Of kittens and toads

I was surfing the other day (the web, of course) and ran across that popular photo of a ginger kitten, its little face peering intently in the mirror at the reflection of a full-fledged and very regal lion. The meaning is obvious: place your eyes on what you can be, your potential, your dreams. Intention is a very powerful thing and you are strong, and worthy, and able. It’s a great message.

It’s the kind of message that encourages us to have faith in our abilities and to dream big dreams. I like that.

Then yesterday my teleworking co-worker and friend Angela called from home and asked me to restart her computer so she could connect remotely. While waiting for her work computer to boot back up, I glanced at her cubicle wall. Stuck there, ripped from a calendar, was a photo that made me laugh out loud, then just as quickly made me stop and think. It was a photo of a toad, its comical mug peering intently in the mirror at the reflection of … itself. A toad.

Yeah. The meaning here is less obvious, I think, but I really do like the message implicit in this photo: What looks back at me from the mirror is every bit as wonderful as I am. That toad exhorts me to love myself. To be comfortable in my skin, to be authentically me in every way.

Both photos offer powerful imagery. Both carry exceedingly important messages about self image. But it’s the second one, the lowly toad who sees himself in the mirror, warts and all, that holds a deeper, richer message. Hands down.

Love yourself as you are.

It’s far more elemental than that lovable kitten because it suggests to me that I’m just fine, thank you, without artifice, without pretense, and without being something other than myself. It’s a sign of authenticity, of “what you see is what you get.” I really like that concept, because authenticity is a value I find most compelling.

Why I think that’s important lies in my belief that I have to be happy with and love myself before I can reach out and love others. I have to be authentic so I don’t lose sight of my sense of self by investing my identity in people or causes, regardless of whether those people are lovers or friends or those causes are worthwhile and important.

If I can look in the mirror and love what looks back at me, and truly believe that my reflection is beautiful and accomplished and talented and good, why, there’s nothing in the world that can crack my foundation. If I hit rocky terrain, I’m unshakeable. If I have smooth waters, I’m floating peacefully. What an exquisite tenet for living!

Maybe the bottom line for me isn’t so much that the kitten who sees himself as a powerful lion isn’t as worthy as the toad who sees himself as a toad and is OK with that. I think the bottom line may just be that I know I have to be authentically me, rock solid and strong in the knowledge of who I am and what I stand for, before I can truly dream of being more than I am.

So my toad is the first step, the crucial foundation. It’s the toad who sees and loves himself that makes it possible for that ginger cat to dream and see the lion looking back.

What do you see when you look into the mirror? Whatever it is, love it.

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