'Being authentic' often feels like a term synonymous with 'being individualistic'. However, when I use the term I'm not interested in individualism. When I say Authentic Identity I'm getting at the drive that lies beneath the actions that set one apart from a crowd. What causes someone to organically become an individual rather than becoming an individual simply to stand out and feel noticed.
When being an individual is isolated from finding your Authentic Identity, it’s a much more aggressive concept. You must stand out from the crowd; you must be different: better, faster, stronger, smarter than the rest. You must fight to make yourself noticed. It carries the stress of being original and unique.
Just standing out from the crowd for it's own sake quickly becomes an absurd notion. This is showcased so well by nearly all of the marketing we see. Companies try to stand out from the competition in any way possible, even if only through better advertising (images, slogans, promises, etc.). A few years ago I was in a Home Depot and I heard an advertisement for paint come over the loud speaker, "Try our new Ultra-Premium-Platinum-Plus interior paint." That many qualifiers and adjectives describing a simple paint just seemed asinine. That is what tends to happen when you try to be an individual with out first knowing your Authentic Identity. You just end up with a bag full of superfluous terms and practices but no deep inner fortitude.
Being an individual can look like: a stress to dress better or more uniquely than others, or striving to appear smarter or use more sophisticated language than others. Even having larger or more valuable possessions is often individualism masquerading as comfort. "Be authentic to yourself," is typically no more than an encouragement to manufacture an image, broadcast it to the world, and defend it when necessary.
On a more personal level, I really enjoy talking about philosophy, theology, and religion. At times I find myself in conversation with highly educated individuals who are light years ahead of me in these subjects; having more language and historical knowledge to discuss ideas I’ve just begun to ponder. Even if they're not arrogant in the way they handle their knowledge it can be an uncomfortable and humbling experience. I can even become defensive in these conversations in an attempt to hold on to my individualistic identity in this realm: wanting to be the smartest or most enlightened person in the conversation. When I do regress to protecting my individualistic identity I will try to steer these types of conversation back to a point where I feel I have the higher ground in order to set myself up to monologue for a while and stroke my ego. This only serves to reinforce the manufactured image I've created of myself. Or worse yet, I may try to slyly ask questions that make it appear as if I'm interested and want to know more, but covertly I'm trying to lead my conversation partner into a pitfall of the inadequacy of their own thinking, at which point I can once again consider myself the expert, taking back the high ground where I thought I stood before the conversation. Functioning in this individualistic identity accomplishes nothing it simply assuages feelings of inadequacy and serves to return things to a place of personal comfort, which is no closer to my Authentic Identity.
Entering uncomfortable conversations like this looks entirely different when I enter them grounded in my Authentic Identity. If I'm operating out of my true identity in these types of conversations I can just sit and enjoy listening to a person talk, watching as they interact with their ideas and language: seeing the beauty of their excitement on the subject and watching the wheels turning in their head as they continue down the path of their life's journey. I can appreciate the conversation and maybe gently guide it back to some common ground where we can have an experience together over language and ideas. When I’m connecting with my Authentic Identity I enter these conversations grounded deep in my true self and want to allow others to explore their true selves. I’m focused on stripping away all the pretense rather than maintaining it.
I think we all want to be able to be our truest most authentic selves: Who we are when no one is looking. But I’m interested in taking that notion even further. Who’s the person who’s hidden even deeper yet inside you? Who are you when you aren't even observing yourself? Who would your core identity show it’s self to be if you were not under any form of criticism, judgement, or observation?
I believe at the core we all have a divine image. The only way I've found to experience my true identity on a regular basis is through sitting in silence. You might call it relaxing, contemplation, meditation, or something else. Personally I like the term meditation. In this silence I surrender my entire being; I release all the thoughts of who I am, all the judgments about what I do, and all the aspirations of what I want to do. It's a very comforting space. Typically when I enter into it I experience the melting away of the hurried pace and worries of life. This allows me to return to the most vulnerable parts of the heart and mind, but it isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes it’s a return to the brokenness and homelessness deep within. When these deep soul wounds get exposed, the ones I feel so powerless to fix, all that can be found at this foundation is tears. But whatever the result of diving into this inner foundational silence it is always deeply restorative, the paths just look different.
Connecting with your Authentic Identity is not finding a way be ‘your-self’ and then broadcasting that to other people. But rather letting the great mystery of the divine name you at your most foundational level and carrying that name forth with you. It is accepting who you are. It’s letting everything that is not you fall away and learning the person who has been underneath it all, all along.
You could say that Individualism is not the path to authenticity, but rather authenticity is the path to becoming individual. It’s surrender, its not taking action. That is what I desire to bring to the world. My Authentic Identity, which many times is still largely unknown and elusive to me, but I’m at the tip of the iceberg and it’s exciting.