Insomnia and Mirrors

And so it is that I’m up at 1 in the morning, writing about mirrors.

These wee hours of morning. For a few weeks now, they’ve been my consistent companion. Whether I find my nights stretching into their territory, or I’m awakened in the middle of the night as if to be reminded of their presence, I find myself here. As a naturally early sleeper, I take pause when this happens. Such a disruption of my circadian rhythm is usually a sign something is afoot, or evolving — or, bare minimum, wants me awake for it.

But, yes, mirrors. Metaphorical mirrors. Perhaps I’ll start small and go from there.

Perhaps I’ll start with pets — because they say your pet can be a reflection of yourself.

“They”. Whoever they are, I’ve wondered their rationale.  Is it because of how we interact with our pets?  Is it because, with time, we tend to take on the mannerisms and traits of those around us?  Is it confirmation bias, looking for proof and parallels when there might otherwise be none?  Is it something more — more mystical?

I don’t doubt it when it comes to our cat Salem.  He was adopted by my husband before I officially moved in, and the parallels between Salem and my husband are striking.  Salem’s intelligence is unparalleled . He carries himself with equal parts regality and mischief.  He is at once a beast to contend with and a gentle giant.  He’s both a ruthless killer — killing mice and chipmunks and garter snakes with an efficiency that leaves me in awe — and a big, affectionate teddy bear.  He is at once feral and docile, a force and fragile, straightforward and complex.  Self-aware and cunning, but, at the end of the day, just wants to be loved and secure in that love.

When we got Milo, I adored every ounce of him, even as those ounces turned to pounds.  But I never saw the reflection, outside of the fact that his emotions always seem unfiltered. When he loves, he loves with all his might.  When he is happy, he is rapturous.  His whole body goes into that love, that joy, as if you could pick up the happiness just by patting his head.

But when he hates, he hates viciously.  When he is mad, he is a hurricane of negativity.  The veterinarians who’ve had to give him shots or draw blood — especially the vets who had to tend to him during his medical emergency nearly 7 years ago — would have a hard time believing this tabby is the sweet little boy who comes when you call and purrs so loudly he’d hang his mouth open a little.

I see a bit of myself in that: my emotions are unfiltered, undamped.  When I love, I love mightily.  But when I hate, I hate viciously.  When I am happy, I’m a child on Christmas morning. But my anger could burn a village down with flames left to spare.  It’s taken a lot of work to calm the pendulum swing — and to no longer get dragged along with it.

But I saw my reflection in Artemis, as my husband was describing Artemis and her antics to some of our friends.

“She’s not a dumb cat,” he said. “She just dives into things without thinking it through.”

“And we don’t know anyone else in this house who’s like that!” I quipped, tilting my drink self-deprecatingly in my direction.

The more we have her, the more she goes from a kitten into a cat, the more I see it.  There’s a restless quality to her that goes beyond just high energy.  She is constantly wanting something, but I’m not sure even she knows what she wants.  She is anxious, even as she rests.  Her eyes could be closed but her breathing stays rapid.  She tends to plop down into snuggles, but the slightest noise could have her up again.  And she is the happiest when she can explore — when she’s hoisted up on top of large shelves or the top of a door, trying out things that will probably get her hurt, attempting to get to one more unexplored spot, try out one more thing. Her purrs are the loudest when she can travel to something she’s never been before.

I see a lot of myself in this kitten.  And, at its most basic definition, that is a mirror: something we’re able to see ourselves in, for whatever reason we need to.

We’ll graduate from pets to friends now, shall we?

Sometimes — no, way more than sometimes — I think about the friends I have made in my adult life.  I think about the people I’ve gravitated to, the people that felt almost thrust upon me by a higher power.  I think about how it was no coincidence that some of my most cherished friendships in my adult years formed right as I had to contend with how I was raised — and it was all with people who were raised in frighteningly similar fashions.  We’d compare our childhoods, our demons, our hang-ups — and, good God, they’d run perfectly parallel.  And through that, I rebuilt.  Through that, we all rebuilt.  We laid our cards out on the table and found solace our identical hearts and spades and clubs.

It was almost like, in becoming each other’s reflections, we created a new world, an infinite corridor.  It’s almost as if all it takes for a demon to lose a bit of its potency is for it to meet its doppleganger.

I think about the friendships where the parallels outside of childhood traumas are frighteningly similar.  When personality traits seem to blast past coincidence and into the eerie.  When an overlap is made apparent and a joking, “And that’s why we’re friends!” is made.  When there is comfort in seeing a mirror in yourself, even as it reflects back the same lines and blemishes and parts of you that you’re not so thrilled about.

And, likewise, the friendships where the parallels were more like parallel universes — where I could see myself as them, had things been a little different for me.  If I hadn’t met certain people, or if certain healing hadn’t occurred.  And it took a very, very long time to recognize when I have to step back from people like that, that I’m not here to play up any survivor’s guilt and do penance for all the ways I could’ve turned out, but didn’t.

Amazing how a mirror can be a comforting embrace, a knowing nod, and a warning call all at the same time.

I think about what a vital tool the Enneagram has been for me.  As I’ve admitted to others who dove into the nine personalities, there was nothing too, too surprising, nothing the test told me that I didn’t already know on some level.  What surprised me what how well every piece stitched together — that, for once, I wasn’t given shards to make sense of individually, but instead a full-length mirror, something that encompassed me from head to toe.

I remember how often I cried during the first few weeks — again, not because I was learning anything new, but because I had been given the most comprehensive, unflinching mirror.  Everything was reflected back at me — the good, the bad, the ugly.  And how needed it was, to have that reflection.  I was simultaneously comforted and called out — and at a time when I needed both.

You can try to guess what you look like, but nothing will beat standing in front of the mirror, staring straight on.  But then, of course, the question remains: do you do something about what you see, or do you just keep staring, as if your reflection will solve it for you?

The wee hours of the morning.  It’s now closing in on 2.  I think of a character I wrote in my most recent manuscript.  The reader is introduced to her as she stands out on her porch, in a weird, retroactive kind of mourning, thinking to herself that nothing good happens at this hour of night (how fascinating, the ambiguity of this time of day — it is either morning or night, or both, depending on your viewpoint).

There’s a poem I wrote recently, and posted it online with brash (reckless?) courage: I’ve wished you many different, contradictory things over the years — but now I think I just wish you the bravery to stand square in front of the mirror and stare without trying to paint a new image over it.

I write rawly.  Truth be told, the overwhelming reason I all but stopped writing for websites, for companies — why I stopped performing on cue like a monkey with her cymbals — was because I either write raw or completely inauthentic.  When I wasn’t allowed to write my topics, on my time, on my terms, the words sounded almost mocking — like I couldn’t hide my contempt for pretending.

But I wouldn’t change the way I write, even if it sometimes lands me in vulnerable or awkward situations (or, every so often, in hot water).  I write the way one might smash a fist into a mirror and then turn it towards the world: in hopes that perhaps one or more of those shards will reflect something back for those who take the time to look, even if my fists are bloodied in the meanwhile.  And perhaps I’m also hoping people will see the cuts on my hand and realize that it looks way worse than it actually feels.

It’s 2:45.  In just a few hours, I’ll have to get ready to teach.  It’s going to be a long day, but I’m not worried.  I’ve learned a long time ago to embrace when sleep evades me.  Sleep is like a fickle cat — chase it, and it will hiss and run and hide from you, leaving you feeling rejected and alone.  Do your own thing, and perhaps it will come to you.  Or perhaps not.  Either way, you can’t force it.

It’s a far cry from this time 5 or 6 years ago, when insomnia would leave me hysterical with exhaustion: why can’t I just sleep?  What horrible things will await me the next day because of this exhaustion?

But it is an echo from 3 years ago, when my soul would be stirred up in this similar fashion, and I’d simply retreat from the bedroom to read or write or dance.  (Oh, the number of times I needed to put on headphones and dance before my heart would settle enough for sleep.  As if I had to prove I could literally dance with my demons before I was allowed rest.)

(And, yes, the past — aren’t you quite the mirror?  But a peculiar type: the kind that reflects back how different things are, or points out the origins of things.  Its reflection is a measurement of how far you’ve come.)

Both Milo and Artemis have joined me in the living room tonight (this morning?).  Milo curls up next to me as Artemis patrols.  This is their MO when I can’t sleep, almost like a stand in — if sleep would rather hiss at you, we’ll come to you instead.  We’ll stand guard during this vulnerable hour.

I still want to know: why the disruption?  Am I to blame the full moon?  The confluence of recent events that outright convince me that a higher power is at play?  Is this a growing pain the same way a child’s calves cramp up as their legs get longer, stronger, better?

Like so many things — will I ever actually find out?  Or am I stuck staring into the mirror and seeing what little details I can pick out in the distance?

There’s a book I’m reading right now about the Four Agreements.  The book starts off with a story about a man from 3,000 years ago, who, in a dream, leaves his body and realizes that we’re all made of stars, and that stars are not made up of light so much as they reflect it.  And, likewise, our beings, our bodies, our lives, are reflections of that light — reflecting our true source, our unified spirit.  Reflecting each other.

The sentiment alone makes me want to cry, but the actual sensation — the physical understanding and belief in such a thing — transcends feelings to the point that even the most violent sob wouldn’t assuage it.

The day after I read that story about the dream (and found myself carrying it around like a needed backpack) I opened my notebook of quotes to this:

The sun shines down, and its image reflects in a thousand different pots filled with water.  The reflections are many, but they are each reflecting the same sun.  Similarly, when we come to know who we truly are, we will see ourselves in all people.”

I always end my yoga classes with a quote, and I usually try to open the notebook to a random page — let happenstance and the powers that be direct me to what quote is needed.  Perhaps it’s because my soul had been stirring for weeks — and the sleep has been so hard to come by — but I nearly burst into tears when I eyes fall upon it.

It’s all reflections.  All of it.  And I’m just loopy, exhausted, mystical, crazy, enlightened, enraptured enough to believe it.

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