“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Authenticity is a buzzword these days. We hear all kinds of advice on how to live it, breathe it, and get more of it. Maybe this is because we are actually drowning in inauthenticity.
Advertising bombards us with promises of bigger, better, faster, and easier. But the dream life of effortless comfort and problems that fix themselves is just a fantasy, a running away from the truth of life:
Everything is impermanent.
Right now, at this moment, this life is all we have.
More and more people are fearlessly embracing this truth. As a result they are living their lives in accord with what their hearts are telling them rather than what the dominant paradigm dictates as “safe,” “normal,” and “true.”
People are beginning to live their dreams with more passion and purpose than ever before. The focus isn’t on money or the accumulation of things but on living with integrity. And though it’s not the always the easier road, they are far happier for it.
This is the kind of happiness we all crave. I know I do.
We know in our hearts that there is something missing in our lives these days. But we also know that life can be rich, deeply satisfying, and meaningful.
I just got back from a yearlong sabbatical in India.
At the end of it all, I was riding the overnight bus from Dharamsala to Delhi on my way home.
In front of me were a dwindling savings account and an uncertain future. But as I looked out the window at the Himalayas shrinking into the distance, I didn’t feel one scrap of regret at all.
I had done what I has set out to do, and I felt more satisfaction and sense of accomplishment than I had at any other time in my life.
Five years ago, if you had told me I would be living in a foreign country, learning a foreign language, I would have laughed in your face. I was so bogged down with my own insecurities and fears that I couldn’t even have imagined such a thing.
I lived my dream of spending a year in India because I worked hard on making it happen. I set a clear goal and faced all of the challenges to that goal with an open mind and the determination to overcome them.
But most importantly, I listened to my heart.
My heart told me this: I had to do it. And what’s more, if I didn’t I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
But learning how to listen to your heart takes practice and effort. It’s not as simple as it sounds. But it’s not impossible either.
So what are some steps you can take to start listening to your heart and living a more authentic life?
Here are four of them that work for me.
1. Slow down.
Slowing down is a meme that seems to be (ironically, very quickly) working it’s way through the culture these days.
Supposedly, we need to be taking it easier, to be letting go of the compulsion to work ourselves to the bone every hour of our lives.
But one look out the window during rush hour traffic and we see that’s exactly what most of us are still doing.
It’s not that we shouldn’t work hard or be productive. Goodness knows, as a writer I’ve got to spend a lot of time in the chair.
But we need to honor the fact that down time is essential if we really want to get in touch with our authentic selves.
So listen to this: Finish this article then take a long, deep breath. Close your laptop and go for a walk. Go in a direction you’ve never taken before and just take your sweet time.
Give yourself some space to be you.
We live in a world drenched in information. Whatever we want to know, we can find out instantly. This can be very exciting and even useful.
But one of the things that prevent us from staying in touch with our true selves is the constant barrage of cultural programing we are dosed with everyday.
Advertisements, news programs, and television shows all tell us what and how to think, what products to buy, what opinions are in style, what life goals we should be achieving.
It’s not necessarily that Big Brother is watching us, but it’s good to unplug from all of this from time to time and give your own voice a chance to pipe in.
So take a break from the intake of information. Pick a time during the day, or even a whole day off during the week, to turn off the computer, the television, the radio.
Take some time to listen to what you really think and feel.
3. Explore and experiment.
Part of the reason that we live inauthentic lives is that we get stuck in a rut. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security by following the same old routines.
New ideas and experiences are what keep us fresh and alive. Our authentic selves thrive on them, and when we expose ourselves to new things we have the opportunity to grow.
Visiting new places, putting ourselves in new situations, exposing ourselves to new points of view can all challenge us to understand who you truly are.
So get out of your rut. Even if it just begins with ordering something different off the lunch menu, make an effort to keep an open mind to what possibilities are out there waiting for you.
4. Cultivate fearlessness.
Living authentically doesn’t always mean a life of comfort and bliss. Often it means just the opposite.
When we show our true selves to the world, when we dare to live our dreams, we might just run into many obstacles we didn’t expect.
We might experience ridicule. We might find that our authentic life isn’t what we expected at all.
We might even “fail.”
But what is “failure” but the opportunity to learn and grow?
If you are truly being authentic then you may find that even the falling down is more fulfilling than anything that’s normally considered to be “success.”
So work with challenges from a place of fearlessness. Know that even if you fall down, this is impermanent too. You can always get up and start anew.
Living authentically takes courage and bravery. During the past year in India I met a lot of inspiring people.
Some of them had packed up their families to pursue their dreams of traveling the world. Some were there were, like me, learning a new language only because they knew it would enrich their lives.
Many more were devoting themselves to a spiritual way of life that, despite its uncertainty and difficulty, was far more fulfilling than anything they had tried before.
I truly believe that we all have this kind of courage and bravery hiding somewhere inside us. And if you just take the time to look, you will find that you do too.
Photo by Summer Skyes 11