But what does “being authentic” actually mean?
In a dictionary you can find explanations like this: “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine”. In existentialist philosophy authentic was described as: “relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life”. The word originates from authentes: autos meaning “self” plus hentes meaning “doer, being” – one who acts on one’s own authority.
Being authentic in this sense means: taking self-responsibility and being true to your Self.
Once upon a time being/living was identical with being authentic. Nowadays, people want to be “more authentic” and remind each other of how important it is to follow their inner truth. I see this “trend”, that has been noticeable since a few decades, as another sign for our increasing dis-connection from Self.
To re-establish “authenticity”, our connection to Self, can sometimes be tricky as the mind interferes and keeps bombarding us with thoughts and instructions of how to be and what to do. In order to successfully re-connect, we need to
- be able to discern what comes from our mind and what comes from Self/nature, and
- we need to keep the mind in check and only keep the “mind-sets” that are in sync with our Self, that serve (our) true nature.
Keep your heart clear and transparent,
And you will never be bound.
A single disturbed thought
Creates ten thousand distractions.
If you trade your authenticity for safety,
you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.
Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. (C.G.Jung)
Our mind plays a huge role in this. Modern day industrialised societies focus on the mind and its qualities. We are trained and encouraged to use our mind and intellect for most tasks at hand. The mind is constantly running the show: we think up concepts, programs, schedules, to-do-lists… We internalise concepts, programs, beliefs, opinions, values, etc. - and the mind creates different categories and “mind-sets”, often installed in us by others, initiated by extrinsic factors, and perpetualised by our mind throughout our lives. Some of these “mind-sets” literally became hardwired into our body system and are passed on from generation to generation (e.g. the fear of darkness).
Cultural, social, spiritual concepts, conventions and traditions – we are permanently bombarded with images and templates of “how to be…”: how to be successful, how to be socially, culturally accepted, how to be “the good guy”, how to do “the right thing”…
Interestingly, internalising and following these external factors and images didn’t lead us to a happier and healthier life. Why not? Because we lost the connection to our Self/nature in the process. Instead of connecting with the life-supporting energy field within/without us, we are distracted by our minds that tell us what to do and how to be.
Are you constantly thinking about “stuff”, are your thoughts spinning around how to create a “good life” for your Self and your loved ones? Is your head full of “things to do” and “ways to be”? Our minds never stop to create templates and guidelines for “a good life” (or "a bad life" for that matter): you have to exercise at least … times a week to be fit and healthy, you have to get a degree in order to be successful, success is measured by financial wealth, children have to go to school if they want to succeed in life… the list of “mind-sets” is ever-changing and goes on and on.
The mind is a powerful and creative tool. But like with any tool: if we don’t control it, if we do not use it purposefully and consciously, it can also be counterproductive. In order to use the mind wisely and appropriately, we need to do some “quality control”. Instead of blindly following and internalising the mind’s abundance of thoughts and images, we need to revise and review them. We need to “check in”, evaluate and test, if these templates and mind-sets resonate with our core being, with our nature. If we don't do this, we disconnect and deviate from ourselves and lose our “authenticity”.
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'
(Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit)