The Mirror Test
We are all different. Similar, and yet different. When thinking about yoga, as with most relevant things in life, sameness and difference are relevant concepts to consider.
Sameness is the quality that binds us together, that characteristic of being that connects us to others and to the world around us despite all those things that apparently separate us.
Difference, on the other hand, grants us individuality, a space for the self, the possibility of uniqueness, and the means whereby we can experience sameness at a deeply personal level. As a writer once put it, we are ‘a testament to what has gone before us but also a variation.’ So yes, we are all different. Similar, and yet, different.
In a way, it is slightly like staring at one’s reflection in a mirror. One can’t help but wonder if the person looking stands without or within, or else if the person looking at the image in the mirror is the same person as the one been looked at right in. Is one’s reflection an extension of the self, or something entirely different from oneself? Is one’s reflection then sameness or difference? When does the one end and the other begin? These are all important questions to consider.
Pondering on the nature of one’s practice in terms of sameness and difference can be similarly important. If we are lucky enough to find the right kind of yoga teacher —someone who thinks in terms of her/his students’ sameness and difference— we will join classes with practices that will try to adapt to the needs of the many, while allowing for enough variation to make sameness hold difference within itself.
In many cases, for example, asana practice will most clearly seem to cater to sameness: the same positions, practiced evenly by everyone at the same pace. Contrarily, pranayama and meditation will seem to allow for most of the difference: adapting to the breathing rhythms and the thought patterns of each particular practitioner. Still, a good teacher will be able to emphasize personal experience during collective moments, and bring the collective into the personal during the most introspective ones. In the practice, this translates into putting the emphasis on the self and on one’s capacities and limitations during asana practice, for example, and bringing out the power of a full room, of the voices and the bodies of those sharing one same space during a collective yoga practice, during the pranayama and meditation parts. Still, the work will not be complete until each student stops to consider her/his sameness and difference in yoga and in life.
So much about the world today would be better if people just learned to think in terms of what they share in difference, and not only of what separates them in sameness…
So test yourself. Go stand in front of a mirror and ask these questions of yourself. Only then, once you learn to re-see the world in terms of that which permeates, sweeps, combines, and cross-pollinates, will you be ready to go deeper with your practice; to sink one step further into the midst of it all and pose the type of questions that will yield the answers you look for.