Imitation and Being

I was just reading a bit of Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart. He mentions that imitating our inspirations -- trying to walk like them, talk like them, act like them -- causes problems with our practice. Because we're not them. And so our wise selves aren't going to look like their wise selves.

I've known this for a while. But this comes at it from another direction that lets me integrate it more. I've long held that there's no point in trying to pretend that I'm someone I'm not, because I'm me, and I'm only as wise as I am -- trying to act wiser isn't helpful.  That was from an era of intense spiritual community when we undergrads were all trying to map our intellectual, ethical, moral, and spiritual progress -- and comparing ourselves with others. The only way out of that trap was to say that it didn't matter -- that I was me, and while I was tempted to compare, and still envious and jealous and so on, that being sincere was better than trying to be something I wasn't.

But Kornfield's paragraph hits me from another angle, one which lets me integrate that message a bit more. In my practice of teaching yoga, I encourage my students to do the poses which are appropriate for their bodies. All our bodies are different. Our bones are different. Our proportions are different. Healthy, mindful yoga isn't about looking like a Yoga Journal cover model. It's about doing the right thing for your body as it is.

You see the connection, of course. It's not just our bodies that are different -- our minds are different too. And so my actions and words are going to be different from yours, even if we're embodying the same wisdom -- because we're different people, at different times in our lives, dealing with different situations.

Humorously, this is about the same point in the book that Kornfield gives the reader a guided visualization to practice listening to their inner wisdom by imagining one of the reader's wisdom figures taking over their body and handling a situation. It seems contradictory and inconsistent, but it isn't. The point of the exercise is that the wisdom that your wisdom figure portrays came from inside you. It was inside you all along. Doing the guided visualization just lets you access your intuition.

Letting your intuition channel your wisdom figures to give yourself advice and perspective is not the same thing as raw imitation of those same wisdom figures. Your intuition filters it and transforms it and then you give it your voice. And that's what we do in yoga. We do the pose, and it comes out looking like us, not like anyone else. How great is that!