The thing about authenticity is that although I’d say it’s really important to me, it’s not something that I would have been able to define very well. I think in younger years I would have talked about integrity instead, and meant something like being true to myself – but at the same time, if you had asked me how often I am true to myself I would have said hardly ever. And then I probably would have burst into tears. Because it has always been deeply important to me, but I didn’t really know how to be true to myself and that was extremely painful.
So it’s really helpful that BB defines authenticity for us. She says:
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.The gifts of imperfection
She goes on to say that choosing authenticity means
- cultivating courage (to be imperfect, to set boundaries and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable)
- exercising compassion (because there’s strength and struggle here for everyone)
- nurturing connection and belonging (this happens only when we believe we are enough)
Authenticity is coming at life and love full on, wholeheartedly, in the midst of shame and fear and when joy is intense and scary. It’s the way we invite grace, joy and gratitude in.
So now I know why I found it so painful that I couldn’t choose to be authentic – there are some seriously challenging aspects to this and unlike Brene, I never, ever thought that I had a perfected version of me to offer the world that they would like better. The cultural messaging around being nice, keeping the peace, not upsetting anyone etc. set us up to play it safe (especially women), and I didn’t learn any skills for boundary setting or voluntary vulnerability or self compassion. And finally, that whole message about believing we are enough? Yeah, didn’t get that either.
So how did you do on those?
OK, well now try this: hiding your authentic self seems like a safer option, less risky than putting your true self out in the world – but no! Unexpressed ideas, opinions, gifts that have no outlet, contributions we hold inside don’t just go away. They fester and become caustic to our very being and can manifest as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.
Yes, there can be authenticity growing pains for the people around us, but in the end, being true to ourselves is the best gift we can give the people we love.The gifts of imperfection.
Authenticity is embodied in our living, breathing, moving, talking, thinking, sensing, feeling selves.
And there’s another layer at work here – there’s more to work on than just the awkward shift into being more truly myself. I also have to work to actually believe in my worthiness to start with. I have to find my way to that and then learn how to hold that truth inside, gently and without grasping or feeling like I have to prove it to anyone.
Perhaps this is different for you, but for me, the trouble is that my worthiness has always felt deeply questionable. I used to think this was because, among other things, clearly my culture values male bodies over female bodies. White male bodies are gold standard, everything else is less than and can be, to a greater or lesser extent, objectified, used, subsumed, denied and belittled. And while white male God seemed to endorse the sacredness of white male bodies, it seems more and more that he actually doesn’t validate men any more than he validates women. Or black and brown bodies, or differently abled bodies, or anyone who is queer.
Dr Hillary McBride writes:
If your body is the place where the Divine dwells, then you always have direct and immanent access to the Divine. That is sometimes comforting, sometimes healing, and sometimes a reminder that you do not have to keep trying to earn love – you can access it, always. And if the body is sacred without condition – meaning that not just male bodies, white bodies, nondisabled bodies, or thin bodies are sacred…- then your body and the body of your neighbour deserve to be treated as sacred as wellThe Wisdom of Your Body
So when we are looking for a grounded, essential sense of worthiness, where do we go? Dr. Christena Cleveland suggests we might try the black madonna – you can listen to her talk about her new book, God is a black woman, and her journey to reclaim an image of God that affirms all bodies as the place where the Divine dwells, on the nomad podcast here.
When you think about your sense of worth, what were the messages you heard or sensed as you were growing up? What kind of things/activities/qualities/people were valued and how did you attempt to make that value system work for you?
When you think about embodiment and your experience in your own body, what ways was your body restricted when you were younger? What messages did you internalise about your body and how you are meant to relate to your body-self?
It might be good to talk to someone else as you process these things, to validate your experience and so that in speaking these truths you are able to hear them more clearly – take turns listening to each other.
Being with and for your body-self
When you wake in the morning, before leaping out of bed, place a hand on your belly and feel yourself breathing. Say to yourself, “Good morning, I’m glad we get to spend the day together.” Try returning to this breath and body connection at odd times during the day and notice if it feels different when…you are hungry or tired…your belly is spilling over the top of your jeans…you are warm and comfortable…you are being held or lovingly touched by another…you are anxious and you don’t know why…
This poem from David Whyte’s new book, Still Possible, offers a doorway to open to stillness, fullness, wholeheartedness…where does it speak to you? Where does it take you?
YOUR PRAYER only began with words, each one you realize, just a hand on the door to silence, even in your gathered chanted strength what you said in the end was only a shoulder against the grain of wood trying to keep the entrance open, until that door which had been no door at all gave in to necessary grief, which is really only the full understanding of what you were missing all along, which is really just that vulnerability you needed to make a proper invitation, which is really just you admitting the full depth of your love at last. The heart-broken heart coming to heart-felt rest the opening inside you now filled to the gleaming brim and casting its generous beam, the part of you you thought was foolish, the wisest voice of all.
I learned recently that digging around the roots of a tree or a vine disrupts the surface roots and forces the plant to push deeper into the earth in search of nourishment and water. Digging deep means cutting off the easy but unpredictable nourishment at the surface and instead going in search of, and trusting in, the consistent presence of all that is needed in the depths.
What do you do to dig deep when faced with a situation where you need to let yourself be vulnerable? How do you access courage and perspective and clarity around boundaries (this is mine, that’s not mine – this is ok, that’s not ok)?
Brene has this mantra…see if it works for you:
Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground