Do you ever sit in contemplation and wonder about your full, natural, original, authentic self? The first time I ever contemplated this was as a teen unable to sleep due to the heat and humidity in my non-air conditioned bedroom. I asked: Who is my true self underneath all of the mandatory school education? Who am I beneath the religious instruction obtained from my parents’ churches? Who am I underneath the charades and façades I present to others and myself? I don’t remember if I arrived at answers to my questioning. Somehow, getting lost in the questions did help me fall asleep that night. Even if I had not dropped off to sleep, the time spent asking those questions would have been time well spent.
The somewhat recent authenticity trend that remains somewhat popular is a refreshing breath of fresh air in our world of superficiality and posing. I wonder, though, if people are sometimes trying too hard to be authentic. Are we fooling ourselves in the end and unknowingly creating yet another façade? Can we actually let go of our attachments to the self-identities we have built? I posit that everyone from “self-aware” gurus to people suffering from dementia unwittingly retain a fair amount of the overlaying, learned thinking and behavior we have acquired over the years.
We might shift perspectives and alter various opinions and beliefs about ourselves, yet we rarely get a glimpse of our true, authentic self. The moment of the glimpse is soon colored by the realization we have experienced it. We instinctively interpret the realization through our mental filters. I once asked one of the Tibetan monks I have befriended if this is the heart of meditation and seeking. He simply smiled and said he did not know. He compared my question to his own question about enlightenment. That is, if a person tries pursuing a solution to that particular question, it slips away.
The monk compared my question to the problem of trying to pick up a blob of liquid mercury with tweezers. It is impossible to grab it in one try because the blob will divide into two or more smaller blobs while grasping it. One might accomplish picking up most of the mercury after countless tries. To do so will require teaching oneself effective techniques. One must be cunning enough to realize one’s own personal illusions and deceptions. With the illusions being the chemical mercury and the deceptions being the tweezers. One must be careful to not confuse the mental process with the allegory. It’s the old saying that pointing to the Moon is not the Moon. We only see a mental construct of the Moon. It’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of metaphors and allegories.
Perhaps it is best to approach the problem of authenticity from a different perspective–the dictionary definition–being precisely as appears and claimed; conforming to or based upon facts. This is different than trying to reveal the original, authentic self. This type of authenticity acknowledges that we have had life experiences that have helped form us. We are able to evaluate how we have utilized our mandatory school education, our religious training, and the ways we fool others and ourselves. We can understand that there is some sort of idealized original, authentic self within our minds that may never be fully realized. However, we can understand how that original self has been shaped through experience and mindfully understand how we can be more truthful and authentic to others and ourselves.
This is much of what is meant to discover one’s quintessential self, then using courage, honesty, and tenacity in the personal journey to be the best version of oneself.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the moral philosopher, Bernard Williams. “If there’s one theme in all my work, it’s about authenticity and self-expression. It’s the idea that some things are, in some real sense, really you–or express what you and others aren’t.”