“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
When it comes to healing ourselves from significant troubles, distresses, wounds, afflictions and traumas that we may have suffered, the one thing that I have found to be of primary importance is clearing any and all impediments to our seeing the truth. Co-founder of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls, referred to this as eliminating the “bullshit” from our lives. He would often speak bluntly in order to emphasise the importance of plain-speaking and truthfulness in our journey out of mental suffering.
Personal authenticity isn’t a place – a final destination. It is a continual struggle to discern, to express, and to live one’s truth courageously against the internal and external forces that act against it. It involves a commitment to a path of truthfulness that allows us to align ourselves with a love of the truth of our existence, which is a grand-sounding way of saying ‘living your truth’. In a world of lies and deception, the truth is a radical, anxiety-provoking force that is becoming rarer and rarer, and in my view a dearth of truth in our society correlates with the increase in mental distress and illness, something that is now a statistical fact of techno-centric lifestyles that have eroded the value of interpersonal expressions of truth. Deeper than this, our crisis is one of a lack of personal courage.
“Awareness, acknowledgement and acceptance of truth is the key to overcoming suffering.”
Life as Truth
The truth of your experience – of what you genuinely feel, sense, do and think in this moment – is the truth of your life unfolding in this moment. To be in full alignment with this truth is to be in full alignment with life, because they are one and the same. This is different from being wedded to a particular opinion. ‘Truth’ here is the truth of actual experience as it emerges from moment to moment: how I actually feel, what my actual sensations are, my genuine emotions, my observations and so on. When we are in full alignment with ourselves as this truth then we have the best access to what is happening, even where this involves conflicts, inconsistencies, contradictions and ‘unconscious’ processes: namely, those aspects of ourselves that sit outside full awareness. When we have the best access to what is actually happening – like turning a light on in a dark room – then it gives us the best possible opportunity to figure out what’s going on because we then have a much clearer field of view. In other words, allowing oneself to face experiential truth is to allow oneself to become more aware of oneself, others and our world and in so doing transform our suffering. Awareness, acknowledgement and acceptance of truth is the key to overcoming suffering.
Love as Truth
The notion that love is a feeling is misleading. Love, in fact, is a state of being and a state of action, not a state of emotion. The emotions we often refer to as love are comprised of modulating or inchoate feelings of affection, desire or lust (eros), sympathy, excitement, comradeship (philos) and a whole host of other emotions that we collectively call love. But we can love someone even though we might be angry with them, revealing that something else beyond emotion is at work that tells us we still love the person. Love is a state of truthfulness, fidelity and openness to truth that allows us to act in spite of our emotions, just as courage is not an absence of fear, but a commitment to act in spite of fear, based in our personal integrity.
Love as truth, rather than emotion, is the notion that when we are truthful with someone, including ourselves, then we are undertaking a loving act towards them. By offering someone the truth (I would suggest using non-violent communication) we are giving them a gift that transcends emotions or attempts to please or make them or us feel better. By being truthful we clear the way of ‘bullshit’: the social games, the confusing and ambiguous words and behaviours, the lies and deceptions. In other words, we open up the field of view to allow ourselves to be seen clearly with as few impediments as possible. And whilst our love in this respect may not always be appreciated, in relationship, it has a necessary impact upon the other and carries both an invitation to honesty, and a declaration of our standards for relationship.
Being your truth is different from only saying or thinking your truth. Because of our human ability to deceive ourselves, and so take the easier rather than the right or the best road, we can often believe what we say and think about ourselves even when it is untrue. People who express very low or very high opinions of themselves often suffer from beliefs and internalised opinions of others that contradict who they actually are. This is why it is crucial to be involved in truthful relationships and why self therapy, self-help books and therapies that only focus on ‘positive’ thinking have their limitations in this regard. Being with someone who is very honest with us – regardless of whether it feels comfortable or not – can help us uncover our blind spots, appreciate what we fail to recognise, open us up to new experiences and genuine interpersonal intimacy, and help us learn to be more authentic in how we behave. This is the point and purpose of Existential Analysis, for example.
“Even in Literature or art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original. Whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
– CS Lewis
Truth as a clearing
The word Aletheia means ‘truth as that which is revealed’. One effect of personal authenticity is to quickly reveal the truth of what actually is the case, rather than our preferred illusion of the truth. Being committed to personal authenticity can and does scare people away who are frightened of the truth, and it also puts you in a much better position to attract others who are seeking honest relationships. It can release us from the false impressions others may give us of ourselves in, for example, abusive, manipulative or dishonest relationships, or those relationships where the other person may have an investment in your believing something about yourself that isn’t necessarily true. The net effect of introducing authenticity into our relationships is in separating ‘the wheat from the chaff’ in our life, radically altering the quality of our relationships and our potential to meet our deeper needs more effectively. It can also release energies that we have been using to defend against unwanted feelings, thoughts and behaviours within the confines of false roles, false habits, and false interactions. Another, more profound effect is the affirming power of personal authenticity both upon oneself and the other. This is a phenomenon I will discuss in depth in a later post because of its importance.
In psychotherapy which places personal authenticity at the centre of the healing process (and it should be noted that many therapies do not) truthfulness has the dual effect of aligning ourselves and our relationship with life in a loving way. And since very often our wounds and traumas have come from an absence of love and truth, this can begin to form a foundation in the therapeutic relationship that allows us to heal ourselves through the transforming power of honesty.
Personal authenticity, as an elected pathway, is not an easy choice. In a world like ours it is the hard and anxious and scary way, at least initially. But it is, thankfully, harder in the short term, with tremendous benefits to mental, emotional and spiritual health in the long term. Because unlike the failings and decline of our world, which tend to come from the absence of authenticity and, for example, the prevalence of dishonesty, greed, covert agendas and disguised selfishness, making a commitment to personal authenticity involves a refusal of this decline, both for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our relationships.
It is for this reason that much of the core of the world’s most profound spiritual teachings is comprised of invitations to love the truth as a central tenet for the elevation of one’s consciousness because it is truth that aligns us and attunes us to what many of us refer to as God, creator of all life.
And the good news is that this pathway is one that involves some simple choices to which you can commit right now.
Photo used under Creative Commons public domain. Full credit: pxhere