Is There Such a Thing as Being Authentic?

This morning at the end of my mediation, a question came to mind: What are we really pursuing when we say authentic self? So, I did what comes naturally: I Googled it. In the results was an article that appeared in the NY Times about a year ago titled: Authentic? Get Real.

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I remember a friend telling me about that article when it came out. We found it of interest – and amusement – because it spoke about the current social trend which was turning the term authentic into a fad. I would certainly agree that the word is overused and tossed around more as a means to portray honesty, regardless of whether one is being truthful. For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to ignore those who use the term authentic to manipulate, promote, and/or attempt to convince us to trust in something or someone.

According to Encarta Dictionary, authentic is defined as: genuine and original, as opposed to being a fake or reproduction, shown to be true and trustworthy, and valid. Those all sound like wholesome goals. But, when we say that we are being authentic, do we even know what that means?

As human beings, we are a complexity of thoughts, emotions, body, ego, and energy. So, I wonder: What or who are we being “true” to? Being authentic to one aspect of our being may mean being unauthentic to a different aspect. Everything we think and feel carries an element of truth; if for no other reason than it seems real to us in the moment (which means the opposite applies as well). To me, that means that we can simultaneously be authentic and fake in any given moment.

I have a magnet on my fridge that says “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” I have that as a reminder that I am not my thoughts, I am not my emotions, I am not my body, and I am not even my ego. Unless you are one of the fortunate beings to be enlightened, it is likely that much of your time is spent in a reactive state. At its best, being authentic is an attempt to give our soul a voice that can be heard above the reactive mind.

In Buddhism (at least the tradition that I am following), we are encouraged to detach from ego and simply observe. Instead of being overwhelmed and blinded by our thoughts and feelings, we can extradite ourselves. We can see that there is more than just ego. We can remind ourselves that everything is impermanent including what we are thinking, feeling, and sensing. I take solace in knowing that not only can I change, but that I will change. Freedom can be birthed from impermanence.

I keep going back to the same idea: If authentic means true and honest, then who or what truth am I actually serving? I’d like to think that I’m honest with my soul. But, in reality I know that far too often, I am serving my neuroses, defense mechanisms, self-proliferations, desires, attachments, and so on.

What I don’t want to do is use the idea of authentic being to set – yet another – standard of perfectionistic behavior. In other words, I can only behave or speak from a mindful state. I’d love to do that –  oops, there’s that grasping again – but I have to be “authentic” with myself by admitting that is an unrealistic expectation. Also, I am not looking to use the term as a badge to convey “see, I’m honest, trustworthy, and valid.”

I guess my point is this: We are not who we think we are. We may be behaving in the most genuine manner possible in a given moment, but that doesn’t mean that we are aligned with our souls and well-being. Since everything is impermanent, so is the idea that there is such a thing as authentic being. For me, authenticity is setting my intention to live first and foremost with the intention to do no harm. From there, I can foster loving-kindness, grace, acceptance, tolerance, patience, compassion, and peace.

© Sallie Odenthal 2012

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