Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Biggest Self-Hater of Them All?

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, I don’t like what I am seeing at all…

Awhile ago, I attended a yoga class as a guest teacher at a week-long retreat. I showed up late, due to traffic, and tried to sneak my way into the room. The room is a converted garage, one whole side the doors that roar open and then hang from the ceiling, the other side all mirror. The conversion is ostensibly a dance studio, as the owners of the center are a dancer and her artist husband.

I had conveniently forgotten about the mirrored wall.

It’s been two years since I attended/taught at this annual retreat, and in that time, I’d put it out of my mind that one whole wall is mirrors. So I was shocked—to see myself, the room, all the other people. They weren’t staring at me—mercifully, I entered in the main door as they were all facing neither the mirror nor me, doing Warrior II. However, I was facing me.

And I did not like what I was seeing.

The participants were mostly women, and mostly young. At 36, I don’t consider myself “old,” but I am clearly not an undergraduate in college. I have never been as slender as most of the women in that room, but my age + being disconnected from my body (related to recent over-busy-ness in my life) + heat + size suddenly overwhelmed me.

The mirror showed me my body—stout, short and plump. But what the mirror really showed me is something far deeper. It showed me how much I try and pretend that I don’t look like I do. The mirror showed me I am not who I think I am.

That is the pain, the suffering, the struggle—my own misconception, self-deception about what I look like.

Especially when traveling (I just finished a five week teaching tour in France and England) or in a new situation (new people means even though I know this studio, it’s still a new situation), I feel self-conscious. That’s nothing new. It just so happens it’s happened a lot lately—five weeks of it happening nearly every day, a few times a day, followed by a 10-day visiting residency of two teachers of mine. In other words, I got really overextended.

Hanging out over the cliff like this, physically and emotionally overextended, my legs dangling, everyone can see my thighs, my arms. Everyone can see my belly, my hips, bulging out in different places. I am raw, wide open, revealed and I don’t like it.

Or, I don’t like myself.

This is, underneath it all, what I am hiding from myself. I am hiding a dislike – a dislike that keeps me from practicing yoga by telling me that I don’t deserve it, hidden as some kind of coercion to not pay attention to my body’s needs. The layers are thick and contorted, and I do a lot of meditation and practice to unpeel them.

When I get busy, I fall for what is on the surface. But one surface—a mirror—reveals what is below the surface.

My first reaction is aggression: hate myself, swear to go on a diet immediately.
My second is sadness and dejection—a reaction to my own aggression.
Then their battle shuts me down completely, and I begin to tune into others’ bodies, judging (positively or negatively) and comparing.
Until I am so checked-out that I have missed the point altogether.
This isn’t about my weight.
This isn’t about my shape.
This is about me fundamentally succumbing to self-hatred.

This is about me telling myself:
Do not look at the self-hater behind the curtain.
The self-hater’s body is not the source of her indignancy.
Where she gets her high-mindedness from is fear, not from being right.

What happens if I were to really see how much I am spiting myself, pretty much constantly? If past experience is any proof, and I suspect it is, I find liberated energy and even, if desired, motivation to lose weight or at least be more connected to my body.

The mirror this morning didn’t show me my body. It didn’t even show me me. It showed me how I am treating myself—and I don’t mean on the level of what I am eating or how I am exercising.

Immediately, in a single flash motion, the mirror showed me my whole samsaric cycle of self-deceiving self-hatred. Luckily, my whole self dangling out there, staring at my pudgy center looking back at me, I could see it for once.

Let’s hope I can keep seeing it long enough to help heal what is truly unhealthy here: how I  don’t truly see myself on the most basic, fundamental level. How that leads to, inspires, triggers a self-hatred that I don’t see, either. How blindness does not help me at all.

Mirror, reveal my blindness, as shocking as it is, until I can see myself differently.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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Miriam Hall Aug 18, 2013 6:16pm

Thank you, all. Awesome. I just recently read this quote in another ele post (http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/07/meghan-telpner-is-on-a-mission-to-undiet-the-world-interview/): "It was she something said—that yoga holds up a mirror to your life and forces you to pay attention. And it’s the things that bring you to your knees and force you to ask why that will ultimately raise you higher then you ever thought possible—and that’s what I get from it and that’s why I go." Yup. I am not going to yoga to feel better about myself – but to connect. We can talk about connecting to higher self, but we have to connect to "lower" self, too – self-hatred, projection, etc. All fodder!

StephanieB Aug 17, 2013 5:11am

Thanks for posting, Miriam! As someone who has chosen to be in the yoga field, I find myself pushed against the comparing element not only by my students but by other teachers and myself on a regular bases. It is a practice in being present with "what's really going on" – is it me projecting my own insecurities or is it "the other" projecting his/her insecurities/fears/excuses onto me? I find that when I understand what's happening inside of myself, I can then move forward, having named "that thing" going on and be present with what I'm really wanting (to practice, to breath, to be in my body even if it doesn't look like anybody else's). Working with those dueling elements (the not liking how my body looks and the enjoying how my body feels when I'm practicing yoga) is one of my life-long lessons and I thank you for writing about about your own struggles so openly.

Neola Aug 17, 2013 12:45am

Gorgeous. Both you and this piece.

Self-hate takes so many forms, its a real bitch to recognize it sometimes.

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Miriam Hall

Miriam Hall teaches Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography, Contemplative Writing and other fun practices that combine perception and creative process as a part of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. Natalie Goldberg (of Writing Down the Bones,) says: “Miriam Hall has the heart, hands and head of writing practice. Study with her.” She can be found at her website, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and all over the world teaching and playing. You can also read more of her here, here and by visiting her website.