Sunday, December 7, 2014

Journal of a Soul 69


Lighting a candle in St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, November 2014
If there is one word that appeals to me on my spiritual journey it is that of authenticity.  I associate it with the people who have had the most impact on my seemingly insignificant or significant life - depending on your perspective on things.   There are many synonyms for this word but the ones that capture its true sense for me are: genuineness, sense of being true to self, congruence, sincerity, "this is me, warts and all," the naked truth, the right thing for the right reason, integrity, openness, credibility, "walking the walk," true to one's word, true to the real self and trustworthiness.

Again, it is Shakespeare who gets to the heart of the matter for me, even if he does put his insightful words in the mouth of one of his more pedantic characters like Polonius in Hamlet: 

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day, 
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

(Act 1, Sc 3, ll. 78-82)

These are a father's words to his son who is leaving home, a father who wants his son to succeed in life.


In counselling and psychotherapy one often hears in conversation and reads in the relevant literature the word "congruence" as a synonym for "authenticity." Carl Ransom Rogers, one of the founders and main lights of the Humanistic School of Therapy believed that the congruence of the therapist with him or herself and with the client was the most important aspect of the therapy session. (It is also interesting to note that the Humanistic School of Psychotherapy prefers the term "client" to "patient" as the therapist is not like a Doctor or Expert with all the answers.  Rather he or she is a facilitator who helps the client grow in self-awareness.  People are congruent when they are not trying to appear to be anything other than who they actually are.  There is simple no pretense.  

Another word Rogers offers us for authenticity is genuineness. The quality of congruence is the most important attribute in counselling, according to this leader in Person-Centered Therapy (PCT).  This means that, unlike the psychodynamic therapist who generally maintains a 'blank screen' type of presence and reveals little of their own personality in therapy, the Rogerian is keen to allow the client to experience them as they really are. The therapist does not have a façade (like psychoanalysis), that is, the therapist's internal and external experiences are one and the same.  In short, the therapist is authentic.


Street Trader, not far from St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, November, 2014
Authenticity is also a much loved word in the field of existentialism.  The WIKI (See HERE ) states this philosophical connection thus: "In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith." This last term was coined by one of the fathers of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre (1992, p. 87)* where he states that “... bad faith is a lie to oneself... The essence of the lie implies that the liar is in complete possession of the truth...” and further “... I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully and this not at two single moments... but in the unitary structure of a single project.” (ibid., p. 89)  

I noted with interest that Sartre had instanced jazz as a good example to illustrate the potency of authenticity as an act.  Having attended many poetry, literary and musical events over the years I have always been struck by the sheer honesty (another expression to communicate the reality of authenticity) of all these artists in the presentation of their work. That my late cousin Bernard Brophy (who died in May 2010, RIP) who was both a jazz musician as well as being steeped in the Irish musical tradition was such an authentic human being is also a very happy association in my mind at this moment as I write these words this evening.  

However, perhaps the greatest examples of authenticity are the ones we encounter on a daily basis, those good, honest and often unacknowledged great souls who are so true to themselves that their being in the world is pure grace and gift to the rest of us.

As I type these words, the Rehab People of the Year Awards (See HERE) are being presented on our main TV channel RTE 1 and all of those lovely people - heroes in the truest sense of the word, true givers no matter what the personal cost - are living examples of what it means to be true to oneself, to live by one's own lights, to accept the truth no matter what the personal consequences, to follow the narrow but liberating path of authenticity, and to follow that path because it is the only one that promises true peace of mind and real liberation.

*Sartre, J-P. (2009) Being and Nothingness.  New York, London: Washington Square Press.

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