Finding An Authentic Life
Previously, we discussed the impact of our corporate society on mental health – how our pervasive, consumer-driven lifestyle affects so many aspects of our lives and leaves so many of us overwhelmed, overworked and unfulfilled. We concluded that if we are to begin to reorganize our lives around what truly matters – to remove the useless packaging – we must learn to distinguish what is real, or authentic, from what is hype. Then, we cultivate a newfound awareness to develop experience of what provides meaningful fulfillment in our lives.
First, the hype. Virtually everything that is offered to us by corporate society, as a way of defining us, is hype. From the commercials that tell us we must have more, to the work that tells us we must do more, to the consumer psychology that tells us we must pay more to be more, we are bombarded daily with the hype that defines the roles we come to live. Thus immersed in our media-defined styles, trends and fashions, we lose sense of who we are. Worse, often we are not even aware of our predicament. Our mental and emotional anguish may be the first symptom that we have lost ourselves – who we really are – in the hype.
Defining Authenticity – What It Is Not
From current consumer cultural perspective, our common use of the word “authentic” typically refers to the genuine original item in a material sense. It is the original created object that stands apart from all the copies and fakes. Typically, the original must have copies – lots of copies – to be defined as authentic, and may be so obscured by all the copies that it takes an “expert” to determine the genuine thing. Anything authentic is the original, real creation, valued far more than the copies. How do we turn that definition around so that it applies to people, and why would we want to?
One reason so many of us are miserable is that so many of us are copies. Original, authentic lives are rare. Remember what we said about stripping away the useless packaging? The old story of parents buying their small children expensive presents, only to find their children playing with the packaging, is very apt here. We are a spiritually immature society that loves to throw away the contents and play with the packaging. The packaging contains the labels (now called “branding”) we use to “make us” who we want to be. Everything in an ego-driven society is about appearances. The packaging, with its labels, makes all the appearances. Everything is about spin, to puff us up and make us appear bigger and more important and more powerful than we really are. So we buy name-brand clothes with silk-screened designer labels placarded across the chest. We define our worth by the size of our cars and dwellings that contain us. We label ourselves by our religion and call ourselves “saved,” but don’t adopt and live the substance that saves us. Our leadership proclaims new social programs, then doesn’t fund them. We wrap ourselves in slogans proclaiming us a nation of peace and wage preemptive war.
Most ironic of all, while we ourselves fear standing out in the crowd, we pay homage to those “originals” among us, like celebrities and artists, who break out of the common mold – yet do not challenge us too much to change our own lives. Those prophets and visionaries who see through the illusion and successfully challenge our stranglehold on superficial reality are often put to death in one way or another – as history will attest.
Defining Authenticity – What It Is
Whether in human or material form, the original, genuine article does not need packaging or labels – it just is. No labels, no branding, no hype. (That sure leaves out politicians!)
Strip away all the layers of all the roles, all identity and definition, all the pretense, all the culturally-mandated ways of doing and being that you have absorbed, been pressed-into and adopted and you will come to your pure, conscious soul-self. Simply stated, living life completely and consciously from the perspective of your true soul-self, following the still small voice of Beingness connected to The-All-That-Is, is the foundation of the authentic life.
True authenticity involves living in the moment, unencumbered by the resentments of the dead past and not enslaved by the promises of an imagined future. Life, this way, is more abundant because it is recognized as being in constant renewal from the Source. Rather than following the dictates of the outer world, you trust your inner guidance to define how you are to live in this world. Living an authentic life is rarely easy in a world that lives largely by outer standards, so there will be suffering – but it will be tolerable by virtue of the meaning that comes with being as real and connected with your inner guidance as you know to be. This is the true foundation of mental health, of true happiness.
Where to Begin – The Courage to Live an Examined Life
However, in a society that constantly tells us that happiness is found in the material world, it is difficult to develop the perspective just described. Beyond wondering whether pursuing authenticity is worth it, we may not even believe such a life has anything to offer us. It may not be enough that the greatest religious and spiritual teachings have promoted it, or that the most effective healing approaches include practices for developing an authentic life. The ultimate authority for determining the value of living an authentic life lies within ourselves! Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Authenticity begins with having the courage to truly look into ourselves and our own lives. As the saying goes, we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. To this end, here and now, let us have the courage to explore the following questions about our lives.
The first thing to consider is if your life doesn’t make sense in some way – if you feel as though you are missing something important along the way, in terms of how you are living your life. Perhaps, you wonder if your life may be off course, and feel lost as to how to turn it around. If you are in your youth and you wonder what life is about, or in your later years and you wonder what you’ve missed in life so far, you may consider whether your current lifestyle really seems positioned to bring you happiness and meaning. If you feel overwhelmed in a complex world, with no time to do the things that really matter to you – or especially if you can’t seem to find the time to determine what matters to you, exploring the deeper questions that make for an authentic life may be essential now.
Symptoms of Readiness for the Authentic Life
If you feel out of step with humanity, but secretly wonder if humanity is out of step with you, then you may already be past the threshold of living an authentic life – especially if you secretly fear for your sanity, while your every perception tells you it’s the world that is really going crazy! Are you sick and tired of being told to “just do it,” or “just accept it,” when it wasn’t your idea, by those who claim they wield enough power over you to challenge your right to question the purpose in the doing? From the perspective of living an authentic life, perhaps you are beginning to recognize you are not the problem. Perhaps you feel confused, or even cheated, by an apparently impersonal and hostile world that demands you to “take it, buck up, and keep going,” without the right to question why. If you feel you are being helplessly carried off course by a current of humanity that seems to be going the wrong way with regard to what really matters in life, exploring these questions will bring you the answers you need.
If you no longer feel safe to “just believe because-we-say-so” in response to the answers you are given about life by those in apparent authority over you – whether by supposed experts in politics, education, religion, or the media, you may be ready to pursue an authentic life. If you are ready to give up unsupported belief when it conflicts with your experience – even if it means challenging some aspect of what you were taught by your culture or religion, this may be your best recourse at this point in your life. If you are finally ready to take responsibility to find your own answers, while trusting others to find theirs – all the time open to the possibility our shared universe might reveal some common answers that verify rather than contradict, this life’s for you.
Granville Angell (copyright 03/2006)
Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor with 30 years experience. His private practice, TRANSITIONS Personal & Family Counseling Services (www.transitions-counseling.com), includes a specialized sub-practice focusing on holistic, intuition-enhanced counseling and clinical hypnotherapy, called SoulMentors. He may be reached at 704-735-1554 or 704-276-1164.
To call TRANSITIONS/SoulMentors: (704) 276-1164