Life Chez Dee Episode #126: Being authentic
Well I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or whether my words were read and absorbed, but my comments regarding being unprepared for our advent course sessions, and how this felt very strange to me, seem to have been listened to by someone (maybe God was listening after all), because I received both an email and a letter with the details of the content of what we would be covering over the next two weeks on the advent course. So I’d better have a read through and prepare …
The theme of this week is John the Baptist, and we begin with a couple of readings: Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11, then John 1:6-8,19-28.
I’m not going to quote the readings, or summarise the lot, to be honest I find a lot of these readings a bit heavy to follow, but some words stood out for me, and I think at that point my thoughts had already started to become absorbed in processing what I heard that I wasn’t really focussed on the rest of the passages. It was about John baptising the people; that the people were “cleansed and put right with God”. I wrote this down followed by plenty of asterisks, stars and question marks. Cleansed and put right with God … what did it mean to be put right? If God knows me, he knows my flaws and he still loves me, therefore why do I need to be cleansed? I know the meaning is that my spirit is cleansed, or indeed I am cleansed with the holy spirit, but why still do I need to be cleansed? Am I not enough just as I am?
John knows who he is, and who he is not; he knows why he is here and he knows his purpose. He was always destined to be a priest, as his father was before him, but rather than being in the constraints of the temple, he is out amongst the people doing what he felt called to do. John knows who he is, he is true to himself, he is authentic.
Perhaps living an authentic life, perhaps doing good for others, perhaps this calling and this overwhelming need to do is actually my true path in life. Perhaps raising awareness, perhaps through my writing, these are the gifts I have, and which I give to others. I think about my interpretation of the word of God, and how I am interpreting my gut need as the path I need to take. Perhaps my conversations with Edward, are also me communicating with God. Perhaps God is communicating to me through Edward. Perhaps this is my gift, and Edward’s gift, at work helping others.
So moving on we reflect on who we are. We’re given a list of descriptive words … there are lots of words which could describe each of us. I think about the words I would choose for myself … there are loads:
Certain, confident, efficient, generous, happy, intellectual, kind, objective, passive, persuasive, protective, radical, responsible, searching, sympathetic, thoughtful, unassuming, warm, able, analytical, capable, courageous, disciplined, fair, ingenious, knowledgeable, loving, observant, precise, proud, rational, reflective, responsive, self-aware, simple, strong, realistic, principled, questioning, organised, naïve, dependable, clever, brave, determined, emotional, friendly, giving, imaginative, intelligent, perceptive, reliable, sensitive, trustworthy, vulnerable, witty.
There are way too many to be talking about in this session, and so I pick a description which I really like, and would love to apply to each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is individual, unique, with our own thoughts, beliefs, experiences, all dealing with our own stuff in our own ways … the word I give to everyone is “normal”.
For myself, if I had to encapsulate that huge list of descriptive words I’ve chosen for myself into one, I’d have to go with “complex”. The list above is extensive, and there are so many more I could likely come up with if I sat with this for a bit longer, but many of these words come with caveats. Depending on the circumstances, or where I am, or who I am with, depends on how I would describe myself. Each positive affirmation I can assign myself, I can counter with a negative. Every thought I have of me is shaped with much self-doubt.
Which leads me on to thinking about what contexts draw out different qualities in us. Wow! Where to start? Each of us is unique, all of us shaped by our experiences and our relationships. We are all carrying the values and beliefs of others which we have unconsciously adopted as our own. The question is who are we really? Who would we be if the world hadn’t got its hands on us?
This ties in again with all I have learned in my counselling course, which I find quite uncanny that this advent course seems to be tapping into this each week. What I am trying to explain is that we all carry the conditions and values placed on us by others as we grow up and throughout our lives. It begins when we are babies and continues still. Significant people in our lives unconsciously place conditions on us, and we take on their values and beliefs without even realising. Parents, siblings, wider family, friends, teachers, colleagues, employers, and society in general. Who would we be if we didn’t feel obligated to conform to the expectations of others? Who are we really?
There are significant events which shape our lives, I have written about this recently; for me a life changing event was getting married, having William, then Edward, then Oliver. These were wonderful life changing events with wonderful memories. The death of Edward was another life changing event, and one which the Liz before, and the Liz after are very different people. And I wonder about some of those words again, and which ones of those were drawn out of me because of this life changing event.
I am always Liz, but Liz has changed as she has gone through life, because life has changed her. I want to be me, and I try as much as I can to be true to myself, to follow my gut, to do what feels right, and I try to balance my real and ideal self in order to be comfortable with the real me. I suppose what I want is to be authentic at all times, being real, being me; that is when I am at peace.
I read the course material through again. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” (Marianne Williamson, from A Return to Love (1992)). This has given me a lot to sit with and ponder. I think we fear ourselves, we fear our weaknesses, and our flaws. If we look at ourselves, really look inwardly, it is both hard and frightening. To go into the depths of ourselves, to really see who we are, to process this and be authentic in our lives, takes an enormous amount of strength and courage, as in order to do this we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But with this vulnerability comes strength, and that is so powerful.
And so we need to think big, we need to have the courage to be real, the courage to do the right thing, the courage to see the bigger picture, the courage to do great things. Playing small does not serve the world, there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We all have gifts, let us use these gifts to help others, let us notice and acknowledge our gifts and do great things. “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
We don’t always know the gifts we give others. What others see in us, isn’t necessarily what we see in ourselves. It’s uncanny. Maybe this is the work of God and this is the right path for me, or at least this is the message I’m receiving loud and clear. Why else would so much of what we’re talking about in this course, be so meaningful and feel like it has been written for me. Yes of course, it’s directed at everyone, and everyone will enjoy, and everyone will benefit, but this is just beyond belief that I have been doing just this in completing my final assignment all about self and what I’ve learned about me, and then this latest personal development activity in class where each of us have been receiving this personal and intimate feedback from each other.
We had been given the task of “prizing” our fellow classmates on what we saw as their best qualities, their impact on us, and what we would like them to recognise about themselves. It has been truly beautiful to experience albeit incredibly emotional both giving and receiving this feedback, and observing the giving and receiving of feedback for others. It was my turn to receive feedback this week, there were a lot of words in others' description of me: courageous, brave, strong, vulnerable, kind, inspirational. It was incredibly moving, very special, enormously powerful, and I’m going to leave talking about this for another day, as I still need to process so much.
What I will say is how special it has been to give, and to witness others giving and receiving. I don’t think any of us fully realised how much of a positive impact we had on others, until they sit there and tell you. It has been a very raw, honest and emotional couple of weeks. Very powerful and very humbling, and a privilege to be a part of it. Real, honest, raw, authentic; I loved it.