Harappan bronze elephant
National Museum, New Delhi
Although the audience was a decidedly mixed one, one knew right away where all the material had been lifted from: a litany of high-minded, lofty sounding clichés. Almost all of it in imitation of teachers now dead, who while they were were alive passed on a vital work in their own right, but who are now being copied as though all the followers were papers being spit from a Xerox machine.
Now, there's no doubt the heartfelt statement in question accomplished its aim: it pushed all the right buttons; it said all the right things. In the circles it emerged from, such form is at once endorsed with an entry visa. In its own way, that's a good thing, to be sure.
But it was, despite its absolute sincerity, also very distressing, because it was expression crafted from ready-made templates, rather than any anguish of personal experience.
My evil-commanding ego was consequently seized by the perverse and irrepressible urge to take the individual who was speaking that way and shake them until they stopped.
Alas. Instead, I went up afterwards and introduced myself nicely. It required me to put my objections aside for a moment and just be real with that person, which is more important in the end, isn't it?
In any event. I have a proposal.
Modest, it is. Consider, you might.
Let us try not to speak in the same way, about the same things, using the same words and sometimes even the exact same sentence structures, as though inner work were about producing a flock of parrots. No matter what our practice, it makes us sound cult-like and even, forgive me for saying it, stupid. This impression arises the moment one exercises any critical thinking whatsoever in the presence of such template-speechifying. Shtick, as vaudeville comedians call it.
Now, I don't want to be mistaken for implying that we should callously impugn the efforts of others. After all, one can presume the motives, at least, are always sincere. People all want to fit in; everyone wants to sound like they are speaking the same language, to be accepted. here, I believe, it's our habit that is the enemy, not our intention.
In the end, if we proceed in this way, we serve each other oatmeal that has no brown sugar, cinnamon, or raisins in it, let alone other interesting things. Even worse, those with a different voice — perhaps even an actual voice of their own — run the risk of being ostracized. The party line becomes a powerful thing that succumbs to confirmation bias, excluding anything that doesn't look like it to itself.
The old legend that vampires can't see themselves in a mirror simply refers to the fact that if you are imitating — that is, so to speak, sucking your vital blood from other people's work, allegorically speaking — you are actually unable to see yourself. If you take the work of others and imitate it, you never have your own work.
This tendency to adopt tropes and repeat them so that one can fit in and appear to be progressing is, in my not-so-humble opinion, absolutely terrible. The whole point of inner work is to produce unique individuals — idiots — not individuals who copy one another in an endless circle of repetitions.
Yes, we are supposed to be idiots.
It's absolutely vital that folk find their own language, their own truth, and express things in their own way — not the way their "teachers" express them, or the way the peers around them are expressing them, but in their own, unique, individual way, so that their language has that inward authority which comes from a truth of individual being, not a processed pablum of the collective.
It's a wonderful, important, and even necessary thing to be a community; and it's absolutely vital that we find agreement with one another—
but not through imitation.
I would deeply urge everyone to think about this carefully and use an intelligent intention and attention to find one's own language and way of saying things. We fall asleep in imitation; better to wake up and make an effort that puts us in a less protected place, where we are not just copying one another in mutual self-congratulation.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.