I doubt there is a person alive today over the age of twelve who isn’t familiar with the term “being authentic”. It’s become such a cliché I cringe when I hear it.
Just over a year ago I co-wrote a book with a beautiful soul, Dadi (Elder Sister) Janki, administrative head of the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) World Spiritual University (BKs) entitled, Feeling Great: Creating a Life of Optimism, Enthusiasm and Contentment (HCI 2015). I was commissioned by the publisher to write Feeling Great based on Dadi’s years of teaching. She turned 100 years of age in January of 2016. She is a truly beautiful, gentle soul who has made it her life’s work to rid the world of darkness by teaching love and humility. To this day, Dadi continues her commitment by sharing messages of peace and tolerance from her home in India. I doubt she will stop until the day she takes her last breath.
In Feeling Great, I talked a lot about authenticity. At the end of each section I even included a review of concepts from the previous chapters and offered parables, ideas and steps to help readers develop and apply them to everyday life. Those sections were called (ugh) Authentic Living. Recently I counted up all the times I used the term “authentic” in that book. I talked about “authentic living”, “authenticity”, “authentic self”, “authentic life”, “being authentic”, and even “being inauthentic” a total of 31 times. Mind you, it’s just a 216 page book including front and back matter—that’s roughly once every five or six pages—so it must be really important.
Seeing the real you
But, why is it so important and what does the term “being authentic” even mean? Well, the BKs premise is that we are souls inhabiting a body rather than bodies housing a soul, because the soul is eternal and the body temporal. Through meditation we learn to be authentic—true to our original self—which allows us to see and value others not merely as humans, but foremost as souls. As such, we are intrinsically good and God—the incorporeal point of light and the source of all goodness—exists within us. Therefore, our authentic self is a deep sense of the Divine—that good and perfect soul with which we were born. However, as we get older, we learn from and emulate behaviour that we see in our families, schools, friends, television, music, churches, and society at large. Little by little, our authentic self becomes shrouded under a cover of anxiety, anger, stress, resentment, ego, etc. and some of us lose the connection to our authentic self to such a degree that we become robbers of peace, takers of lives, haters of morality—we become uncaring, unloving, abusive, dishonest, bigots and anti-Semites—for starters.
Yet, according to this way of thinking, within us all, no matter how dark we become, that seed of authenticity—the Divine—with which we were born survives. The good news is that we can nurture it and train it to overwhelm the darkness and eventually excavate pieces of our genuine self buried beneath. (Since darkness and light cannot exist together in harmony, either the darkness will inundate the light, or the light will overcome the darkness.) Living in balance and harmony is a key tenet of being authentic and one of the prevailing concepts today of many eastern and now western thought systems. It is integral to the fulfillment of our purpose—to unearth our hidden divinity and start living as we were originally meant to live. It’s not even that difficult—but it does take practice and a desire to improve ourselves and this earth we call home . It requires spending time in meditation, focusing on and developing positive behaviours and thought patterns, and, with time, our original, authentic inner light grows stronger.
What’s more, we are not the only ones who benefit from our self-improvement efforts; everything we do and say has an effect on the universe—people, nature, matter and all forms of antimatter. Everything is energy—from the shoes on your feet to the chair you are sitting on, to the air you breathe. Our physical bodies and our words, actions, and emotions are no different. Energy is like a drop of rain on the sea that sends out ripples until it becomes one with the sea and then is no longer distinguishable. In effect, when we project positive or negative energy into the universe, it reflects back to us. If we are negative and selfish, we give and receive negative energy. If we nurture a loving and beneficent spirit, we become the benefactors of the universe’s positive energy (yes, it’s that old Law of Attraction).
Thousands of people around the world—including me—love Dadi Janki and affirm the tireless work she has done with the BKs as a champion for peace. Yet I am at odds with some of their underlying beliefs even though they advocate community and a personal relationship with God (the singular God, Creator of all things and “the One who goes by many names”), one of which is their view on being authentic, a concept that is the core of living a divinely inspired life.
Finding my authentic self has never been difficult; even before I began inward-focusing practices that align with the BKs and other groups in methodology (not as a belief system): Meditation? Check. Being aware of my personality flaws and taking steps to change them? Working on it. Sitting in silence without external distractions waiting to hear God speak? Yep. Practicing patience and balance? Not nearly enough. Focusing on humility over ego (which looms behind every screw-up and misstep I make)? Absolutely. Nourishing the inner peace that is integral to discovering the real me? That too, but I call it the Holy Spirit. Anyway, you get the picture.
Here’s the sticking point between our belief systems and where we (respectfully) take different paths. Most New Age and other spirituality movements believe that adhering to certain practices will help us find the goodness within—God, the original point of light—so that we can cultivate that goodness. But I believe more than ever that the seeds of authenticity I was born with are not goodness and an inherent connection to the Divine (awareness, yes) and practising any type of ritual is not enough to save me from the darkness.
Here’s where I think “spirituality” falls short. If our sense of goodness comes from within, then we are our own masters. We have all we need to live a just and honourable life. Ultimately, since we have no universal standard, we each may have a different depth of understanding as to what “good” really is. That’s how I think about food. I love boiled fish but you may not, yet we are both eating the same thing. Could it be the same with how we nourish our souls? Who’s to say? How can we be judged on someone else’s ideas of morality or charity or divinity? And have we nothing greater than ourselves to please, honour and love?
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. —1 Cor 1:30 (NIV)
I’m quite sure that I have never buried my authentic self deeply enough to lose it. In fact, as I grow older, it seems to have grown more prominent—out of control sometimes. How different life would be if I could believe otherwise. It’s really a lovely concept—positive change that can be achieved through personal commitment and internal awareness; learning to see with our “third eye” instead of relying on our physical eyes and human emotions, which are inherently flawed. (Don’t misread me here; learning to see with your “third eye” is a good thing. Sometimes terminology messes with us because each belief system has its own lingo and clichés that tear us apart more than they should—it’s like we speak different languages so we can’t relate to each other. Bummer.)
One of the things we agree on though is that God can—and often does—speak to us when we meditate and wait on him. He speaks to me through meditation, other people (my parents, my pastor Jason Brown), and he gave me his Word, which sets standards and guidelines for us all to live by. His Word makes the way to humility, peace, forgiveness, and love clear. It also reveals the only way to free from darkness my immortal soul.
Seeing the real me
But I’m on the outside
and I’m looking in
I can see through you
see your true colors
‘cause inside your ugly, ugly like me
I can see through you
see to the real you.
I’m pretty sure that the seeds I was born with are especially ego (which makes me feel angry, hurt or defensive when someone says something I don’t like); the tendency to move in the opposite direction from the one I know is right; the constant struggle to choose words and actions that are helpful and caring instead of insensitive; the all too often feeling of resentment when my life doesn’t take the turns that I wanted it to; moodiness and impatience; anxiety over tomorrow; and probably the worst of all—even though I know I’m going to be okay with him—the utter shame that comes over me when I remember that God knows my thoughts and my heart. That’s who I really am—that’s my authentic self. Pretty ugly.
I don’t believe I can meditate enough to change who I am into who I need to be. I don’t believe that positive self-talk will make enough of an improvement to merit any eternal benefit. Or that finding inner peace will quell the sea-sickness I feel sometimes when I come before God. Oh, they have their benefits, but they are ephemeral, they will become dust before my heart beats its last In-a-gadda-da-vida drum solo. What I really need is permanent, eternal change because my soul is immortal.
I’ve been told that my Christian belief system is self-depreciating, that it devalues me as a person, and that my belief in original sin vs. original purity is disparaging. It makes me less accountable for my cuts and bruises because I don’t need to take personal responsibility for my poor decisions. But that’s not only over simplistic (“baby I was born this way”), it’s also inaccurate. So is the common notion that saying two Rosaries and four Hail Marys cleans the slate. They don’t.
You can change ugly
I don’t know, but I spent a lot of years getting those cuts and bruises—trying to dig my way out of holes that I’ve created. It gets tiring after a while. I’ve even completely given up before (but that’s another story). Sometimes all the digging has led to a lengthy clinical depression, other times to a feeling of numbness that would float me through a few comatose days of imitation peace, and sometimes it has led to some backdoor anesthesia that would help pass the time until I could stuff my conflicted, self-serving, nagging brain far enough down that hole that I could step on it and boost my way out.
I have always known that I am incapable of saving myself. I can’t rescue myself from my own birthright—those seeds sewn in the dirt into which I was born—the ones that guarantee my ultimate downfall. I don’t even want to know my authentic self or think about how much stuffing and pushing and fighting I’ve done trying to change on my own. I don’t very much like my authentic self.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. — 2 Cor. 4:18 (NIV)
I believe that the only way I can truly change is by being completely honest—by recognising who I really am and what I really need. For me, that’s an external, eternal God—the only truly Authentic One, ever. He knows that I can never achieve even a fading light of goodness alone, so he offered his Son to be that light for me. Now I try to see more with my “third eye”, which is really him working in me, training me to stop using my physical eyes so much and see with my heart, my mind and my spirit instead—to see things that are intransient and eternal.
Often when I meditate, I think of Jesus and the words he spoke the night he was arrested. Before he entered the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed for his own sanctification, he prayed for his crew of disciples, and then he prayed for all believers—for me. I never thought about it so much until the past two years—in the middle of all he was going through on that horrible night when he knew a violent death was imminent, he actually took the time to think about me and pray for me. I like to meditate on that.
Honestly, I just want to be less of my authentic self so that when people see me, they see the true Authentic One, not me at all. It’s not easy; sometimes the ugliness within me fights to hold on like it’s a death match, but I prevail because the True Light lives in me, and he already won the war on darkness through his death and resurrection. It’s not Karma or the Law of Attraction; Jesus never said that when he came to live in me and save me from my authentic self that he’d bring a simple philosophy to follow in twelve easy steps. He never said anything about reflective energy, either. But he did say a lot about how he would change me.
I actually see the ugliness inside me today more clearly than ever because I see it in the context of the True Light, but he doesn’t. He sees his Holy Spirit working in me, even though I’m really slow at changing. But one thing changed instantly when I asked him to live in me—I got a brand new birthright that will never expire or get dirty. And that’s not only authentically beautiful, but as the Whiskey Priest put it, that’s the authentic Gospel—the deeper magic.
© 2016 Galyn Kelly Johnson. All rights reserved.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
John 17:20 – 26 (NIV)