The Dog and The Prince

Recently, I came across the following story told by my Senior Teacher’s Teacher. This story was conveyed to him by a fellow disciple of Swami Rama by the name of Sunanda Bai:

Once upon a time there was a Persian King who had a castle built for his eldest son. Because this palace was created for the Crown Prince, no expense was spared and the palace consisted of all the latest and greatest accoutrements of the time – including a room filled with hundreds of mirrors.

One night, prior to the Prince taking possession of the palace, a dog slips through the gates and wanders into the castle. Eventually he makes his way into the room filled with hundreds of mirrors. Having never seen a mirror before or a reflection of himself, the dog didn’t know that the dog standing before him was actually a mirror of himself. Thus he quickly became frighted as he barked and the other dog barked back or when he jumped and the other dog jumped back.

At some point the dog turned around and found that he was surrounded by hundreds of other dogs. At this, he barked as loud as he could and the bark echoed back louder. He jumped as high as he could and all the other dogs jumped as high as they could. Eventually, he got so riled up that he charged one of the “other” dogs – hurting his own nose.

After noticing that he was hurt, the dog looked up and saw that the other dogs were also hurt. Finding a bit of satisfaction in this, the dog continued to charge and attack the other dogs – all the while ignoring his own pain.

The next morning, when the cleaning crew arrives to make the final touches before the Prince’s arrival they find the dog. Without much fuss, they quickly remove the remains and quickly clean up the room.

When the Prince arrives he goes through each of the room, inspecting the work of the artisans who have created this castle. When he finally arrives in the mirrored room, he looks into the various reflections coming back at him with a sense of humor and admiration. At this, he praises the artisans who had created such a beautiful home for him and then showers them with riches from his treasury.

At this Sundana Bai asks: So what was the difference? If both the Prince and the dog both entered the same room, why did they have very different results?

The answer lies in the fact that the Dog had never seen itself. Thus it couldn’t discern that the reflections of the mirrors were just different perceptions of itself. Consequently, it took each reflection to be a threat or an attack of which it had to defend itself. Whereas the Prince had seen itself and did know what a mirror was as well as its intended usage. Thus, the Prince didn’t perceive the myriad of reflections coming back to him as attacks against him or his home.

I bring up this story because for the past few days I have found myself physically responding much like the dog in this story. I have found that I have been experiencing quite a bit of fear, anger, frustration, and anxiety – all around one particular question: how to move forward with my life?

When I have shared some of these worries with those closest to me its been interesting to watch on a physical level I have reacted like this dog. I have barked back, become defensive or snippy, paced around the room, or had moments of extreme impatience and agitation. My behavior on some level has suggested that I am either being attacked or looking for a fight.

In many ways, my aggressive behavior to those like my mother, my sister, or my partner – all of whom honestly want nothing more for me than my own personal happiness, wellbeing and success – has been because I cannot see myself clearly. Thus any thing that I have said and that they reflect back is not always perceived correctly.

So the question that I have for you, the question I am working to answer for myself, is this: Where in your life might you be mistaking the reflections of others to be enemy attacks? Where might more self-awareness enable you to experience a greater sense of ease, support, and love within your body, your relationships, or even your profession? How can you begin to develop the courage and strength to take a moment to pause when you noticed that your triggered or frightened? In that pause, how can we begin to override the tendency of attack mode and ask how we might be misperceiving a given situation? Most importantly, how might we allow ourselves the compassion and grace to consider that every experience is an opportunity to better get to know ourselves?

Knowing that I do not want to behave in ways that create more separation, frustration, or distance between myself and others, I have been working to ask myself theses questions. And honestly, the solution, although simple, isn’t always easy. However, referencing the teachings of Lao Tzu, I know that I must have the courage to change in order to show up in the world in the loving way I wish to be seen and behave in this world.