Tag Archives: authenticity

What is courage?

Most often, courage and bravery are both defined in terms of overcoming fear. Apparently it isn’t courage if you weren’t afraid in the first place. It may be heroic idiocy, or naivety, impulsiveness or not thinking it through. I feel like we’re missing something here. I feel like reducing courage to what we do in the face of fear is less than helpful and my totally unsubstantiated personal gnosis is that this is not what ideas of courage meant to our Celtic ancestors. Also, they will have had a totally different language for all of this.

What if fear isn’t the most important thing? What if you can look at the dangers, weight them sensibly, but also not be overwhelmed by them. What if the dangers don’t tend to seem like the most important factors? What if courage, as a quality and as a virtue could have something joyful about it? An enthusiastic, life embracing, challenge meeting sort of feeling that leads a person to live life boldly, bring the best of what they have and do things as well as is possible. What if courage is the virtue of being really invested in how you do something and not overly focused on what you think the outcome will be? On the grounds that living well, with honour and authenticity will always be the right direction to go in, even if it doesn’t seem expedient right now.

Courage, thought about this way becomes the opposite of apathy. The odds don’t matter so much, the risks don’t matter so much, the real question is how much passionate integrity and wholeheartedness you can bring. It becomes a state of being, not a reaction to scary stuff.

At the moment, this is a largely aspirational line of thought for me. I’ve done a lot of trying to be brave in face of things that terrify me. It’s exhausting, and I don’t much like how it feels. I want to shift my relationship with the rest of reality, and I want to re-imagine myself and these are some of the terms on which I’m doing that at the moment.


Being Seen

For many of us, the visible self doesn’t really match the internal self. This can take many forms – around gender and sexual identity for example – there are so many invisible bisexuals. Not everyone is entirely out of the boom closet with their Paganism. We may have passions, fetishes, obsessions, issues, wounds, and histories that we mostly can’t share with other people. Sometimes because it’s safer not to expose that. Sometimes because we fear how others will respond. Sometimes because it’s just so complicated to explain.

As a consequence of this, being seen can be incredibly powerful. Having someone recognise the unspeakable things, and not only see them but respond in a positive way to them. To be seen as a sexual being when your age and body shape make that unacceptable in many spaces. To have the invisible bisexuality honoured. To have someone see the heroism that accompanies the scars, not the brokenness… I have no doubt this can take many forms.

I think it’s one of the most powerful gifts a person can give to another person – to see them as they truly are, and not just accept that but honour it. To give a person room to be more than we expect or assume. To give people space to be their true selves, fearless and unmuted.


Tao, Druidry and authenticity

I first became aware of Taoism in late childhood, via The Tao of Pooh, which I read, loved and no doubt mostly didn’t understand at all. But it spoke to me nonetheless and when opportunities have come up to explore further, I’ve taken them. I own several interpretations of the Tao Te Ching. My Druidry has always been coloured somewhat by the things I’ve learned from Taoism.

One of the Taoist ideas I find especially appealing to explore is the role of personal authenticity. Religions that are about transcending this world tend to encourage practitioners to put aside the self, the ego, the illusion in order move on up into the realm of spirit. I’m a spiritual materialist, my feet are on the earth and my sense of the sacred is earthly. I’ve no desire to transcend.

Taoism says be yourself, but see yourself as part of something far bigger and longer lasting than you. It teaches that human nature is naturally in tune with the Tao, if we let it flow, and that human artifice is the thing that keeps as away from being part of the flow of the universe. To live well and live simply is the goal, to be quietly part of the world and acting from our true nature so as to be aligned with the Tao. I’ve been in too many contexts that wanted me to hack bits off myself. The affirmation that my most authentic self is a good thing is something I find helpful, and healing.

It’s a line of thought that brings me back to Mary Oliver’s ‘You do not have to be good, you only have to left the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’ For me this has been the basis of stripping away artifice and finding my authentic self. Whatever that is. I’m still looking, still finding things that aren’t me but have been squashed onto my surfaces. Still hunting out bits that have been hacked off in the past.

There’s a ‘good enough’ notion at the core of this. A human is fundamentally good enough. What we do to ourselves and each other can take us away from that, when we deform who we are to try and become what we think we should be… But in essence we are all good enough, we just need to settling into that, be with it, make room for it. Cruelty is not natural, nor is taking far, far more than we need in order the waste the vast majority of it. Our animal selves are likely much better than the weird socially constructed humans we’ve been cobbling together for thousands of years.

I do not have to overcome my ego. I do not have to deliberately crush any part of me that feels good about things. I do not have to punish my body to be spiritual. I do not have to deny my earthly being and my earth-based life to be spiritual. I just need to settle down in this soft animal body I have, and love the warmth of sunlight on my skin, and love the tactile surfaces and the warmth of other soft animal bodies, the hills beneath my feet, the shade of trees, the sunset… Rather than the spiritual path seeming like some vast and daunting effort, it seems gentle, easy even.


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.


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.