Au - then - tic (adjective)
1. Of undisputed origin 2. Genuine 3. Made or done in the traditional or original way. 4. True
“I’M TRYING TO BE MY AUTHENTIC SELF.”
I hear people say this so often these days. It seems to be the new feel good, warm and fuzzy, spiritual awakening, phrase of the moment. But what does it really mean? How can you be anyone but who you are? And, if you have to work at making yourself into your authentic self, aren’t you becoming un-authentic? Un-genuine? Un-original? Un-true?
After giving this subject much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that being “authentic” has as much to do with “ACCEPTING who you are now” as it has to do with “BECOMING who you want to be.”
I used to be so into my “superficial” authentic self. You know…expressing “who I wanted to be” through how I looked and how I dressed. I starved myself in an unhealthy way to fit into my jeans, and wore shoes that could only be described as “torture devices.” I wore lots of makeup and big flashy earrings that hurt my ears. “No pain…no gain,” I thought, “as long as I LOOK good.”
But somewhere along the line, I figured out that no amount of dieting, makeup, provocative but uncomfortable clothing or bling could make me FEEL good about myself if I didn’t like ME. So now, I eat generally healthy foods with the occasional splurge, wear enough makeup to brighten my face without putting on a mask, and dress in stylish, but simple, comfortable clothing. I don’t dye my hair and I wear it long, because I like it this way, and I don’t consider cosmetic surgery an option for combating the physical signs of age. I’m sixty…I am supposed to have gray hair and a few wrinkles. One day, I’ll be ninety and have more gray hair and even more wrinkles. I’m ok with that…
And then, there’s the authentic self that applies to our relationship with the world we live in, and to our spirituality, and to what, if anything, lies beyond our life on this earth. What do we believe in?
When I was a child, I went to church. I didn’t really love going to church. I found sitting still and being quiet for an hour or so almost impossible. But I believed in God. To me, God was a benevolent, white haired, gentleman…larger than life…the Father of all fathers…who watched over me, cared for me, comforted me, and loved me. I liked that.
But one day, I stopped going. I felt like organized religion was just a little too judgmental to suit my life-style. I still believed in God, of course, but I wanted to have fun! I wanted to go out on Saturday night, sleep late on Sunday morning, and meet my friends for brunch on Sunday afternoon. I missed church in a way, but it just didn’t fit into my agenda.
I became a free-spirit, world traveler, adventurer. Then I morphed into a somewhat more affluent, sophisticated version of a free-spirit, world traveler, adventurer. I began to study Eastern philosophies, and started doing yoga and meditating regularly. Somehow, it just seemed more accepting, open-minded, and worldly. I still kind of prayed to God in private, but publicly I appeared to be so much cooler! I loved going to Buddhist study groups. I enjoyed leaving my shoes at the door, lighting incense, and meditating in front of an altar. It was all so “exotic.” But I always felt a little self-conscious. You know the feeling…when you’re trying to be something you’re not.
Yoga was fun too. There is a real sense of harmony and community in yoga classes, and everyone was so shiny and hip, with their coordinated yoga gear, groovy water bottles, and “Save the Planet” bumper stickers.
But eventually, I got tired of the dirty looks when I slipped up and didn’t call God “the Universe” or “Mother Earth,“ and the lectures about the evils of BBQ ribs, fried chicken, sweet tea, and tap water became tedious. I never knew when I was going to be verbally assaulted for wearing a brand that didn’t exhibit acceptable social consciousness. My circle of friends was so politically correct that I felt I had to second guess everything that came out of my mouth…and everything that went into my mouth. I just didn’t feel like ME anymore.
And frankly, I began to grow weary of people who touted living simply and frugally, but who were driving around in BMW’s, wearing expensive designer clothing, and networking after class. Not that there’s anything wrong with nice cars and clothes. But it just seemed to go against the lifestyle they were promoting. It didn’t feel “authentic.” One of my favorite ah-ha moments was reading an article written by a yoga teacher (not anyone I know personally) on keeping your ego in check, that ended with a list of all of her “celebrity” students.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have many friends who are fine and dedicated Buddhists and yoga practitioners. I continue to study Eastern philosophies, and practice yoga and meditation daily. And I love and respect “Mother Earth.“ But I also eat fried chicken and ribs, and drink sweet tea and tap water…without shame or guilt. Sometimes I go to church. And I still talk to God every day.
My point? “Authentic” is having the courage to accept who you are, inside and out, and to embrace what you believe, even if it’s not the expected thing, or the “in” thing. “Authentic” is the ability to listen to your “bullshit” detector and act accordingly. Just be YOU! Yes, we learn and we grow, but in that growth process we must remain true to who we are in our heart of hearts. We ARE original…We ARE authentic. We just have to acknowledge it and own it...