Seeing ourselves clearly through others’ eyes
Sometimes you can’t see yourself clearly until you see yourself through the eyes of others.
– Ellen DeGeneres
When we want to know how we look, we need a mirror. Similarly, when we want to understand ourselves better, we need an appropriate mirror. One such mirror is others who know us well.
Of course, just anyone who knows us well can’t act as a useful mirror – they need to be intelligent and benevolent. That is, they need to be perceptive enough to see our potentials and our blind spots, and they need to be favorably disposed, wanting to help us. From our social circle, we need to carefully shortlist such people, or we may need to expand our social circle till we find such people. And once we have identified such intelligent and benevolent friends, we need to cherish and nourish our relationship with them.
Do we need others for understanding ourselves? Can’t we understand ourselves through introspection? Yes, we can. By observing ourselves, especially in situations that foster emotions of comfort and in situations that trigger emotions of discomfort, we can better understand our strengths and our limitations.
However, when our mind is attached to something and agitated because of an opportunity or threat related with that thing, we can’t easily calm it by our own efforts. The ruffled mind makes our inner world like a turbulent pond that we can’t see through. Amidst such inner murkiness, introspection becomes not only difficult but also dangerous. Our mind becomes a distorter of our vision instead of a channel for our vision. The more we try to think about that thing, the more our mind misleads us towards misperceptions and mistakes. Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (06.05) cautions that our mind can act as our enemy.
In such situations of attachment and agitation, we need trustworthy others who can look at things objectively. For issues in which we are too emotionally invested and others are not, they can give us a healthy balancing perspective that we can’t get by introspection. This is one critical role played by spiritual friends. When they can understand our mind and can help us to understand our mind, they serve as vital mirrors and invaluable mentors.
According to modern psychology too, accountability partners are especially important in fostering self-awareness and facilitating self-improvement, especially for addicts whose minds often sabotage introspection with rationalization.
Additionally, others can also act as sounding boards, wherein we test our ideas and get feedback. By thus better appreciating the strengths as well as the limitations of our ideas, we can process them appropriately, by rejecting, refining or developing them.
In spiritual circles, introspection and association are both considered important for fostering growth. The Bhagavad-gita (17.16) recommends silence as an austerity of speech. Simultaneously, it stresses that devotees joyfully enlighten each other through spiritual discussions (10.09).
Our spiritual friends are mirrors who help us see both the best within us as well as the worst within us. They help us understand our essential spirituality, our dormant divinity as eternal parts of the supreme divinity, and our capacity to unleash that potential. And they help us to see the conditionings and contaminations that we keep hidden so deep in our inner closet that we try to deny their existence not just to the world but even to ourselves. The opportunities coming from our higher side and the threats coming from our lower side – both of these we can process better by opening ourselves to heart-to-heart communication with our spiritual friends.
By seeing ourselves through their eyes, we feel inspired to purge out our worst and to bring out our best.