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“You’ve never seen your face!”

Posted on | June 29, 2017 | 1 Comment

“You’ve never seen your face,” says the kindly 70 year old man.

“Hmm?” I ask.

“Hmmm? Not hmm. You. Have. Never. Ever seen your face.”

His eyes are sparkling as he says this. His voice is German yet somehow soft and animated with the burning enthusiasm of a child who just saw a flower for the first time in his life. We are at a buddhist temple. I’m drinking the complimentary tea and eating the cookies.

“Never?” I say.

“Not once,” he says. His finger goes up to rest like an exclaimation point in front of his face.  ”Not in your entire life!”

There are a lot of reasons to meditate.

You can find listicles online that have up to a hundred reasons. They include cultivating gratitude, lowering anxiety and health benefits like lowering your potential for heart disease.

All those reasons are bullshit.

The best reason to meditate is this man’s 70 year old face.  Look at this man’s face and you don’t have to be scared of getting older. His lips naturally curl into a smile. His eyes are like blue jewels. He has the energy of a child let out to play.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you get to wear this a face like this for a couple of minutes a month. When through luck and coincidence that claw digging into your brain looses it grip. And you manage to escape that pressure and you can appreciate the delicate feel of the sun’s rays as they brush across your face and you feel the warm light dance over the curtains of your eyelids. When you can forget that you’ve seen everything a million times and stop looking at years ago.

“Never once?” I ask.

I’m egging him on. I like seeing him get fired up.

“No!” he says, brimming with joy. “You see your face how?”

“In a mirror?” I reply.

“Exactly. It’s not the same face she sees.”

He points at a fellow meditator. I met her about 16 weeks ago. On a Wednesday at the open sit.

“No. I see a different face,” she replies. “Different than you see.”

Now I look at her face. Kind. A little tired. About my age. Nicer to other people than she is to herself.

Through post meditation conversations I’ve discovered she is an amateur mathematician with little liking for poetry. Meditation sometimes makes her feel depressed, as her inner voice isn’t always polite.   She is from Eastern Europe and balances their sense of brutal honesty with shotgun blasts of childish laughter.

“It’s reflected off a mirror. It’s backwards. You’re seeing your face backwards. All reflective surfaces make your face twist around so you’ve never seen it in your entire life,” says the kindly 7o year old German man. “They lie. They rearrange.”

“Cameras?” I ask.

“Same,” he asserts. “Total same thing.”

“Lakes?”

“Anything that reflects,” he says. “Anything!”

I think of all the time I’ve spent looking in the mirror.

I like looking in the mirror.  When I was in highschool I was really overweight and about a foot shorter before I went through and used to hate looking at my face. Doughy. Someone once described me as a Furby.  It didn’t look like how I felt.  I enjoy looking at my face now. Even as wrinkles accrue and my teeth show signs of too much coffee. I also wonder how people see my face. What they think when they see it.

It’s strange to realize that I’ll never know.

In the same way I’ll never really know how people see me. You know like metaphorically see me.

I’m caught up in my intentions and preconceptions about how I’m seen in the world. My mind is like a mirror. Flawed in the way it sends signals back to me. It’s not a blank canvas. My brain isn’t neutral or an honest arbiter of the world. Due to its inherent confirmation bias, the opinions I hold actually twist the information I take into confirm to my hopes and fears.

I lie to myself without knowing it.

A common misconception is that meditation is about the process of turning off your brain. It isn’t. Those moments of spaciousness are like happiness, just a temporary reward for hard work.

Meditation is about looking at your brain.

Noticing the stories you tell yourself. So that you can notice how you lie to yourself. How you escape feeling that discomfort where nothing is certain and only change is permanent. How by doing so you blame yourself, you blame others because you don’t want to feel anything unpleasant and you want stories that make you feel secure and comfortable in your understanding of yourself and the world. Only by escaping your feelings you deny yourself the chance to be there for yourself. You deny yourself the chance to really understand what other people are going through.

Think of all the times you’ve felt sick in your gut. You’ve gone hunting for the source of that feeling. You’ve told yourself stories. You’ve played detective and you’ve created a narrative. You think the truth is in your gut. In that panicked feeling you want to escape from.

So much so that you don’t look at it or feel the texture of that sensation. In a book by Pema Chodron she says our panicked responses last approximately 90 seconds. You have a thought it scares you and if you stay with it the feeling disappears within 90 seconds. It’s actually our desire to stop that feeling which magnifies it. Instead of 90 seconds we make the feeling last days by creating a story to explain it. By trying to ignore the groundless nature of reality and pretend it’s a character flaw.

The best lesson anyone that has struggled with mental illness is given is the knowledge that we lie to ourselves all the time.

Our gut isn’t a fortune teller.

It’s a scared person looking for safety in a world that doesn’t guarantee it.

I can’t see my face.

But I can see his.

The child like wonder. The excitement of discovery that every day offers him.The chance to really see yourself and not have to run away. To see other people with that same kindness. To look at someone like you’ve never seen them before. To truly see them in this moment. Which you can only do if you’re willing to look at yourself and realize there isn’t anything concrete. Just a story you tell yourself. An image reflected back at you that you make into a symbol.

“What do you see when you see his face?” asks the kindly German man.

She thinks for a second.

“It’s beautiful. A beautiful face,” she says.

I smile. Not worrying about showing my not so white teeth. Without the fear I’ll be caught on camera.

I have no idea what my face looks like.

I look at them. Really looking at them and I feel this gentle euphoria sweep through me.

We can limit the world and make it small enough to fit into our conception of ourselves.

Or we can give into the mystery and let ourselves look with the same curiosity in this old man’s face.

We can be children in awe of our experience, in the knowledge that we’ll never really understand it.

That if we are very lucky, we can feel it.

 

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One Response to ““You’ve never seen your face!””

  1. Kosh
    November 1st, 2017 @ 11:02 am

    Where you see your face is when you go to the clothing department and try something on in front of a multiple mirror. The first direct reflection is not you. The next one is. If you raise your right hand and the reflection raises its right hand, that one’s real. And startlingly different.

    You ok? Haven’t seen you since OS, which is closed now. A lot of us are on another site.

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  • About

    Michael Kimber is a 26-year-old journalist who suffered a nervous breakdown on November 3rd, 2009. On March 28th, 2010 when he recovered from mental illness, he began writing a blog called Colony-of-losers. About falling on your face to figure out who you are and the hilarious antics of a blond jew. What began with a few friends and his mother reading has become a cult phenomenon, averaging 10,000 views a week, receiving praise from Commonwealth Award Winner Shandi Mitchell and many others. On, November 3rd, 2010, the one year anniversary of his mental breakdown he signed with Anne McDermid and Associates, the largest literary agency in Canada. In a year he went from wearing pajamas, making his couch depression HQ to leaving his hometown for the Toronto, where he exclusively wears business suits and the armor of ancient Greeks. Don't worry, he's still choking on the feet he contently sticks in his mouth and making moments awkward just by being part of them. During these struggles he met other talented bastards and drew them into his circle. Peter Diamond became his illustrator. Patrick Campbell his video editor and part time photographer. He recently added the incredibly talented John Packman as Colony of Losers Toronto photographer. Without the support of the Colony of Losers, Michael Kimber would be nothing. Welcome to the losers and the success that comes from utter and complete failure. You aren’t alone. Follow him on twitter.com/colonyoflosersand twitter.com/quimbo. If you’d like to hire him for a public speaking engagement for mental health events in Toronto, like to arrange an interview, offer millions to publish his book or for another reason contact Michael please email him. And join his facebook Colony of Losers.

    Really obvious disclaimer:
    I’m not a trained psychologist. Just a fellow traveler. If you need help seek it from the professionals. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a help locator. You can find crisis resources provided by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. If you are in the states check here. It will give you services by zip code. I’d also recommend checking out Mindyourmind.ca. I think they do great work and have been a help to me personally.

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