By Tammy T. Stone
Authenticity is an inspiring word.
For me, it conjures images of vulnerability and nakedness, being stripped of the means we have for hiding and self-delusion.
I long for a world where we can be our beautiful, imperfect selves and freely express who we are; I recoil when I feel I’m encountering deceptions, lies, or affected fashioning of selves. I’m absolutely sure I’ve been too judgmental, but since I was little, I’ve been very sensitive about what I perceived to be disingenuous behaviour.
I didn’t quite know what to do with that feeling as a little girl, or why I was reacting so strongly, and the last thing I had the instinct to do was examine my own behavior. For a long time now, I’ve been turning this sometimes oversensitive gaze to myself, and I’ve all but frozen, paralyzed by remorse over my own culpability in this authenticity arena.
Knowing who we are—our sense of self—is the basis for everything that we do. The catch is that knowing ourselves down to the core is a long, arduous task that can take a lifetime to achieve, yet we have to embark on the task of being ourselves out there in the world long before we might reach the desired level of self-knowledge.
What an interesting situation! We try to be ourselves all the time, and watch these selves disintegrate over and over. No wonder it’s so difficult to be as consistently authentic as possible. We know that we are changing all the time. This is theory, it is science, it is Dharma, it is incontrovertible truth.
Change, however, happens at so many physical and psychological speeds that are so often at odds.
At the molecular level, we are zipping by in a state of ever-changing flux; we are a dance party of frenzied motion, unable to be pinned down. There is quite literally nothing to lock into place for scrutiny.
On a grosser level, we have our bodies that we can observe with our bare eyes, which despite the ever-present changes, remain familiar to us over time, even though our baby-selves and older incarnations actually and seemingly bear little or no resemblance to one another.
Have you ever, like me, been shocked to take a real look at yourself in the mirror and find that what’s staring back at you doesn’t at all appear like the younger, more glowing image you have in your head of you-from-years-past?
Our minds and psyches are what allow for our perceptions of continuity, and this both enables us to get by in a functional way and also gets in the way of our growth.
How do we reconcile the deep-rooted need to accept and embrace the realities of change, and our love of the more “permanent” aspects of ourselves and our relationships?
How do we remain authentic throughout the turbulent ride of inner and outer forces influencing us?
It’s strange, to think of being able to watch my own cells under a microscope, to say nothing of my thoughts, in meditation, coming and going at an alarming rate, and simultaneously speak of an “I”, a person who loves mountains and sitting under trees, who savours that first sip of coffee in the morning, who loves green more than grey, who revels in picking up a pen to begin a journaling session.
How much do I sacrifice by letting go of these identities of self, and also how much do I sacrifice by holding on?
This is all still (fascinating) theory. In Buddhism, we learn of the principles of anicca (impermanence) and anata (no-self).
Theory aside, I was inspired to write this because of a much more personal and intimate feeling—at this moment, I feel authenticity ebbing away. It comes as a muse, flirts with me, dances between the words I put to page, but then, to my eye anyway, all but disappears by the time I finish working.
I feel I’m running after who I think I am—who I’ve been, who others see, who I want to be—rather than actually experiencing, and then sharing of myself authentically.
All these selves are blending and authenticity seems far removed compared to the simple feeling of unity I have when I’m unplugged, out in nature, communing with trees and mountains. In this state, the fragments threaten to fly off into oblivion and “me” starts to feel like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book—not that those aren’t fun.
Maybe this sombre feeling comes from a jagged mind in need of rest, or even a longer vacation (from myself?) so that the heart has a chance to assert herself, find her deepest connections. The heart is unencumbered by fears of self-annihilation, but I don’t listen to her enough.
Sometimes I forget I’m even looking for her truths.
The heart is where everything must spill forth from, where the problem of authenticity has no reason to exist. It’s scary, the idea of putting these ever-revolving thoughts and fears aside when I have been so sure they could lead me toward the solutions to riddles that have teased me.
I do know I’m not afraid of silence, even when it attracts fears in their wildest forms. The storms will inevitably pass, and on their way out, hint at the vibrant self in their wake.
Tammy T. Stone is a Canadian writer, photographer and chronicler of life as it passes through us. Always a wanderer, she’s endlessly mesmerized by people, places and everything in between; the world is somehow so vast and so small. She feels so lucky to have been able to work, learn, live and travel far and wide, writing, photographing and wellness-practicing along the way. She invites you to see some of her recent photography here and to connect with her on her writer’s page, Twitter and her blog, There’s No War in World.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak