A Waypoint on the Journey Into Authenticity

big red feetAs I move into more authenticity in my relationships, I often notice and talk about the hard parts: the fear of rejection/abandonment, and the sadness of old, unprocessed loss. However, an unexpected benefit on this journey has been a shift in values, from pinning my worth on other people’s acceptance of me, to assessing myself on the basis of my own internal congruence: How complete have I been? How fully have I represented myself? Have I left anything unsaid? Have I been kind, and in accord with my principles?

From the perspective of a person who derives their worth from others’ acceptance (as most of us do when we’re just starting this journey), authenticity is a tremendously risky proposition. Rejection, or abandonment, equates to worthlessness. And of course, if we are simply authentic, simply ourselves, sometimes we will be abandoned!

However, as the sense of self worth shifts from being derived externally to being derived internally, the risk associated with authenticity, and abandonment, diminishes. It’s a virtuous cycle:

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Spatial and Temporal Freedom

Mauritius_beachTwo handy ways to look at “freedom” from a mindfulness perspective…

Spatial Freedom
We feel something unpleasant in a given moment (e.g. a stubbed toe or a wave of anger). It’s the habit of the human nervous system to zoom in on the point of discomfort, excluding all else. As a result, we are quickly overwhelmed and seek external distractions (e.g. Facebook). A great deal of freedom can be gained over time by retraining the body-mind to zoom out, feeling into the space around the discomfort (whether emotional or physical). We begin to notice all the parts of the body which aren’t in pain. Generally, this diminishes the intensity of the discomfort, allowing us to stay in the present moment (and off of Facebook).

Temporal Freedom
Another thing we might notice, in staying with discomfort, is that it doesn’t just get worse and worse forever. We tend to run for the hills at the first sign of unpleasantness, but all sensations come in waves; they arise, crest, and pass away. We can retrain ourselves to stay with unpleasant sensations long enough to watch them recede and disappear. This applies to addictive cravings as well.

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The Great Grief Cry

Another beautiful (and dark) piece by Rilke. Sometimes, meditation can feel like this. A great grief cry. Not for present-day losses, but for things long ago lost which have never been mourned. It is this retroactive grieving—a sort of settling of emotional accounts—that brings us into congruency, allowing us to respond to present conditions without the added weight of buried associations.

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.

It’s Not Who You Are

I came up with this phrase as a way of unwinding the tendency to take my perceptions of others as objective truth:

It’s not who you are. It’s how what you do filters through who I am.

We cannot know people, or anything, directly. We experience everything through our senses. These experiences are packaged with the full weight of our conditioning, beliefs, and history before they even enter consciousness. We can’t hope to know what’s “really happening.” In a sense, it’s not even relevant.

The best we can do is know our biases. We can accept that each of us is a perceiving system in constant flux. We’re angry, we experience things one way. We’re tired, we experience things another way. We’re 5 years old, we experience things another way. It’s cloudy. We’ve just been dumped. We’ve gotten a promotion. We haven’t eaten for hours. We went for a run this morning…the context and the perceiver are inseparable. Each and every new experience effects the lens through which experience is understood.

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This Beautiful Spiral


Mindfulness meditation can be seen as an examination of our present moment experience to reveal the ways we make things harder than they need to be.

An example: I’ve been sitting with a lot of old anger and sadness lately. A several-years-long process of finding and emptying pools of old, stored emotion is still very much in progress. But mindfulness is all about the present moment. Even with pools of “old, stored” emotion and a “several-years-long” process, mindfulness only asks “What’s happening in this moment?”

I had lost sight of that this morning, and on some very subtle level, I was making things harder for myself, suffering over the seeming endlessness of this heavy work. And then I just happened to notice this “endlessness narrative” that I was running, and in that moment of noticing, it stopped. One more bit of tightness loosened. One little bit of habitual resistance released. I said to myself, “you don’t need to change anything. You only need to watch the system, exactly as it is, for 45 minutes.”
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