Look up the word authentic and you will find its meaning described as being of undisputed origin; not a copy, genuine. But what does it really mean to consider oneself authentic? Are we naturally so? Or does the fabric of our nature get lost in the overwhelming tides of emotion, responsibility and social conditioning?
To be authentic is to know oneself. To recognise our hopes, our dreams, our fears and our limitations. It requires a degree of self-knowledge that can only be derived through a deep union with ones heart, allowing our voice to speak up and to be heard over all of the external noise – noise which surrounds us and noise which we impose upon ourselves.
As infants, our needs are simple; to eat, sleep, experience physical comfort and nurturing. It could be said that at birth we are perfect examples of what it is to be authentic human beings. We are nothing other than ourselves as we do not and cannot play into the hands of complex niches, unspoken rules and expectations. We have not learnt what it is believed to be human, to fit in.
Perhaps key to understanding this elusive topic and to considering how to cultivate authenticity within ourselves is to consider just how much of our own thoughts and actions are exactly that – thoughts and actions centred around a harmonious interaction with our own inner being and just how much of the ways in which we think and behave are as a result of responding to external conditioning and pressures we face every day.
As we grow and learn about the world and our place within it, we are unconsciously exposed to pressures to oblige the need for success, approval, maintenance of a particular persona and living within a community that imposes it’s own expectations and obligations. We learn as we grow to follow these social obligations; that in doing so will afford us a more comfortable existence even if it is to the detriment of our own moral objections.
It is easy to play into the hands of the crowd. To be exiled from ones community, ones society or culture makes the process of being true to our own self a daunting prospect. To seek an authentic state of being may render us abandoned, alone, in isolation and misunderstanding.
As we forge ahead in life, our ideas and opinions are shaped by the experiences, people and circumstances we encounter along the road. We learn that some traits, characteristics or opinions are met with trepidation or disapproval, while others are readily accepted and actively encouraged. We learn to engender that which offers security or approval. But in so doing we stray from our own roots of being. We wander far from what made us genuine and one of a kind. Instead we become ill defined imitations of one another, regurgitating the ideas, interests, hopes and fears that we are spoon fed by a media driven culture.
To cultivate a state of authenticity, it is essential to think beyond such limitations. To experience what society advocates with regards worth and value and then to take strength to make up our own minds as to what we believe to be true or false, worthy or unnecessary to our own state of being. By immersing oneself in the expectations of society and its ideas we become better equipped at fostering our own sense of identity by understanding the self and our place within the world. Experiential living enables us to cultivate authenticity through better personal understanding and enlightened interaction.
As Kierkegaard says “One must face reality and form his own opinions of existence”
Through experiencing and interacting with the world around us we extricate ourselves from the ego, both on a personal level and on a societal level. If we experience a mode of living that leaves us feeling bereft of heart, that leaves us questioning how morally subversive our actions and choices may or may not be do we then become better able to live more fully aligned to the spiritual presence that is our birth right, in harmony with our own ideologies.
Authenticity is about being able to see the world for what it is, experiencing what is on offer, recognising our responses and feelings to circumstances and ultimately coming to terms with our place within it. Being at peace with who we are, both individually and as a part of something much wider. It cannot be defined by any particular patterns of thought, opinion or being. For just as no one single human being can truly be categorized upon a scale of simplicity, to be authentic requires recognition of the complexity of each individual person and a sacred honouring of our own divine nature.
It is a gem of intense beauty, elusive yet perfectly real, to be aspired to and cultivated. In seeking out its company we enable our true nature to operate freely, without impediment in each and every day that we live and breath.
But with a desire to seek an authentic state of being comes a realisation that the road to living a fulfilled life will inevitably change the way we think, feel and interact with our fellow human beings. It is impossible to seek out authenticity without the way we view our relationships, our choices and our style of living being challenged. As we seek out self-knowledge, the way we choose to live will change, subtly or drastically, but it will change none the less. It’s impact may reverberate in many corners of our lives and with the relationships we hold with others.
As Henry David Thoreau spoke “One should change oneself before seeking to change the world”. In seeking to return to an authentic state of being, remaining and engaging with the world whilst fostering a simpler context in which to exist will we be better able to deny the trappings of a material culture and all its temptations whilst also seeking to maintain a sense of compassion, service and acceptance of our fellow human beings and our place within the world.
Seeking an authentic state of being is not an easy road to walk. It yields many challenges and may leave us questioning who we truly are and where we fit within the world. But in seeking self-knowledge and deepening our understanding of our choices, our reactions and interactions with the internal and external world, authenticity and acknowledgement of ones true self will shine forth and enable a life lived in alignment to ones own principles and values.