The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.
~ Carl Jung
What does it mean to live authentically? The phrase is kicked around a lot. Live an authentic life. Be authentic. But how do we find that place within ourselves? How do we know we are not being influenced by past messages and beliefs?
Being authentic means coming from a real place within. It is when our actions and words are congruent with our beliefs and values. It is being ourselves, not an imitation of what we think we should be or have been told we should be. There is no “should” in authentic.
But wait a minute. If being authentic means being our true self, how many of us have really taken the time to know ourselves on this deep level?
Part of knowing ourselves is knowing what we believe in. Throughout our childhoods we are picking up messages that become part of our belief system. Left unchallenged, we can walk around thinking that these beliefs are our own. Part of finding our authentic self is sorting through these beliefs to find out which are truly our own. Are they beliefs that come from a mature, healthy, grounded place within us, or are they remnants from our childhood, coming from an insecure place?
Let me provide a personal example. I was brought up in the Catholic Church, had two uncles who were priests, went to church every Sunday, was baptized, had my First Communion and was confirmed. You get the picture: strong Catholic family.
When I went through my rebellious teenage years, I started to challenge the structure I was seeing (albeit in a very immature way). I remember it distinctly: watching a teenage girl with her family sitting in the pew in front of us; her father at the front leading the singing, closing his eyes as he sang, swaying slightly; and all I could see was the hypocrisy because I knew what his daughter did the night before.
Now before practicing Catholics become outraged at what I just wrote, please remember that this was the immature thinking of a teenager. My point is simply that this was the catalyst for me to start questioning whether the formal structure of a church — any church — was what I believed in. As I matured, my answer could have brought me back to Catholicism, or it could have taken me to a different source of spiritual beliefs. The point is not where I ended up; it is the process of finding what resonated with me. What worked for my parents was about them, not me. Being authentic meant living my life, not theirs.
As children, we are sponges. We take on the beliefs and values of those we look up to, depend on, love or, sadly, even fear. Some of these beliefs may be serving us well; others are doing the exact opposite.
Taking the time to reflect on what is important to us, what resonates, what is truly our belief is a step we must all take. Without doing this, we are carrying around baggage that is not our own: baggage that keeps us from finding our authentic self. By exposing ourselves to new ideas and different ways of being, we can discover what resonates within us.
When I was in university, I signed up for a religious studies class to learn about various religions, in order to start to answer the question: What do I believe in? I took Native American studies classes (knowing that I had been exposed to some racist beliefs in the small town I lived in) and feminist studies classes – all to open my eyes to discover what I believed and what resonated with me.
These early university days planted a seed within me. I learned to look openly at what is all around me, to find out what my truth is. This is not an easy place to live from. Many times when I believe I am being open, I find that the goblins of the past have slammed the door shut.
Goblins of the past are those old tape-recorder messages that play over and over again in our heads or pop up when we least expect them. It is the self-talk and beliefs from our past that wriggle their way into the present and throw us into that insecure, little-kid place.
Part of finding our authentic self is unhooking ourselves from the past, turning off the tape recorder, and being grounded in the present. For it is when we are grounded that we can be open, curious and accepting of ourselves and others.
Being authentic is more than being real; it is finding what is real. And what is real for me will be quite different than what is real for you. There is no value attached: it simply is what it is for each of us. If your sexual orientation, spiritual beliefs or chosen path is different than mine, we are both okay with it.
When we are both living from our authentic selves, our differences do not frighten or challenge us. There are no judgements. I honour the authentic you and you honor the authentic me.
I am now in my mid-40’s and am still discovering what my truth is, who I am, what my beliefs are, and who my authentic self is. And no, it is not that I am a slow learner (smile), it is because I am constantly evolving and changing. Each time I go deeper within myself, learn a new skill, release myself from the bondage of an old message, I evolve again and a new side to my authentic self is revealed.
Living authentically is not stagnant: it is constantly shifting and taking on new forms. If we truly believe in living an authentic life, then we must continually be learning about ourselves, challenging old beliefs, sorting through our baggage. It is about learning to face fears and doubts, to be able to reach deeply within ourselves to find out what makes our heart sing, our spirit soar. It is finding where our authentic self feels the most alive, free and unburdened — and then having the courage to live from this place.