By Upendra Mishra
BOSTON—I recently read an article that was appropriately titled: “Are Authentic People More Mindful” in Psychology Today. This article explained authenticity and its qualities nicely.
As I was reading the article and reflecting upon it, a quote from Mahatma Gandhi also flashed back in my mind: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” What Gandhi was actually talking about was authenticity or an authentic living.
I had read this Gandhi quote when I was in college and it remained in my mind ever since—more as an ideal or a goal to achieve. Growing up in a large joint family and in a deep feudal culture, I could not comprehend how anyone can ever say what they were thinking deep inside and do what they were thinking or feeling.
Both in our family and in schools, we were taught to say nice things to people. I distinctly remember that in our sixth grade we had to take a Sanskrit course where we had to memorize a sloka, and whose meaning our teacher had explained to us. At that tender age, this sloka from Manusmriti made no sense:
Satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam
Priyam ca nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanah!
It is translated as follows:
“Speak the truth, speak pleasantly, do not speak the truth in an unpleasant manner
Even if pleasant, do not speak untruth, this is the path of eternal righteousness.”
In actual life, however, we did exactly the opposite. The main goal was to say only nice things (even if it was untruthful) to all family members, relatives and fellow villagers—no matter how much we disliked them, and all this was happening during our prime formative years. This resulted in us (especially me) becoming two different people: one was for everyone else as a people-pleaser and seeker of validation for every action we performed; the other was our true self, whose every desire, action and feeling we suppressed.
To live as two people comes at a very high cost and lost time. Some of us are lucky enough to realize this fallacy and we try to change ourselves, while some of us don’t realize this duality till the very end when it may be too late and a beautiful life is wasted. This is where a good company or friendship makes a lot of sense. By company I don’t mean just company of people, family or friends. I believe that the company of good books and even some good shows can play an important role in our growth as well.
I have some friends from ages and I often interact with them. With these friends then and now, we never had any barrier in communicating. We always spoke our mind then and still do—the same way. It keeps us real with a bonus: we still feel young as if time has really stopped—at least I feel that way, and I would like to keep it that way. No wonder, Tom Stoppard, a Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter, once said: “If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”
Also, I have been lucky enough to read a lot and be in the company of good books, especially Indian mythologies that are full of wisdom that I can relate with. It was probably in the year 2000 that I realized that I must get rid of this duality in me. I read many books, including those of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Slowly my thinking began to change, and I started to look more inward. In 2008, I decided that I must completely transform my life. The more I looked inside, more fascinated I became with my inner world and inward journey. For a couple of years, I even wrote my dreams.
When I was reading the “Are Authentic People More Mindful” article and thinking of the Mahatma Gandhi quote, I suddenly remembered a dream I had seen many years ago. I went to my dream journal and found the following entry that was written on March 22, 2010:
“I had several dreams and thought of writing them in the morning. While I woke, only three words kept ringing in my head: Thought, Action and Feeling. By the time I sat down to write my dreams, only thing I could think of were the three words: Thought, Action and Feeling. I kept thinking about these words the whole day. Each time I thought about these words and connected them together and pondered over their meaning, I felt overjoyed and at peace. Imagine the power of thought, acting your thought and then feeling it at the same wave length and at the same time. Think about the cooperation among these three words and their power.
How to reach at this state where our thoughts, feelings and actions are effortlessly synchronized? It is not easy. It might take years to reach there, but this wonderful journey is worth exploring: Imagine Being Truly Who We Are? Imagine the freedom of being ourselves and not pretending to be someone else except living, feeling and experiencing our own life. This is what I call authentic living. This is true freedom and liberation or you may call it even Nirvana.
In Yoga Vashishtha, sage Vashishtha tells Lord Rama that the world outside us is nothing but the reflection of our own thoughts, beliefs and feelings. We see the world and people exactly the way we are.
“When the mind is at peace, pure, tranquil, free from delusion or hallucination, untangled and free from cravings, it does not long for anything nor does it reject anything. This is self-control or conquest of mind,” says sage Vashishtha. “Self-control, O Rama, is the best remedy for all physical and mental ills. When there is self- control, even the food you eat tastes better, else it tastes bitter. He who wears the armor of self- control is not harmed by sorrow. He who even while hearing, touching, seeing, smelling and tasting what is regarded as pleasant and unpleasant, is neither elated nor depressed — he is self-controlled. He who looks upon all beings with equal vision, having brought under control the sensations of pleasure and pain, is self-controlled. He who though living amongst all is unaffected by them, neither feels elated nor hates, even as one is during sleep — he is self-controlled.”
In the article “Are Authentic People More Mindful” that I mentioned in the beginning of this article, its author Stephen Joseph, a professor of psychology, health, and social care at the University of Nottingham, UK, and author of What Doesn’t Kill Us, says that “Authenticity is about knowing yourself, taking responsibility for your choices in life, and being able to stand your ground for what you believe in.”
But that is a much-misunderstood idea, Joseph adds.
“Just because someone is able to stand their ground, and argue for what they think, doesn’t mean that they are authentic,” says Joseph. “One of the problems in talking about this topic is that the most inauthentic people, because they don’t know themselves well and therefore lack insight, often think that they are more authentic than they are. They aren’t able to comprehend the nature of their inauthenticity. On the other hand, the most authentic people, because they know themselves so well, recognize their struggles in living authentically. Authenticity always starts from the inside and works out.”
Here are a few other takeaways directly taken from the article by Joseph:
- Authenticity isn’t about just saying what you think or doing what you want. Authentic people say and do things in a certain way.
- Authenticity is not a free for all, in which anything goes, but a way of being that is defined by emotional and psychological maturity.
- Mindfulness is about being aware of one’s experiences without judgment. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to process emotional information accurately and efficiently.
- The emotionally intelligent person is in control of their emotions, able to regulate their emotions, understand what they are feeling, and able to use their emotional soft skills.
- We found that those who scored higher on our test for authenticity were indeed more mindful. They were better at observing changes in their body, describing their feelings, more aware of what is going on around them, and more able to accept themselves. And they were also more emotionally intelligent.
- By practicing the skills of mindfulness, and learning about emotional intelligence, a person may also give themselves the tools they need to become more authentic. They can open themselves up to new ways of thinking about the world and themselves, become more observant and accepting of their emotional reactions to situations, giving them the chance to process information in a new way and to change and grow as a person.
- However, it takes courage to do this. Authenticity involves learning about yourself. That can mean facing up to things that you don’t like about yourself, admitting your failures and mistakes to yourself, being able to laugh at yourself, and most importantly the willingness to let go of rigid ideas from the past about who you think you are.
(Mr. Mishra is managing partner of the Waltham, MA-based integrated inbound marketing and PR firm The Mishra Group. He writes about his three passions: marketing, scriptures and gardening.)