Authentic Living

(image via Artem Kovalev)

(image via Artem Kovalev)

The poet Mary Oliver says, "Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?" Many of us want to lead an authentic life, but struggle to know what that means. Without authenticity we are living somebody else’s dream and thinking it's our own--the ultimate tragedy. It calls on us to seek what has heart and meaning in our daily existence. Mary Oliver again serves us well by asking, "And what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

It is no easy task for "authenticity" is a tough thing to nail. It is often a confusing and moving target.

Some guidance can be found, however, in the etymological root of the word. "Authentic" comes from the Greek, "autos" meaning "self" and "hentes" meaning both "being" and "doing". Here lies the clue. To be authentic means to spend time both in contemplation and understanding while also putting your learning into action. This means that finding an authentic life requires asking two very different sets of questions.

First we must ask the fundamental "why". Why am I feeling the way I do? Why do I yearn for more? Why do I behave this way? These take us to a deeper knowing of our motivations and history. They are the being part of the definition and generally past focused. The doing part is answered by asking "how". How do I move forward? How do I hold myself accountable? How do I make my dreams a reality? This contemplation tends to be future oriented.

Authenticity occurs when both the roots of our character are understood and we're willing to put that knowledge into living. Because the knowledge of being without action is "naval gazing". And doing without understanding usually repeats the pattern and rarely leads to change. The key is neither to push nor resist, but instead find the balance between these two.

This path will take us to a deeper, more authentic level. The middle ground allows us to both be and do, moving us forward into a more meaningful life. Finally, remember that authentic living requires the falling away of all that no longer suit us. In this battle, remember the words of Rumi who advises:

Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live,
destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.

I have tried prudent planning
long enough.
From now on,
I’ll be quite mad.

David Baum