What is authenticity?

I listened to an interview from a few years ago about an unrelated topic, and someone said: Trump is authentic. That’s what people like about him.

I have heard this argument several times before. Is it true that Trump is authentic?

IS TRUMP AUTHENTIC?

Yes and no and not really.

If with authentic you mean reactive, then yes. He is certainly authentic with his reactivity.

If with authentic you mean receptive, honest, and speaking truth about oneself as a confession, then he is not very authentic. He seems to avoid this like the plague.

Why does he avoid it? Most likely for the same reason as everyone else, including sometimes me: It can feel threatening. It can feel easier to react to our pain than to welcome and acknowledge it, especially when reactivity to our own pain has become a habit and what we are most familiar with.

IS IT EASIER TO REACT TO OUR PAIN THAN TO BEFRIEND IT?

Again, yes and no.

On the surface, it can seem easier. It’s the easy way out.

And when we look more closely, it’s more complicated and creates a lot more stress and suffering.

When we realize and take this in, that’s when a shift can happen into committing to meeting our own pain in a more mature way.

WHAT DOES REAL AUTHENTICITY LOOK LIKE?

It looks like receptivity, vulnerability, honesty about ourselves as a confession, taking responsibility for our own life and reactions, and so on.

And what does reactivity look like?

It can look like defensiveness, anger out of proportion to the situation, chronic fear, chronic depression, blame, victimhood, addictions, and even racism, bigotry and fundamentalist ideologies. Mainly, it looks like a compulsion to something, whether it’s a behavior, emotion, state, or ideology.

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Neil Gaiman: Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside

Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups.

– Neil Gaiman in The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Some grown-ups play a game where they pretend to be grown-up in a particular way. They pretend to be confident, to know what they are doing, not feel insecure or scared, to be strong and tough, and so on.

I never learned to play that game very well.

Why do we play this game?

Perhaps to fit in. This is cultural, after all. By joining in with the game we are like the others and we show that we want to belong to the group. We want to be accepted. We want to be loved. So we put up a facade and take on a persona in order to fit in and be accepted and loved.

There used to be a survival component to this since fitting in meant a greater chance of survival. These days, this plays less of a role but we can still have a sense of life-and-death importance around these issues. That too has been passed on.

What’s the reason some don’t play this game?

It may be because they can’t. They are unable to uphold this appearance for whatever reason.

Or it’s because they see through it and chose to not play the game. In some places, this is more common than other. (In my experience, it’s more common for people to chose to not play this game in The Bay Area and other progressive places on the US West Coast.)

How do people relate to those who don’t?

If we are comfortable with what this game covers up – not knowing, vulnerability, fear, and so on – then we are comfortable with it in others. We may be more comfortable with people dropping the pretense than we are around people who still play the game.

If we are not comfortable with it, and have bought into the game more wholeheartedly, then we tend to be uncomfortable with people who don’t play the game. We may reject them, judge them, and so on.

How does it look if we chose to not play this game?

We are more authentic and real and we drop the pretense.

In many situations, it may not look so different. But if something comes up in us that’s not very “grown-up”, we freely admit to it. We sometimes don’t know what to do. We don’t know anything for certain. We may feel insecure, scared, small. And so on.

If we are relatively mature, healed, and comfortable with ourselves, this is much easier. It’s also easier to go directly to what’s going on, which often boils down to: We can’t know anything for certain, and we sometimes feel scared.

It’s a relief in admitting this, and in being authentic and real about what’s going on. We drop a weight and we come home to ourselves and reality. It’s also more difficult for others to manipulate us.

One of the effects of choosing to be more authentic is that we tend to shed people in our life who are uncomfortable with authenticity, and we find people who are. We find our tribe.

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When we please others, we also please (appease) our own emotional issues

When we are in the habit of pleasing others, a lot happens.

We set our own honesty and needs aside and may get disappointed, bitter, and secretly angry at ourselves, others, and life.

We may expect others to please us in turn, and get upset when it doesn’t happen.

By pleasing others, we act on our own issues telling us it’s more safe to please others, so we please – and appease – these issues in ourselves.

Beyond that, we may also get into the pattern of pleasing our own hangups and issues in general. We appease them instead of being real with them – questioning them, exposing them to the truth, and sometimes using tough love and cutting through them.

Pleasing others tends to be a pervasive pattern with a lot of – as we see when we look a bit closer – undesirable consequences.

Why do we please others?

Perhaps we want to be loved and safe. Perhaps we learned it was a strategy that worked for us when we were little. Perhaps we – somewhere in us – feel it’s unsafe to be honest and risk upsetting the other person.

What do we lose when we please others?

We lose our authenticity and honesty. We lose asking for what we really want. We lose being real. We often lose getting what we want. We lose, to some extent, our inner peace and contentment. We risk losing having the life we want.

What do we get from pleasing others?

We may superficially get what we want. We may get an easier interaction in the moment.

And we may also get quiet resentment, anger, and bitterness from having abandoned our authenticity, let go of asking or going for what we really want, prioritized others over our selves, and for what we have lost in the process.

What do we secretly wish for when we please others?

Apart from wishing for an easy interaction in the moment, we may wish or expect the other person to please us. I let go of my authenticity to please you, and you’ll do the same for me.

And when they don’t, for instance if they chose to be authentic and say “no”, we may get upset.

What’s the alternative to pleasing others?

It’s to be authentic, real, and being on our own side. We can do this with kindness and consideration, and we can seek solutions so that we both or all get what we really want. And we can do it with authenticity. We can speak with kindness and realness about what we really want, how we see the situation, and that we wish to find a strategy so we all can get our needs met. (Non-Violent Communication.)

When we please others, we inherently please our own issues

When we are in the habit of pleasing others, we do so because of our own emotional issues. We feel more safe by pleasing others, even if it is at our own cost.

In the moment we please others, we please our own issues telling us its safer to please others. We perceive and act as if these issues are true. We are no longer real with ourselves, and we are not real with our issues. We don’t expose these issues to the truth.

This may also get us into the general pattern of pleasing our issues. We perceive and act as if they are true instead of being real with them and questioning them.

What do you mean by pleasing our issues?

When we have hangups, emotional issues, and stressful beliefs come up, we can relate to them in different ways.

And when we are in a general pleasing mode and are used to pleasing, we may treat these issues in the same way. We please them. We appease them. We allow them to be as they are and run and color our lives.

The alternative is gentle tough love, truth, and cutting through the issues.

How can we be real with our issues?

It’s mainly about our orientation. Do we automatically believe what our fears tells us and act on them? Or do we notice what’s going on and question them?

It’s typically a process of noticing the fear.

Notice where we feel the fear in the body. Notice and allow the sensations, and notice they are simply physical sensations – and that the mind associates them with certain scary stories.

Listen to the fearful story behind it. See that it’s there to protect us. (It was often formed in our childhood and may no longer be as useful or appropriate for us as it was then.)

Question the stories and find what’s more true for us.

And act on what’s more true for us – with some discernment and kindness – and see what happens, while acknowledging that it can feel scary and we may be clumsy at first.

And then repeat as needed. It’s often helpful to find an ally in this and someone who can guide us through this process of being more real with ourselves, others, and our own issues.

How common is the general pleasing pattern?

I am not sure. I assume it’s relatively common. It seems to be a big part of our culture, for whatever reason. It’s probably a common strategy for getting along in a community, and it may be that Christianity – with its emphasis on martyrdom – has amplified it.

Thanks to my partner for the seed insight and reminder for this article <3

Healing: Take full responsibility & understand

I had a conversation with a friend the other day, and she brought up how some use psychological insights to excuse their own or another’s behavior.

For me, it’s a reminder that we are all fully responsible for our own behavior, and yet our behavior – including the unkind and confused one – is understandable and has explanations.

To heal, we typically need to address both.

We need to take full responsibility for our own behavior. I made that choice. Nobody and nothing “forced” me to make it. I can’t blame anyone or anything.

And we need to understand some of where it came from. It’s helpful to understand it on the story level in terms of origins, reasons and so on. And it’s very helpful to frame this in a kind way, also because that’s closer to reality. So often, we find that what we regret the most or are most ashamed of is innocent. It was a confused and innocent way to try to deal with our life and pain, although it may have created (triggered) a lot of pain for ourselves and perhaps others.

Taking responsibility without this understanding can be harsh and crushing. And having some of this understanding without taking responsibility is a cop-out and prevents us from changing and healing. We need both.

This also goes for how I relate to others. I can seek to understand some of why they behave the way they do. I can know that if I more fully understood, I would have empathy for them. And I also see and know they are fully responsible for their own actions.

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A not-so-honest yes

Yesterday, I was invited to lunch, said a less than honest yes, and experienced the consequences. It’s easy to blame others or circumstances for this. After all, that’s what we are often taught to do by our society and culture. And I know I was the one who said yes when I really wanted to say no, or at least not now.

If I blame others or circumstances, I miss out of looking at my part and learning from it. I get stuck in blame, resentment, and underlying anger.

If I take responsibility for my own choice, and allow my action and its consequences to sink in, there is a shift and reorientation in me. That’s helpful. It shifts me out of blame and into looking at myself and how I sometimes don’t say an honest yes or no. And if I only do this, I miss out of seeing how my mind creates the perception that made it difficult for me to say an honest no.

I can also explore this further. What does it say about me? (Afraid to disappoint others. Afraid of what others will think about me if I say no. Weak. Unclear. Fuzzy. Immature. Scared. Dependent on the approval of others.) What do I find if I explore how my mind creates the threat of saying an honest no, or the identities I see in myself in that situation? What are my beliefs that holds me back from saying an honest no? (They will be disappointed. They won’t like me. I will miss out. I will regret missing out.)

Synchronicity: As I wrote “that made it difficult for me to say an honest no” the lyrics of the song I listened to said “has no right to say no“. That’s of course how it feels. It feels like I have no right to say no, and it’s good to see how my mind creates that experience. How is the threat created by my mind? How is the self who cannot, or is not allowed, to say no created? How is the command to say no created? What images, words and sensations are there, creating these experiences? What are my beliefs, and are they true?

Adyashanti: What the universe will manifest when you are in alignment with it is a lot more interesting

What the universe will manifest when you are in alignment with it is a lot more interesting than what you try to manifest.

– Adyashanti

Yes, and as usual there is a lot more to this.

In one way, we are always in alignment with the universe. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts and feelings of the universe. (As Carl Sagan said.) What’s here is the universe feeling, thinking, acting, doing. It’s not two.

In another way, it’s possible to be more or less aligned with the universe. When I am caught up in fears, beliefs, velcro and drama it’s difficult for me to act from kindness and clarity, and follow (the quiet) inner guidance. When there is more clarity, and less trauma/beliefs/velcro/drama, it’s much easier for me to act from kindness, clarity, and guidance.

So there is always and already alignment with the universe. It’s unavoidable. And I can be more or less aligned with the universe, through (a) recognizing what I am (what this experience happens within and as), (b) healing my human self, and (c) relate to what’s here – including unloved fears and unquestioned fearful stories – with love, presence, and gentle and engaged curiosity.

Be real, not nice

There is a good book called Be Real, Not Nice, and it’s a topic that’s especially important for us who score high on the agreeableness scale (on the Big Five personality traits).

I am still “nice” more than I like, in the sense of sometimes being overly polite, self-effacing, not speaking up, avoiding rocking the boat, follow other people’s advice even when it goes against my own best judgment.

This means I sometimes don’t get what I want. (Even if I could have, if I had been more clear and spoken up.) And it also means that I sometimes go into resentment.

It’s as if the energy that should have gone into being clear and speaking up is unused in that situation, and then later goes into forms of anger or irritation directed towards myself and/or others.

The intention behind all this is partly to be kind, polite, and well-liked, and also to avoid confrontation and unpleasant interactions. And the reality is that the opposite often happens: I – and sometimes others – don’t get what we want, and are unhappy about the situation. It’s really anything but kind.

And it all comes from unquestioned assumptions, and probably unloved parts of myself. For instance unloved and unquestioned fear about what it means to speak up, negotiate, and risk not being liked. (Of course, people who are clear and speak up, and are willing to negotiate about strategies so everyone can have their needs met, are often well liked.)

Ironically, what I seek to avoid by not being clear and real with myself and others is exactly what I get. That’s how it often is. It’s how life shows me what I am doing, and invites me to meet my fears and be clear and real with myself and others.

It’s how life invites me to be more transparent. To speak up about what’s already here. To go for what I want, through finding strategies that meets my own needs and – ideally – those of others.

Seeing this in a general way is a start. But what really helps is to really look at a specific situation in my life where I “left myself” and felt resentful afterwards. Why did I do it? What did I fear would happen if I spoke up and was transparent? What were the consequences? What would have been the likely consequences of speaking up?

Trading integrity for love

This is a recurrent topic in my life, and one that’s familiar to most of us in one variation or another.

  1. There is a deficient self. I am unlovable. I am not enough. I am not OK.
  2. I try to get it from others.  I need her love. I need her approval. I need her company. I need her validation.
  3. Since I take myself to be deficient, it sometimes feels like a life and death issue.
  4. So I compromise on my authenticity, what feels right, and following my guidance. I set this aside so I can get what I think I need.
  5. This makes me feel off track and that something is wrong. I miss opportunities. I find myself in situations that don’t feel right.
  6. So I feel regret and anger. And I blame others, life, and myself.

When I look at the situations in my past I still have regret about, this is the pattern that unfolded. For instance, at one point I left my life – and most of what was important to me – for a relationship, so I could feel loved and validated.

So what can I do?

I can meet this unloved part of me with quiet presence and love.

I can meet this unexamined part of me with gentle curiosity and inquiry.

I can see if I can find the unlovable one, or unloved one, or the one who is not enough, or not OK. (Living Inquiries.)

I can see if I can find love, approval, validation, company – as a real thing.

I can question my beliefs about it. (The Work.)

Note: When I call this post “trading integrity for love” that’s not literally accurate. It’s how it’s experienced in the moment, and love and validation from another does feed something in us, but what I am really looking for – and the only thing that will completely satisfy me – is to find that love for myself, and specifically for the previously unloved parts, and also to see that these things are really unfindable.

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About consequences, free from stress, and following the heart

The mind may have all sorts of stories of how it will be when there is more clarity.

One is that there will be no consequences of our actions, and that we can do what we want without repercussions.

This is one of the “dreams of the ego”.

The reality of it is much simpler and more ordinary, at least in my experience.

There are, of course, still consequences – of our actions, choices, emotions, thoughts etc. Consequences happen in an ordinary way.

We may not believe our thoughts about it, so the coarse or gross (dis)stress may not be there. (Or it’s at least not resisted in the same way.) This makes it much easier.

And yet, when we go against our inner guidance, our heart, our authenticity, is still doesn’t feel right.

In fact, the more clear we are, and the more we recognize all as love, the more painful it is to go against our guidance, our heart, and our authenticity.

In that sense, there is less freedom in clarity. Or, more accurately, there is still freedom to go against guidance, heart and authenticity, yet the consequences are more clear and painful to us. And yet, that’s a small – or actually no – price to pay for living from clarity and love.

I still get caught in fear and beliefs, and sometimes go against my guidance and heart. When that happens, it’s helpful to feel the pain of doing so.

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Free will as a metaphor for learning to function well as a human being

Free will. It’s a big topic, and also very simple.

I can see if I can find free will anywhere. Is it in the words? In my images of free will? In my sensations that seem connected to free will? Can I find it anywhere – in words, images, sensations – in immediacy? Is it unfindable, even if I turn every stone?

I can explore free will within stories. I see that everything happening has infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of time and out to the widest reaches of the universe. Where would free will come in? Does there seem to be room for it anywhere? Also, is there really a separate being that can “have” free will here? (This can be an interesting exploration, and may satisfy the mind a bit, but it’s not so helpful in itself. At the very least, this is not a stopping point.)

I also see that it makes sense to live as if there is free will. It’s an helpful assumption for my life, especially when held lightly.

And I see that free will can be seen as a metaphor for learning how to function well as a human being. To stand on my own two feet. To grown in being autonomous. To live from authenticity. (Which is undefended, almost as a confession.) To live from my guidance and knowing.

Free will can be seen as a pointer to autonomy.

The rest of life stands back. It allows me to explore. Make mistakes. Suffer. Learn. Align. Grow. Find autonomy. Grow in and within autonomy.

In this process, unexamined fears will come up. Unexamined fears, and unexamined identifications – in place to protect the imagined self. So a part of this process is to notice these fears and identifications. Allow them. (Notice they are already allowed by life.) Welcome them. See they are here to protect the imagined self. See they are from confused love. Find genuine love for it, as it is. Examine the conglomerates of words, images and sensations making up the unexamined fears and identifications. Feel the sensations as sensations, and stay with it.

Is the fear as solid as it seems? Can I find the threat? Can I find the threatened one?

How is it to take the leap into acting from my guidance, from my knowing? Even if there is fear here? Even if some of the fear is still unexamined?

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Being authentic

There are two ways of being “authentic”.

One is to act or speak without much reflection or awareness, from defensiveness, reactiveness, and fear. This tends to happen when there is a strong identification with a particular identity that feels threatened, and it has a hard and unyielding quality. It often takes the form of blame and complaining.

Another is to act or speak with reflection and awareness, from receptivity and vulnerability.  This tends to happen when there is an allowing of what’s here, and a softening of activated identifications. This has a receptive and softer quality, and often feels more like a confession.

Some examples:

(a) I hate him. You did it wrong.  They are idiots. (It may be expressed in more sophisticated ways.)

(b) I feel afraid. I feel inadequate. A wound got triggered in me. I feel raw.

The first one is authentic in it’s own way, but it’s a quite immature and reactive form of authenticity. Many, including me, tend to reserve the word authentic for the more receptive one.

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Authenticity

Initial draft…. 

I listened to the authenticity program from To The Best of Our Knowledge last night, which takes an appropriately post-modern look at the cult of authenticity.

As with most things, it can be a useful idea/filter at times, but also creates some problems if taken as reflecting something solid or real inherent in the world.

What is authenticity? How does it look?

In a conventional sense, it means to be true to who I am, whatever I take that to be. It may mean being honest – in how I speak and live – about emotions, beliefs, my history, and so on. It could also mean being consistent over time, in terms of keeping my word, and staying with the same or similar beliefs and identities. Similarly with non-human objects, it may mean being honest about its composition, history, and so on.

That sounds good, pretty straight forward, and maybe even desirable to some extent.

But even scratching the surface of this, it all quickly breaks down.

  • I can be honest with my experience as it is, here now, but it quickly changes into something else and never repeat.
  • Emotions arise, here now, but they are nothing solid or fixed. They are in flux. My experience of them can be filtered in innumerable ways, and if they are not resisted they turn into something that I cannot label even if I wanted to. And I can express them in any number of ways, depending on how the experience of the emotions are filtered and how the expression of them are filtered.
  • I can be honest about my beliefs. Yet these too change. And if I look, I see that each belief has infinite causes… family, friends, media, subculture, culture, evolution of the species, and much more. I can be honest about the beliefs being here, but they are not “mine”.
  • I can be authentic with my identity, yet this identity is made up of stories, and they have infinite causes and are not “mine”. This identity, of this human self, is not created by this human self. At most, it is maintained locally by this human self, although it is really maintained by the whole of existence.
  • I can be authentic about beliefs and identities, yet when I look I find that they are simply thoughts and have no reality or substance beyond being just an ephemeral thought.
  • If I am to be authentic in relation to my culture, then which aspects of this culture, and from what time? Again, there is an infinite of aspects and flavors, and an infinity of points of time to choose among. Also, if I look at what is typically considered the most authentic parts of my own culture, I find that most or all of it came from other places, it was all imported at one point. Even if I find something that originated here, it has been influenced and colored by everything else.
  • I can be honest about my experience, but this experience is filtered. I experience anger, have an identity as not angry, so it must be someone else who is angry. My authentic experience of myself in that situation is of not being angry, yet if I “own” that anger, then that is what is more authentic.
  • I had an opinion in the past, but that was then. Beliefs, identities, interests, passions change over time. The person I was is not the one here now. Am I more authentic if I try to stay consistent over time, or if I go with what is true for me now?
  • Everything has infinite causes and effects. (What is “mine” is not really mine.)
  • Everything is in flux.

So it all breaks down if I take a closer look at it, which means two things. First, it gives me a freedom from the whole idea of authenticity, and also from ideas of solidity and consistency over time. And this is also a freedom to use the term authenticity in a conventional way, in ways that have a limited and practical function, knowing that it is nothing more than that.

– infinite causes, what is alive here now (always), beliefs (what comes out of), identity (what take oneself to be),
– mutability/change, always new/different (anything… ecosystems, food, individuals, etc.)
– own what is here (vs. disowning, denying, although if disowned, then that authentic)