism. Many multi-billion dollar enterprises, such as the clothing and cosmetic industries[1], depend on making egotists out of us and keeping us that way. Of course, one should look decent and smell nice; but there are reasonable limits to such external concerns. At some point, they cease to be expressions of hygiene, and self-respect and respect for others, and become ego obsessions and compulsions.

The confusion of self with one’s face and body leads more and more men and women today to pass a lot of their time in front of a mirror. This culture of the body is materialism, in its most radical sense. It indicates a failure of spirituality.

Some people “speak to themselves” in the mirror. In my view, a person who does so suffers from a severealienation from self. Looking into the reflection of one’s eyes and speaking to one’s image, as if it is another person, is indicative of confusion between self and factors of the ego. Why address oneself so indirectly, when one can do so directly within the mind (or out loud, but without a mirror)?

Many people gaze at their reflection for extended periods, fretting and worrying about the shape and size of each feature of their body, and in particular their face. They use artificial means to conceal uglier aspects and emphasize more beautiful aspects. Some spend hours in “fitness centers” to improve their physical shape (not meaning their health, but their contours). Some go so far as to resort to plastic surgery (of their face, their bosoms or their sex organ)[2].

Such behavior patterns are contrary to meditative pursuits. When meditating, we strive not to identify with face or body. At first, they seem very present – because we look upon the world through our face and some parts of our body are visible to us, and because of the weight of the touch sensations within the body and in the surfaces of contact between the body and its physical surrounds. But we strive to eventually become effectively ‘transparent’ to these and all other phenomenal impressions.

Such transparency is facilitated to the extent that one forgets one face and bodily form. Literally, forget! Beware of even accidental confrontations with a mirror. One may occasionally look into a mirror, e.g. to comb one’s hair or to shave – but in such case one should not look at one’s whole face, and especially not into one’s eyes. Big mirrors are best avoided – prefer smaller ones, or stick to the edges of larger mirrors[3].

It sounds silly at first, but the vain attraction to one’s reflection in mirrors has to be resisted, if one wants to eventually free oneself from one’s ego. Once one forgets exactly what one looks like (which can be done, as memories also fade), one can no longer bring up images of “oneself” during meditation, and the burden of ego is reduced. And incidentally, beauty (true beauty) naturally ensues from a healthy and spiritual lifestyle.

[1]I should also mention the photographic and home movie industry, which thrives on people’s desire to linger on their own physical appearance.

[2]Sometimes, at the supermarket, I notice women who have had their face turned into something monstrous by plastic surgery. Can these women truly imagine they have been beautified, I wonder? I feel so sorry for them.

[3]I call hotel suites with a wall-to-wall mirror in the bathroom, which are common these days, “wanker’s paradises”.

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