The Dirty Old Mirror

Over the next week or so I’ll begin sharing a range of Field Guides that I’ve written, designed for use by individuals and, hopefully, consumable without the need of any additional support, that will guide you through the process of using the Hard Not Complicated approach to creativity in your personal and professional life.

During the process of writing these Field Guides I noticed a tension building in me. There was something I was trying to achieve that I didn’t feel I was reaching. Something unspoken. While meditating yesterday I had a realisation, suddenly I could see what was at the heart of my concerns. I had allowed an assumption to creep in. A belief of sorts. And the statement was this:

“These writings should constitute a complete, one pass solution, from start to finish.”

I had never consciously chosen this goal nor examined this belief. It crept up on me. This goal, this belief, was unachievable. Certainly for me! I concede that there may be a writer out there able to produce a work of such subtle complexity that simply by reading it from start to finish the consumer would come to a complete, life changing and irreversible realisation of absolute truth. Alas I am not that writer.

And besides, my entire approach to change is built on the antithesis of this idea. Change isn’t a one pass activity. Real change happens when we choose, repeatedly, to focus on and work on something.

Armed with this insight I was able to let go of this overwhelming and unreasonable pressure. I felt a lightness and clarity which, on further contemplation, I developed into a visualisation that I’d like to share with you.

Imagine that you’ve just take up residence in a beautiful old country house with wide, open grounds around it, left to you by some wealthy distant relative. On your second day you decide to pause the unpacking and explore some of your new home. In an old outhouse you find some bits and pieces, some old chairs, some pieces of art. And under a pile of dusty, dirty rags, a beautiful old mirror in a brass frame.

You bring the mirror indoors and set it on the kitchen table. It’s covered in layers of grime and dust, you’re probably the first to see it in years. You grab a jiffy cloth and a glass cleaning spray and begin to clean.

At first all the happens is you smear the dirt this way and that. But you don’t give up. Gently you wipe the glass. Time after time, wiping away the layers of dirt. Sometimes you come across a particularly stubborn patch, giving it some extra attention until the crud breaks down and wipes away.

Again, and again you wipe the surface and gradually the shinning mirror finish begins to show through. You see your nose, distorted at first through a smudge, and then clear. Then your eyes and your eyebrows. A few more wipes and you can see your mouth, then your chin. Finally your entire image is clear, beaming back at you from the pristine surface.

This process, cleaning a dirty old mirror, is very much like the process of real change. If you’d taken a chisel to the mirror and tried to crack through the layers of dirt, all the way through to the glass in one go, well that wouldn’t end well.

Real change happens when we focus on a gradual process of learning. Sometimes it won’t feel as if anything is changing. Sometimes parts of the process will happen more slowly than others. Some parts will require more focused attention while other parts will come easily. But all you need to do is keep working away, steadily and with purpose.

When you come to work through the Daily Practice Field Guide for the first time it might be tempting to try to take a chisel and get to the very bottom of it in one go. The pervasive ideal of one shot redemption, the grand, world changing realisation or life altering moment of clarity, makes us yearn for those moments. I don’t know if they exist, and if they do they’re rare and unreliable. Far better to place your faith not in miracles but in your own strength and perseverance.

Begin by finding one authentic insight and follow it with curiosity and and open mind. Then, when you’re ready, come back and repeat the process. As time goes by, with each pass, you’ll see more of yourself, reveal more and understand more. Change is a process. Like cleaning a dirty mirror, every pass, however gentle, brings you closer to seeing the complete picture.