Yes and no.
Yes, I believe we are consciously and unconsciously co-creating reality with all other beings in existence, with whom we are inseparably linked. But does that mean that everything around you is a reflection of yourself? I don’t think so.
When you take a large and complex truth and try reducing that truth to a simpler form, you don’t necessarily wind up with a more concentrated truth. To me, it’s like taking a sacred plant, like coca, and extracting one aspect of it, such as cocaine, and creating something that can be potent, addictive, and potentially harmful. Not to mention that you lose the properties that come from any other constituents of the plant and the synergistic effect from taking the plant medicine as a whole. (Keep in mind that I do think there are cases where a truth can be distilled to it’s highest form. But this is not one of those cases, from the way I have heard it explained.)
The idea of everything being a reflection of yourself is sometimes also stated as the world (or life or the universe or whatever) being your mirror.
There are all sorts of mirrors. Convex, concave, flat. There are funhouse mirrors. And there are dressing rooms mirrors that make you appear thinner, to try to trick you into buying clothes you otherwise might not. But no matter what, all mirrors have some degree of distortion (see footnote 1), so they never truly reflect how you appear. Plus, as we all know, the “mirror image” is the reverse of what you see in real life.
And what if the mirror is dirty? That doesn’t mean you are dirty. Maybe you might need to clean the mirror without having to clean yourself.
Likewise, if you are looking at your reflection in a conventional mirror, you can make the reflection you see stop by remaining still, but that’s not the case if you are looking at your reflection in the water. Waves in the water can cause your reflection to move no matter how still you are.
So what’s the application for all this?
As I’ve usually heard this concept presented, there’s often an assumption that you have complete control over everything that happens, especially what happens to you. Added to that, there’s sometimes an implication that if anything “unpleasant”, “undesirable”, or in any other way *negative* exists in your life, then that’s your fault. This negates that other beings are simultaneously co-creating with us.
I totally believe that we can choose how we respond to situations. I believe we can choose to take as much responsibility as possible for our lives and to try to make the best out of any situation. But I don’t think it’s either right or wise to take responsibility or credit for things we don’t really have control over. For one thing, it lets others off the hook for their behavior. (As an aside, I generally believe that if we love others, then we must hold them accountable for the consequences of their behavior.) For another, it can be a deludedly solipsistic and narcissistic (see footnote 2) stance to take.
Now what I find problematic is when I see people advised to see difficulties in their lives as a reflection of themselves instead of considering other possibilities for why that difficulty is there.
Let’s consider someone having a difficult romantic relationship. For all sorts of reasons, people can get into bad relationships. Sometimes, the primary attachment figures a person had as a child did not meet their needs for safety and affection, and that person may unconsciously keeps pursuing partners with similar flaws. On the other hand, there are definitely people with horrible parents that found great partners and have had healthy, loving relationships, even without having to do a lot of healing work. The reverse is also possible. I’ve seen nice, well-adjusted people get sucked into very unhealthy relationships. Sometimes they had shadow stuff to work on, like needing to do deeper healing work regarding childhood attachment issues. In a case like that, you could say that the relationship was simply a reflection. But just because something can be true does not mean that it’s always true.
I’ve seen other situations. Same presentation—different cause.
There are times—I believe—when people are electing to pursue difficult relationships in order to transmute heavy energies for our collective consciousness.
There are also times when someone finds themself gradually trapped in an unhealthy relationship, because the person they entered into the relationship with actively worked to manipulate them and erode their boundaries over time. (Gaslighting partners can be very powerful co-creators, especially if we allow them to take away our power.)
In both those situations, you could still argue that the relationship is a reflection of who they are. But how meaningful or helpful is that reflection?
If you see a highly distorted reflection of yourself, and you are wise enough to determine that it’s not giving an accurate representation of how you appear, maybe you need to step away from that mirror. Maybe you need to find another mirror, or find a different tool altogether, in order to gain proper insight into why a difficulty is in your life. The more accurate your insights are, the better equipped you’ll be to figure out how you want to handle that difficulty or anything else in your life.
Since I’ve been talking about mirrors and reflections, I’m going to share from one of my favorite Buddhist stories. It’s the Chan Buddhism equivalent of a rap battle that took place before 700 AD. The 5th Patriarch of Chan told those in his monastery to demonstrate their wisdom in poetry.
Whoever was deemed to have truly penetrated the reality of original nature would be named his successor.
Shen Hsiu, the head monk, composed this poem:
The body is the Bodhi-tree.
The mind, a mirror in a stand—
take time to wipe it carefully,
so that no dust may land.
The lowly and illiterate Hui Neng, later to become the 6th Patriarch of Chan, composed the following:
Fundamentally, no Bodhi-tree exists,
nor a stand with mirror bright.
Since all is empty from beginning,
where can the dust alight?
Seeing a reflection in a mirror pales in comparison to accurately seeing reality as it is. It provides useful information, but the context of ALL THERE IS must be taken into consideration as well.
Yes!—Look at yourself. Look and discern. Utilize the feelings that arise in response to the situations around you as guidance. Ask yourself why it is that something bothers you. Or what you think you can learn from a situation. But don’t limit yourself to that.
Go wander. Go play. Be curious. Discover. Notice all types of reflective surfaces. Notice things that aren’t reflective at all. See others as they are, whether they can act as a foil to you or not.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) I wish to know more fully, in the same way that the Divine knows me and all there is. I wish to see beyond all mirrors and to see the world with eyes like the Divine.
You ARE NOT your reflection. You are more than all this. Live like you are.
There is a special kind of mirror made in India called an Aranmula kannadi. They have reflective surface, instead of a of reflective coating behind glass. Because of this, they do not refract light, the way standard mirrors do, and are considered by some to be the only mirrors that allow you to see yourself as you truly are. (FYI, it’s also considered highly auspicious to own one.)
However, there is still no such thing as a perfect mirror. A perfect mirror is considered to be one that reflects all light without absorbing or allowing any of it to pass through. Researchers have developed some nearly perfect mirrors, but they usually only work for certain wavelengths of light and don’t work at all angles—and they bare little resemblance to what most of us think of as a mirror. But these mirrors ARE helping us to “see” some very fascinating things about our reality, like the ones used to detect gravitational waves.
Also relevant to this subject is the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and was so fixated by it that he never moved, never noticed anything else, never loved anything else, and ultimately became a flower.
Narcissistic “love” is ego-based. There’s a difference between truly loving yourself as you are and loving yourself only because of how you appear, aesthetically or otherwise. When you love yourself fully, you don’t need to look outside yourself for love. You become an embodiment of love. You are freer to move throughout the world because the love you seek is wherever you are.