On Being Authentic

Everyone is talking about being authentic, of being our authentic selves, and of leading authentic lives. The talk grabs our attention. It feels right to say, “I want to be authentic.” But, exactly what is authenticity? And, how do we know when we truly are?

When we are authentic, the dictionary says, we are genuine, real, true, and honest. These qualities feel right. Most of us want these attributes for ourselves and others. Once we move from the abstract to our daily lives, however, exactly how these operate in us can be much harder to pin down.

What does it mean to be genuine in our words and actions? How do we know if we are being true? True to what? And, are we really honest? Authenticity is an inside job and there s a lot going on in there.

We ask ourselves what is authentic for us. An answer comes. How do we know the answer is authentic?  One way is to look at inner and outer drivers.

Inner drivers include what feels right or what feels true in the moment absent of any interference from our environment. Inner drivers include understanding our reasons for acting in a certain way, acting from our own bodily wisdom, and living courageously allowing our creativity to flow. When we are authentic we decide for ourselves without intervention from external authorities or events. But, the inside is a complicated place. Much of what is happening interiorly is due to externalities that we have taken onboard. Traumas, hurts, slights, and misconceptions have dug deep into the very sinews of our bodies, minds, and souls.

Outer drivers include cultural norms, and/or peer, social, and religious pressures to appear a certain way. Our actions, behaviors and outward manifestation can be driven from external forces.  When what drives us is something bound up inside of us as a result of  our environment, experiences, or traumas then it is these externalities that are driving us. Even external events experienced by our forebears such as famine, war, prejudice, or enslavement can be passed down epigenetically and drive our living experience.

When we feel pressured to adhere to a certain way of living, dressing, or acting or we ignore our own inner objections (such as ‘this doesn’t feel right’) but we do it anyway because we believe we will fit in better or be able to live more comfortably in our surroundings we are living from outer drivers and not our authentic selves.

Authenticity isn’t about being nice. Authenticity is about being true to our inner knowing about what right for us.

Authenticity isn’t about removing ourselves from our environment or our connections. It is about being creative and courageous to act in a way that is being true to who we are as we also live in our environment and nurture our connections.

Sometimes it is useful to sit with ourselves and ask the question? How does this feel inside? Suppose a friend asks you to do something. You immediately say, “Yes, of course I’ll do it,” because this is your friend asking and you want to please your friend. You don’t want your friends, family, society, or culture labeling you as bad, unkind, or selfish.

But inside something doesn’t feel right about it. This thing that your friend has asked you to do doesn’t align with your inner knowing of who you are, your core values, and what feels right. Realizing this you let your friend know, “This doesn’t feel right for me, so, no, not this time.” This is your authentic self shining through.

So what’s authentic? Acting to please your friend even though the action doesn’t align with your core values is not authentic. Letting your friend know that this action doesn’t feel right for you and so you won’t do it is authentic.

Take note here. It is not about your friend, it is about you. When we are authentic, we are not judging others, we are being true to ourselves.

We want to please our friends, our families, and our colleagues. We are compassionate and want others to rely on us. We want to feel included in our environment, community, and among our networks of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Something in us believes because we have been told this that this is the way to feeling whole, creative,and full of forward moving energy. But it isn’t. This is what ties us up in knots inside, binds our energy, and dampens our creativity. This is not the path to authenticity.

The process of discovering our authentic selves can have big consequences. It can take a long time and much effort.

So, it was with my own journey to authenticity. As a woman I felt a strong need to be able to make it in life with my own smarts and to depend on no one. After getting an MBA I began working in high tech. I got promotions and made a lot of money but was miserable. I was always trying to fit in, to prove myself, and to succeed according to what my environment defined as succeeding. I had the education, capability, and work ethic.  Those were all there. But, something was missing. It had to do with truth, the truth of who I am and the misalignment between my essential true self and the expectations of the environment of my profession. It was all very subtle.

Years went by. Then it happened. On a business trip, my left foot began hurting so badly I could hardly walk. Getting to and from meetings was agonizing. I felt cut off and physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. Finally the meetings were over and I boarded my cross country flight, slumped into a window seat and fell asleep. On waking, I  looked out the window. There, thirty-three thousand feet below, the sparse and rugged southwestern desert was lit in golden light. In a flash, like a pop,  it was clear.  High tech is not for me. Immediately, I felt energy flowing and the pain subside in my foot. Two days later I quit my job and the unwinding began. My life began opening to me.

The Hyper Self-Critic

Oh, those nagging, hyper-critical voices in our heads! They make us feel so bad.

Sometimes there is just one voice; sometimes many. They go round and round, repeating themselves over and over. They have a rhythm, ebbing and flowing and then rising in a crescendo. When they are in the background, we hardly notice them or ignore them, and then something turns up the volume and they consume our attention and energy.

Their themes are consistent, too. “You are not good enough,” “You are bad,” “You should be ashamed,”  “You are wrong,” to “You are not worthy,” “You are broken,” “You are selfish,” and so on.

These voices  and their messages are not happy or helpful. They derail us from our work and enjoyment of life. They shut us off from our friends and family. They make us feel small, judged, and useless.

We try to shut them off, bury them forever, and hope to never hear them again. We push and push. The more we push, the more insistent they become.  Finally, exhausted from pushing, we succumb. We believe them.

For a moment, consider this. They are very alive. They come from a part of us that got stuck in a moment when we were unable to discern how to respond in wholeness. Often we were children, little children. It is that little child in us who got stuck in that moment of criticism or trauma. And, sometimes, they stem from events in our adulthood.

This happened to me. After an ectopic pregnancy that hemorrhaged and many subsequent and unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant again, I was depressed, defeated, broken, and vulnerable. On a visit to see my mother, she said,” The only reason you are not getting pregnant is that you are too selfish.”  This judgement struck me like a bullet in my gut. My whole body froze in that moment. The wound was deep and lasting. And there it was, that voice in my head repeating, “You’re too selfish.”  It took me a long time, deep investigation, and much suffering to learn how to release this hyper-critical, damning voice and move forward in my life.  This is how to go forward.

Start here. Try this with patient and gentle goodwill for yourself.

Find a quiet place. Your office with the door closed. A bench in a quiet corner of the park. Your bedroom. Or, some place else.

Sitting quietly, bring your attention inside. You might have your eyes closed. This usually helps you to be at home inside your body. If the voice(s) is not active in the moment, graciously invite it to come forward. You might say something like, “I’m inviting that whole thing about feeling judged selfish… or whatever it is to come forward.”

Gently, say “Hello, I see you are there,” in a cordial and neutral kind of way. Perhaps in a similar way to how you might say, “hello” to a stranger passing you on the street.

Pause for a moment too, putting your full and gentle attention right there. You might feel a little space open. Be patient. Let your breathing relax.

Be curious and interested, but not overly eager. This voice has something to say and show you and needs space to unfold and share with you.

Notice your bodily sensations and their texture and quality. You might sense tightness,orals, rose colors, or hear something being said, or an image might emerge.

Sit with it for awhile and listen. No rush. There’s plenty of time. No judgement. There’s not good or bad, right or wrong.

Other thoughts and sensations may come up. Go with whatever is wanting your attention right now. The process is like peeling the layers of an onion. All unwinds given space and time.

Keep listening openly. And when you hear something, see something, or feel something, acknowledge it. You can say to yourself, “I’m sensing something in me that …” and as it shows itself more you can acknowledge by saying “It’s letting me know …”

If it feels right, find a guide who can support you and your process.

The unwinding happens at its pace, and you will notice little steps, small openings, and energy release like a breath of fresh air. This is your healing unfolding.

 

 

 

What the Other Guy Should be Doing

My spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, told us a story last week to illustrate a profound “aha” about what it means to live authentically, to let go of the ego mind and all its ‘shoulds,’ and live from our true authenticate selves.

Here’s the story.

When he was a young man in his twenties he worked in a bike repair shop. It was a busy place and everyone scrambled to get all the work done that had to be done that day. The repair manager didn’t pitch in and help. He sat at his bench with his tools in front of him and read magazines. When asked why he didn’t help, he would say, that he was not paid to do anything; that his job was to make sure that they did what they were supposed to do.

This attitude didn’t sit well with my teacher. He suffered watching this able-bodied manager sitting there doing nothing but reading magazines while everyone else raced around to get the day’s work done. It really upset him. The more he thought about it, the more it upset him. This went on for some time.

Then, one day my teacher had an ‘aha.’ It came to him that he was upsetting himself because he had an idea of what his manager was supposed to be doing and the manager was not conforming to it. This idea of what should be happening was making him upset. Then he just let go.

He let go of his judgments about his manager. And, he let go of the endless mental activity around what he thought the manager should be doing.

By dropping into the now, my teacher understood that the manager was just the way he was and wasn’t causing him any difficulty. In seeing this, he understood the truth and let go of the thoughts and ideas about his manager. From that day on he was free and happy.

This is true freedom. The freedom that comes from waking up from being identified with our thoughts and ideas about what should be, what should happen, and how others should behave, think, or believe. Once we let go of all the ‘shoulds’ we are free to live truly authentic lives.

So each time, I catch myself saying, “should” I pause. Ah, that little ego-word is here I say gently to myself. Then I let it drop away as a leaf drops from the tree and I am happy.

 

 

 

 

What’s Hurting?

When you sit quietly and comfortably and bring your awareness inside, what greets you? Do you feel open and intimate? Do you feel that you can sit down with whatever is there like you would sit with a friend or stranger beside a campfire? Or, perhaps you feel something else.

Something doesn’t want your presence. Something is angry and rebellious. Something disappears into blankness. Something says, “Go away. I don’t want you here.” Or, says, “You’re ridiculous. ” Or lets you know that you can’t do it, that you are a failure.

What to do? Really be there for it. It can be the ugliest, most violent, most condescending thing you have ever encountered.

Really feel whatever it is in your body.  Invite your body to show you/tell you something about what’s here with you right now. Invite your body to open to what you are feeling.

What you are feeling is resistance. Experience your resistance. It may feel uncomfortable. It will feel uncomfortable. Start with inviting your grounded, open presence, your whole self to be here right now. And, know that you cannot fail at having whatever experience you are having. Have your experience! Be open to it. Invite it to be here right now.

Know that what is hurting is not your resistance, it’s your relationship to it that hurts. Say, my intention, my energy is here right now to experience what is wanting my attention right now. No holds barred. I welcome this resistance and my experience of it to be here with me now.

 

 

 

 

How About It? Learn Focusing

I don’t often write about events or activities in my blog, but today I want to share some wonderful news. Perhaps you’re a reader of my blog and have wanted to dive deeper into Focusing but didn’t know how or didn’t feel you had the time. Here’s an opportunity to learn Focusing as well as investigate other topics like Thinking at The Edge.

The Focusing Institute, our professional organization, holds an annual summer school. This year it is being held from August 21 – 27, 2016 on the west coast at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, California.

Why learn Focusing at the Summer School? Perhaps you’re needing time and space away from your daily routine or have vacation coming. Or maybe you prefer in-person learning and never seem to have the time for a once-a-week or weekend class when you are immersed in work and family. Perhaps you are wanting to learn in the safety of a supportive and accepting community of like-minded people.  Whatever your reasons, learning Focusing and experiencing how it can be applied in the arts, in deep thinking, and in work with children is what you’ll have the opportunity to do at Joshua Tree. Click here for more information and to register.

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I Am Here And This Is Here Too

When you are in a situation and feeling intensely or in the middle of an internal war of thought and worry it can feel all-consuming. It might feel as though the whole of you is trapped or stuck. You might be aware of how it goes around and around, repeating endlessly.

I have felt like this. In my case, anxiety would consume me. An anxiety attack. And, it was just that, an attack by many parts of me at war with one another. Each one was doing its best to protect and defend. Sticky, tight, closed-in, going round and round in an endless spiral of pent up emotion, feeling, and thought, I felt desperate and imprisoned.

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Perhaps you have felt something like this. You are wanting to get relief and feel better. What to do? Pause and bring your attention to your body. It doesn’t matter where you are. Start with really sensing your feet, pressing into the toes, the ball of foot, and heel and what they are touching. Ah, there they are. Sense how the floor or earth supports you up through your feet to your belly, stomach, chest, and throat. You might follow the energy with your attention as it enters the bottom of your feet and moves up through the legs to the hips, pelvis and buttocks and into that whole middle space of belly, stomach, chest, and throat. There you are.

Now, pause. A breath may come with the pause. That’s good. Just notice the breath. Notice the inhale and how it comes in and down through the nose, down the throat to chest and even beyond to the stomach and belly. And notice the pause at the end. That short moment of stillness. That’s the pause we are after, that short moment of stillness.

This is a good time to remind yourself by saying inwardly, gently and respectfully, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Who is saying this? “This is your whole self, that self that is present, that can hold and open space, lots of space, for all those partial selves, parts of yourself, that are needing your attention.

Your whole self is here, aware and open. Now, you might invite whatever needs your attention to come forward or it may come flooding in with many voices, pictures, feeling states, and emotions vying with one another. Ah, how wonderful!  They are all here right now with you. This is is a gift.

Acknowledge each one with interest and curiosity. To the first one say, “Ah, I see you are here.” Acknowledge the second one, “Ah, hello. I see you are here, too. And both can be here.” And then acknowledge each additional one that comes by saying inwardly, “Ah, I see you are here, too. And, all can be here.”

This is what we mean when we say, “I am here and this is here, too.” Practice this. Pausing and bringing your awareness, your whole self, to what is needing your attention inside. And no matter how many parts come forward letting each one know that you are here and willing to listen to it. Ah, that feels better. Now space is opening inside just as the day opens to us.

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Something in Me Doesn’t Like Her (Him)

Something in me doesn’t like her (him, them). This part of me is feeling hurt and angry. Every time I think of her and what she did, my chest tightens. I sense a closing in. There is no room, no space. My breath stops. My ears ring and anger hisses hot like a steaming tea kettle. And, something else in me doesn’t like that I feel this way. They are both here with me now.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this feeling or something similar when dealing with a difficult person or group of people. It doesn’t feel good and there is a way forward. By being with and listening to each something or part, one at a time, the energy bound-up in your feeling and thinking body will release. As energy releases there is a breath, a sense of space, an ‘aha.’ Right steps emerge with this new life-forward energy.

A beautiful way to meet and be with these feelings in your body is with Lovingkindness meditation. You don’t need to be a meditation pro to do lovingkindness mediation. All you need is a quiet time and space. This meditation needn’t be long. Five minutes can suffice. Set a timer so you can forget about counting time.

Sit quietly, letting your body take a comfortable and upright position sitting on a chair or cushion or standing. Gently place your hands, one on each leg above the knee, or hanging softly from your arms at your sides if standing.

Focus your awareness taking a breath and inviting your intention to meet yourself as you are right now. Sense your body in the space around you. Close or softly focus the eyes. Sense your feet and hands and what they are touching. Sense the chair, cushion of floor supporting you and rest into that support if that feels right.  Now bring your awarenesss inside as you gently say to yourself, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention.”

And repeat the following phrases enlarging the circle of compassionate kindness outward as far as your time permits:

May I be happy.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be full of peace and love.

May (Name of difficult person or group) be happy.

May (Name of difficult person or group) be free from suffering.

May (Name of difficult person or group)  be full of peace and love.

Continue repeating the phrases with a choice of others such as…

family members, naming each one

friends, naming each one

colleagues and co-workers naming each one

neutral people you meet in your day such as the grocery clerk, the bus driver, the toll taker, the restaurant server, the bank teller

other difficult people or groups by name

your community

groups suffering from devastation such as fire, earthquake, war

the homeless

those who are ill

all people in your town

all people in your state

all people in your country

all people on your continent

all people on the earth

all people above the earth

all people everywhere

As you recite the phrases bringing loving and kind wishes to each individual and group, your heart opens, your breath softens, energy releases and invigorates. There is a bodily reset and you find yourself moving forward in your life in a new and open way. Ah, it feels so much better.