It’s worth starting out by saying that this post may be a little rough around the edges. You see, with my husband away on a 3-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I am missing my counterpart to talk through such Dharmic ponderings with. Sooo, I’m fixing on using this post as a stand-in :)
This morning, as part of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk by Sister Lang Nghiem, given recently at Plum Village centered around the 8th, 9th, and 10th Mindfulness Trainings. In it, she spoke about authenticity. She said: according to the Buddha, every moment, we are already our true self.
“Every moment, we are manifesting the totality of our self; the totality of our seeds; the sum of our habit energies. So there is no authentic self you need to be true to. Every moment, you are already your true self. This is a very important teaching to understand.” – Sister Lang Nghiem
My first reaction that popped up in the wake of her talking about how there isn’t really such a thing as authenticity, was: Oh, I super don’t agree with that. And as I talk regularly to myself, I even said it aloud. Of course there’s a difference between someone who is being authentic and someone who isn’t, I thought. You can always tell when someone is being real with you and when they’re not.
As she continued, I understood a little more about the teaching she was offering and it made a bit more sense. However, I was left wondering if perhaps there are two ways of addressing such a dynamic question as to whether authenticity exists: from the ultimate dimension perspective and from the historical dimension perspective.
Here’s what I’m thinking. From the lens of the ultimate dimension: yes, we are always manifesting who we are; we are authentic to who we are based on the fact that we are alive and a collection of causes, conditions, our ancestors, and our experiences. From the lens of the historical dimension: there are clearly more authentic people operating around us than others; those who have the ability to integrate their internal landscape with their external actions and speech and have them in alignment with each other.
In my google search for “authenticity images” I came across this:
Brene Brown seems to be on the same page as Sister Lang Nghiem. And in similar accord, I am left part agreeing with her and part not. I do think that authenticity is something you have or don’t have, at least on some level. Though I also agree that it’s a practice, just like everything else. For instance, no one is locked into being considered a kind-hearted person without actively practicing every day to be a kind-hearted person. In similar accord, no one is a mean-spirited person without practicing to be a mean-spirited person. Who we are and how others regard us hinges on what we think, say, and do.
I consider myself – and have received unsolicited feedback from others confirming this – to be an especially polite person. Politeness is a quality I possess strongly in my character. I see that being polite is both something I am AND it’s also based on what I do actively and ongoingly. I see authenticity in the same manner. Some people possess the quality of authenticity more than others – AND it’s based on what they do actively and ongoingly to keep that quality of character alive and engaged with the world.
Yesterday, I started working on my next article submission for the Montana Woman magazine, which I write monthly for with a column called Mindfulness Matters. I decided to write about Mindful Friendships. With this new addition of thinking about authenticity, I’m now reflecting on the qualities I personally look for in others, in regard to developing and investing in close friendships – and authenticity is way high up on my list.
I can see what the Sister is talking about with there being no need to be true to your authentic self – I mean, we ARE inherently behaving and interacting with our self and the world around us in the truest way possible, based on the skills and abilities we’ve developed. But the other part of the equation as I see it, is that some folks have cultivated a greater capacity to be in relationship with themselves, and these are the people that possess a greater quality of authenticity. The folks who aren’t very authentic likely don’t know they’re not being authentic; they’re doing the best they can with the faculties they’ve generated and have been passed down to them.
For example, something I’ve been coming to terms with lately is that many folks I am acquainted with do not have a terribly high standard when it comes to being truthful and honest. There is an extremely high propensity for folks to tell half-truths; to skirt around topics so as to avoid being honest; to say one thing to one person and something contrary to another; to hide parts of who they are; to deceive; to put a spin on information so as to appear a certain way or channel things in a particular way so as to avoid being fully expressive of what’s really going on. People lie. It’s very common. So, on one hand this common tendency to lie is that person being as true to their sense of self as much as they possibly can – they are authentic to who they are, and it just so happens to be that they are incapable of being truthful and open. So in a sense they are authentically someone who lies regularly. And on the other hand (the historical dimension hand), people who are incapable of matching their inner experience with their outer environment – whose thoughts do not align with their speech and actions – can be seen as someone who isn’t an authentic person.
I see both things as being true.
Yes, we’re all always being authentic, as we can be no other way than who we are. And yes, there is such a thing as people who possess the quality of authenticity and people who don’t.
I wonder what my husband Mike would say, if he were here to share his thoughts on this topic. (I’m missing him today.)
One more meme before I sign off: