Reflections (A wisdom story)

Once upon a time, a Russian peasant went to visit Moscow, the big city. He arrived at its fanciest hotel. His boots were covered with mud, his clothing was torn, and his appearance was dishevelled. Despite all this, the clerk at the hotel smiled at him. He gave the peasant a key to his room, the highest and most elegant room in the hotel. The peasant began walking up the hotel’s beautiful winding staircase.

When he arrived at the first floor, he walked right in front of a full-length mirror. He had never seen a mirror before, and he was terrified because it contained a beastly image staring back at him. He growled and shouted at the beast but found it did the same right back to him. He screamed and ran up the next set of stairs. On the second floor, he ran into the beast again. He screamed, and the beast screamed back at him. Once again he ran up the stairs, to the third floor. The beast stared right back at him. They exchanged insults and stood toe to toe.

Realising he could not escape, the peasant ran back down to the lobby. He went back to the clerk at the desk. He told the clerk about the beast stalking him. The clerk quickly realized the man was seeing his own reflection in the mirror. Rather than embarrass or shame him, the clerk told the peasant that the strange-looking man was there to protect the hotel’s guests.

“Here’s the trick,” the clerk says. “If you make an angry face at him, he will do the same to you. But if you greet him with a smile and kind words, he will do the same to you.” The peasant thanked the clerk and went up to his room. He had no more terrifying stops.

Source: Evan Moffic

This story illustrates a truth about human perception and relating. How we relate to the other – whether that other be something inside ourselves or out in the world – determines how we will experience it. We make enemies in our minds, through the mental categories we create (i.e. friend/ foe). Whether it is a part of myself or another person, when I judge something and see it as threatening or bad, I create a monster out of it.

But if I can imagine the experience differently, if I can put a different frame around it by seeing some goodness in it, or perhaps a positive intent it has, then I no longer see it as a monster but more a ‘friendly foe’, something I don’t need to resist or defeat, but something I can befriend and make peace with. Rilke wrote:

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”


The next time you notice yourself in conflict with something consider that you might be ‘screaming in the mirror’, like the man in the story, and the frightening image you see might simply be your own projection. Then see if you can approach your experience with more curiosity and friendliness, seeing if some goodness might lie hidden underneath a rough exterior. Might this ‘other’ be something that needs your help? What is it asking of you? What might this experience teach you? What gift might lie hidden within it?