Polishing the mirror and filling the well

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Sometimes I get so bogged down in the gunk of daily living, of arguments or rejections, a cold or lack of sleep, that I completely lose track of the spacious stillness that lies behind all of it. Thomas Merton has a great prayer for this:

“May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the center of our being. It will not fail us.”

There are an uncountable number of practices for polishing the dusty mirror and seeing the light of clarity and peace shining back. Daily writing is one that works well for me. And yoga. What a gift — a thousands year old method of waking up the body, of realigning energy channels, of helping me to notice and appreciate the vastness of my interior and the wonder of this vehicle that carries me around all day. Meditation, when I get around to doing it, has a similar effect of settling my busy, chattering mind and returning me again and again to the present moment.

Merton’s silence is a place of emptiness that, paradoxically, requires tending and care. I sometimes see it as stoking an inner fire, throwing in things I’ve read, movies, conversations I’ve had, ideas, insights. Julia Cameron, in “The Artist’s Way,” advises all creative people to “fill your well,” usually with images and sensory experiences to refresh our artistic reservoirs, so they don’t run dry. A friend calls it “tuning the instrument,” so that when she settles down to her work, she can be a clear channel for what wants to come through. She and I laughed together at the image of filling the well with emptiness, but it fits.

Polishing the mirror is like that song, “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.” And what a stealth message that is! “I can see all obstacles in my way?” Makes me wonder how many of those obstacles were put there by me.

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day

I think I can make it now, the pain has gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day

Look all around, there’s nothing but blue sky
Look straight ahead, nothing but blue sky

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone’re the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day
Gonna be a bright, bright, bright sun-shining day

~ Written by Johnny Nash, recorded in 1972

I didn’t used to know about the silence in the center of my being; I lived every day thinking the visible world of over-stimulation and struggle is all there is. Now, whenever I’m tending to slip into that old identity, I tell myself, polish the mirror. Try something different. Go for a walk with a camera and let it guide me to really look at things. At flowers or shadow patterns or clouds. Or the way mud streamed across the sidewalk during the last rain. Anything can work. Anything can wake me up, if I allow it to.

P.S. Here are two versions of this great song. May it fill your well just a bit.

Gladys Knight and Ray Charles live, 1977. This one has a long lead-in with some on-stage antics. She finally brings him Ray on stage at about 1:20. He starts the song at about 2:15.

Bobby McFerrin invites you to sing along. Go ahead; you know you want to.

One thought on “Polishing the mirror and filling the well

  1. Pingback: The source and craft of “always more” | Thriving on the Threshold

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