When authenticity first started being used in the leadership development world people would say — but what if someone’s authentic is being an idiot or annoying? This is the fear the narrative self puts forward as a reason to stay safe, and in the realm of under control and managing emotions. Which also keeps us in the realm of disconnected and inauthentic. So if our efforts till now are getting us the opposite, what does real authenticity look like?
If authenticity is really what we want then we are stepping into a world that contains the full range of emotions, and the full range of responses and behaviours — alive, rich, and fulfilling.
This sounds terrible to the self that’s spent its life following conditioning and programming to safely navigate, duck, and weave by trying to do the ‘right’ thing.
The self that’s adjusted behaviour to be ‘acceptable’ and therefore ‘accepted’ is the same self that’s creating an experience that might be safe but which is also deadening. All of this leaves us separate, insecure, unfulfilled, and anything but authentic.
Think of it in a work context where people might be encouraged, or even developed, to be authentic — be yourself — but — huge caveat — as long as you meet these behavioural expectations and work in this way and achieve what we want you to achieve.
This conflict at the organisational level is a visible version of what goes on within — ‘be yourself’ we say to ourselves — but — as long as you don’t get angry like your parents used to tell you, and as long as you don’t say these words or do these things that have got you in trouble in the past, and make sure you’re kind and helpful, but not too helpful or they’ll take advantage, and as long as you work really hard all the time because that’s what’s got you praise throughout your whole life.
For every day we’ve lived like this we’ve gradually disconnected from our real authentic selves, covering over who we really are in favour of who we think we should be. It’s seemed like the real me isn’t acceptable or lovable or good enough, so I’d better layer over with this acquired ‘me’ to hide that one. Then I’ll be loved and included and belong — then I’ll be OK.
From that level of understanding, it makes perfect sense to keep living as required of me. It really looks like that’s the route to survival in the tribe and this body is designed to move towards survival. It’s what nature does. But all the while we’re doing that, the real you, the one in your heart, is calling you back. Louder and louder as we get older, as the narrative self gets more conflicting and confused; to the point where sometimes the heart starts to scream to be heard via intense disillusionment, breakdowns, depression, and heart attacks.
It never stops wanting to bring us back into connection, back into alignment, back to our true selves.
Maybe through isolation, you’ve had a quieter experience and you’re hearing one of these call-back messages; you’re starting to look at what you really want life to be like.
In the absence of peripheral noise and in a slower experience of life, we can hear more easily. We re-sensitise to the un-natural ways we’ve been living that have been taken as normal for so long.
How can we be really authentic?
Given the definition of authenticity says ‘real, true’, We need to look to what’s real and true and what’s not — and to differentiate between those two words.
In exploring from this perspective, the programming we’ve acquired through life starts to take care of itself, sorting the wheat from the chaff, and easing the experience of life as the tangle of confused rules begins to thin and release.
This is where the inner war of ‘innate’ vs ‘acquired’ stops. When the inner war stops, the outer war stops, and the world reflects flowing and full authenticity instead of the confusion of ‘be yourself but…’. It reflects highs and lows, delight and upset, gratitude and strong words.
From here we naturally start living authentically, back in connection and alignment with who we really are, speaking what’s here for us right now; knowing it says nothing about who we really are or who they really are — but being expressed nonetheless.
So what is real and true?
Let’s jump straight in with the fact there is no truth in the word ‘authentic’. There’s nothing objective or constant that we could agree on. We can’t create a box and say ‘these behaviours and these actions = authentic’ and therefore these people are in the ‘not authentic’ box.
One moment offering someone a cup of tea could be the most authentic, caring expression of life, the next it could be the most forced, resented ‘I’d better do this or else…’ experience — and the person being given the tea could describe both as authentic. There’s no objective reality — nothing real at this level. Nothing true that could be 100% categorically agreed on as definite and constant.
Real authenticity is the opposite of evaluation and categorisation, and it’s the other part of the definition ‘not a copy; genuine’ which means people living as their heartfelt, unique expression. It’s the dissolution of boxes and of mind-made ideas of good = same, or that there’s one-right-way of ‘being’ to be authentic.
When we pull back from actions and behaviours, we come to thoughts. What’s real and true in thoughts?
Thoughts feel real in the moment. If the thought appears that ‘giving this presentation is going to be horrendous’ and that thought gets believed, then scared feelings build. The scared experience feels real in that moment.
Expressing that fear is an authentic expression and in fact, much more useful than trying to deny it, squash it, or over-ride it with a ‘positive’ thought (although we may well try all of those first, which is fine).
In expressing in this way we stay connected with the moment — relieved of ideas of ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this’.
But the experience isn’t true. Not true because you can’t know what the presentation’s going to be like. Not true because that thought could disappear in an instant and a brand new thought appears giving a brand new experience — so then which experience is true? Thoughts are not permanent or constant, no truth.
So then, before thought…what’s there? Is that real and true?
‘Before thought’ is what we experience when thoughts drop away. When the mind goes quiet — even if just for an instant between thoughts. People describe this as peaceful, alive with potential, fulfilling, connected, settled, loving, secure, whole, happy. Already this description is a conceptualisation of what it really is but it’s the best we can do.
It’s what quantum mechanics describe as the quantum field, what spirituality describes as the oneness, consciousness, awareness. What we mostly describe as peak experiences or moments of flow or deep connection with another.
This is a ‘true’ experience. This experience doesn’t change. Nobody drops before thought and discovers noise one moment and peace the next; judgement one moment and compassion the next. It’s a universal, constant experience. It’s an experience of ‘no-self’. The self-narrative drops away and we speak and do authentically — expressing from the heart; naturally and easily.
And this space is the source of all experience. By the time an experience has reached what we call the ‘real world’ it’s an artifact of something created in this space. The ‘real world’ is the manifestation of something born, moments before, in this nothingness.
This space that we would normally call unreal, intangible, abstract, is in fact the only true constant in our human experience and the real place from which everything comes. Just because we can’t conceptualise it (and put it in a box) the mind dismisses it as unimportant fluff (it likes to demean what it doesn’t — and can’t — understand).
Where does that leave us now?
If your curiosity is piqued — brilliant! If it’s not, it’s OK, this information will come back and be heard at some point in the future when there are more cracks for the light to get in.
If you’re in the curiosity camp,
Start noticing the ever-changing without a need to change it. Start noticing the experience of the constant without a need to hang out there more.
Start noticing that when something feels difficult — I don’t like this, I don’t like them, I shouldn’t have done that, how will I ever… — these are signals that something acquired is hiding what’s authentic. Still not to be changed, just to be seen as that.
The more you see all this, the more you step into the enlivening world of real authenticity — a full expression of life where everything becomes available.
And paradoxically wherein —not trying to be ‘good’ authentic people — we live as the brilliantly authentic people we are.
With love, Helen