Remona AlyWednesday 03 August 2022 BBC Radio 2, Pause for Thought
I suffered an acute bout of cuteness overload last weekend when my baby niece stayed with us along with her older brother and parentals. She’s only 14 months, but is a fierce and fully independent little thing, insisting she feeds not only her mouth but her entire face, as well as the table, at every mealtime.
She also gets elated whenever she sees herself in the mirror – waving, giggling, and touching her reflection in sheer joy, like she’s greeting her best friend after a long separation.
If only I had the same reaction when I see what’s reflected back. The shape of my profile does not resemble the perfect ones I see on TV. The silver hairs creeping under dark locks do not tell me I’m worth it.
Standing in front of the glass, I judge all my flaws and see all my insecurities. The mantra to love yourself isn’t something I even understand, let alone know how to embrace.
There’s a Sufi Muslim story of a shaykh, or scholar, who has an old, mysterious mirror that’s covered by a shroud in the corner of his room. His students are intrigued and one asks if she can uncover the mirror and peer in, but she’s anxious of what it might reveal, saying, “It’s not me that I want to see. I would like to see what you see when you look into the mirror.” The shaykh replies, “Then you will have to see it with the eyes of my heart.”
Unlike the pure self-delight of children, I think adults grow up to become more discontent and hard on ourselves. We forget to use the loving eyes that our hearts offer us every day. However imperfect we are, each flaw has its own charm, each vulnerability its own beauty.
The medieval Muslim poet and scholar, Rumi says, “If you want the moon, do not hide from the night. If you want a rose, do not run from the thorns. If you want love, do not hide from yourself.”
So maybe the key to self-love, and then to all love, is not turning away but accepting all of you. To look in the mirror with more compassion, more tenderness, more heart. Just like my baby niece does, although preferably not with a face covered in strawberry yoghurt.