The Authentic Self and Change
Authenticity means truly being real with yourself, then with others. Most of us carry around a persona, or a mask, that we want people to see. But that persona blocks our authentic self from showing. If we think of truth as being light, then the persona blocks the light and casts a shadow. The “shadow self” is a collection of the traits that we have disowned. In the darkness, they are free to roam around the deep crevices in our minds and create havoc. Becoming authentic helps you change in ways that cause your shadow to shrink.
Being authentic is a wonderful quality, but does not mean being a good person that everybody always likes . . . sure, you are certainly more likable when being your authentic self, but you are still flawed, just like the rest of us. But being authentic also does not mean settling for those flaws. You see, these flaws give us an opportunity to come to know ourselves better by becoming mindful of our strengths as well as our weaknesses. This balanced perspective yields a calm truth that we are able to relax into; it’s not a life devoid of errors, flaws, and pain, but it is a life that steadily decreases suffering by removing the judgments attached to the persona. By removing the blockages created by the persona, we allow our disowned self to be bathed in the light of awareness, or mindfulness. From here, we begin our journey into self-improvement.
“It is not that the great sages are without baggage; it is instead that they are simply aware of what their baggage is, and are therefore able to carry it in a more balanced way.” –Tao Te Ching
Frustration with change
Ever read a self-help book and wondered why you wound up frustrated instead of all better? It is usually because, while useful and full of wisdom, these books often only point in the direction of change, but often do not address the foundation of authentic mindfulness. In order to fully integrate the lessons contained in these books, we must first become truly authentic . . . truly real with ourselves.
Knowing your shadow may be the darker side of being authentic, but it does not need to be. When you are able to be grateful for your mindfulness of where to grow, you are practicing a highly valued skill set that will help you cut through the clutter of the persona. Typically starting small and simple is a good idea. For example, find a bad habit that you are already wanting to beat and replace it with a healthy habit. The satisfaction of this will fuel further growth.
Satisfaction of change
Once you have embraced your shadow self, you are able to leverage the discomfort that it presents by chipping away at the false persona. Like a sculpture from a block of granite, we do not need to chip away everything, leaving nothing; it is better to use the wonderful parts of the persona as the work of art that is our authentic self. These are typically the natural, second-nature personality traits that we enjoy, and that other people enjoy about us. Once again, mindfulness is essential as it helps us to recognize and use our strengths to our advantage in the change process.
If you already know strengths that have helped you before, these can be a great place to start. Remember, most of our authentic self is already present within the persona; we are just chipping away the excess. The trick is to not get bogged down in the falsehoods that we stumble on. As I am writing this (November 2016), people are taking to Facebook and discussing the recent election. Some of the most kind-hearted people I know are getting caught up in judging and shaming people for their opinions. Fortunately, most of them are already engaging in the change process by acknowledging their stumbles, and mindfully changing them, starting with heartfelt apologies. The point is that they are not getting bogged down in their shadows as they present themselves. They are simply acknowledging them, learning from them, and integrating the lessons into their ever-evolving lives.
Remember that the changes we are talking about are first for you and you alone. You are the primary beneficiary of them. Because the idea is that you are becoming more authentic, you will simply need to be yourself to share the ‘new’ you with others. The satisfaction can be immense when you use the positive experience as a place to practice mindfulness.
What is left after change?
What is left is your evolving authentic self! Enjoy it, this is a sculpture that you have worked hard to attain. And remember that we are always evolving, always drifting in and out of shadows that we may have missed, in and out of strengths that we didn’t know were there, or that were created while we weren’t looking. Being human is a dynamic experience that is not to be taken for granted.
Allowing others to be authentic & flawed
Please remember, just like you have your own flaws that can be difficult to work on, so do other people. Rather than making it more difficult for them to change by ridiculing them and eliciting defensiveness, try practicing compassion. By practicing compassion, you are engaging one of the common authentic traits that all of us have. You’ll likely find new levels of your own self through this path.