On Authenticity

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:

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I Think We’ve Got It Backwards

Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.

In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.

The first thing we commonly have backwards:

A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.

and

B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.

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And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:

C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.

and

D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.

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So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.

I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):

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Not A Pretty Girl

Inspired by an Ani Difranco song that I’ve refashioned and have been playing & singing lately on the guitar, here are some of the ways my “I am not a pretty girl, that is not what I do” expresses itself:

I wear the same basic outfit every day: brown pants/green shirt; my idea of hair care involves washing it 2-3 times a week (no cutting, styling, dying, or whatever else-ing most women tend to do); I wouldn’t know how to apply makeup even if I had it; the few pieces of jewelry I own were given to me by well-intentioned people who don’t know me well enough to know I will never wear it; when I’m in a bar to hear music, I’m the girl armed with a pocket notebook and pen jotting down observational notes; I own 3 pairs of shoes: crocs, snow boots, and motorcycle boots; I’m not interested in mirroring my moves on the dance floor so as to best maintain the reflection of a sex-object; and I am not beholden to self-validation and worth (as I was when I was young) through the ability to attract a guy (or 2 or 3 or 12) – I reserve that dignity to be procured from my own well of self.

Whether I Like It Or Not

I am currently doing the work of reconciling with the uncomfortable truth that many people are intimidated by how I show up. And many people misperceive what I do and say, based on their own insecurities and baggage.

I am doing the work of bearing the fruits of understanding that I am different in many ways from most of the people I am acquainted with.

My devotion to a spiritual path differentiates me from most people. My commitment to cultivating skillfulness is relatively unsurpassed by those most commonly in my midst. My values, ethics, and codes of conduct are more honed and far less wavering. And it all creates a divide, whether I like it or not.

I am challenged with how to express this to the people in my circle, as I imagine most would hear this and think that I am full of myself, but that is not what’s going on here.

Simply stated, I am now coming to terms with the reality I feared unfolding a few years ago, when I stepped on the path of making a conscious effort to stop dimming my light – I am outshining others and finding that I am in a league of my own.

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Food for personal thought:

Maybe it’s not that I need to find others who can keep up with me, maybe it’s that I need to be more accepting of the fact that I am leading the way.

What do I see as the difference between self-confidence and ego?

What do I see as the difference between being self-possessed vs being cocky?

On Solitude

Pic taken during my one-week solo stay at the Mission Lookout Tower, May 2018

 

There are at least two kinds of solitude: one we experience when we are by ourselves alone and the other we can experience when we are in the midst of others.

There is a kind of solitude, which is spoken to in the sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone, that can be carried within us wherever we go. It involves an ability to live in the present moment, free of worry, stress, anxiety, craving, and attachment.

Just because we may live alone doesn’t mean we know how to be alone. And just because we have house mates doesn’t mean we can’t cultivate the art of solitude.

It’s good to mention too, that there is a solitude born from isolation and separation and a solitude born from a deep sense of interbeing and re-connection with one self – and they are not at all the same thing. Using the Eightfold Path as a guide, we could say there is Solitude and then there is Right Solitude.

Additionally, solitude as a power or virtue is all of the following: drastically undervalued, super misunderstood, and detrimentally romanticized.

Ah, the inner stirrings of a writer on solitude.

Those Who Know Me Well

Those who know me well, know that I have a knack for naming inanimate objects and other things you don’t typically give names to. They know I’m an expert in collecting indoor bugs, which I then set free outside. They know I’m a sucker for babies and that no matter how pressed for time I might be, I will assuredly stop and crouch down to pet a dog. 

They know my rock star husband is Macklemore but not because he’s my type – which he’s not – but because of his lyrics, charisma, and smile. They know, too, that it would NEVER work out between us, which is totally true. They know that my vocal stylings are formed heavily by having listened to a lot of Tori Amos and Ani Difranco in my formative years, and that I have a secret calling to be a traveling musician in a band with a tour bus and a new stage to play on every night.

They know I have a special affection for crows and ravens and that my affinity for trees likely influenced my wearing of the same matching color scheme of clothes every day. They know I don’t wear underwear, except for those days when it’s impossible not to, and they know I don’t do anything with my hair other than wash it, brush it, and clip it back with something – no trimming, cutting, styling, primping, or dying.

They know I write a whole lot more than I talk and I don’t tend to give advice unless it’s asked for and they know that if I’m in town and not at meditation on a Monday night it means there’s something wrong.

They know that my high rate of organization and efficiency rubs a lot of people the wrong way and that it’s difficult for me to forge close friendships in part because of how often they’re intimidated by me – and they know that makes me sad.

They know I live with a lotta heart and joy to be alive and an uncommon fortitude of intention.

They know that I know that I’m a marvel; that I do my internal work; and practice to stay grounded, connected, and humble.

Masks

Last night, I attended our First Friday art walk downtown, where a plethora of coffee shops, stores, and offices host showings of local artists work, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. One installment especially stood out to me at the Dana Gallery, where a series of masks were on display that had been made by young people of all ages residing at the Watson’s Children’s Shelter here in town. Accompanying each mask was a one-line description and the age and gender of the person who’d crafted it. Here are the ones I jotted down on location:

“My masks show that people only see part of who I really am. If people saw all of me they wouldn’t want to be friends with me.”         13-year-old girl

“My mask is a unicorn, crying rainbows.” 9-year-old girl

“My mask is wearing a mask. It says you can’t trust people even if they say you can.” 14-year-old boy

“My mask is crying rainbows because I’m supposed to be happy, but I’m sad.” 4-year-old boy

“My mask only covers my eyes. I don’t think people should cover up who they are.” 12-year-old girl

“My mask is a superhero. I wish I had superhero powers so I could protect people.” 10-year-old boy

“I don’t want to talk about my mask.” 3-year-old girl

“My mask has blood on it. And the black is meth and drugs.” 9-year-old boy

I thought the premise of these masks paired well with a meme I came across yesterday on twitter (pictured above).

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Inspiration vs Intimidation

I follow Tiny Buddha on twitter (see image credit above) and really appreciate what they put out into the twitter-sphere. I re-post a lot of their memes on our sangha’s Be Here Now Community facebook page. I came across this one above just the other day and it fits exceptionally well into a subject that’s been alive for me lately, both pre and post my solo spoken word performance and album release last Friday, on the nature of inspiration vs. intimidation.

Along these lines, I penned this in my journal early this morning:

I’m aware that I am a person who shows up big. Even when I’m not saying anything – even when I’m just…sitting there. I know because I know. Because I have eyes and ears and an open heart that renders me observant. I know because people have told me. And it’s not as though I’m putting on airs or trying to show up in a certain way. Still, it translates in generally one of two ways, depending on how comfortable the other person is in their own skin whilst in my midst. My “bigness” is either inspiring or intimidating, and sometimes it’s a mixture of both at the same time.

It used to be that I was inclined towards over-caretaking for those who were left to feel inferior in my wake, by dimming my light and trying to ratchet down my “bigness.” But I’m realizing more and more that this is not a sound plan. Adjusting my light to compensate for the insecurity of others only serves to limit who I really am.

My work is to do my work, to be as kind and full-hearted as possible – and have that be not only enough but ALL of it. People will have the experiences they do, whether I show up big or cower back from fear of causing others offense or discomfort. It’s not my job to manage their energy (as though I even could!), as long as I’m doing my very best to be as skillful and loving as possible.

This is a practice I imagine I’ll be working on for the rest of my days. Because while I’m invested in continuing to shine my light and showing up how I show up, I’m also concerned with the energy exchange that occurs in relationships, and want to be sensitive to how I might overpower people in certain situations. I’m aware that not every moment is a time to shine. Sometimes the best action is non-action, to step back a bit and allow others the space and opportunity to do their thing. Sometimes I do need to dim my light, in order to get out of someone else’s way, so they can shine.

 

 

 

 

Knowing Thyself

To listen to me reading this blog post in audio form:

 

I’ve questioned whether I can make it through this book: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, the likes of which I discovered propped up in one of those little free libraries situated on a quiet neighborhood street in town. I almost didn’t take it, on account of the Oprah’s Book Club sticker adhered to the cover, which was designed to be a draw, a first-class recommendation, a rubber-stamp of approval by someone people trust. For me, though, it served only the ill-affects of resigning to a fate that had been chosen – neigh, thrusted – upon the masses, as though a woman who graces the cover of every O magazine should wield the power to say what’s hot in the literary world. How does this work? Do people care so little for their own opinion that they should have cause to hold hers in such high regard as to turn over their decision making power? But, I digress.

The reason I may not get through this book has nothing, in fact, to do with the circular sticker glued to the front. Instead, it has to do with the sheer visceral magnitude of the writer’s account of getting sober – in what turns out to be the oldest residential drug and alcohol treatment facility in the world, located in the state of Minnesota. The rock-bottom nature of his experience. The clutching force of how far a human being can spiral down the black hole of depravity. The hellish descriptions of agony. But it’s the realness that keeps me reading. And I know that since he mustered the ability to relive it while coiled over his computer, hands shaky on the keys, I can settle in beside him and listen to his story.

The point? There’s a time to push through discomfort and there’s a time not to. It depends on the situation and where we’re at. If we don’t know ourselves well, it becomes almost impossible to intuit which time calls for which action. Sometimes discomfort is a sign of needing to stop engaging with something because it may trigger us in un-beneficial ways. Other times, it’s a sign to keep going because it affords us the opportunity to learn and grow. And only we ourselves can know which time is which.

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Sovereignty

The best definition I found for the word “sovereignty” is stated in the image above: autonomous; free from external control. I’ve been resonating with this word over the past year and find that my personal sovereignty is developing and deepening along with my mindfulness practice, as they seem to go hand-in-hand.

I’m finding that the state of sovereignty is much like the state of joy in that when I talk about it people inquire further, not knowing how to develop such qualities of being. So, this is my first attempt at trying to put into words what this particular characteristic is about, from my own experience that is.

Sovereignty, in regards to oneself, is about having a strong and unwavering sense of self-reliance, internal direction, and self-assurance (in a humble and well-grounded fashion) – it’s about taking and claiming full and total responsibility for one’s own quality of life and state of being. To summarize, sovereignty is about being at home with yourself wherever you go, regardless of outer circumstances. And this is the crux of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness tradition: to come back home to ourselves in the here and now, with joy and ease, so that we can then be of service and benefit to others.

Developing our own sovereignty is not about disconnecting from others or regarding ourselves as superior or becoming a “lone wolf.” It’s about being able to depend and trust in our capacity to generate joyfulness and solidity no matter where we are or who we’re with – to befriend and keep good company with our own selves and emanate that outwards, un-tethered from the clutches of self-consciousness, self-judgement, and self-doubt. It’s a state born from mindfulness, concentration, insight, and diligent practice.

I’ve often mentioned my interest in breaking down mindfulness/Buddhist-based teachings in order to make them more palatable and practical so that they might become more applicable to a wider demographic of people, especially those who are looking for more straight-forward “how-to” guidance. So with that in mind, what are some actions we can take to actually practice the development of sovereignty? Let’s see what I can come up with:

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