“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”~ E.E. Cummings
As published in ElephantJournal
As I sat gazing out of my window, almost motionless and thoughtless, my mind froze and then one thought screamed at me:
What if I died today? Have I lived the life I wanted to live?
It’s no surprise that these questions came up for me a month or so after reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, where the protagonist lay in his bed asking those same questions after leading a life he somehow fell into rather than one he chose.
That was almost 14 years ago, and unbeknownst to me, my claim for authenticity had begun.
Authenticity does not simply mean only being honest or having integrity—it means much more.
Maslow says: ”What a man can be, he must be.” He later went on to call this concept the need for self-actualization.
Brené Brown in her ground breaking book, The Gifts of Imperfection, says, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
For me, authenticity is our higher self crying out to be seen and heard, and constantly battling with our egoic mind, reminding us that our earthly journey is really all about our souls coming out to play, finding new ways to be and new things to experience, and to learn from those experiences.
Yet, most of us live our lives following rules and paths that don’t apply to our higher selves. We step onto the endless treadmill of life. We live by getting things done and crossing items of our to-do lists. We get caught up in the cycle of doing things for the sake of doing them.
We forget the big picture of what matters most.
We forget what makes us laugh.
We forget the sound of our heart’s pounding.
We forget the joy of play.
We even forget how to connect with each other.
Authenticity is not a trait you inherit or a quality we are born with—it’s a choice we make every day. The more consistent we are with choosing authenticity, the more quickly we will uncover what “we must be.”
Some have been blessed with finding their authenticity early in their lives, usually sparked by extraordinary circumstances.
Buddha, for example, became instantly awakened one day upon leaving his palace, when he saw for the first time the ugly realities of life. Hemingway went into the First World War as a Red Cross volunteer and came back with the seeds of the writing genius he was going to be.
My claim for authenticity is not as exciting or remarkable as the examples mentioned above, but it’s the only story that I can say much about.
These are some of the paths that led to me reclaiming my authenticity:
As simple as it sounds, taking up reading again after I stopped—because I was so serious about life—helped take me out of my closed-box mentality and show me that there are many other worlds out there. Reading showed me the many possibilities available to any one of us. It also led me to many of the things that I love today, such as writing, learning and keeping my mind open.
I was always involved in sports when I was at school, but somehow forgot all about movement and exercise when I settled down in the “normal way of life.” Don’t ask me why. I have no real answer.
Running, going to the gym and playing soccer raises the level of my endorphins and enhances my general mood, which trickles into the rest of my life in all kinds of ways.
I’m talking about being spiritual here, which to me is different than being religious. I define spirituality as my own direct relationship with a supreme being.
We live in a world where middlemen are proving ineffective and are soon to be obsolete. As such, I will not allow any religious leader or their agents to hijack my personal relationship with a supreme being.
I understand the inherent worth of all religions and accept many of their wonderful teachings but I’m not tied down to any of their dogma.
I really believe we live more than just this one life. I see our journey as one of learning and experience, where we evolve into greater beings.
Over the years I have developed several habits that I do consistently, and they have proved to be the cornerstone of my new way of being.
I love getting up early to allow the sound of silence and the view of the sun rising to permeate my soul.
I spend a few minutes when I wake up being grateful for what I have from the small things to the bigger things in my life.
Sitting in stillness or meditating for 20 minutes a day cultivates the peace I need in my life to help me in my path to authenticity.
I spend a minimum of 30 minutes every morning Journaling out anything and everything—my feelings, reflections, and current thought patterns.
I can’t say enough about how this has helped me in my life. I have learned to enjoy myself alone, reflect and analyze what is right for me.
I have learned to distinguish between the noises that torment me from the music that enlivens me.
I have started appreciating nature and being out in the open more often than not. I now love to stare in awe at the beauty of life that is around me, whether it’s a 100-year old tree or a flock of seagulls flying just above me.
Fuck Society and Its Rules
I look at what matters the most to me when deciding how to spend my day or what to do with my energy. I’ve started using Steven Covey’s principle of “begin with the end in mind” in many situations, using my authenticity and fulfillment as the goal I’m moving towards.
Why do I need to go to a dinner where all we discuss has already been discussed?
Do I really need the latest iPhone? (Yes, after seeing the new 6.)
Why are most of us defined by our work or employment status?
Why do I have to agree with a certain opinion or tradition even if I don’t care much for it?
I feel I have just started applying this principle, yet have found that it has given me freedom and power like never before.
I’m finally realizing that most of us live like sheep, not because we are happy, but to avoid disrupting the status quo of our lives.
We fight day and night to stay in our comfort zones. We crave the sense of belonging that society gives us.
Sometimes I feel we are living in George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, and big brother is not only watching us but has already lived our lives for us.
We are all unique individuals, and it’s through our creativity that we are able to express our true selves and allow our real voices to be heard.
I grew up assuming that creativity meant being born a Hemingway and producing a book like The Old Man and the Sea or becoming Picasso and painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Since I started getting more creative, doing small things like writing blogs and creating picture quotes on instagram, I have found inner satisfaction that has flowed into all areas of my life.
Again, the more I practice this muscle of creativity, the better I get and the more inner joy I feel within me.
So have I reclaimed my full authenticity?
Am I who I must be?
No, I’m not even halfway there.
I am sure in the coming years I will uncover many new aspects of my self. I will expand on the practices that I’m doing now.
Yet, for now, I know I’m on the right path and am enjoying the journey to my authenticity.
Every day, I look forward even more to becoming who I must be.