The idea of authenticity has been rattling round in my head for a while now, prompted by reading Mark Townsend’s thoughtful book ‘Diary of a Heretic’. Mark lost his place in the Anglican Church because he would not compromise, holding his honour, his integrity and his authenticity as more important than his employment. That takes some courage and a lot of conviction. Reading his work, I found myself wondering how authentic I am, and how that word relates to Druidry. (Mark also walks the Druid path).
It’s not just a case of being true to your emotions. Acting out of emotions in the moment only represents a part of the self. I am certain that unconsidered explosions of emotion where what we do we later have to explain as unmeant somehow, is not authentic. It is possible to feel, intensely in the moment emotion that does not fit with what we think or believe.
It’s not a case of being ruled by your logic and intellect. I’ve tried that one a few times, and emulating Mr Spok isn’t it either. Logic untempered by compassion can be brutal. Intellect that refuses to acknowledge emotion isn’t able to handle human situations. This is why there’s a whole section of the blog devoted to thinking about feeling. The interplay between emotion and reason is tremendously important.
I think it’s really important to have a philosophy that holds together your relationship with self and world in a coherent way. A belief system could equally hold this space, and often the two share and mingle. An understanding of what life is about, no matter how provisional that understanding is, gives us the means to choose. Does this idea fit with my beliefs? Is this emotion consistent with what my philosophy tells me I need to be doing? Even so, it is not our philosophy or belief that makes us authentic. If we hang on to belief when it is at odds with reason, or we stick to a philosophy that crushes our emotional life, we aren’t authentic, we’re merely dogmatic.
After much pondering, I’ve come to think of authenticity as the interplay between these three aspects. Emotion, intellect and belief. If those aspects of us are at odds, we aren’t authentic. There is simply no room for it in that level of inner conflict. If we stick rigidly with one part of self at the expense of the others, we aren’t authentic. To seek authenticity is to work on those conflicts between how we feel, what reason tells us, and what we think we ought to be feeling and thinking, based on the beliefs we hold. It’s a constant dance, an on-going shifting process of refining, experimenting, rejecting, getting confused and trying again. In theory there could be an end point of perfect balance, but I suspect life throws us too many curved balls to let us stay in one of those for long.
To be authentic is not, I am thinking, to be rigid and absolutely fixed in some aspect of self. Authenticity actually calls for a willingness to change. It’s not good being authentic about your feelings, for example, if the effect is that you destroy that which you need. It’s no good holding a belief that disallows some aspect of how you feel, or that is at odds with what you actually think. To seek authenticity is to seek a coherence of self, where heart and mind accord. It means living in a way where what we uphold as values, ideals, and virtues is manifest in what we do. Many religions offer means of achieving that – perhaps Buddhism most especially. However, there is no need to seek methods elsewhere. We can think and feel and imagine out our own approaches. All it really requires is paying attention to what we do, why we do it, how we feel about it and how that fits with what we believe, or want to believe.
And it beats the hell out of trying to be ‘good’. I realised this week that ‘good’ is all about how other people judge and measure us. The only person who can say if you are at all authentic, is you.