Thinking about the themes in my life, the one that rises to the top is about authenticity - being who I really am so I can relax and connect with other people as they really are. I'm not saying I've got this down, I'm saying I've got a deep yearning to be authentic, because I don't think it's been my go-to experience. In pursuit of myself (isn't that weird? me pursuing me?) I've been influenced a lot by various religious and spiritual guidances, academic doctrines and social expectations, but I've come to see that anything that rings true is not really an instruction for self-improvement but an indicator of authenticity. I notice that when I'm not trying to be agreeable I fall into agreement with myself, which is easy for other people to be around. When I'm not trying to be helpful I become honest, which is actually helpful! When I'm not trying to memorize concepts a bigger picture becomes clear. And when I'm not resisting myself I become tolerant, understanding and capable.
For a few years, I was a facilitator of a class in a women's prison. It was a volunteer gig with an organization called Truth Be Told. The class was called Talk To Me in which we all did background investigation into our current prisons. For the incarcerated women, they could look at what lead them to prison. For all of us, prisoners and facilitators alike, we identified our internal prisons. Then we wrote about how we got there and we took turns over several weeks reading our stories to each other and also did Authentic Movement to express the story though our bodies. It was an act of freeing ourselves from the silence and internal manipulations that were coming out in our lives in hurtful ways. It was an invitation to be authentic.
I took on that volunteer gig because I needed a platform of honesty for myself. I felt that I was missing the interactive, relational capability that I longed for and it was difficult for me to come clean to myself and others in my life. Facilitating that class, along with several other good decisions and commitments I've made over many years, helped me learn something powerful about authenticity. When I accept my own experiences I become free and I become a safe person for others to be free around. Now that's true facilitation! Not perfect, not an exact science, not someone else's idea of how my life should unfold - simply discovering that my own way is just right.
Through the lens of authenticity, the whole concept of "help" is turned on it's head. It's about embodying myself and discovering that I have faith in others to embody themselves. I don't need to hide behind stories, beliefs, theories and techniques, although those things do inform my understanding and they come in handy at times. But in those moments when I'm free in myself there's a natural outflow of helpfulness that does not require recognition or belief in a theory, technique, etc. And it really is a moment to moment thing. I don't believe any of us ARE authentic or not authentic, it's a matter of how we're relating in each moment.
I'm generally comfortable with my disposition these days. It's different than it was. I think that "just be yourself" doesn't come easy for a lot of us in our culture, so it's relaxing to embrace this imprecise experiment of being me. There is no ultimate program to follow or package to buy and sell; no theory to learn and defend, no religion to swallow as truth, no degree or costume or flag to stand behind - not in my understanding of authentic life. Sure, those things exist, but I'm not defined by them and neither are you. Sometimes it seems lonely to let go of all those identifiers, because that's supposedly where all the groups of "like-minded friends" hang out. Will I be alone without identifying with those clubs and products and beliefs? In the best way, yes. Alone and not lonely. Because authenticity includes autonomy - intimately alive in my own body, in the moments of my life, moving freely and touching reality, leaving the door open to those beautiful moments of true connection that remind me why I let go of the confining safety boxes I squirm around in. And it means that I can appreciate this in others, so relationships can stop being about expectations and pre-set agreements and they can become creativity and mutual freedom.