Mirror of Joy
(July 15, 2012)
I wish I was a child again. Not the innocent, weak and ignorant newborn, but the blank canvas uncluttered by a life of past wins, losses, regrets, failures and successes.
Sometimes, my emotions get the better of me. When they do, I find myself embarrassed or left feeling like I failed. It shouldn’t be so surprising that letting negative emotions take over makes me feel less than human, but why does negativity even exist? Why do we feel “bad” sometimes? After thinking about it with the perspective that only time and experience can provide, it seems that some of the mystery was at least partially handed to me in an earlier time.
As a boy, my family would take vacations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, known for their dramatic contrasts in elevation, terrain and unique plant, animal and mineral life. The Sierra Nevada range is home to Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes, both extraordinarily beautiful places.
I recall hikes we took to TJ Lake, located near tree line and sitting below the majestic Crystal Crag peak. Crystal Crag stood defiantly above the nearby landscape, brushing up against the sky at 10,300 feet above sea level, unscathed by the ancient glaciers that scraped away much of the surrounding terrain, which in their wake left beautiful valleys filled with trees, streams and wildlife. The waters of TJ Lake were so clear that I could see trout swimming deep below the surface. Small, slow moving, streams gently fed the lake from one end, sourced from the melting pure snowpack above. On the opposite end of the lake, another stream flowed out and down the hill, feeding other lakes below and creating a vibrant habitat for abundant ferns, pines, spruce, small animals and brightly colored birds. To me, TJ Lake was everything I had imagined of what the forest primeval would be like.
On one of our hikes to TJ Lake, we were having such a good time fishing, searching for frogs and drinking in the beauty, we didn’t notice the sun set behind the rim above the lake. Darkness would be approaching soon and my parents decided it was time to head back to the trailhead on the opposite side. The alpine bowl in which the lake sat got darker by the minute as we made our way back.
Just before heading into the trees and down the trail, something tugged at us, compelling us to turn around and get one last look at the lake and the rocky outpost of the towering crag. Our presence of mind to obey the call was rewarded by a striking view of the full Moon arcing across the indigo sky towards Crystal Crag. The Moon was reflected so perfectly in the still waters that I almost thought I was looking at two; as if I was standing on a distant planet orbited by dual satellites. Looking closer, the still and perfect waters formed a flat liquid surface on which the Moon, emerging Milky Way and the entire cosmos were reflected, creating an image of infinite beauty here on Earth.
Over 30 years have passed since my feet tread the path at TJ Lake, but it is only now that I realize the full significance of that experience and how it illustrated the nature of our emotions. Our emotional body behaves very much like a mountain lake. When it is still and purified from negativity, the emotional body can reflect the beauty of the creation that surrounds us back into the world – to our families, friends, colleagues, spouses and children.
But, just like the lake, if the algae of greed and jealousy grow unfettered, they will clog the nourishing streams of joy from the Most High. Too much want and desire sucks the oxygen out of the water, killing the little fish of goodwill and positive relationships – things like smiles, handshakes and embraces. If I allow my emotional paradise to be polluted with toxic hate and revenge, then I poison the downstream environment, killing the budding aspirations, hopes and dreams of others. When I disturb the surface with ripples of irritation, waves of frustration and tides of anger and regret, my emotional lake is a poor reflecting pool for the Divinity that is all around us.
Through discipline and observation, we can still the waters.
When it is calm, my emotional mirror is free to reflect beauty and joy back into the world. By being detached, I can observe my emotions in a way that even though I still feel them, I am not controlled by them. When they do control me, it is like someone dropped a boulder into the waters, distorting the view and creating disharmony in my relationships. Every time I learn something new about what triggers a negative response, I grow stronger and each insight acts like a new, sturdy spruce tree on the lake’s edge, protecting the surface from the sometimes violent winds of the mundane world.
Now, the legs of my soul are stronger, and I stand more confidently above my emotional lake as an observer, much like I once did as a boy at the real TJ Lake. As that boy, I will plant more trees to guard it against the powerful winds of materialism, desire, greed and ego. I will cleanse it from accumulated impurities and the trash that others have left on the trail.
With persistence, day after day, week after week, year after year, life after life, then indeed I will have purified my emotional lake, giving God a worthy reflecting pool here on Earth – a mirror of joy. And, if I look close enough into a purified nature, I can see my true self (and yours too!) – The Image of the Almighty in which I was created looking back at me.