A few nights ago, I had a dream about a mirror. Very strange vivid dream in which I was looking for a mirror. And then the next day, as so often seems to happen these days, something related to my dream took place – I met a friend who was carrying six small mirrors. They were beautifully made in a hexagonal form. I told him about my dream and he immediately gave me one of the mirrors. He had just had them made, and he figured that one of them was meant to be for me.
Mirrors are amazing things. They remind people what they look like, and in this case the mirror also reminded me of a story – an old Irish story about a monk called Kevin who set up a monastery called Glendalough in the remote hills of Wicklow. Kevin, or Saint Kevin, as he is known today was a very pious man who believed that the first step in loving God was to love yourself. He didn’t mean for people to be arrogant in any way. He simply meant that you should respect and love yourself, accept yourself as a wonderful creation of God’s love. Once you are able to love yourself, then you can choose to show your love for others through devotion, and finally you can begin to truly love God.
The monastery of Glendalough is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by woods inhabited by the native red squirrels and the bluebells that dance among the trees. Kevin originally went there as a hermit to live alone and to worship God, but slowly stories of his piety attracted many monks and the monastery grew and grew until it became the structure that lies in ruins today, with the round tower acting as a beacon for more pilgrims and travellers in the Wicklow hills.
One of these monks who caused problems was a man called Tomas. Tomas believed himself to be a pious man, but often when night came, he would creep out of the monastery and head for the local tavern where he would drink during the night and engage in rather un-monklike activities.
It wasn’t that Tomas really planned to go out and do these crazy things. It was just that sometimes he forgot himself and slipped out, thinking that it was just this one time and that no harm could possibly come of it. And so he would go out and do things that aren’t really suitable for a person who loves himself or herself.
When the man returned to the monastery, bloated and tired, he would always have to sleep down by the lake because Kevin always locked the monastery at night to ensure that everything was safe and the integrity of the monastery would not be threatened in any way. And when the man awoke by the lake in the bright light of morning, he would realize that he had done it again and be disgusted at what he had done, feel very guilty and head back to the monastery. Sometimes, he even thought of just quitting the monastery because he thought that he couldn’t live up to the goals, but eventually he would always go back – knowing that he might fail again.
Now, Kevin knew all about Tomas’ antics, even though he pretended that he knew nothing at all. Because whatever we do, people always know about them somehow. And there are no real secrets in a monastery. Each part of the monastery eventually is influenced by every other part.
So one morning, Kevin went down to the lake and saw Tomas sleeping there, tossing and turning with guilt in his dreams in the midst of all that fabulous scenery. For Glendalough is a truly beautiful place where even today people take long walks in the mountains and woods and walk from the higher lake to the monastery at the lower lake. Kevin hid himself carefully in a tree where Tomas would be able to hear his voice but wouldn’t be able to see him, and he called out to Tomas who was still sleeping. Kevin spoke in a beautiful soft voice like an angel.
“Tomas, why are you here?”
Tomas heard the strange voice of the angel calling and startled up, thinking he was having a strange dream.
“I must return to the monastery,” he said to himself aloud. “Oh my God, I have done it again. I hate myelf for what I have done.”
But then the angel’s voice came again, “But Tomas, if you return to the monastery without learning to love yourself, you will do this same thing again and again.”
Tomas looked around again to try to see who was calling and realized without a doubt that he was in the presence of an angel.
“So what should I do? Should I leave this monastery?,” he cried, truly upset because he really did want to achieve his goal of being close to God.
The angel said, “If you really want to be close to God, you know that you must do as Kevin has said and learn to love yourself.”
“So what should I do?,” asked Tomas. “I really do want to achieve what I set out to do.”
Then the angel said, “Go to the lake and look at the place where you see yourself in the water.”
For the lower lake of Glendalough is truly a beautiful place, one of those mysterious waters where you the surface of the lake is almost like a mirror in the still cold mornings of the Wicklow hills.
The angel continued, “Go to the lake and gaze upon your own face in the reflection of the mirror of the lake. See and know yourself. Look at yourself and say ‘I accept and love this person.’ And each morning at this hour, return to the lake and once again gaze upon your reflection in the mirror of the lake and learn to love yourself so that you can love others and learn to love God.”
And the monk, Tomas, did just as the angel had said, and he gazed upon his own image in the lake and new understandings came to him. He began to understand and respect the person that he truly was in new ways. And each day as he returned to look upon his face in the mirror of the lake, he began to change his way, to develop a true love and respect for himself, and the more he truly respected and loved himself, the more he was able to devote himself to his true purpose and respond to his true calling.
And as the years went by, Tomas became the abbot of the monastery of Glendalough and was known far and wide for his resourceful wisdom and lore, but above all for his love. And when he was asked for advice by the novice monks, he always replied, look upon yourself every morning in the mirror of the lake and learn to love the face that you see. For when you look upon your face, you can see the greatness of God himself.
And when I told this story to the friend who gave me the gift of the hexagonal mirror, he laughed and said “perhaps you will remember this story when you see this mirror and remember that you have many more sides than the six sides of the hexagon.”