I just returned from a trip to Hilo, my hometown on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. During my stay, I spent four nights in Captain Cook, South Kona, to attend a workshop by Aadil Palkhivala at Big Island Yoga Center. I rented a rustic in-law apartment with futon on floor and open-air kitchen and bathroom. Tropical foliage surrounded the house, along with a few wild chickens and cows.
As a Lonely Planet writer, I’ve viewed countless vacation rentals and mentally rated this one a “decent value.” It could’ve used a thorough professional cleaning (immaculateness can boost a no-frills studio to A+ in my book), but I loved the space and greenery. The noise outside—branches rustling and wings fluttering, moos and cock-a-doodle-doos—didn’t bother me, although I initially thought I was being spied on.
I did need to provide three things for myself: Dishwashing liquid. Paper towels. And a mirror.
Now, I’m not a constant mirror looker. I don’t wear makeup and only occasionally use contact lenses. I do Iyengar yoga, not Bikram yoga, which involves looking at one’s mirror image while doing asana. But don’t I need to check if my sunscreen is blended and my hair not a wreck? How will apply my whitening strips? What about the eyelashes that seem to migrate into my eyes every so often?
The second day I bought a cheap compact mirror. It got me thinking about whether I could live without one. My dog and cat don’t check their appearances in the mirror. They groom themselves “blindly” and they are gorgeous. They are aware of themselves from the inside, not from looking at themselves from the outside.
Imagine if we never saw how we look from the outside. Would that change our self-image and our behavior? I recalled that 1954 Norman Rockwell painting Girl at Mirror. Growing up, all kids scrutinize themselves, especially their faces, to figure out the age-old question: Who am I?
We probably all look at ourselves in a mirror at least once daily, if only casually while brushing our teeth. Seeing our own faces viscerally reminds ourselves of our existence. We see changes from day to day, year to year, and we align “inner me” and “outer me.” Maybe mirrors help to keep us honest. Can you look yourself in the eyes if your conscience is guilty?
In yoga, it’s distracting to watch one’s reflection doing asana, but I find it revealing occasionally to check my form in a mirror: Is my thoracic spine really concave in Urdhva Mukha Uttanasana? Is my pelvis neutral in Chaturanga Dandasana?
Mirror issues soon gave way to full days of yoga (and island life in general). But these thoughts momentarily popped into my head thanks to the missing mirror!