As the New Year is setting in motion, the theme of resolutions and intentions is never more popular and relevant than it is now. There is something very positive and hopeful about the way people aspire to commence their New Year, that seems to be carried with an even stronger force than their birthdays. The very nature of having a resolution provokes something inherently positive and honest in people. No one has a resolution that they’re going to start drinking more alcohol, smoking, being more dishonest, eating less healthy, etc… It also seems to be aligned with what people have had in mind all along. This points to a certain kind of actualization of one’s personal values, that was hitherto either avoided or overshadowed by other priorities. This is why it seems that the concept of “authenticity” becomes invoked with fair regularity, and like so many other thought provoking terms, it is far less often defined and elaborated. Authenticity is a word that speaks to the intrinsic values that an individual possesses. It idealizes the realization of an individual’s most sacred and prized core principles. To get squared with one’s core principles is essentially a contemplation one the beliefs that are at the very bedrock of them. Why? Because if we do not have a belief on how to improve ourselves at the beginning of a new year, upon what base would our resolution be established? Since our actions, from big to small, are driven by our beliefs for committing those actions, we cannot be authentic in a way that is divorced from our beliefs. Beliefs however, are not intrinsic to our nature as biological creatures, however spiritually or metaphysically inclined someone may be.
The message that we have often heard, and even repeated, is "be yourself." On the surface, this looks very complete and self-evident. But, if the individual is in a constant state of development, due to the novel experiences they’re exposed to, then “themselves" is in a constant flux.
As infants, we do not come into this world with a set of ideologies, views, or beliefs. Rather we come into life as beings that sense, which is to say we experience through the pathways of the physical body. From our very first day in the world, we either feel that something is good, positive, and nourishing, or its opposite, and react accordingly. This becomes more sophisticated as we mature, and reifies the beliefs we possess and share with others. The inherent belief that pain is bad, and is to be avoided when possible, leads us to the beliefs that hurting others is inappropriate.
In the Noble Eightfold path of the Buddhist Dharma, the first principle upon which all the rest of the practices and observances are built, is Right view. This has often been elaborated by scholars as being synonymous with Right understanding, or Right Belief. The examples for the primacy of beliefs in relationship to our behavior, are inexhaustible. The universal experience that everyone shares when abstaining from inflicting violence on anyone, is fed by the underlying view/belief that suffering matters, and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
So the question that should stem from this, is what establishes the views and beliefs that an individual holds? Because after all, everyone’s views and beliefs are not only malleable, but actually morph throughout their entire life, to some degree. The easiest way to investigate this, is to consider what kind of beliefs does an infant come into the world with, if any. Is an infant an intellectual, or more just biological? Does an infant lie there and ponder about their values? this is an important reflection because, if we are looking for what takes precedent, what the foundation is, what is primary, it’s useful to look at a stage of life that occurred before our more conceptual and intellectual experience came online. So then infancy is that time. What infants do is just simply experience. The experiences that infants and adults are always reacting to, is either what feels good, positive, and nourishing, or what feels painful, scary, and dangerous. When we feel good by eating food and sleeping, we implicitly value this more than starving and being run down by not resting. It is natural for us to extend this to other individuals, since that helps to ensure it in our own lives. As this becomes more complex overtime, more nuanced beliefs become established.
So, fundamentally the firm ground that supports any of our views and beliefs is experience. This isn't just experience of anything specific like, a hug or an injury, although it includes those as well. It is experiences that either produce some kind of sensory or emotional pleasure, or the contrary. Different types of experiences begin to catalyze a certain value structure that influences the formation of these beliefs about whether we want the experience to be reproduced in the future. This use of the term experience is more universal and available to a one day old infant, as much as a 90 year old. It is the most rudimentary experience that is rooted in biology.
In considering the concept of authenticity, some of the earliest texts from the Yoga Dharma, the Upanishads, present the primary nature of the human being as “Sat-Chit-Ananda.” Sat is the word for “truth”, and specifically references the truth of being that every person knows and prizes. Chit is the term that refers to our experience as being fundamentally conscious. Ananda, although often defined as “bliss”, is also continuous with the term “peace.” In its more circumscribed presentation, this is a teaching that points to the way the practice (Sat), brings congruence of understanding that consciousness (Chit), is at the core of who we truly are, and this results in the durable and unconditional experience of peace (Ananda). In our practice of Yoga, we become more and more exposed to what true, wholesome, and healthy pleasure is. Our Yoga practice that was designed for the meticulous supervision of our physical and mental health, can declutter any misapprehensions about what brings true satisfaction, that is not predicated on the trappings of wealth and fame, that so often haunts the imagination of many. Extravagance and opulence becomes more of a matter of physical and psycho-emotional maintenance, that goes well beyond the short-lived satisfaction of material possessions. What our body and mind really depends on, stands out as a goal that is much closer at hand, than the external embellishments, that can hardly be compared to the complexity of our own bio-matrix. As this development is sustained over time, the joy and contentment that is on offer, begins to affect our beliefs, and in turn helps organize our actions, in a way that can truly be said to be Authentic.