If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
~ Rabbi Hillel, “The Talmud”
Authentic. Authenticity. What the heck does that mean, really. And what does it have to do with True Beauty?
Each person is the barometer of his/her own authenticity; it would be an oxymoron to say there is a set way to be authentic, to practice authenticity. However, since it is my authentic (s)elf to virtually always have something to say about almost everything, here’s what I have to say about being authentic:
In our current culture one of the foremost antitheses of personal authenticity is the still deeply embedded “Now-I’m-Supposed-Tos.” (Now I’m Supposed To go to college, get a job, get married, be successful, have children, etc. to name a few of the more universal NISTs of American culture.) Ridding oneself of these “NISTs” is easier said than done, especially since there is often some merit supporting the NISTs. Logic, honoring a parent or significant other’s wishes, or keeping one’s word are a few that come right to mind. Remember, we are only speaking of such things when they are not able to be engaged with personal authenticity.
At every stage of life there seem to evolve new NISTs. As we age it might be Now I’m Supposed to settle down, act like my parents or act exactly the opposite of my parents, have achieved what I set out to do, etc., etc. NISTs can actually be wonderful when they align with our inner desires and abilities. But when they don’t, it can be hell on earth. The suppressed authentic self expresses itself through many un-beautiful ways: depression, violence, apathy, deceit — generally destructive activities for oneself and others. (Please know I am not psychologist or such, just an observer of people and life).
Happily, it seems the NISTs are relaxing. I see younger generations far less in the thrall of these cultural expectations, but I do not know if it is a blip or a trend. And they are not entirely gone. Questions about marriage, parenting, jobs vs. careers vs. something called lifestyle and the meaning of life are still persisting. In the absence of the NISTs, or their weakened position, what guidelines, positive or even otherwise are available?
And then, just to complicate the issue, there is the problem of taking one’s quest for authenticity too far. (What! How can that be? I can just hear Lou now.) To be authentic does not mean always putting oneself first. Under the guise of being “true to oneself” narcissism can bloom. Taking care of oneself (“lookin’ out for #1”) can be a cover for selfishness, lack of compassion. It is also often manipulative, immature and insecure. The difference, I think, between being authentic and being narcissistic is in attitude, action and intention. It means being aware of your actions, reactions, emotions and intentions, and yes, in the context of those of others’. Facing them, if you will, in the private moments between you and you. We live in relationship all the time: to ourselves, our environment, others. To balance this is to practice True Beauty. To be fooling yourself about who and how you are is to have a foundation of sand in all other departments. “Lying to yourself is automatically lying to everyone else” I’ve been known to say. And we do not always like to admit some of those little “white” lies we tell ourselves, do we?
Be aware of True Beauty; practice it…find and be your authentic self. No small task.
To practice and hone one’s own authenticity:
1) Identify behaviors, habits that are not authentic to/for you. You probably already have a good idea about a few of them. You feel it. But if you want to go a little further, listen to that inner voice and feel that gut and heart. If it doesn’t “feel” right for you, it probably isn’t. If your reasoning/analytical mind seems to be finding justifications for a certain behavior or decision, fighting with your gut, this is a red flag. Pay attention!
2) Replace inauthentic behaviors with ones that reflect your true self and values. This will, of course, be done over time. Be patient and kind with yourself.
3) With a clearer sense of your authentic self in mind, envision how the next chapter of your life might look. Take any steps possible that are in alignment with that vision.
4) Look at the material world you’ve helped create around yourself. Does it align with your core values? If you are fortunate enough to have abundance, can you find the right balance for you between that abundance and scarcity elsewhere? Can you identify your areas of abundance?
5) Practice all of the above with compassion for those around you. Beauty is harmony, smooth transitions when possible. Let those you care for know what you are endeavoring to do. Your aspiration to live a more authentic life may well inspire them to do the same. Everything is in relationship!
Simply put, practicing Authenticity is working at “To thine own self be true.” Because here is the thing: if you don’t tell yourself your truth, you’re automatically lying to everyone else, too.
⇒And here is a bit of wisdom: the energy put into maintaining a false self is far, far greater than the energy it takes to displace it and start honoring and maintaining one’s authentic self.
Further resources for this work:
The Ten Commitments, David Simon, MD
The Exquisite Risk, Daring to Live an Authentic Life, Mark Nepo
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
~Steven Jobs, 2005 Stanford University Commencement Address