"Once upon a time there was a princess. She loved to travel and often was carried to distant parts of her father's kingdom in search of treasures of mind and artifacts of beauty. One day as she was being carried along a dusty hot road, she glanced outside the curtains and noticed an old woman huddled at the side of the road, bent double and ill. She saw and in a moment had pity on the woman. She had her lifted into her own litter and carried to the palace. She didn't know exactly why she did this — there were many old and sickly beggars in the kingdom, but this one seemed to call to her with her eyes. She cared for her, nursing her to health and feeding her until her strength returned.

"As the old woman set to leave, she approached the princess and drew from her clothes a gift for the princess, a mirror. It was simple, wooden, with a carved design along its edges, but well-worn, and used. She offered it in gratitude for her care and ministrations. It was all she had. The princess was embarrassed — she had so many mirrors! But she accepted it graciously and the old woman disappeared. The princess laid the mirror down without a second thought.

"Later that night she began to prepare for a royal dinner and reception. She dressed in finery, as befitting her rank, and waited so that she would enter just as all the other guests were seated. She slipped out of her chambers and realized that she hadn't looked to see if all was in order. She ran back in and, without thinking, picked up the mirror she had cast on a table, the mirror that the old woman had given her. She stopped in her tracks.

"She couldn't stop looking at what she saw. It was a beautiful sight, color, designs — but it was a peacock! Not a woman. She was tempted to throw the mirror aside, but hesitated and looked again. It was a peacock and in that moment the truth seared her. She was just a peacock strutting her beauty and raiment before the people. Chastened, she went to the party, but she vowed that night to change her life, to alter what she had become as drastically and truthfully as she knew how.

"Soon she was pleading with her father to let her leave the palace and join a monastery of nuns, to study, to sit, to reflect, and to serve those who were poor and in need of compassion. Her father was reluctant but she was persistent. In time she left the kingdom and disappeared into the monastery. Years passed. She studied, read, sat zazen, served in the kitchen and the garden, tending the needs of visitors, begging for her food. Because she was once a princess and knew languages and how to read and so many other skills, she began to rise through the ranks. Within seven years she had become the abbess of a large monastery.

"One evening before bed she was standing in the doorway and a great sadness came over her. What was it? She remembered the mirror, the gift of the old woman, and wondered where she was now; if she was still alive. And she turned into her small cell and went through her few possessions to find the mirror. She took a deep breath and looked into it, Again, she was stunned. It was beautiful. This time she saw an eagle, wings spread, elegant and proud, flying high above all the other birds, above the earth itself, soaring alone in its world. She was broken-hearted. All these years and still she was more a bird than a human being.

"Again, she sought to change her life, to live in such a way that she would be whole, truthful, and compassionate. With time, she moved out of the great monastery and, instead of being an abbess, she became a wandering monk, a hermit who played with the children, who shared her small portion of vegetables or grain with passersby and lived simply in the mountains, sitting, emptying out.

"The years passed, and one day as she was looking for food and caring for an old man down in the valley, there was a forest fire. By the time she returned to her small hut, there was nothing left but ashes, still smoking. She had nothing but the robe she wore. She stood in the ashes with the wind blowing around her and, looking down, noticed a flash of light. She bent down and there was the mirror, the wood charred, but the glass intact. She hesitated. Did she want to know what she had become, if she had changed at all? Slowly she lifted the mirror to her face and gazed into it. She smiled. It was beautiful. What was there clear and true was a wild iris, singular, ordinary, blooming, waving in the wind. And in that moment her feet stood solidly on the ground and she sensed her roots go deep down into the earth, down and down, through the core of the planet and then spiraling out into the universe and all was one. She was a wild iris, a woman, a human being, and she was at home. She was nothing, nothing at all."

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