Being authentic from the core of your being is a tough call, no doubt, considering the shallow society we live in. But what better way than this to honour the divinity within you, feels Shivi Verma
The dictionary definition of authenticity is ‘Not false or copied; genuine; real; representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or the person identified.’
Such is our quest for it that whenever we seek something—whether material or spiritual, a person or an object—we first ask ourselves, Is it authentic or not? We place immense value on authenticity but rarely question why it is so difficult to find it in today’s world.
This is because only authentic people produce authentic products and services, and it takes a lot to cultivate this quality. Since most people like to take shortcuts to success and get plagued with indolence, authenticity often falls by the wayside in their journey of life.
Being authentic means being real, unalloyed, and genuine in your thoughts as well as conduct. It means acknowledging your feelings and having the courage to accept them, be they good or bad. It also means paying heed to your inner voice and being true to it. And it’s not easy to get to this space as it involves copious amounts of self-belief and self-love. Authenticity involves a lot of courage and confidence in who you are. Embracing your authenticity is a journey in its own right. You are not impacted by outside influences nor do you get carried away by the opinion of others. You have firm faith in yourself and your values.
As humans, we have an innate need to look for people we can trust, look up to, and learn from. While forging relationships, our quest is to be with people who cherish values and can be counted upon as trustworthy and kind. We do not want to waste our time with those who don’t deal in the truth. However, just like other things, reaching the space of loving yourself and revelling in it, with no desire to wear camouflage, comes after an inward journey.
Swami Chaitanya Keerti says, “There are basically two ways to live our life. One way is to live according to the personality that I have built, the persona (a mask) that I project to the world: I am this, I am that; how society looks at me. Then I behave in a certain way to fit myself in that box, living up to the expectations of others. That’s not the real me. But in social life, it is comfortable because most people live that way.
The other way is to be a real individual—living according to my Being. That’s authenticity. Living in tune with my being; how the existence, the inherent nature, wants me to live. This way is very difficult. Almost impossible.”
Ajay Kalra, a mindfulness coach, says, “When I think of authenticity, the first thought that comes to mind is about emotional honesty. What does it mean to be emotionally honest? It means to acknowledge what we are currently feeling and thinking. This may or may not be expressed to others, depending on the circumstances. But the first step is always acknowledgement.”
Recalling my own life, the path to authenticity had been closely related to self-discovery. Not knowing who I was and not receiving any validation for my thoughts and beliefs, I was in a state of constant flux, trying to copy those who were considered street-smart and clever. Thankfully, the Universe showed compassion and led me towards spirituality. A space where I only had to listen to and communicate with the Divine. His warm presence and soft reassurance rebuilt my shattered faith in my inner voice, which always stood for justice, righteousness, compassion, and truth.
Secondly, from being an atheist and a doubting Thomas, I had found the magical and mystical existence of a superior intelligence, which held the reins of this world. It whispered to me in a language which was pure, clean, and comforting. It cleared the cobwebs from my mind and made me believe in my authenticity. That I was not a mistake of Creation and that my core values and principles were legitimate.
This rediscovery of my authentic self, boosted my self-esteem. It became easier for me to bear the vagaries of the world and the onslaughts of time and karma. The authentic self could see through the mirage of illusions, confusions, and obfuscations, and rip it apart with laser-like sharpness.
Authenticity equals rebellion
However, for a society that thrives on hypocrisy, denial, duplicity and phoniness, being authentic is an act of rebellion. It is not easy to practise authenticity. Many get terribly wounded while trying to be authentic, as often people betray them or take advantage of them. For anyone wanting to embrace their authentic self, showing their vulnerable side is a challenge, yet they cannot expect to forge meaningful relationships unless they learn to bare their heart. And this act is fraught with risks as there are no guarantees that your authenticity would be valued by others and not trampled upon.
Being truly in love is an authentic act. Baring your heart and soul to your beloved and being vulnerable and loyal is not easy. It involves the risk of getting deep emotional scars, but by avoiding it, you also miss the chance of having a genuine and beautiful relationship. However, this does not deter an authentic person. They prefer to learn their lessons, make amends in their thought process, and still give another chance to love, beauty, and truth.
Ajay Kalra says, “Authenticity makes us vulnerable. Not many people like to reveal their true thoughts and feelings. We cover our authentic self through reasons, justifications, explanations, judgments, and accusations. The more we hide ourself, the more we become distant from ourself and others.
“Often, people are not even aware of what they are feeling. We are so conditioned to think and feel in a certain way or not to feel in a certain way that we either suppress our feelings or tie ourselves in mental knots. We sometimes deny our feelings when they reveal a dark or unflattering side of our personality.
“Sometimes, as children, we numb ourselves to feeling because the feelings are so painful. This coping mechanism, when continued, becomes a hindrance to get in touch with our natural self-expression as adults.”
Swami Chaitanya Keerti says, “The hallmark of an authentic person is that he does not compromise with something false; he is a rebellious individual. And to function as a rebellious individual, he may have to pay a very high price, even with his life, as Jesus and Socrates did. Society is never so developed at the spiritual level of consciousness that it can tolerate such individuals when they are alive. Later on, the society worships the same individuals forever.”
Citing his own example, he says, “When I was 21 (in 1971), I used to be an assistant of a writer duo of educational books, writing general guide books for students. They were my schoolteachers and were quite famous. Working with them, I too was becoming ambitious and decided to become a famous writer in the near future.
Around the same time, I started reading Osho’s books and got inspired to meditate. Meditating deeply, one day, I dropped out of college in the final year of graduation and travelled to Bombay (erstwhile Mumbai) to go deeper into meditation for Self-realisation. Several members of my family, as well as my teachers, did not like my decision and tried to convince me to return. By meditating in the presence of an enlightened master, I came in tune with my Being and took sanyas initiation from Osho. At that time, being a disciple of Osho was not considered respectable by society, as Osho was thought to be a sex guru because of His book: From Sex to Superconsciousness. As a sannyasin of Osho, I went through a phase of continuous criticism for several years. That’s the price most of us who were young during the 70s had to pay—to be ridiculed and condemned. Gradually, it changed.”
Standing up for what you believe in will rarely gel with popular belief, which is based on following the herd and operating from fear. Since you stand out, you are labelled as the odd one out and efforts are made to discredit you.
I faced something similar. I used to get deep insights into the metaphysical world and would express them openly, regardless of how others perceived me, as I did not want to stop the flow of God just because others didn’t understand me. (I said things like, “There exists a much bigger sun, not visible to the naked eye, around which the sun of the solar system revolves.”) Needless to say, the consequences were terrible. I was dubbed as unhinged and sent for a medical examination. Efforts were made to treat me back to ‘normalcy.’
In those painful moments, under the effect of heavy medication administered to change the chemistry of my mind, I held on strongly to my faith and inner knowledge that I was on the right path. Fortunately, it was this strong faith which helped me bear all the suffering which came in the wake of undergoing psychiatric treatment. I patiently cooperated with my doctors and parents, after realising that rebelling would buttress their belief that I was losing it. I compromised, yet never disbelieved myself or forsook my newfound path, little knowing that later, all these things would flower into my becoming the editor of Life Positive and help me steer the world of fellow seekers.
My conviction in my authenticity helped me eventually to flower as an individual who felt no shame in being who she was and what she stood for.
Why is authenticity valuable?
Brene Brown says, “To be authentic, we must cultivate the courage to be imperfect and vulnerable. We have to believe that we are fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance, just as we are. I’ve learnt that there is no better way to invite more grace, gratitude, and joy into our lives than by mindfully practising authenticity.”
Authenticity gives a sense of dependability, predictability, and stability to life. You can always rely on authentic people to be fair, honest, and transparent. Authenticity takes time to find its footing, but once it does, it gives space for clarity, trust, and faith to take roots in society. There is never any doubt about the integrity of an authentic individual. Their behaviour in terms of ethics and morals is as predictable as mangoes in Indian summer— you know what you are going to get. Authenticity is about presence, living in the moment with conviction and confidence, and staying true to yourself. An authentic person puts people around them at ease, like a comforting, old friend who welcomes us in and makes us feel at home.
We are all intrinsically authentic beings. Yet, this authenticity easily gets obscured due to fear, censure, social pressure, and the need for validation and acceptance. Although many people may consider behaving in an outrageous and scandalous manner as a mark of their uniqueness and authenticity, the basic fact about authenticity is that it eventually leads one to be of service to others. Your true self, your authentic self, is part of your higher Self. Its expression benefits others and touches their lives positively. Therefore attention-seeking, outlandish behaviour, which makes others uncomfortable, cannot be categorised as authentic.
Authenticity lends us a kind of ease, simplicity, and freedom, which eludes us when we live in the mind all the time, wondering how we are being perceived. We do not have to constantly mould ourselves to fit into societal grooves just to gain the approval of others. We should stand for certain values and be proud of them.
Robin Singh led a successful life in the US as a coder and a programmer. But he wasn’t happy. He realised that true happiness could only be found in serving the needy and the downtrodden. He left the pursuit of fame, money, and power and founded Peepal Farm, a centre in Dharamsala, for serving and rehoming abused, injured, and abandoned animals.
From the USA, he relocated to India, and now promotes veganism and ethical treatment of animals to all and sundry. He paid heed to the voice of his inner Self and chose to appear in his most authentic avatar—that of a helper of living beings.
How to cultivate authenticity
Self-reflection is an essential part of being authentic. A degree of self-awareness and the attitude of being a seeker brings one closer to being one’s authentic self. However, authenticity may not have anything to do with following the spiritual, offbeat path. So often, we are unable to fulfil even our material dreams, simply because we are not being true to ourselves.
A relative of mine always wanted to become a big businessman. He dreamt of rolling in money and enjoying important connections. However, he could not move beyond his small-time job because he spent more time building castles in the air, rather than doing something concrete to realise his dream. He kept postponing, only to face the eventual reality of retirement and all his ambitions coming to dust. Today, he is a bitter man. If only he had been a little honest with himself and acknowledged that the only reality was now and had worked hard without any procrastination, he would have been a wealthy man.
Meditation has the power to illuminate your inner world and bring you closer to the real you. It destroys the cobwebs of confusion and misconception people surround themselves with. It paves the way for further growth to happen in your life.
Swami Keerti says, “It is very important for a seeker and meditator to be authentic. Meditation means becoming childlike again, consciously. A child cannot be expected to be as conscious as a grown-up. But then, the bliss that a child feels in his state of innocence, a grown-up cannot feel. That’s the reason Jesus said that unless you become a child again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Inner simplicity is the hallmark of authentic people, which makes it easier for people to relate to them.
Ajay speaks about how to be more authentic in life: “Talk about feelings. Identify feelings. Journal your thoughts and feelings. Essentially pouring your inner world out to a friend, counsellor, or on paper. Without the fear of judgement. Only when you get in touch with your current reality do you have a possibility of transcending it. It is difficult to overcome your attachment to sex if you have not experienced and acknowledged lust. It is difficult to overcome your obsession with love if you haven’t fallen and acknowledged your need for love. It is difficult to overcome greed if you haven’t pursued and acknowledged your ambition for fame, power, or wealth. Acknowledging your inner reality is crucial for growth.
“Authenticity in relationships requires discernment. The most intimate relationships require honesty. Else they no longer remain intimate. Trust is built through authenticity.”
However, Ajay comes up with a caveat while relating to the world, and rightly so, as not everyone is sincere enough to appreciate authenticity. Many are immature, and others, cunning, wishing to use your transparency and honesty against you. He adds, “One need not practise authenticity all the time, with all the people, in all circumstances. Professional settings, acquaintances, or people who have a tendency to misjudge do not require full self-disclosure. One needs to discriminate about what to share and how much to share. Appropriateness is vital when it comes to interpersonal relationships. There is no set guideline for this. One has to use their intuitiveness to gauge the energy of the moment.”
The importance of acknowledgement
Pain too is an indicator of not being your authentic self. Whenever in pain, ask yourself, where is it that you have betrayed yourself and are out of sync with your inner reality. Honest introspection will show you the answer.
Sunaina Bathwal was trying hard to stay in an abusive marriage and make it work.
“I had married against the wishes of my family and wanted to prove to them that my decision was correct. I kept on hiding and denying the abuse I was facing day and night. My in-laws taunted me for not getting dowry and accused me of having loose morals. My husband refused to stand by me. Matters became worse when my mother-in-law began to sow seeds of distrust and doubt in my husband’s mind, and he turned against me. My house became a hell-hole for me. From verbal abuse it escalated to physical abuse, and yet I was trying to project the image of a happy marriage to the world. I was gaslighting myself into believing that it was all my fault. I was scared of being mocked and ridiculed by society. I was punishing myself for making a wrong choice.”
In such times, by a quirk of fate, she happened to attend a satsang by a spiritual master. The guru was holding forth on how we needed to be kind to ourselves if we wanted others to be kind to us; to forgive ourselves first if we wanted to be forgiven by others. He stressed the importance of loving and valuing ourselves first before seeking these things from others. This sermon woke her up. It restored her faith in herself. For the first time, Sunaina came in touch with her real, authentic self that craved respect, equality, and acknowledgement. It revolted against abuse, harassment, and disrespect, and wanted to stand up for herself and her five-year-old daughter. She didn’t want to live a life of lies anymore.
Acknowledging her real feelings made her realise that she wanted out of this toxic relationship. She reached out to a friend, who helped her find a temporary shelter. She moved out of her husband’s home with her daughter and confided in her parents, who were happy to come to her aid. Though currently, she is fighting a divorce and custody battle with her husband in court, she is relieved to be out of an abusive marriage and hopes to build a decent life for herself and her child. “I don’t care about what people say. My life is mine, and only I can shape it the way I want it,” she asserts.
Authenticity helps people in many ways.
Ajay says, “Personally, authenticity has helped me to find my calling as a facilitator of mindfulness and meditation. It has helped me to cultivate friendships that provide a safe space for sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings. It has enabled me to talk about my addictive patterns in a public space because it seemed the right thing to do in the moment. It has made me realise that the lesser the distance between my private self and public persona, the lighter I feel in body, mind, and spirit.”
Hallmark of an authentic person
They are true to themself: Authenticity is not possible if you are not true to yourself. Authentic people do not shy away from openly admitting their mistakes or apologising if they realise that their words or actions have hurt someone. You won’t find them fixing blame or shifting responsibility onto others.
The beauty is that they are truthful and honest even when no one is looking. In fact, these very traits make them highly endearing to others and win them over. For example, Shambhav Sharma, the founder of the popular Sham Sharma Show on YouTube which does socio-political commentaries, accepted his mistake in judging Khan Sir (the famous teacher of the Khan GS Research Centre) too hastily about his take on the Israel–Palestine conflict, without doing proper research on him. He admitted openly before his captive audience that he had made a mistake and that Khan Sir’s public image must not suffer because of his clouded judgement. Only an authentic person can do this.
They honour their words: Another important indication of an authentic individual is that they value the spoken word. They give a commitment only when they are certain that they will be able to fulfil it. And when they do, they honour it. Their self–image is important to them, which makes them conduct themselves in an upright manner and keep their word. If, for some reason, they are unable to do so, they inform people in advance instead of bailing out at the last minute. Authentic people are high-character individuals who don’t talk the talk—they walk the walk. This means they back up their positive, empowering words with actions that benefit themselves and others.
They think inward, look outward: Authentic people are deep thinkers who generate thought power from within and transpose it outward to add value to the lives of others. To act authentically, we must first give deep thought to what it is that we want to do. This requires keen emotional intelligence, which is partially comprised of the ever-powerful trait of self-awareness. If you are mindful of your thoughts, are careful of how your actions influence others, and act with good intentions and motives, you’ll be admired for your authenticity. My boss, Mr Aditya Ahluwalia, is a very kind, humble man who always puts others first. The more I speak to him, the more I realise how introspective he is. He is conscious of his thoughts and actions and the way he treats his staff. I have never seen him act in a hurry.
Treat people will kindness and respect
A few days ago, a lab technician came to my house to take my blood sample, around noontime, braving sweltering heat. As soon as he came, my mother offered him a glass of cool water and some sweets. The fellow was all smiles and said, “In all the six months that I have gone to homes to collect samples, for the first time, I have been offered water without asking. In one house, the resident gave me a 10 rupee note, telling me to buy it from outside when I asked for a glass of water.” Most people are suspicious of outsiders and want to get rid of them as soon as possible. However, suspicion does not prevent my mother from showing basic humanity to strangers. A deeply pious woman, she lives and abides by her principles, and is known to make others comfortable. Apologising first if she feels she has hurt anyone and being fair in her dealings are her hallmarks.
Live in the moment and be a great listener
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh.
— A.A. Milne
Mostly, our reactions to situations and difficult people come from our subconscious, fear-based programmes. We overreact or misjudge situations because of our beliefs or past experiences. Our authentic self gets shrouded by these layers, divorcing us from positivity, growth, and new and happy experiences. Christopher D Connors, an author, emotional intelligence coach, and speaker, says, “Living in the moment means concentrating on exactly what is happening in your life at that precise time. It demands that we remove the baggage and clutter from our lives to live our best in the moment. Presence and concern for right now are achieved when we eliminate distractions. Like junk email.”
He adds, “Being a great listener is not just suited for conversations with our loved ones or business partners. It’s also about listening to the very important voice inside our heads. Listen to your intuition. Do what your heart is telling you to do. That’s what an authentic person does.”
Open-mindedness and fairness to opportunities and people
With self-belief also comes a belief in life and people. Since authentic people are full of faith and the knowledge that their authenticity is backed by the Universe, they are open to entertaining new ideas, people, and experiences. They may live by their code of values and morals that remain constant, but when it comes to people and ideas, they are open to listening. Open-mindedness is the antithesis of anxiety, stress, and intolerance. Authenticity asks that we judge free of bias. That we’re honest brokers who are impartial in all affairs. Such people act with impartiality and like to be fair and honest in their dealings.
Authenticity is a journey and a very rewarding one at that. We all wish to be appreciated, respected, and loved for who we are, but for that to happen, we need to first discover our real self. When the flower of authenticity blooms, its fragrance spreads far and wide, drawing real people and golden opportunities to us like butterflies to a freshly opened bud. When we relax in our authenticity, others, too, get an opportunity to put away their masks and enjoy their true selves.
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