Offerings, Gifts, and Invitations
Over the past few years, I've been hearing the word authentic a lot. People speak about being their authentic selves, doing authentic work, and engaging in authentic relationships. While I value authenticity, the more I hear the word, the more I am losing touch with its meaning. What does it actually mean to be authentic?
Authentic comes from the Latin word authenticus, which means principal or genuine. Both words suggest a form of sincerity and being true to one's core.
People speak about an essential self - a pure expression of your nature. This part of you existed long before the layers of culture and impressions of family and society were layered upon you. Your essential self existed before you developed an identity - shaped by ideas of what is 'good', what is 'bad', which parts of yourself you like and which parts you disavow.
Some people make a case for trying to get back to your essential self, the part that existed before the worldly cutter came into the picture, and having this 'pure' self be the expression that guides you. Then there's talk about a higher self and a lower self and suggestions to have the higher self - be the part of you that guides your actions.
People also speak about the world as a playground in which we learn, grow, and are shaped by our experiences, including the challenges and suffering we undergo.
These perspectives have left me wondering: what role do our challenges play in shaping the self? If the essential self is a pure and unadulterated, how does it relate to formative experiences? Does it shine through the cracks and faults of challenges, does it take on a new form through earthly struggles, or does something else happen?
My thoughts move at a rate that far surpasses the pace at which I am walking. Stopping, I look up and notice the blue sky framed between two adobe walls. Although too far away to touch, I can feel the contrast between the soft gradient blue and the rough, gritty texture of the shaped earth. The blue sky and rough earthen walls provide a backdrop for my thoughts and the world unfolding around me.
When I see the sky and adobe align in such a way, I see how one complements the other and how this relationship is made possible through alignment.
Alignment is a word I've turned over and over like a coin in my hand for years. It remains tangible, yet also elusive. It stays with me because it feels right; it has the perfect sense of weight, and at the same time, it also evokes a quality of lightness.
I understand the work I do in terms of alignment. I support people to align with their insights, dreams, and purpose so they can engage more of their nature as they navigate their lives. I make my way through this world based on alignment. I make decisions based on what feels right. I eat certain foods because they're nourishing and align with my system.
Alignment is the means through which I assess my relationship to everything. In this way, it is my guide. One way to know where you are in time, place and relationship is through alignment. Alignment is relational; we align ourselves according to values to inform how we engage with others.
We align ourselves according to objects. We arrange things in our homes and find the perfect spot for a well-loved object according to how it aligns with other objects and the space around it.
Alignment is both an outward spatial orientation and a feeling of inner attunement. We feel when something is in or out of alignment for us. The degree to which we do or don't feel alignment then informs our next steps.
As much as experiences of alignment pull me forward, feelings misaligned also nudge me toward greater clarity. Like a pebble in my shoe, feelings of misalignment persist until I engage with them and relate to the source of irritation. By bringing awareness to friction, irritation and gaps, misalignment also helps me return to greater alignment.
We all move through the world. In some moments, we may feel aligned with the trajectory we are on; in other moments, we may feel out of sync. Information theory says there are many signals, bits of information, around us at each moment. We notice, interpret and align with these signals to inform our next action. From this point of view, we can see that from the micro to the macro, alignment informs how we notice, sense, interpret and act.
So, what if, rather than asking whether or not something was authentic, we asked whether or not it was in alignment?
The thing is, what aligned one day may be different from the next. Alignment asks us to tune into ourselves and attend to what's happening around us. Rather than focusing solely on our expression, alignment considers how we relate to others while leaving space for authenticity. Instead of sticking to a static sense of self, noticing alignment allows us to be shaped by forces beyond our momentary identity. It's more about calibration than clarification.
What I’m reading :
Excerpt from a poem:
Close, by David Whyte
“Our human essence lies not in arrival, but in being almost there, we are creatures who are on the way, our journey a series of impending anticipated arrivals. We live by unconsciously measuring the inverse distances of our proximity: an intimacy calibrated by the vulnerability we feel in giving up our sense of separation.”
This excerpt from ‘Closer’ has stayed with me for years. I feel this is due, in part, to the way it articulates the experience of moving through life based on longing, distance and alignment. It captures the way life is a continual journey during which we move closer and further away from people, places, the other than human world and even parts of ourselves.
From Homogeneity and Bedlam to Sense and Sensibility, by Charles Eisenstein
In this essay Charles Eisenstein describes the way in which our ideas about reality can lead us off the map of the actual world in which we live. He suggests that a map can be coherent but not necessarily true.
In contrast there are experiences such as feeling the wind on our face, that we cannot capture on a map.
He argues the importance of opening ourselves further to information ‘ to information that cannot be packaged as numbers and labels and pixels and bits’. Reflecting on the impacts of AI he suggests that in order to keep the digital world sane, we must learn to continually draw from experiences that lie beyond it.
Many of our ancestors knew how to wayfind. They could read the natural environment to determine cues and patterns that helped them find their way, navigate through storms and move through periods of uncertainty. Many lived closer to their surroundings, enabling them to draw up support from the land, skies and space around them. They also relied on the symbols encoded in myths to help them make sense of the world.
Nowadays, some of us may feel disoriented, scattered, out of touch with our roots, or swept up in the constant flow of information we receive daily. Like our ancestors, we face challenges we don’t always know how to navigate. We may also wonder: How can we navigate through times of uncertainty and terrain that is off the map?
One way we can find our way is by tuning into the essential patterns that shape our perception and behaviour. We can do so by connecting with the dynamic map made available through our life myth.
CG Jung coined “life myth” to describe a patterning for lifelong personal development. He found that childhood dreams and early memories, which stayed in a person’s memory into adulthood, revealed an archetypal pattern for the evolution of a person’s life. This same pattern can also be accessed through chronic body symptoms, the contrast between our peak and low moments, and recurring themes in relationships.
The thing is, these patterns are not static. When we bring our attention to them, we often discover they are far more dynamic and can evolve and transmute in surprising ways.
In late November - early December, I’ll be teaching a 3-part class on life myth. Together, we’ll surface the patterns that inform how we view ourselves and relate to others in conscious and unconscious ways and explore how you can channel the information and qualities of your myth in supportive ways. Learn more here.
Image from Orcas Island. A place that feels mythic to me and supports me to find my way in this world.