Tag Archives: authentic

Fake it until you make it?

Faking it is a complicated practice. You may find that wearing a fake persona some of the time can be very useful – as a way of dealing with the public, or with colleagues for example. A certain amount of fakeness can be necessary for achieving a professional demeanour. If it works for you and enables you to get things done, then fair enough.

Playing a role, or roles you think other people want you to play, can be exhausting. Presenting as the person you think people want you to be, because you feel that your authentic self wouldn’t be acceptable, is pretty grim. I’ve been there, and I’ve done it. I’ve tried to be nice, and helpful and kind and co-operative with all comers. I’ve also failed utterly at this and found it left me feeling miserable and isolated. I am better off dealing with people who do not need me to be mostly working to please them. I guess a certain amount of this may be inevitable in life, but the question of how much you can stomach is an important one.

If you feel (rightly or wrongly) that you true self isn’t acceptable and that you must fake your nature to get by, it can be soul destroying. It can lead to bitterness, and resenting the people who don’t have to fake it. Behind the pleasant persona, a person can be burning up with rage and frustration. This can become an array of things. It might lead to the cognitive dissonance of narcissism, with the tension between persona, and feared worst version of self becoming the basis of dreadful behaviour. It can be a way in which oppression is piled onto the oppressed, too. If you are not allowed to function as a complete person with your own feelings and needs, this can add weight to other abuses. The pressure on the oppressed to ‘act nice’ is a way of keeping people down, and powerless and silent.

Faking it for the benefit of someone else may well be a very bad idea for your own wellbeing.

I think it all works very differently if you want to be other than you are. Pretending to be a certain way helps build habits and patterns of behaviour, and most of what we do is habit. Wanting to live a certain way by faking the habit until it becomes your normal life is a reasonable way to get things done. Faking attributes and virtues that you want to have, until they truly become part of who you are, can be a good way of making change. There’s an interplay between who we are and what we do. The person who wants to change who they are can get a lot done by changing what they do in-line with what they aspire to be.

I’ve done this around the issue of patience. I was not a naturally patient person. I’ve spent a lot of years faking it. I’m a more patient person than I was. I feel good about this because it’s a change I sought.

Our first responses aren’t always our best ones. We can react from experience, from family stories and cultural norms to think, feel and do things we don’t like. There’s nothing inauthentic about wanting to change. If the change is really about you, then you’ll feel good about making it, even when it gets challenging. If the change is about appeasing other people, it may always chafe, or make you miserable, and it probably needs questioning. Unless your nature inclines you to hurt and harm other people, you shouldn’t need to fake an identity for the sake of those around you.


What is authentic?

When it comes to understanding myself, how do I tell what is authentic? How do I differentiate between a knee jerk reaction that comes from habit or conditioning, and something that is more truly ‘me’? I’ve talked about wanting to be real, and to feel real, but I have to know what that means or its all a bit hypothetical and little more than hot air.

There are a great many things that make a person who they are – genes, upbringing, family stories, culture, education, community, environment, diet. Everything we think and do, and everything we experience goes to inform who and how we are right now. It means that a person can absorb a lot of external influences and end up acting in ways that are at odds with who they think they are and how they feel. Clearly being authentic means not being pressured by your surroundings into being someone you are not (eg gay people forced into straight marriages). At the same time, those influences can become an important part of who we are – we seek out teachers for this very reason.

So, what’s real? To a certain extent, we can, I think choose and be active participants in creating our own authenticity. Who we want to be is also part of the mix.

I’m currently exploring a model of alignment. I lead with my head. Most of my decisions are based on logic, I operate by dint of will. If there’s a conflict between head and heart, head wins. If there’s body issues, I will use will to force my way through. I treat my body and my emotions as less important than my reason, and far less important than what other people might need from me. All too often I’ll be persuaded to put other people’s comfort ahead of things like expressing pain.

I’m trying to establish the habit of checking how my body, emotions and mind are aligned, to make sure that my head isn’t overruling everything else. I’m trying to notice and allow my emotional responses and my bodily experiences, without immediately blanking them out and overruling them. This is not a comfortable process, and is rapidly bringing up issues of suppressed anger and frustration alongside the things that make me melancholy. It suggests that being kinder to my body really ought to be a consideration more of the time. It is an uneasy process.

On the flip side I’m also starting to notice what happens when I’m properly aligned. When head, heart and body are all reacting the same way, I can bring a lot more power, intensity, and presence to a situation. Experiences are richer and deeper. I am probably just scratching the surface, but I notice a big qualitative shift in experience just for paying attention to how I feel in my body and in my emotions. I like who I am a good deal better, it turns out, when I’m not using one part of me to crush and control the other two thirds.

We have a culture that claims to be based on reason and the life of the mind. Poor body health, and poor body image, are fairly normal. Poor emotional health is on the increase, so I realise I’m not alone in courting crisis by only taking one aspect of myself seriously, and trying to run a physical, emotional being on the basis of thinking alone. I need to start making room for the rest of me.

In terms of anyone else’s authenticity, that’s simply not my place to judge, and none of my business. I welcome honesty and open heartedness in others, but whether anyone else thinks they are authentic, even whether they are authentic, is something I can never know. Nothing is achieved here by starting at each other and wondering who is doing it properly.


Working with energy

For me, working with energy is not some kind of esoteric or magical practice. It is a daily concern about how to manage my energy levels so that I can do as much as possible. It’s not a wholly practical issue either. Energy is a basic necessity of life, so treating it as a more supernatural issue seems really bizarre to me. But then, much of my take on magic has far more to do with life as experienced, than that which cannot be pointed at.

I’ve learned some simple, practical issues around how much sleep I need (a lot in the winter, less in the summer) and what kind of diet actually sustains me. Getting that right has helped me a lot. I’ve looked at how I pace myself, moving between different kinds of work in order to stay mentally fresh. I’ve found I may be more of a morning person than makes emotional sense to me, but working late into the night burns me out far faster than starting early does. There are no one-size-fits-all answers here, it is a case of exploring and finding what works.

I’ve spent the last ten years and more trying to run flat out, writing, working, parenting, keeping a home, volunteering… I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve misjudged and burned out. The last few years I’ve been trying not to do that. Exhaustion is my single biggest trigger for depression and anxiety, and I’ve got to a point where body and mind simply cannot endure much more of that. It is essential for me not to spend too much time in that state. I get really ill. And so managing my own energy and learning to work within its limits, only pushing those edges gently and some of the time, has become vital for my viability.

It is clear to me that there is only so much I can do by getting the physical underpinnings right. Sleep, diet and exercise are important, and if I get those wrong I suffer. However, they will not do the whole job, and sleep especially is affected by my emotional state. If I am demoralised, if I feel unvalued, if the people around me give me a hard time and feed feelings of uselessness, then nothing works. Equally, if I have the right kind of engagement with people, my energy levels rise dramatically. What I need are intense, emotionally honest, heartfelt interactions with people. Preferably enough people to feel a bit like a tribe. Soul friendship, sharing of life and self, people who are being authentic… this makes worlds of difference.

Thus far 2014 has really brought into focus for me which relationships in my life give me this. I’ve been able to step away further from connections that make me feel tired and low, investing more in those heartfelt interactions that feed my soul. I am seeing the effects on my output. I’ve written nearly a novel’s worth of short story material in the last month, I’m writing non-fic at a pace, I’m doing arty crafty things, and it’s all flowing. My morale, which is rooted in my relationships, is what makes this possible.

There is an incredible magic in connecting open-heartedly with people. New thoughts and feelings, new experiences, are possible. It’s not your wand waving magic of spells and determined change, but a more organic and unpredictable magic, no less life-changing. Energy work… it’s not all auras and acupuncture language.


Authenticity and the Druid

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.