Who is our Authentic Self?

My mind has been elsewhere this week, and I feel that I’ve neglected my blog. My apologies.

One place my mind has been (aside from work) is on the idea of the “authentic self.” Life coaches, self-help gurus, spiritual seekers, yoga teachers, and therapists all yammer about the “authentic self,” making it seem like there’s “us” and then there’s the “real us.” Well, of course. We have all fashioned manifold facades and persona with which to face the world while we keep the real us a secret, safely squirreled away in some dark corner of our body or psyche.

But how do we tell the difference? I think most of us are so accustomed and adept at switching masks that we probably wouldn’t be able to identify our “authentic self.”

The spiritual/Eastern philosophy folks posit that the authentic self is who we are without the ego. It’s who we are when we are aware and fully present in each moment. It’s who we are when we aren’t worrying about what’s going to happen next. It’s who we are when we’re not worried about control, we’re simply focused on breathing in the here and now. This is a lovely idea. But I find that I keep identifying myself with ME and, like a typical American, I struggle to wrap my head around the notion that who I am is pure consciousness, not my ego. “But, I’m Hope!” I keep wanting to protest. Yes, I value being present in the moment….but I also value all the other things that I value! Don’t I get to have those, to experience them?

Others suggest (and by “others” I mean someone I saw on Oprah’s Web site whose name I can’t recall) that in order to be fulfilled, “successful,” and “happy” we must experience the “time-standing-still” phenomenon. We all have those activities that we do and when we do them, time stands still. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls this “flow”–total absorption in what you’re doing. Oprah’s guest emphasized that we need to acknowledge what these activities are for ourselves and organize our life around them. While I don’t recall any specific mention of “authentic self,” I think the idea of “time-standing-still” is related to our “authentic self.”

My time-standing-still activities include being outdoors in nature (usually with the dog), writing, reading, practicing yoga/meditation, teaching, and spending time with people whose intellects and hearts I admire. And the more I chew on the notion of authentic self as full presence and ego-less awareness, I see the connection between time-standing-still activities and being fully present: when we engage with those time-standing-time activities, we engage our authentic self because we are so “present” to what we are doing that we are not thinking about anything else.

The ego is essentially nothing more than an elaborate time-keeping mechanism. Ironically, when we do what is important to “us” (the “real us”), we move away from our ego, something which is so often identified with “us.”

What are your time-standing-still activities? How can you organize your life around them? In other words, how are we going to radically transform our culture?

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