The Mirror

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The mirror had stood in the Shaykh’s room longer than anyone in the khaneqah could remember. It even pre-dated the memory of the oldest Sufi, and he was rumored to be at least 122 years of age.

Over six feet tall the long oval mirror towered over the low couch, dwarfing the contents of the room. Its base was a marvel of intricately carved ebony depicting a lion chasing – and about to catch – a gazelle. The claws, hooves and eyes of the animals were set with Persian turquoise and moonstones, and a finely chased gold inlay picked out an inscription in Arabic that began: “He who chases the gazelle…,” the ending of which could not be seen as only the front of the base and a small portion of the frame were visible. The mirror itself was hidden beneath a shroud of some soft white material.

None of the Sufis were asked to clean it, yet the cloth remained spotless and the base polished. It was assumed by many that the Shaykh himself attended to it, but he was never seen to unveil it, and had not referred to it, even indirectly. The mirror was treated as if it were invisible, but of course it was not, looming large and mysterious by the Shaykh’s side. Over the years it became, as you might expect, the subject of endless speculation among the Sufis, and many evenings of brisk argument and refutation look place in the kitchen. Some mureeds insisted that the entire world might be seen in it; others disagreed, suggesting that the Shaykh probably saw Other than the world within it, and that it might be a symbol of their own relationship with him, or perhaps a reminder that the world was the veil.

The more scholarly mureeds quoted the story of the mirror in Rumi’s Diwän-e Shams Tabrizi, while the artists among them insisted that it was this very same mirror that appeared in many ancient Persian miniatures. And there were those who would never speak of the mirror at all, being overcome with awe and fear at the mention of it.

Rumors flew and over time the mirror acquired every possible attribute and interpretation until, if it had ever had a history of its own, it was now completely obscured under a web of subtle nuance and bold fabrication.

Still the Shaykh said nothing; gave no hints; never even looked in its direction. It remained by his side, its carved lion polished and shilling, the turquoise c1aws reaching eternally for the swift yet motionless hooves of the gazelle.

But one morning a dervish was sitting in the room in silence. The Shaykh was speaking to her. She noticed that a breeze from the garden was lifting the edges of the c1oth, and that very slowly the shroud was slipping from the face of the mirror.

Her heart pounding, she tried to concentrate on the Shaykh’s voice, while from the corner of her eye she strained to see if anything unusual was reflecting in the mirror. Finally, fascination and the desire to look overwhelmed her, and she looked boldly and directly at it. But at the exact moment that she turned her head, the Shaykh, stretching out his hand, lifted the fabric tossing it once again over the face of the mirror.

Later that evening in the kitchen, the dervish told the others what she had seen, yet even while relating the story, she wondered if it was only a figment of her imagination.

“It was all light,” she said. “No? all dark. And very still. But no, it flickered, and I saw a face, but perhaps it was a map. On second thought, I think that it was probably just the shadows of the leaves against the window.”

Incomplete as this news was, many mureeds were disturbed by it. Meals were forgotten. Meditations cut short as the image of the mirror appeared spontaneously in various ‘mind’s eyes’. One dervish developed a sudden interest in gardening, clipping the rosebushes under the Shaykh’s window and taking a rather unusual interest in his own reflection in the window pane. And a unique outbreak of somnambulism caused several minor accidents, as Sufis crept past the Shaykh’s door in the dark hoping to catch a glimpse of the uncovered mirror.

But the mirror remained veiled. And the Shaykh remained silent.

And then one night, the dervish who had seen something in the mirror dreamed that she had taken the shroud off the face of the mirror, and standing before it saw herself as a small child, naked and rosy, and had reached out her hand 10 touch her own warm skin, when with a loud explosion the glass shattered, and myriad shards hovered in the air. These burned and blackened fragments refused to reflect a complete image of anything, displaying instead portions of items that weren’t present – the rim of a goblet, the crest of a wave, a mole by the corner of a mouth.

Seeing the dream as an opportunity to broach the subject of the mirror, she went immediately to the Shaykh, and with his permission she told him the dream. He listened, smiled, then silently motioned her to leave. She stood at the door, hesitant and confused, not wanting to lose the possibilities that seemed inherent in the moment.

‘You desire understanding,” said the Shaykh, “when only desirelessness can increase your capacity. But if you need to see your reflection then look into the mirrors of my eyes.”

“It’s not me that I want to see,” replied the dervish, “I would like to see what you see when you look into the mirror.”

“For that,” said the Shaykh with a smile, “you would have to see with the eyes of my heart. But you may look into my eyes if you wish.”

The dervish knew that she was being offered a great gift, and nodding “Yes”, she raised her eyes to his. Their penetrating blackness caused her a momentary feeling of vertigo, but as she continued to stare she felt her will lessen, a deep contentment filling her, and the world as she had known it now seemed to he nothing but a brief dream that had slipped through her and gone, leaving her clean, empty as an ocean-tossed shell.

Lost in Love she stared at him, unaware that he had gently removed the shroud from the mirror, and without turning his face from hers, had averted his eyes and was looking directly into the shimmering glass.

For a second, (or perhaps a millennium) she saw reflected in the Shaykh’s eyes the contents of the mirror.

Hours later, another dervish, hearing her laughter as she fell down the two shallow steps to the kitchen, ran to help her, and lifting her up from the floor questioned her eagerly, hoping for an answer at last to the enigma of the veiled mirror.

But his questions were to remain unanswered. Sightless and crazed, her eyes stared past his expectant face, as laughing she sang:

Hich kasi be khishtan rah nabord be suye-u
Balke be paye- u ravad har ke ravad be kuye-u

No one by himself can find the way to Him.
You have to walk with His feet, whosoever goes to the street of Him.

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