Taking a Deeper Look at the Meaning of Authenticity

One of the best definitions of authenticity is that of existential psychotherapist, James Bugental, who defined authenticity as being in unqualified accord with the givenness of your own nature. But, what does your “nature” mean to you? How you answer determines how you understand the path and practice of personal authenticity.

If you understand your nature to be your everyday ego and its idiosyncrasies, then you will understand authenticity to be a practice which fosters the unique and autonomous expression of your ego. If you understand human nature to mean something deeper, then your understanding of authenticity can deepen to mean not a practice, but a state of Being.

We can clarify a deeper meaning of our nature and authenticity, if we consider what is the Self? We commonly misunderstand the self to be our egos which include our identities, sub-personalities, roles, values, opinions, history, and patterns of thought, feeling, and sensation. Yet just as clothes are not the body they cover, so too ego attributes are not the Self.

The picture of the fish tank can provide a clue to a better understanding of the Self, our nature. Let’s imagine that the different fish in the tank represent not only the different ego attributes mentioned above, but also the moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences which occur to us.

Typically we consider the Self to be the fish in the tank. Yet contemplative traditions point to a deeper meaning. They suggest that the Self is not the fish, but rather the water of awareness in which the fish swim.

What does this mean practically? The Self is not the ego and its numerous attributes (the fish), i.e., your name (Michael), age (62), profession (counselor, author), etc. (Did you not exist before you were named by your parents?) Those attributes only indicate how your Self expresses itself through dimensions of thought, feeling, time, and space, but they are not who you are.

Yes, you have thoughts, but you are not your thoughts; you have feelings, but you are not your feelings; you have sensations, but you are not your sensations, and; you have experiences, but you are not your experiences. These all are the content of your life experience swimming through the awareness that is you. Although the content of your life experience has never ceased changing, the experiencing awareness of your Self has never ceased to be. You are experiencing awareness.

Contemplative traditions teach that the experiencing awareness which is the Self (sometimes called Atman, True Nature, or Buddha nature) is itSelf an expression of Being -the totality of all that is. It need not be thought to be distant or hard to experience, for it is you, the awareness who now peers through your eyes to read these very words. As the traditions say, “It is closer than your nose.”

Were you wanting to taste it, simply close your eyes, and listen as closely as you can to every nuance of sound and silence of which you are aware. To listen so closely, the mind must be silent. When the mind is silent, who is listening? Experiencing awareness; the Self; you. What you hear is the present content of that awareness.

From this deeper understanding of the Self, authenticity can be understood to be living in unqualified accord with your given natural and spontaneous expression as you rest, just being, in experiencing awareness.

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