New Mexico. Photographer unknown.

New Mexico. Photographer unknown.

A question has been popping up in my mind recently:

What does being authentic mean to me?

Contemplate these two definitions of authentic: “made or done the same way as an original” and “true to one's own personality, spirit, or character”. Authenticity lies somewhere between replication and innovation. It is the integration of tradition with experience. To be authentic means to integrate what we’ve learned. So we practice, interpret, and evolve.

Let’s look at authenticity in the context of practicing and teaching Yoga. Yoga is an ancient system, at least 5000 years old. When we embark on the journey of learning various styles of yoga, we might find ourselves yearning for an “authentic” model. We mine history, study ancient texts, seek out genuine guides, or take pilgrimages to India, Nepal or Tibet. Does study alone make an authentic yogin? There seems to be an extra layer to our authenticity, one in which we take the form, the system, and make it our own.

With experience, we can integrate these traditions (the experience of others) into our personal system and share them in a way that is beneficial to our community. Without practice, what we share might be eye-catching, it might gain us ‘followers’, but perhaps leave us longing for something more grounded. Obviously Yoga, Buddhism and Tantra are good examples of this, but I think it can apply to anything! So we are caught between two definitions: being authentic to a tradition/system, and being authentic to oneself. Is it even possible to tease these two apart? We are the amalgam of our biological and cultural ancestors, from spiritual ideologies to creative expression. We can use the wisdom of the past to propel us forward, after all, we are standing upon thousands of years of spiritual and artistic evolution! I find authenticity not in originality but in integration.

Tradition + experience + Integration = Authenticity

Any spiritual system will give us a roadmap, but it is not the journey. What we do with it is up to us. To me, authenticity is the ability to integrate. This is why following a religion, or spiritual ideology blindly will keep us limited (or worse, subject to dogma and cultural appropriation). Our nature as humans is to evolve and all systems inevitably evolve over time. So with that, how will you share your authenticity? How will we honor the past, test and challenge it, and add our unique coloring? I look forward to finding out.

*Definitions from Merriam-Webster Dictionary.