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.

About Eating

How does it feel to eat? Someone once told me, “When I eat I sense something grasping and gnawing inside of me. It feels like there is something desperate in there!”

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This person was really in touch with how it felt to eat for her. Eating is a complicated activity working at many different levels of our experience. It can tell us a lot about how things are going for us in that particular moment. When we are eating, it is a good time to pause and check inside to see how it is for us right then and there.

Eating is so basic and so complicated. It often brings forth in us something that is wanting our attention; something that is wanting us to deeply listen in a curious and respectful way. But, this something wanting our attention often goes unnoticed as our attention is elsewhere. Perhaps it is on the TV, on the phone, on the computer, in a book, in conversation with another. Or, maybe we are “zoned” out somewhere far from what we are doing in the moment, eating!

Pausing is a good idea. Some people say grace or a few words of remembrance before eating. Growing up, the custom in our family was to say grace. Even as a kid, there was something about that moment of being together in thanks that felt really right, a sense of appreciation for the food on the plate and being together.

Now when I pause in thanks before eating, I do it from the inside out. I bring my awareness inside to that whole middle space that will receive this food, the throat, stomach, and belly and check what’s alive for me in this moment of eating. Perhaps something is wanting my attention right now. It may need just a moment of respectful acknowledgement or perhaps it is something that is wanting of bigger chunk of my time and space. In that case, I say hello to it and let it know I am willing to come back to it when it is needing my attention.

Pausing in this way changes my eating. It slows me down. It increases my enjoyment of the food. And, it brings me in touch with situations, feelings, and emotions, triggered by food and eating, that are wanting my attention. This is a gift for which I am grateful.

Presence

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Presence is the natural state of Self. Presence is simple, open, spacious, and alive. And, yet many of us are baffled by it. “How do I get it? we ask.” How can it be natural when I’ve spent my whole life wrapped up in my emotions, stories, and thoughts that keep me busy all day and, sometimes, all night, too?”

I invite you to view Eckhart Tolle  giving us his simple, lively, funny, and deep teaching about Presence at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference held February 14 – 16, 2014 in San Francisco. Click here for Presence with Eckhart Tolle

Enjoy!

The Body — A Different View

In my professional healing and wellness work, I use body-based modalities. But what do we mean when we say body? Do we share a common definition? Experience tells us that we do not.

To some the body is just a thing, “an object in a world of objects.” (Cornell, 2005, p. 221) It is that physical structure, the bones, flesh, and organs. Others acknowledge that the body is alive; it has processes, but it is not all of us. They acknowledge that the body breathes, taking in air containing oxygen and exhaling air containing carbon dioxide; that cells divide and create new cells through meiosis and mitosis; that cells and organs make new substances from other substances through chemical reactions; and that sensory information from the environment is captured and transmitted to the brain where it is assembled into an experience or a situation. But, they maintain the mind, the Self, memory, emotions, knowledge and wisdom is somehow separate from the body.

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At the same time, most of us would acknowledge that we have experienced a bodily sensation that carries with it meaning. We say things like, “I had a gut feeling this would work out.” Or, ,”I had a gut feeling to stay away from that.” Or, ” My stomach is tied in knots; I’m so worried.” No one asks, “How did the gut know?” “How did the stomach know about worry?” By which mechanism does the gut and stomach have this knowledge?

When questioned the response might be, “It’s just a saying.” But is it? We’ve felt something.  The stomach tied in knots. The queasy feeling in the abdomen. The tightness in the chest. The clenching in the throat. We have felt it. Then we let it go.

Something in the consciousness of our culture keeps us from talking about something so natural. Perhaps because the process is not analytical or rational, we shy away. And yet, we acknowledge these feelings in our everyday communication, “Something in my gut told me to call you.”  And, we make good use of what they tells us.

This is our body talking; not in a physical but in a subtle way, delicately yet precisely. This body, this interconnected process, interacting with the environment, has wisdom that it shares with us all the time. We can learn to pay attention to it in a special way so that we can fully partake of what it has to share.

When we pay attention with focused yet open awareness, moment to moment, and non-judgmentally, we are in Presence. When we are present the whole of us, the whole the body, can sense what wants our attention now. We make contact; we say hello. We listen and acknowledge from that neutral but compassionate Presence. We feel a body sensation, sense an emotional quality or mood, see imagery, and connect to a story.  By doing so, by entering into this respectful relationship with our body, we can heal, grow, and receive that life-forward energy that allows us to achieve that which we desire.

Reference: The Radical Acceptance of Everything by Ann Weiser Cornell
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Venus de Milo, The Louvre, Jastrow 2007

The Body Knows

The body knows. Walking into a room of strangers, the body senses the situation directly. We don’t think, “I need to check this out.”  The body automatically scans the situation; and sensing the situation knows how it feels about it.

As it happens, we often don’t pay attention to the information our bodies relay to us. Perhaps this is so because the information comes in what we think is a messy way. The stomach feels queasy. There is a tightness in the throat. A pressure in the ears. Or perhaps we sigh, take a deep breath, or feel the heart beating faster or slower or feel our whole insides opening up!

The information comes about the situation and about what we feel about the situation. Walk into a room of strangers and what happens? The body scans the room noticing who is at the center and who is at the periphery. It notices who is at ease, who is tense, and who is shy; and who is smiling, laughing, or frowning. It senses who makes it feel uneasy, or worried, or scared. And, it senses who is welcoming. The body responds with a tightness in the chest, a queasiness in the stomach, or a jumping heart beat, or a turning in, a rolling, or a stammer and there is always something more, something that we can’t quite put into words but is there.

We may say, “I had a hunch about that situation,” or, “I had a feeling about that person.” Indeed, we did and our body let us know. We can’t say how we know. We just know.

When we are in touch with our bodies, we can respectfully connect with our bodily sensing and use the information it gives us to help us navigate situations, keep us safe and at ease, create new ideas, and even dive into new ventures. To gain benefit from the information, we notice what comes forth with interested curiosity. For example, suppose I walk into a room and notice everyone crowding around someone talking about her latest project. I can’t hear what she is saying but I notice that there is a little queasiness in my stomach and I notice that I don’t like that and that there is something about the person’s energy that doesn’t sit right but can’t be put into words. In this moment, something is coming with which I can have a relationship and which I can explore with interested curiosity. I can find out more about the person, the situation, and about myself by listening to what these somethings, this queasiness in my stomach AND this energy that doesn’t sit right, say or show me about the person, situation and myself.

Getting in touch with the body in this way can be enlightening, empowering, and freeing. Try this. The next time you enter a place full of people (it can at work, at the supermarket, or on the bus), take in the space around you and then bring your awareness inside to that middle space in your body–the throat, the chest, the diaphragm, the stomach, the belly. Allowing your awareness to rest there gently invite what wants your awareness now to come. Just sense what’s there. And when something comes, say” Hello, I see you are there.” And notice how it feels when you say that.

This is a first step of getting to know these fluid, life forward processes that have so much to share with us and help us in so many ways.

Crowd San Francisco

Shifting Perspective

When we experience the world we typically do so from the perspective of “I.” What does that mean? It means that we place our own particular meaning on the sensory perception of our world.

For example, when we hear, the brain first records pitch and volume and then adds meaning. It runs through its memory banks. “Ah, yes, that sound is of a piano, and the music is Ravel’s Concerto in G Major. And furthermore, it’s beautiful and was played the first time I went to symphony with a man who is now my husband.  I love my husband; I love the music.”

So you see that the sound doesn’t stand by itself. It always stands with the meaning we give it. Even the first time we hear the sound, we immediately record the sound and what else is happening and the emotion that we have about it. Then each time, we hear the sound again the associated memory and the emotion are triggered. Piano. Ravel. First symphony with husband. Love.

Of course, not all our experiences are so happy. Suppose you are in an automobile accident. You record the sounds of screeching tires and colliding metal, and the smell of burning rubber. You recall the instant of quiet on impact and your terror rising immediately, thereafter. You remember being shaken up and your spine going askew, and how you walked away without anyone’s help.

Now you are walking down the street. You hear the sound of screeching tires. Your heart starts racing and your spine begins to ache. You are terrified. Why? You are not in danger. But, your brain doesn’t grasp that. It only grasps the sound of the screeching tires and associates it with the memory of the car accident. Not just this time, but every time you hear screeching tires. Why? Because your brain stored: sound of screeching tires = car accident and emotion of fear.

The fellow walking towards you has heard the same sound: the screeching tires. In response a big grin comes over his face. Why? Because the sound of screeching tires brings back the memory of attending a stock car race with his father as a young boy and his emotion of joy and wonder. Same sound. Different memory. Different emotion.

So what! Well, two things.

First, as long as the emotion associated with the sound and accompanying memory is not overwhelming and fades as quickly as it rises we are OK. If it is not so joyous that we go and do reckless things or so sad that we become depressed; or so worried that we become anxious; or so full of grief that we become grief-stricken; or so full of fear that we become terrified, frozen, and anxious; or so angry that we become enraged, we go on.  We are OK. Feeling a slight twinge of a past emotion such as joy when we hear the sound of Ravel or fear when we hear tires screeching is natural.

But if the emotion is too big it makes us suffer. When joy propels us to over-exuberance or sadness brings depressions, or worry or fear becomes anxiety, or grief becomes uncontrolled, and natural fear becomes terror, we suffer. This is the time when we need to walk into that emotion, right into the center of it to see that it is nothing at all. Disassociating from it in this way removes its power over us so we can see that it is not us and we cease suffering. This, by the way, can be much harder to do than one may think, so if you find yourself here, find a professional to guide you in this activity.

Second, remember that a sound is just a sound. When hearing the screeching tires, ‘A sound,” we can tell ourselves. Doing this allows us to hear the sound afresh. Letting go of the association of sound, sight, smell, taste, or touch with a memory and its emotion, even if it is a wonderful one, opens us to new experiences. When hearing the screech of tires, instead of the thought of “car accident” we are free to just hear the screech of the tire and go on. Perhaps, we now associate it with the broad smile that we see on the face of the guy walking towards us. We are open to experience something new.

The Swinging Door

When I was a university student I was introduced to Zen Buddhism by way of Alan Watts and Shunryu Suzuki. Of all my reading, my most favorite on the subject then and now, is Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Lately I have taken to picking it up and opening the pages to see where I land. The other day I landed at the swinging door. I held the swinging door in focus during my morning meditation and found it most agreeable. The breeze of breath swung the door this way and that. It rippled and shone and seemed to be like a river gently flowing here and there over pebbles and branches.

…When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out into the outer world. The inner world is limitless. We say “inner world” or “outer world,” but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no “I,” no world, no mind or body; just a swinging door.

(Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shambhala Publications, 2011)

A swinging door, a flowing river, a breath of fresh air.