Authenticity – Where We Stand In Our Own Identity – and Shine!
by Barbara Mayer
Sedona, AZ (July 28, 2011) – Authenticity is a rather demanding word, and it’s a word we usually judge someone else to have — or not have. Rarely do we question it about ourselves. Most of us are born with very healthy egos, and their main job is to keep telling us we’re really pretty good at being who we are.
Yet it seems to me that authenticity is not a quality of being. Rather, it’s a matter of becoming, since no one’s life can ever be static until someone else writes our obituary. The nature of life is change because life flows, and if the voice of God, speaking in one of the sacred scriptures says — “Behold, I make all things new” –that includes me, and that also includes you! One of the key concepts of authenticity is not so much acknowledging what we are, but what we are becoming.
Living authentically is all about recognizing the changes we face in our own lives, and choosing to respond to them with honesty, courage and, we hope — a bit of growing wisdom as the years move on. Because life is full of change, and change demands choice, a big part of life is facing both its problems and possibilities, and then making the best choices which fit who we really are.
Authenticity is all about Truth. It’s all about acknowledging our own growth — and responding to the journey of our own development – with whatever curves life may throw at us along the way.
A Zen saying asks us to consider this reality: “We keep becoming what we always were.” It asks us to consider not only what we are now, but what we will be in the fullness of our destiny. It asks us to move toward that destiny with courage and grace as we try to write the message of our own authenticity.
Today I bear witness to my personal effort toward living my own message of authenticity. You may agree — or not agree with what I say about my own truth,
but I trust we can we honor each other in the true spirit of sharing and honesty.
I’ll begin with the choices we all had to make after high school graduation. Then we could choose to pursue further education or enter the work world. As young adults we were also asked to make choices about finding those who could share the love we felt, and how to live our lives with some kind of meaning, and — yes, authenticity.
The choice I made then was a bit different from the norm. As my very active high school life was ending, I began to feel a calling which was so powerful and seemed so right for me that I had no choice but to follow it. That choice was to become a Roman Catholic Sister – what the world usually calls a nun. I was, I must admit, not an obvious candidate for that kind of life. I stayed out much too late. I was active in sports. I enjoyed a good party. No one ever thought of me as “nun” material.
Yet, a month after graduation I entered a convent, and I stayed in that life as a professed religious — with vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience — for thirteen years. I learned. I taught. I prayed. And in the era of ‘60’s folk music, I became one of the original singing nuns – guitar and all! I played and led the singing of the first guitar Mass at Notre Dame University’s big cathedral. I led a lot of hootenannies — and I actually sang with Peter Paul and Mary one night in New York’s Greenwich Village. I marched with Martin Luther King through the streets of Cicero, Illinois — and I loved every aspect of what I was doing.
However, as I approached my thirtieth birthday, I began to realize my life was again demanding new choices. I began to feel I didn’t BELONG in the convent any more.
That’s a difficult thing to accept, isn’t it — that sudden realization that you no longer belong to something which once held so much meaning for you. We as humans need to belong — and to lose that sense of belonging carries great pain – and an equally great need to step back into one’s own authenticity – and to stand in One’s Own Truth.
I know many of you have experienced that same feeling – that you no longer belonged in a marriage or relationship – or any other aspect of life which had once given you a wonderful sense of acceptance and authenticity. We do keep becoming what we always were, but the hard truth is that all aspects of our life don’t always stay with us for the long journey.
In my case — If I were going to be honest with what I was — and more importantly with what I was becoming — if the soul in me was demanding that I live the truth of me I began to realize I could no longer remain in religious life and still be true to my deepest self. Basically, I had come to a point where I could no longer teach — what I no longer believed. I had studied too many sacred texts of many world religions — and many different belief systems. I had read and listened to gifted women and men from all persuasions who brilliantly put forth universal truths of love and wisdom, and the omnipresence of this God Source of ALL Creation.
Most of all, in my own meditations — which had grown longer — and deeper in the one Ultimate Truth – and in the very knowing I experienced within my own heart – I knew that no one religion can truthfully claim to be the only way into that Divine Heart — of what anyone might call God. I could no longer teach or bear witness to the concept that only ONE man-made religion could ever lead to true union within the Divine Presence.
That — outside of immersion in that one religion — all others from all ages of time are damned to a hell of never belonging? Forever cut off from the Magnificence of that One Source –which has actually given them their being – and holds them — even after physical death — into the only True Being of Union within Itself?
How could that possibly be — when hearts and minds from around this planet since the very beginning of its time among the stars — have reached in their own way into the depths of What is innately known to be the Source of All Pervading Light – All Embracing Love – and the Very Essence of All Creation Itself!
In the purest knowing possible I knew there is only One Source of Love –and there are many, many – many paths which lead into That One Essence — which by Its nature can never divide but which welcomes All back – equally — unto ITSELF.
If I were going to live with the strength of my own truth I could no longer bear witness to anyone’s Dogma of Division or separation. We ARE ALL the people of God – simply because there is only ONE GOD of us ALL. I also knew I could no longer continue to be what once I had been. The decision to leave the convent was already done before I had even realized it.
Yet, by making that decision I knew in my heart that in walking away from the convent I was not walking away from God. Indeed, in one of the most sobering moments of my entire life I was absolutely sure that in opening myself to a more personal search through spirituality I was actually not walking away from God, but much, much deeper INTO God.
Deciding to leave that convent life, however, was a very difficult choice for me because I loved it. I valued the work I was doing. I loved the people who were part of my life then, and I relished the precious times of silence when I could go into some sacred space where I learned to be very comfortable with mystery. Yet, if I believed in a God Who really does make all things new, I came to the point where I had to make that very difficult choice – of seeking the greater fullness of my OWN destiny — which waited somewhere else beyond cloister walls. I also needed to become something new.
So I wrote the customary letter to the pope, requesting release from religious life. And a few months later the dispensation from my vows arrived in a very official-looking document from Rome. My decision to leave suddenly became very real, and I prepared for the day I would walk away from convent life.
For those thirteen years I had lived with another name – which in those days was meant to give each nun a different identity — as one who was living the religious life away from any secular reality. Yet, the day I left my religious community that name became nothing but a line in some dusty archives of that convent’s history.
After thirteen years I was suddenly Barbara Mayer again. And even that change — back to my real name — burst me back into the new reality that I was no longer what the world called a nun. I was just me again and that was a truth I admit I had a rather hard time getting used to.
So I left. I had no money, no job, and no idea of where this new path — for becoming the real Truth of me — would lead. Yet I knew I was doing what I needed to do, and that was a time of real becoming for me. It was also a time for letting go of many things – some whose echoes, I must admit, still find a gentle resonance somewhere deep inside my heart…
But just as Mary of Magdala had to develop a new form of spirituality — when she could no longer be in a close relationship with Jesus after his death – once I left that hothouse of spirituality — which the convent was — I had to move into a new authenticity where my own spirituality could grow and become meaningful in the new circumstances of my life.
As I sought to build a deeper identity of where my authentic self really lay, I turned to words of a spiritual teacher who has always meant much to me. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton – considering our only real identity, reminded me that true life lies in the imminence of this God Source of all Creation, which also resides IN us: “We are only who we are, “ Merton wrote. “Yet who we are is God being God. God — loving and knowing Itself in us – not as vessels of that great knowledge and love but as Actual Love and Actual Knowledge. The very God Self is created in us as persons. Our ultimate identity is hidden in the mystery of the God Essence Itself,” Merton wrote.
I took those words to heart, and I still do. As part of creation, we are literally One with the Essence of Creation Itself. In the deepest authenticity of whatever else we may be, we are all essentially God Stuff! Yet, how we live as part of that Divine Heart within us, and what we do with that Divine Wisdom — waiting to be utilized in us – marks the truest authenticity anyone could ever really manifest.
So that, I think, is what authenticity really is. It’s simply responding to changes we face in life — with choices containing the greatest honesty and truth we can muster. It’s realizing that life flows, and that we flow with it – hopefully with the courage and grace to live our own personal truth.
Authenticity, however, has a unique quality to it — which is that no one else can ever teach it to us. This is one quality we have to learn ourselves. Again, though, Oriental thought speaks about the best teacher available to each of us – and that is the Teacher Within. Our own Teacher Within even councils us to consider these words, “Be still – and understand what you already know.”
When one is open to the truth — which only our own wisdom can reveal — we have a much better chance to move more confidently into the world with our own wonderful uniqueness. We can never claim self sufficiency from others, or by sinking into the pseudo-comfort of DUMBING OURSELVES DOWN — or being HESITANT to let our own light shine. That very honest Teacher Within echoes through our own innate awareness: “Be who you are!” It almost shouts at us. “Be what you are! And for God’s Sake which is, of course, that very God within you – BE POWERFUL ABOUT IT!”
If in our youth we were told to be “true to our school,” personal authenticity demands real allegiance to the much more important journey of our own soul.
We KNOW the truth of what we are. The question of authenticity simply asks if we are willing to manifest that truth and respond to it with courage as we move through our lives.
Spending that time in the convent was a truth for me – just as leaving that convent marked my honoring the new truth of what I was becoming. Being all the things you have been in your lives has been the truth for each of you — just as your reading these words today speaks volumes about the truth you are honoring in yourself right now.
Authenticity is manifesting the truth of what we are at each stage of our lives – as life changes, and as we change. We each stand as the only witness to what we really are, and authenticity is presenting our truest selves — in our actions and in the sincerity of our words.
Today I witness what I have become and what I am becoming. And I invite you to look deep inside that beautiful heart of yours to witness the Truth of what you are – and what YOU are becoming .
What was that old Zen saying? We keep becoming what we always were.
So let’s get on with it – and live the message of Truth through our own lives.
How, if I can claim any authenticity at this point, I need to tell you who I am, and what I’m all about. And the truth to that is VERY SIMPLE: I am basically just a poet who is having an incredible love affair with the Heart of Creation Itself.
And as a poet, I’d like to share some words with you which came to me recently. They celebrate one’s journey into fullest womanhood – or personhood — as we take our place in the long line of women who have brought us this far on our journey – and who will – I sincerely believe – soon bring the destiny of this planet into a more compassionate and truly authentic way of being.
These words are written in the First Person, but please realize that the “I” in this poem is really you, as these words celebrate the magnificent truth of what you really are …
At last –in this space beyond time
I step into the Light which, somehow, I have always known.
Rising from the shadows of so many ages past,
I claim the strength of my sacred woman soul
as I become you — Eternal Woman,
Eternal Heart of that Which Is Divine.
I heal now — as I myself am healed.
I teach — as I become the lessons once eternally ordained.
I live words of wisdom — once inked on sacred scrolls
as I claim the fullness of my own womanhood –
empowered now, and strong – so beautifully strong!
I become Love of the One Source —
which IS The Loving Essence Itself.
And I am humbled as I claim this sacred opportunity —
to manifest my own womanhood —
radiant now, and bright with authenticity!
No more fear now. No doubt.
No echoes of unworthiness, incompetence, or insufficiency.
They never did exist, I realize now — posing just as silly conjures from too many years of being beaten down.
Now I am aware beyond knowledge and I sense beyond feeling.
I revere this womanhood which is my blessing and my gift
as I step forward to embrace this world
with the power of compassion in my sacred woman’s soul.
Yes. At last — it is done.
I am become Woman Heart now.
And so — it is eternally begun.