I invite you to explore with me the properties of light and symmetry in mirrors and how these appear in dreams and dreamwork. Through the ages, spiritual traditions have referred to the enigmatic property of mirrors as a metaphor to convey spiritual truths.
As the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tsu observed, ‘The mind of a perfect man is like a mirror: It grasps nothing; it expects nothing. It reflects but does not hold.’ His words evoke the empty stillness of a mirror to describe clarity of mind.
According to monotheistic faiths, the human being, made in the image of God, has the potential to mirror divine qualities. In Judaism, the Kabbalah teaches that the natural world acts as a ‘cosmic mirror’, which reveals and conceals the nature of the Divine. In early Christian literature, The Book of Wisdom, it is no wonder that Wisdom is extolled as follows:
She is the reflection of the eternal light
A spotless mirror of the working of God.
Image of goodness.
The Sufi tradition speaks mysteriously of ‘the mirror of nothingness’ upon which God self-discloses. The Sufi scholar Sayyed Hossein Nasr elaborates:
Now a mirror is a surface that reflects what is placed before it, and in itself the surface is ‘nothing,’ that is, it has no form of its own. Since there cannot be any being independent of God, what we see as the cosmos therefore cannot but be but a reflection of God’s Names and Qualities upon what is ontologically ‘nothing,’ like a mirror.
For Sufis, not only creation, but also our dreams, act as mirrors that reflect qualities of the Divine.
Light and Mirrors in Dreams
To begin, it is helpful to recall a simple fact: to produce a reflection in a mirror requires light. Without light, the mirror’s surface appears dark. Fundamentally, what we see in a mirror is light. Physicists now know that most of the photons that strike the mirror’s surface interact with electrons inside the glass and its silvered lining, and literally ‘bend back’ to the viewer (as in the Latin reflectare). These actions combine to create the image reflected in a mirror. From the spiritual perspective, dreams both interpenetrate with, and reflect, the light of the Divine in ‘the mirror of the heart’.
This helps us understand the way dreams can function on a spiritual level by mirroring the inner light of the Spirit, as in this dream:
My eldest brother and I drive in a black, shiny Range Rover in the Alps at about 12,000 feet and going up. The icy road curves along the mountainside at twilight and the Alpen glow bathes the mountains in russet gold. The red-gold light shines so intensely along the top of the mountain peaks that it holds my gaze. I recognise radiance as a sign of the Spirit, becoming more lucid as I do so.
In another dream, hundreds of heart-shaped crystals hanging in a shop window caught and reflected a brilliant light, the beauty and intensity of which I realised to be nothing other than Spirit. Given such experiences, it makes perfect sense to me that the word “lucid” derives from the Latin root luces, meaning light.
The cleaner the mirror’s surface, the clearer the reflection. Again, speaking metaphorically, the 12th-century Sufi mystic and teacher Abd al-Qadir tells us: ‘The man of knowledge makes images while the wise man polishes the mirror upon which the truth is reflected.’ We can ‘polish’ our inner mirror through spiritual practices of body and mind, including yoga, meditation and prayer.
In contrast, a tarnished or dirty surface ‘blocks’ or ‘veils’ the light, dimming the mirror. Another Sufi mystic, Ibn al-‘Arabi, born in the 12th century, observes that ‘an unpolished mirror’ is like ‘undifferentiated creation without anything of the Spirit in it’.
This effect has occurred in my own dreams when, for example, I have recognised within the dream that the clutter filling a room symbolises my own cluttered thoughts. Realising this, I am able to become lucid and the dreamscape gives way to light.
Similarly, at other times, the winds on the Black Light may lose their power until I clear the way by invoking the pure light of the Spirit:
With lucidity, I bow my head and the dreamscape, and my dream body give way to the Black Light. This time, though, the movement on the winds feels ponderous, like getting a heavy rocket to lift off. I realise I am not focused and so pray for the Spirit to ‘lift me up’. In response, the energy carries my consciousness as if I were lying on a flying carpet into a very deep space. Just staying with this movement takes a good deal of energy. It feels as if my soul travels at the speed of light or even faster!
Like a tarnished mirror, when the mind is overwrought and crowded with unhelpful thoughts, dreams tend to be less luminous. Yet, as in this dream, when we give our attention to the sacred, the dream becomes clearer.
Abd al-Qadir explains further: ‘When the mirror of the heart is completely cleansed by being polished with the continuous evocation of the divine Names, one has access to and knowledge of the divine attributes. The witnessing of this vision is only possible in the mirror of the heart.’
Fortunately, no matter how much polishing may be needed, provided that we try the best we can, grace may come to our aid and reveal the Spiritual realm.
A basic principle of Nature, that of symmetry, becomes apparent in the property of ‘mirror symmetry’. The word symmetry is made up of the prefix sym, meaning ‘the same’, and the root metre or measure. Every time we look at ourselves in a mirror, we see one of the most common forms of symmetry, known as ‘bilateral symmetry’ — a left/right reversal through 180 degrees. This reversal is all the more extraordinary since it only applies to the horizontal plane — or else we would find ourselves reflected in a mirror upside down!
Many life forms display symmetry, conferring qualities of beauty, harmony, balance and wholeness — qualities of the Divine. Physicist and dream researcher Nigel Hamilton has identified symmetrical development as part of a natural and organic process whereby, through the evolution of symmetrical forms in our dreams, ‘something is actually being constructed in the psyche’, a growth in the personality mirrored in the geometry of the imagery that appears.
The geometric forms in the dream that follows communicate and affirm my spiritual nature:
In my dream, someone hands me a letter in a blue envelope. I think of how a letter in a dream can bring guidance and so become lucid.
As I bow my head, the dreamscape falls away and in a flash the dreamscape and my dream body dissolve. Taken on winds through the Holy darkness, my soul is surrounded by a multi-faceted geometric structure radiating white beams of light on all sides. I hear myself singing, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Power and Might, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
Then the light form coalesces into a large sphere of purple, silhouetted against a backdrop of velvety black. A red halo rings the purple. The purple elicits in me an awareness of suffering, and of the Divine. For some time, I meditate on the qualities of the colour.
The purple sphere changes into vivid joyful yellow, ringed with red. All the while, I am aware of light pulsating through my being. Although I long to stay in the experience, the yellow and red dissolve all around me and I awaken.
Of note, both the initial geometric form and the sphere it becomes are symmetrical structures. Later, I identified the former as a dodecahedron, one of the five Platonic solids. The 15th-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino viewed the dodecahedron as a mirror of the image of God because its shape most nearly approached a sphere (the sphere being considered the most ‘perfect’ of forms because of its flawless internal symmetry).
In this dream, the dodecahedron and sphere give expression to a divine, harmonic order. Whenever I bring to mind the purple sphere that formed out of the dodecahedron, I feel calmed and strengthened, my mind clear, my heart renewed, ready for whatever life may bring.
This article is an excerpt from Melinda Powell’s book Lucid surrender: The alchemy of the soul in lucid dreaming.
Melinda is also the keynote speaker for online conference Many Worlds of Lucid Dreaming which opens this Saturday October 29th, 2022. This affordable two week conference features 13 lucid dream expert presentations, zoom sessions, and a private community forum.
More about the author
Melinda Powell co-founded the Dream Research Institute at the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education, London, to promote research into the relationship between dreams and wellbeing. She has served as past vice-president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and as director of HELP Counselling Centre, London. She works as a psychotherapist, teaches Lucid Surrender and writes about dreams and dream lucidity. She is author of The Hidden Lives of Dreams (Bonnier Books UK, 2020) and Lucid Surrender: The Alchemy of the Soul in Lucid Dreaming (Archive Publishing).