Magic Mirror On The Wall : How We See Others…

The readers must see me on a roll, writing one post a day. Not at all. I am still the same, overwhelmed by my present. I found these writings as drafts. I had meant to post them over years, but just got too busy. This writing already exists on ezine, being from 2010 or thereabouts. So, without further ado…..

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All of us have certain likes and dislikes. We like certain people, things, theories, religions, political ideologies. And we dislike some of them. We are moved by certain songs, movies, art. And we abhor others. Have you ever thought about why we have a certain affinity to some objects, and such intense dislike for others? What is that which moves our psyche towards one kind of object, vs what is that which causes aversion for other kind of objects. The word object here is used to designate any external entity that lies outside our body and mind.

Lets take a step back and explore human psyche. We are born devoid of any personal experiences. We’re not tabula rasa, as Jung would say, in that we are not necessarily blank slates because our genetic influences, our psychic dna (my own term) and/or sanskara’s and karmas from our previous lifetimes may be inherited (depending which line of thought one believes in!), but as far as personal consciousness goes, we are indeed tabula rasa, or blank slates. At the time of birth, the infant knows nothing about this life, has no perceptive memory, and no learnt base. It has to start assimilating everything that it encounters in this world. And assimilate it (the infant and the child) does. Language, symbols, learning, habits, likes, dislikes, behavior, character, ethics, morality, relationship, trust, vocation – to name a very few – all of these are a consequence of a learning process that builds the character base and the template of existence of an individual, existence as we know it. And all this information is stored within. When something new is available for learning through experience, the mind quickly goes through the stored information and checks to see if it is already available. If it isn’t, it will absorb it. If it is already available, it will either discard the new experience, or modify the already-existing experience, assimilating the new information into the old. However, as we go through the years, more and more information is already available within, giving more and more confidence to the self, which can now pick and choose from available external experiences. All experiences will have an emotionality or an affective state linked to it. And as we get older and older, we are more and more assured of our ability to survive the environment, and so we gradually lose our ability to assimilate new material. We often say “I’m too old to change!” What we really want to say is “I can survive the way I am, there is no evolutionary advantage in changing!”

Given all this, when we are faced with an external situation, the mind quickly does a comparative analysis. Have I encountered a similar situation before? Do I have the information in the internal repository? Is the situation an opportunity for more learning? Will such learning help me survive better? Is there an evolutionary advantage in such learning? If there is, the situation becomes a learning experience. If not, the situation doesn’t provide any advantage. Bear in mind all these things are happening in the unconscious level, most of the consciousness is not privy to this process.

Of the above mechanism, we here in this article are interested only in the first few questions that go through our mind/psyche viz have we encountered such an experience before? If we have, we will recognize the situation/experience immediately. If we have not, we will not recognize the experience/situation and will remain emotionally indifferent to it. Most times, such recognition is also unconscious.

When we do recognize an experience, there is an immediate recall from the unconscious. There is no advantage in learning anything new from the situation/experience, so the psyche tries to conserve its resources by predicting the outcome of the current situation through recall of the prior situation. This happened back then, and since the same situation is repeating, then it is psychically cost effective to assume that the outcome of the situation will be the same. But that which happened to us is INSIDE us as a memory. It is a part and parcel of our own psyche. The external situation, or object that we encounter in the present moment, has nothing to do with that what is stored inside? But by experiencing the external object, we are brought in touch with our own psychic baggage. We THINK we are experiencing new events, new people, new objects, but the new object is really forcing us to retrieve our older memories. So it must make sense to say that the external object is just a mirror in which we see the internal reality? In other words, our internal reality is projected by our mind upon the external object, and the illumination of consciousness allows us to see that in the external world. Which means that the external object cannot be seen for real, except through our perceptual lenses.

This last statement has enormous implications. It means that what we see in others, is simply a part of our own selves. If we didn’t have that part, we would not be able to recognize it in others because any information about it would not be accessible within. We’d go into learning mode and assimilative mode, not ascribing any good/bad value to it, nor any emotionality to it. The other may or may not have those qualities that we see in them, the point being that we couldn’t see them in the external world if we didn’t have those qualities within us in the internal world. What moves us outside, is because it already has an internal correlate.

This is great to know, when we admire someone’s beauty, intelligence, and character. We admire them because we have those qualities within us, and they matter to us, and by projecting them on others we wish to incarnate them, and make them manifest. But what happens if we dislike someone? We dislike their habits, values, character, values, religiosity etc. How do we process that? How do we make sense of that? We make sense of that in exactly the same way. The other is but a mirror for those qualities. So we look internally and explore. Most times – all the time actually – we will find an internal correlate. We have the same qualities, but because we dislike them in ourselves, the ego represses the awareness of such in the service of survival and evolution. Consciousness is denied access to such self defeating information. Hence the I, me, and mine always appear to be spotlessly brilliant, and righteous.

This is where the synthesis of opposites comes in. If we all are both good and bad, then these opposites need to be reconciled and transmuted. However, we first have to recognize and own these disparate, not so loveable parts of ourseves, and integrate them with the loveable parts of ourselves, so that we can move towards a wholeness.

So the next time something moves you in the external world, look within. There will always be an internal correlate.

Madhu Sameer is an Associate Clinical Social Worker working at Counseling Associates in Fresno, California. She likes to work with individuals, couples and families experiencing emotional distress due to past or current problems in their lives. She specifically values her work with people experiencing severe psychological problems, including psychosis and dissociative disorders. She promotes a minimum-medication approach towards psychological healing. Madhu experiences a deep relationship between psychology and spirituality, and incorporates this understanding in her work. She frequently presents on topics located at the intersection of spirituality and clinical practice, for even in the field of knowledge, there exists an eternal striving for unity between the knowable and the unknowable, between the known and the unknown, between reality and our imagination of it.

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One response to “Magic Mirror On The Wall : How We See Others…”

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