Meikyō Shisui — Polished Mirror, Still Water 明鏡止水

Serenity is a mind that is mirror-like and reflects without being changed fundamentally.

Meikyō shisui [pronounced “may-kee-yoh she sway”] means “polished mirror, still water” — and describes the development of a mind that is balanced and serene, reflecting all that is around it, but yet continuing to remain unaffected by strife and change.

Mirrors are a recurring symbol in Japanese philosophy and mythology. Part of the fascination with mirrors is that they reflect images perfectly, and yet are unaffected by what they reflect. This imparts a certain stability and magical balance to them, and Meikyō shisui reflects this sense of balance.

Being a Mirror, Absorbing the World

We are surrounded by a constant stream of “input” — conversations, emails, messages, and everything else that is in our daily environment. In a way, dealing with all of this is a process of trying to drink from a high-pressure fire hose — it is very easy to nearly drown in such a setting.

A mirror, however, can reflect the most complex scenes, the most complicated light. And yet, it never is overwhelmed. It absorbs, reflects, and continues unaffected. In this way, we too can also absorb all around us, reflect on what it is we receive, internalize it, and yet we can continue unaffected until such time as we choose to be affected by it.

Note that this doesn’t mean that we must remain passive. Rather, it means that we can choose when we react, and in what way. And it means that there is no sense of being overwhelmed: just like a mirror, there is effectively no limit in our capacity to absorb events and information, provided that we choose carefully what we respond to, and in what fashion.

Being an Active Mirror

It is very easy for us to feel affected by the world around us, but it also is important that we do, in fact, absorb that world and all it has to offer.

Hermits don't create great works or accomplish great deeds. But quiet contemplation and consideration can lead to insights that most certainly are worth repeating and communicating, and may also lead to plans and goals for amazing and wonderous deeds.

Meikyō shisui gives us the formula for complete balance in the face of life’s recurring stimulus: absorb and reflect all things, and choose the manner in which we respond. Ultimately, this becomes the formula for feeling empowered and “in-control” of both our day and our destiny.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
明鏡 mirror (meikyo) bright mirror
stopped (shi/tome)
water (sui; alternate to mizu)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei in San Rafael, California on 7 May 2014, and then again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 12 October 2022, and then once more at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo and via Livestream on 14 October 2022.