The Authentic Self is the foundation of authentic living, revealed to us through mindfulness and meditation. When we are fully present in our authentic self, we create the conditions for true success and wellness, and begin to understand our true life purpose. In this post I am going to talk more about what the authentic self is, and how it relates to our personality and our ecological self and spiritual self. I often use the terms authentic self, ecological self, personality self, and ego self in my posts, which may be confusing without this post to clarify how all of these definitions of self relate to each other. It is important to grasp this connection not only for clarity’s sake, but also to understand the processes of self-development, self-realisation, and authenticity.
The Authentic Self is Your True Self
The authentic self is your true self. This is what I wrote about in my post Finding Your True Self. The authentic self is your ultimate identity, revealed in the space between your thoughts. It is the ground of your true being. The authentic self actually exists prior to the formation of your personality, at which stage you are just pure being.
The authentic self as a term presupposes the inauthentic self. If we have a true self, then when we do not embrace this true self, we are therefore adopting a false self, or inauthentic self. How is this so? Surely we are always ourselves?
The point is that we are not always ourselves. When we are not mindful, our mind can cause us to dissociate from our present moment experience of pure being, and to identify with our thoughts, emotions, and roles—all of which can change and contradict each other at the drop of a hat. When our personality is based upon these thoughts, emotions, and roles alone, we begin living from the reactive ego self, rather than from the authentic self. Although the reactive ego self may be our familiar self when we have spent a lifetime identifying with it, that does not make it our true self. Why? Because the practices of mindfulness and meditation reveal that behind our ego self there is a deeper level of our identity in which we are more ourselves. The problem is that we are rarely centred in this authentic self due to our reactive mind and our habits of dissociation, and so the authentic self becomes largely unconscious.
In my post What is Identity? I explained that our identity becomes arbitrary when it is based on how we and others see ourselves, rather than on our authentic self. If we see ourselves as our job title, for example, our identity becomes our role within the workplace. If we see ourselves as an athlete, our identity becomes that role. If we see ourselves as depressed, our identity becomes that of depression. This is how the personality is formed when we are not mindful, and this arbitrary personality self I call the reactive ego self, since it is formed in a state of reactivity rather than a state of mindfulness.
The Authentic Self and the Personality
The personality is our local, material self, based on our physical experience of being in a body. The neural pathways of our brain help to keep this personality relatively stable. This is essential for us to be able to function in the world. The personality self is thus contained in the boundaries of our physical body.
As I stated above, the personality self—if formed reactively—can become an arbitrary self. As a result, the personality self may well be at odds with our authentic self. This is for two reasons. Firstly, the personality self may be formed without our conscious experience of our authentic self. Secondly, the personality self may be driven by values that are at odds with the values of our authentic self. This is why, for example, people can in their ignorance be destructive towards others and the whole that sustains them. In this case, the values that drive them may be purely selfish ones based upon domination, aggression, and violence—in contrast to such authentic values as wholeness and compassion, which describe the experience of the authentic self.
The personality in its potential is neutral. It can be shaped by the reactive mind to give us the reactive ego, or it can be shaped by the mindful experience of the authentic self, to give us a personality that embodies our authentic values—a sort of secondary authentic self. Through a commitment to our self-development, and to the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we can shape our personality to reflect the authentic self. Even if we already have a reactive ego self—which is probably the case for almost everybody in mass society—the personality can still be reshaped with the practice of mindfulness. The result is a personality that becomes more and more authentic in the context of our true, fundamental self. This is when we are being our true selves and living authentically.
Integrating the Personality with the Authentic Self
This integration of the personality with the authentic self is the core teaching of my work. As a process of self-development, it begins when we learn to practise mindfulness and meditation to consciously direct our attention upon our experience in the present moment, without reactivity or distraction. This enables us to drop through the spaces between our thoughts so that we can find our true centre—our authentic self. This is our deeper identity of being that exists behind our thoughts, emotions, roles, and behaviour.
Once we have established a conscious centre within our authentic self through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, that fundamental centre can then become the new centre of our personality that we inhabit by being present to our authentic self. This means that our personality can begin to integrate with our authentic self by expressing the authentic self through it. We can do this by uncovering our authentic values as guiding principles for staying true to who we really are, and then actively basing our decisions upon these authentic values. We can also use self-inquiry to expose the reactive, inauthentic patterns of the mind, and to transform these patterns within the greater perspective of our authentic self. By doing so we can regain our power by breaking free of our trapped states of dissociation, including our attachment to the spectacle of materialism. Most of all, though, the practice of simply staying present to our authentic self, and extending this presence into our personality, will provide a context to transform all personality experience.
The integration of the personality with the authentic self is a lifelong process that never finishes. This is partly because we have an extensive collection of unprocessed experience, and partly because we are reborn in every moment, with new experience to process. However, the fact that we are growing in authenticity through our commitment to honour our authentic self ensures that we will become more and more our true selves.
The Authentic Self Reveals the Ecological Self
The authentic self is defined as much by its connections with all life as by its centre. This is because it enables us to experience being one with life. For this reason, when we embrace our authentic self we are also embracing our ecological self. The ecological self is not actually separate from our authentic self, but is a term I use to emphasise our physical interconnectedness with all life on Earth, especially in terms of the whole web of supportive relationships that we call ecosystems. We are embedded in local, regional, and planetary ecosystems—nested wholes—that together make up an ecological whole. The ecological self is our means of experiencing the context of our individual place within the ecological whole through our ecological relations, and our means of experiencing our extended self as the ecological whole itself.
When the self is not reduced to the personality alone, the boundaries of that self do not stop at the skin of the physical body, but extend beyond it into the entire ecology of life. The connections between all life are no longer cut by the mind to say where the narrow sense of self ends. Living from the ecological self means that we identify with all life as shared being and therefore will want to honour the Earth as our extended self, with compassion, gratitude, and enlarged self-interest. This is the ultimate form of sustainability and the ultimate motive for green living.
The Individual and the Whole
In this post I have talked about the personality as our individual self, and I have talked about the authentic self and ecological self as the transpersonal or spiritual self in which there is a sense of being identified with the greater whole. Embracing the authentic self or the ecological self does not mean that individuality is dissolved—which notably happens with some abstract, uniform ideas of collectivism that people dissociate into such as nationalism. On the contrary, self-development requires the development of strong, authentic, individual identity, and the capacity to form healthy relationships on an individual level. Furthermore, wholeness is enriched by the diversity of the individual parts within it, and so requires the existence of full individuality. What is needed is the integration of individuality and wholeness, not the dominance of one over the other. We need to honour the individual and collective aspects of our identity as the two poles of life experience that enrich each other.
While it is true that our individual identity is informed by our identity with the whole, it is also true that the whole itself is equally informed by our individual identity. As individuals we are in effect local outposts for experiencing life, and when we honour and express our individuality and particularity we maximise the potential for self-realisation within the whole. An ecosystem is enriched by its biodiversity precisely because of the strength of individual difference.
An interesting side-effect of strengthening our individuality is that we let go of the conformity that can entrap us. The idea that in mass society we have strong individuality is flawed, despite the use of the term individualism. We may well have a strongly reactive ego self and a narrow self-interest that result in egoism, but while we are trapped in the homogeneity of mass culture and mass society, and are dissociating into the spectacle of materialism, we can hardly be said to be strongly defined and developed as individuals. The strength of our individuality is ultimately held in our authenticity.
Authentic living is the process of developing a strong individual centre within our authentic self through which to process and respond to our experience as individuals. It involves honouring the fact that we are not only defined by the centre of our local self, but also by our connections with the greater whole. By strengthening our individuality in equal measure to our sense of wholeness with life, and by exploring how the two can inform and enrich each other, we can maximise the potential for individual and collective self-realisation.
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