On a recent workshop, we found ourselves in a deep discussion around what it means to be authentic. This concept is not new nor can it ever be fully described. Authenticity is an internal experience. In explanation, we will always be confined by the limitations of our language. No description can adequately do the experience justice.
But something in us seems to know that this idea of being real is essential for our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. So we are willing to engage in the quest to find out who we really are. We will take courses, read books and go on retreats in the hope of finding answers. To know our true self is the driving force behind many spiritual practices.
There is almost a hint of the ridiculous here — that we can spend our entire lives in this relationship with our self and yet know so little of who we really are. What could possibly get in the way of such an intimate understanding?
We might attempt to explain these blocks with references to the incessant distraction that surrounds us. We live in an ongoing stream of noisy activity and constant doing. From the moment we leave the nurturing environment of the womb, we are subject to an overloading of stimulation to the senses. By the time we have reached school, the demands are relentless. And should our focus drift towards our inner self, we are reprimanded for not paying sufficient attention to the lessons in the classroom. Unfortunately we are taught at a young age that the best learning occurs on the outside rather than within — such a shame!
To know ourselves we need silence. But even if we can find a quiet space in our external environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean we can find the much-needed stillness on the inside. We are conditioned to be in a ‘respond and react’ mode. When the external stimulation subsides, our minds are perfectly capable of continuing with this pattern unaided. We fret about the smallest things. We are constantly questioning our choices. Our thoughts are an ongoing process of comment and criticism. So instantly switching from high alert to inner peace is a very big ask.
If authenticity is an essential component to a fulfilling and satisfying life and to know our self is the key to authenticity, then it must follow that creating space to connect to our true nature is one of our highest priorities.
Many will say the answer lies in meditation. Meditation is often seen as the spiritual medicine for healing the over-drive in our lives — as though “take a spoonful of meditation twice a day” is all we need to find this elusive inner bond. I am not knocking meditation or any other spiritual practices, I am just saying that spending fifteen minutes a day in quietness and the other twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes in headless chicken pursuit may not be enough to cultivate this connection with our true self.
To know thy self with real intimacy requires a greater commitment. We must choose to bring awareness and presence to all of our thoughts and actions — not with the desire to change or fix those aspects we deem as unacceptable but rather as the silent yet compassionate observer of our life story.
We continue to let the journey unfold without interference as both the experiencer and the witness. Curiosity and inquiry are benchmarks of this ability to maintain both positions simultaneously. We can ask why we chose a particular path or course of action but we must still allow ourselves to lead our lives fully and spontaneously as the moment arises. We don’t seek to blame, second-guess or alter our course of direction. As we allow this freedom, we bring a new depth of intimacy to our understanding of our true nature.
Perhaps the quest for authenticity has less to do with action and more to do with awareness. In fact, the idea that we can ever be less than authentic is flawed. Our true self will always be real, only our self-awareness can ever be absent. Bring that attention to your actions and your true nature must reveal itself. To be real(ly you) only requires the gift of your presence.