The Post-Modern Dilemma, Boiled Down Into You


You are a mirror. A mirror with legs. Think about it.

The legs are your mind. This takes a little getting used to. You can’t really control your mind as well as you want. So it’s your conscious and unconscious. Any thought, any emotion, any deliberation. Most people only ever see themselves as these legs. They are rooted to being legs. They think about dreams, the future, the past. They get nostalgic. They get anxious.

Everyone has legs and everyone down a path that they don’t really know the directions to. The legs are trying to find their way on this path and look back to past events that happened on this path. Legs have a certain inventiveness with the uncertainty of this path. Legs especially don’t want to die.

Long ago in the path, legs have helped humans become humans. Legs have helped people develop wheat and cities and the wheel. Legs have helped people create philosophy. That was a quite the feat of legs. The legs are responsible for politics and reading and the internet and especially wine and pop tarts. Legs allow people to be fearful of dangers to the legs’ extinction and thus create tools to beat that fear into submission.

But then they become afraid of new things. The legs don’t really know what they’re doing, no matter how much they might convince you.

Of course, this is because the legs can’t see where you’re going. They are running about in the world like headless chickens with a little more of a frontal lobe. Obviously the world is not this simple. Your mind has several levels of consciousness that can’t be condensed into the images of “legs”. But for this example I will try.

So you have your smart leg and your dumb leg. A (left) leg that has a tendency to want to have drunken orgies with cocaine blowouts and pool margaritas in Las Vegas while laying in bed and eating pizza and donuts AT THE SAME TIME, and a (right) leg that wants to build things and savor love and do something meaningful and help people and eat healthy. One leg that wants pleasure now and one that wants pleasure later.

A way to simplify this is with the analogy that Oliver Emberton makes with rex and your Albert. You know you want to work, but you also know that you want to check Facebook. This is a difficult relationship to get ahold of, especially when you are young. But if rex and Albert are in the car, who is controlling the car?

People get lost because, if you think about it too much, the truth is that both of these are a form of “shallow” self-indulgence. One is indulging on junk food and drugs and instant pleasure and on the other side we have love of others and the pride of accomplishment which takes work but leads to deeper pleasure. A lot of confusion in life derives from the conflict between what your left leg and what your right leg want.

To both legs, the world is a dark place. Your legs can see the legs of other people around you. If they are socially attuned, they can see what direction they are going in. Sherlock Holmes was really good at seeing what direction other legs went or where they came from. However legs just rarely can see much further beyond that, they are limited to a tunnel vision of the path that they are on. They see the world with a flashlight-type focus.

Sometimes the light helps you focus on how not to die, how to reproduce, etc. and other times it helps you focus on goals of creative expression.

And then sometimes the mirror comes in. It takes your legs, particularly your more right leg; to notice that there is something beyond the path that you have been following. That there is a world entirely outside of this one path that humanity seems to be heading down. This right leg has the potential to create what we call an existential crisis. An existential crisis is when people realize the path doesn’t really lead anywhere new. An existential crisis is the denial of the mirror.

It is also this right leg that has to discover that there is a mirror. The mirror is on top of the legs, and it takes awhile for the right leg to look up and say “hey I am actually part mirror”.

What happens when you start trying to be a mirror? Well, let’s take za-zen (the principle practice of Zen), for example. When you sit down for the first time, you fidget. You fidget a shitload. You’re head is a restless, caged monkey. Your legs are twitching from wandering and want to keep walking. They are addicted to walking. They just want to get up and focus on food or work or friendship or love because that is everything that they need to survive!

Not many people try to be mirrors. What does it mean to be a mirror? In short, it is to see things from an almost cosmically distant perspective that it illuminates the world around you. And while you see the madness of everyone – of all of these legs – you also have ultimate sympathy and compassion for this madness. Because you’re part of it.

Being a mirror is temporarily letting go of the path. It is letting go of your flashlight focus. And temporarily destroying your legs.

Okay, Ian, I’ve followed you this far. How do we use our mirror, though?

Sit and breathe. But there is a secret. You can’t try to be a mirror. You can’t want to be a mirror. You have to realize that you simply are one. Our legs are the only things that can try. When we try to stop using our legs, it is our legs that are trying to stop using themselves. We cannot think our way into not using our legs. We just have to simply breathe and take note of when are legs are trying to run or hike. And say thank you legs, but right now I’m sitting.

This is frustrating at first. But if done for long enough with the right mentality, you will have breakthroughs.

The truth is that we are addicted to using our legs, to our thoughts to our dreams to our aspirations. The legs absorb us in a tunnel of myopia that makes seeing the world, or even simply what is right in front of you very difficult.

When you learn to sit and be your mirror-self, it is like seeing and hearing for the first time. The world becomes a game of Technicolor and everything you thought was important slowly dissolves. And it is all very special. But very quickly, things become remarkably normal.

But it is a new normal to the one you’re used to. The world becomes everything. It becomes sort of indefinable in the way that words can’t capture. Because, what can you say about everything? You can’t really say anything, except that everything is not separate. That is non-duality. Divinity.

Living with a zen mind, or a “begginer’s mind”, with enough discipline, is to float, without your legs, but still move in the world. To be your mirror, but to move around. With the mirror, you illuminate your world and see things that you don’t usually see and hear things you don’t usually hear and smell things you don’t usually smell. It is spontaneity in pure form because you aren’t attached to a path.

And the thing about mirrors is that they don’t absorb anything and nor do they try to. Because the legs can only see a very limited version of the world, they try to grab onto things they find in their path. Things like possessions, experiences, significant others, etc. This is because seeing the world with tunnel vision makes your experience very fragile. When you are a floating mirror, you don’t try to grab onto things. You easily notice all of the other legs in the world doing their clinging. And you see the terrain they are clinging to is very fragile.

But, and the big but, it’s important to have strong and confident legs. Because, after all, you aren’t just a mirror. You are a mirror with legs. You can’t separate the two things. You are everything, but you are also human. And it takes strong legs to function in the world of “real life”. Their dreams, memories, and loved ones give life its zest. The problem is that people see themselves only as legs.

For some reason though, our culture doesn’t celebrate the recognition that we are also mirrors. It is as if this mirror that we are is being held secret from us and we think of ourselves only as legs.

However, being a mirror implies the legs. You can’t ignore them. Not walking is also a path. Following the crowd is a path. Leaving the path to make your own path is a path. Paths are inescapable. You can’t levitate more than a few inches off the ground. And in order to keep on being a mirror, you have to go down some path and occasionally give your legs some exercise.

Now it is possible to sit and not do anything. It is up to you how to use your legs. People are impossibly different because of how they use their legs, but also universally similar because they are all mirrors.

And you do have legs. Hopefully. Look down and make sure.