Who Is My Authentic Self?

Roadside Musings

Who Is My Authentic Self?


Rabbi Rami explores what it means to honor your authentic self after a podcast conversation with author Myra Goodman.

A friend calls you on the phone and invites you to a party. If you’re like me, the ensuing conversation operates on two levels—outer and inner—and goes something like this:

Outer Self: Hey, that sounds great.
Inner Self: Crap, that sounds terrible.
Outer Self: Let me check my calendar to make sure I’m free.
Inner Self: Don’t be free, don’t be free, don’t be free!
Outer Self: Nothing going on; I’ll be there. Need me to bring anything?
Inner Self: Damn it, nothing going on, but I can’t hurt his feelings, so I better go. Take a breath; sound enthusiastic. Hey, maybe the world will end beforehand, who knows?

I hate parties and prefer spending most evenings reading and watching reruns of Perry Mason. But I hate disappointing people even more. Given that the television shows I watch are old and the books I read much older, nothing is pressing or topical about my evening doings. I just don’t like being with people.

The operative word here is with. I like being in front of people; and the more people the better. I once gave a talk in front of 5,000 Japanese Buddhists in Kyoto, and that didn’t bother me at all. But hanging out with two or three of them would be a problem. Yes, I’m an introvert, but more than that: I’m a hermit. Why? Because then I don’t have to compromise my authentic self.

Let me rephrase that: The statement I don’t have to compromise is more accurate. I stole the term authentic self from Myra Goodman and Trudy Goodman and their excellent article in the January/February issue of Spirituality+Health entitled “Awaken to Spiritual Bravery.” I spoke with Myra on the Spirituality+Health Podcast. I mentioned that while I like the term authentic self, I’m not convinced there is such a thing. The only “self” I know is in constant flux and there is no fixed standard of authenticity against which I can measure that “self” to determine whether it’s authentic or not.

Of course, you might say that the “I” that knows the “self” is my authentic self. The problem here is that this “I” is in and of itself unknowable. Every time I look at it, the “I” doing the looking becomes my unknowable authentic self and the “I” being looked at is my inauthentic self.

It seems to me that the only authentic thing I can say about my knowable self is that it is inauthentic: waffling between what it wants and doesn’t want and making decisions based on psychological conditioning beyond its control: I go to the party because I feel guilty if I don’t go. In short, I’m not selfish enough to be honest with my friend and stay home.

What do I do about this? Nothing; just be aware of it and notice that the one who is aware doesn’t care one way or the other. Perhaps that is spiritual authenticity.

Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.

Roadside Musings

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Who Is My Authentic Self

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