Friday, October 18, 2013

The Discipline of Authenticity

-the crystal clear desert sky-

Over the past few days I have done some serious introspection about why the events of the past few weeks in Washington have been so troubling to me. At the height of all the "fiscal crisis" I got to a point where I couldn't even listen to the news because it was all so disturbing to me. Upon reflection I decided that I wasn't so upset because I was fearful of an economic crash - not overly concerned abut my pension or bank account. I was so troubled by what was happening in Washington because it all reminded me of my own personal struggles in life. 

I realize that politics is a "game" -everyone "playing the angles" to get what they want. But the last few weeks seemed especially ugly to me. I came to the point where I didn't  believe or trust in anything that  anyone was saying. The events of the past weeks were an icon for me- a perfect picture of people manipulating other people in order to win the game and get their own way. And this was so troublesome for me because it was an "in your face" reminder of my own personal struggle with playing the political game and working all the angles - a struggle that is basically spiritual in nature.

When I first entered seminary many years ago, a wise older man who served as our "spiritual director" was very fond of reminding us of the importance of "authenticity." He told us that if we were to find deeper peace and greater serenity in life we would need to be authentic, genuine, true to ourselves and honest in our dealings with others. 

 He told us that if we were to be "good priests" we would have to practice what he called "the discipline of authenticity" - make a deliberate effort to refrain from manipulating people to get what you want - be a "what you see is what you get" kind of person. 

I must confess that I didn't pay a lot of attention to my wise, older spiritual director back then. But now his words have come back to haunt me. The wisdom he offered us then, now rings so clear and true to me. You really can't find deeper peace unless you are authentic, and playing all the angles is probably "the" greatest impediment on the spiritual path.

A good friend of mine, who is a bishop, once told me of something a fellow bishop once told him on the day of his ordination to the episcopacy. After the ceremony was over, this bishop stopped my friend in the hallway and warned: "enjoy today because this is the last day anyone is likely to speak the truth to you." I was never a bishop but I do think I understand what my friend was being told that day.

In the many years of my career in the church, "playing the angles" was always part of the way church business was done. The higher up I climbed on the career ladder, the more intense was the political game.  I got to the point where I was never really sure how much I could believe or trust in what I was being told (even from people I considered to be my allies).  Many times people were "nice" because they wanted to get something. And of course, I was often just as guilty of playing all the angles because I also wanted to get my own way and I thought that "my way" as the only way.   

Gradually I came to realize how much of a spiritual problem all this political game playing turned out to be for me (my spiritual director from those many years ago was right). When you manipulate others for your own end, you are always acting out of the ego - feeding a bloated ego. When you act "inauthentically" you cannot be truly "in relationship" with others,  and the only way you can tap into your spiritual side is by being "in relationship."

I have moved out to the desert - the game is over.  I don't have to play the angles any longer and it's all so very liberating. 

Every day I try to practice a spiritual discipline. I meditate mindfully, I pray, but most of all I am making a concerted effort at practicing the "discipline of authenticity." I am trying to be one of those "what you see is what you get" kind of persons.  

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  1. This is not only in religious organizations or politics but also in family. Often parents try to manipulate their kids (who are out of the home) or siblings try to manipulate each other into getting their own way. The problem is - due to my personality - I see it, and I think I see it far more often than others see it, and it REALLY bugs me when others try to manipulate me.

    I prefer when people are open and honest about what they desire, and what they want rather than try to "trick" someone into giving them what they want. I too, try to be authentic with others - even when it means not being popular.

    Yet - we need to be authentic and at the same time sensitive to others. Don't be so overtly "you" when you know particular things about "you" irritate those around you. (or is that the same as manipulating others to like you?) ;) lol

  2. Yes Gregory, thanks for the comment. I think you are "right on" in relating the need for authenticity in the family system