On Authenticity – Part I

“The time you have left is short. Live it as if you were on a mountain. Here or there makes no difference, if wherever you live you take the world as your city. Let men see, let them observe a true man living in accordance with nature. If they cannot bear him, let them kill him – a better fate than a life like theirs.”

Marcus Aurelius

Do you feel yourself questioning when to abide and when not to conform to others’ ideals? Do you ever wonder whether you are living life true to your own character. To stave off regret, guilt and frustration later in life, I think it’s important to ask now, if we are remaining true to our authentic selves, or whether we are subverting our own character at the hands of another? Brenè Brown notes that “incongruent living is exhausting.” Does meeting the needs of others at the expense of our own happiness, ultimately serve us in the long run? Speaking about trusting our “heart brain,” to lead us down the proper path, Peter Sage, the motivational speaker, profoundly stated: “Do what’s right…If you’re willing to be unpopular, in the moment, for what you believe to be right, you’ve got the genesis of true leadership, right there…”

Why do we need the approval of others? How does that serve us? It’s true that our prefrontal cortex is wired to seek connection. In this day and age however, building a tribe is not as essential to our survival, as it certainly was during a prior period in our evolution as a species. We are no longer forced to conform, to feel part of a community, in order to live a long and fruitful life. The reality now, is that an individual is free to choose those who who she/he wishes to collaborate with, based on who makes them feel valued as an individual. There is a phrase floating around self-help circles that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This maxim knows no boundaries, as I once had a client utter it in Spanish, “dime con quien andas, y te digo quien eres.” With that, do you want to be associated with people who value you and accept you wholeheartedly for who you are or those that continually make you feel less than. Some of us have been caught in the difficult trap of seeking approval from those whose validation matters most, in particular, our parents. A caregiver’s love can be a powerful weakness, such that we sacrifice who we really are or who we really want to be, in order to meet their needs. Sometimes doing what it is that our parents desire for us is, ultimately, not in our best interest. In this case, their sense of self is often wrapped up in who we are or who we aren’t and what we do or don’t become. Here, the message is often: “If we don’t abide we’re not worthy.” If we don’t follow their path, we’re unlovable. The truth is that, we are worthy of love simply because we exist. So, whether it be friends, colleagues, peers or parents who demand that you betray yourself, in order to substantiate their own sense of self, know that you are enough, regardless of their opinion. Be you, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

On What We Value

Valuing our experience is not narcissism. It is not endless self-involvement. It is, rather, the act of paying active witness to ourselves and to our world. Such witness is an act of dignity, an act that recognizes that life is essentially a sacred transaction of which we know only the shadow, not the shape. As we attune ourselves more and more closely to the value of passing moments, we learn that we are something of moment ourselves.”

Julia Cameron

What do you treasure most? What elements in your life do you assign the greatest value? Through one of her writing exercises, Julia Cameron advises us to draft a list of the aspects of our lives that we are most proud of. Rising up to take a birds-eye-view of our lives, where we can acknowledge the many victories, large and small, that we’ve accumulated through the years, we will come to realize that we have accomplished much more, often, than we are able to give ourselves credit for. Life, sometimes, races by and the events of a given day get lost without us having an opportunity to account for what really happened, in each moment. There is a running joke, in parenting circles, that, “the days take forever, and the years go by very quickly.” For those of us who find that these words ring true, we will one day arrive at the end our respective journeys and realize that we never really appreciated much of anything. With that being said, where in your life do you feel that you have really won? Are you pleased with the strengths, qualities, or virtues that you embody? Did you achieve profound personal or professional milestones? Do you assign great worth to a specific important person or series of influential people in your life? Whatever and whomever your list consists of, take a few moments out of the day to reflect on what you’ve included. Cherish these, each and every day.

Stoke The Fire

“…the best wood-pile will not blaze till a torch is applied.”

William James

In what aspect(s) of your life are you willing to get scorched to get what you want or to get to where you want to be? Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Alfred Adler, Rollo May and a host of other esteemed and influential figures in the field of psychology, pointed to the innate potentiality resting within each and every individual. In us is a special something, that represents our authentic self. There is an ability that lies within all of us to push through and overcome the gravest of challenges. In many cases, though this potential lies within, it takes a certain spark to incite a flame.

If, according to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the purpose of each member of a given species is to seek to perpetuate its existence, and that of its lineage, indefinitely, we know that on a primal level, we are capable of incredible resiliency. It’s easy to overlook this fact, to get distracted with menial pursuits and overcome with anxiety in the face of trivial issues, but somewhere, deep inside, the resiliency is there. We are capable. That holds true for all of us. So, why are some so easily paralyzed and averse to the idea of taking action to better ourselves? The human mind is capable of such awesome power, but it can also be our fiercest adversary. It’s not easy to tap our potential when circumstances have gotten the better of us. Any number of barriers might stand in the way. To name a few, we might be hindered by a relationship challenge, rocked by a monumental event, or just generally feeling “down in the dumps.”

The practice of psychotherapy seeks to help individuals reach this potential. Therapists do not aim to force their will upon their clients, but are dedicated to building a sense of connection, so that one can be free to live up to their own expectations. On his role in the therapy room, Carl Rogers stated, “I would like to go with him on the fearful journey into himself, in the buried fear, and hate, and love which he has never been able to let flow in him.” Sometimes, it takes a trusted confidant to help an individual unlock the hidden secret to their own success. Whether the barrier is a devastating event, a difficult relationship, or an overall weight of emotional distress seemingly provoked by nothing, sometimes we are in deep need of a certain spark to help ignite our fundamental capacity for growth and perseverance.

Just as the mythical phoenix is born anew, with a fresh soul, through a pile of its own ashes, so too are we able to break free from our afflictions, to rise above and become the magnificent being that we truly are. Stoke the fire.

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