It’s Sunday night April 24th and you know what that means: the new Game of Thrones is here! I’ve been looking forward to the new season for months. What new characters and intrigues await me? At the same time, I feel for the characters that aren’t with us anymore.
How would the GOT characters make sense of their lives? Would they reckon that their lives were worth it? And if, in a parallel universe, those characters followed my life on page or on screen, what would they think? What do I think about it all myself? If I could attend my own funeral, would I reckon that my life was worth living? Without getting too macabre, few things will benefit you as much as contemplating death, specifically your death. It’s tough if someone else has to remind you about it, so for starters: Sorry, man.
These past weeks I’ve been gourmandizing various forms of science literature. The titles range from Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams to The Compete Secret Diaries of God and The Portable Atheist. With new eyes I marvel at this grain of sand atop of which myself and billions of people, plants and animals float through the galaxy. I marvel at the Hubble telescope’s photos of the universe. Every day I marvel and express gratitude for how unbelievably lucky I am that, despite the staggering odds, I exist, and better yet, have found my stellar wife. How vast the difference between my worldview and the worldview of the characters of Game of Thrones!
Besides sheer marveling, these books have me scratching my head about two seemingly unrelated things: death and an authentic life. Valar Morghulis -- All men must die. When and how, most don’t know. But die we will. The most devastating loss we can subject ourselves to, is living as someone other than or someone less than our true selves. After all, we only live once. That’s why the question “What is an authentic life?” isn’t merely a practical matter, it’s also an ethical duty towards ourselves -- and others. By audaciously being myself, I enable you to audaciously be yourself.
What is an authentic life?
Authenticity is one of those words that we would rather have liked spelling with a capital letter, like Truth or Beauty. But because we can’t verify, measure, and test it outside of our experience, it’s complex and tricky.
Neat and complete definitions of these words are tough, but we can point to it and see it easily. Think about these examples: Which Mona Lisa is more authentic: Leo Da Vinci’s, or a perfect replica by an Argentinian assassin? Which writer is more authentic: the one who writes every day and often publishes, or the writer who daydreams fictions all day but never puts it down on paper? Which stew is more authentic: the super market’s stew, or your mother’s? Most people would answer: Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the writing, publishing writer, and my mother’s stew are all more genuine and more authentic.
Something or someone is authentic if we recognize originality (novelty, a certain kind of approach or style) and integrity (say what you do, do what you say) in it. For someone or something that is authentic, we will always make time (I continue to wonder why the Mona Lisa smiles. And I will always want to eat my mom’s stew again).
Is authenticity important?
Yes, an authentic life is important. An inauthentic life is a waste of your life and energy. Tyrion Lannister’s quote above gives you one clue as to why. But you’ll recognize the life and energy saving value in two striking scenes from the sci-fi movie X-Men: First Class. Erik Lehnsherr (Magnito) encourages Raven Darkholme (Mystique) to be authentic.
Erik Lehnsherr: [to Mystique] If you’re using half your concentration to look normal, then you’re only half paying attention to whatever else you’re doing.
Erik Lehnsherr: Just pointing out something that could save your life.
Erik Lehnsherr: You want society to accept you, but you can’t event accept yourself.
Raven Darkholme: [in mutant form] Could you pass me my robe?
Erik Lehnsherr: You don’t have to hide.
[Erik moves and sits besides Raven on the bed]
Erik Lehnsherr: Have you ever looked at a tiger and thought you ought to cover it up?
Raven Darkholme: No, but…
Erik Lehnsherr: You are an exquisite creature, Raven. All your life the world has tried to tame you. It’s time for you to be free.
How do I live an authentic life? 8 suggestions
These eight suggestions will help you on your journey to your authentic self.
Reflect on your death. It reminds you: you’re alive! It’s the best way to take stock of your blessings, who you’re with, what you’re doing, who you’re becoming, and if it all makes you feel content.
Embrace your experiences with acceptance and compassion. Tara Brach develops this idea of Radical Acceptance in her eponymously titled book. Here she’s talking about Radical Acceptance:
Ask questions. Question regulations, the ‘we-have-always-done-it-this-way’ attitude, your values, ideas, opinions, motivations, and problems. Answer honestly and with the best information available to you. Choose. We have to choose. Not choosing, is also a choice. Not all choices are equally good, that’s why it’s wise to gather information, make the most informed choice, and go for it!
Pursue integrity. Each moment is a garden where you grow the fruits of the spirit and weed out the weeds. Your authentic self isn’t far away, it’s right here, in this moment, waiting for you show up with your values and honor them. It’s worth noting that Faust says, “Blessed is he, who keeps his integrity, for he will not rue the greatest sacrifice.”
Choose your friends carefully. Do you want to become more like your ideal self? Then surround yourself and engage with the type of friends that pursue their values, talents, and qualities with the same integrity that you aspire to. They are your spirit-tribe. Protect your spirit-tribe.
Practice mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness makes it easier to step between stimulus and reaction. Do you respond with grace under pressure? Do you choose the most empowering response? Or do you kick your own butt off the bluffs into the sea of victimhood? The good news is that mindfulness isn’t only for ascetics on plant-based diets – you can do it, too. How? Mediation of course! With 10-20 minutes quiet time each day, you’ll be off to a great start.
Two types of meditations currently helping me the most are philosophical mediation and Vipassana. Philosophical mediation was developed by The School of Life. You take 20 minutes every other day and reflect on three questions: What am I currently anxious about? What am I currently upset about? What am I currently excited about? Exploring these questions gives us some insight as to how we may attend to our feelings, our plight, and ourselves in more empowering, compassionate ways.
Vipassana is the Pali word for “seeing clearly” or “insight”. You sit quietly in a quiet place. Close your eyes. Breathe in an out. Focus on your experience of your breath. You’ll soon realize that your thoughts have runaway with you. That’s okay. Come back to your breath. Two ways to get started are Howie Cohn’s Invitation to Meditation, or the app, Headspace.
Journal. You’ll collect your thoughts like seashells along a walk on the beach. Write your goals, state them in a measureable way, and include a deadline. Count your blessings. If you get in the habit of bookending your day with three things you’re grateful for that day, you will be happier.
Create. With words, clay, vegetables, flowers, wood, paint, music, clothes, running shoes, or computer code. Create in the way that scares you most. Share your creative force with the world. Two things that terrify me are writing short stories and articles. What creative acts scare you? Whatever it is for you; go for it!
This is, of course, my authentic attempt. To be truly authentic you must ask (and answer!) yourself: What is an authentic life? Is it important? How do I live authentically? Join the alternatief conversation. Share with us your truest, youest you. In the meantime, as I shift to the edge of the couch in front of the TV, I greet you with Katy Perry’s reinterpretation of House Lannister’s words: Hear me roar!