“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” –
It’s not the wrinkles or gray hair, it’s the death of 4 friends this past year, and the devastating, unprovoked assault on Ukraine, that has reminded me everything changes and nothing lasts forever – death, life, rebirth. From a Buddhist perspective, accepting the impermanence of all living things is easier said than done. Even the best stories end.
After reading an obituary written by one of my friend’s nephews, I paused, thinking to myself I wish I had known her the way he knew her. To me she epitomized the lines from the Longfellow poem, ”…when she was good she was very good indeed, but when she was bad she was horrid.” To her nephew she was a free-spirited Auntie Mame. Needless to say, we are not the same person to our friends, as we are to our family. Who we think we are, and the picture others have of us, and we of them, is an assemblage of reflections in a hall of mirrors with myriad images coalescing into an identity.
Have you ever wondered what makes you, you? When you wake up in the morning, how do you know who you are? As children we were molded by our family, friends, teachers, peers, religions, and society in general, yet every person is unique. Our identity is our all-encompassing system of experience, feelings, thoughts, relationships, values, and memories that define who each of us is. According to the 17th century philosopher, John Locke, who one is depends upon what one remembers.
Every single day we lose ourselves in the many roles we play, the many things we do, and in the many labels with which we identify ourselves. Everything from our emotions to the cells in our bodies changes constantly. Even though who you are appears and dissolves every moment, that doesn’t mean you stop being you. It’s this sense of our essential, authentic, genuine self that serves as a thread connecting and interweaving our experiences throughout a lifetime.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you…“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, or “bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become…”
Some of my favorite lessons in keeping it real in life have come from Margery Williams Bianco’s classic story, The Velveteen Rabbit. It is not how you are made, but what happens to you – your experiences in life and how you respond to those moments that shape who you are. What feels real for you won’t be hidden in a fog of illusion. Becoming real does not happen all at once, it’s a process that takes a lifetime. It can be painful, but authenticity provides an inner strength that helps you stay pliable in the face of change.
Being authentic can feel risky in our technological age. The images we project on our social media profiles are often images of who we think we should be and not who we really are. But genuine people share many traits, including confidence, strength, individuality, and emotional resilience.They take time to develop an opinion and speak their mind, respond to internal expectations rather than external ones, and forge a unique path to fulfill their passion and purpose. They aren’t threatened by failure and can admit their faults. They are often less judgmental of others and have strong self-esteem. Genuine people make telling the truth a habit because when they speak their truth, they show others that they can be trusted and that they trust others enough to show their genuine selves.
Impermanence and loss can be profoundly poignant reminders that it’s a miracle we, you and me, even exist at all, that we are able to construct a lifelong narrative of experiences centered around abstract concepts of identity, and that we need each other. Everyone in the world is interconnected, yet so many world leaders are dis-connected from their own people and humanity’s pressing issues.
We always have a choice as to how to engage, how to contribute and how to honor our connections.
Here are 2 organizations doing humanitarian work in Ukraine.
Doctors Without Borders. They are established in Ukraine and also surrounding countries. They had to switch to emergency operations when the situation began to turn dire last week. I just read on their page they just received large shipment of medical supplies in Kyiv.
World Central Kitchen, started by Spanish chef José Andrés. They have been feeding people at various points in the country but largely in Lviv and at the border of Ukraine and Poland where many have fled.