“...the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be” -Charles Bukowski, The Laughing Heart
I often find self-reflection in moments where I am given insight into other’s thoughts. I’m grateful to the many folx who have opened up to me, who have expressed vulnerability through exposing fears, hopes, dreams, concerns, and self doubt. I’ve listened to the stories many tell themselves and how these stories are different from the stories they tell the world. I recognize the stories I share with the world are different too, and that I, as a person who seeks to maintain a certain amount of distance from my own emotional conflict, have constructed false images of my own.
Authenticity is both a word and a concept I struggle with. It is described by Oxford Languages as “of undisputed origin; genuine.” In theory, this seems easy to take stock in and to observe where actions and expressions of a genuine nature are present in one’s life- in practice, identifying the pieces that have been built around expectations of others, societal norms, and other external influences can be a long and difficult process. It involves a good deal of humility and the ability to process traumas, to do the work to heal, and to recognize what actions, opinions, and patterns exist in one’s life that no longer contribute to or support a person’s core value structure. Even identifying those core values can be a challenge.
As we grow, the majority of our core values stay the same, but we may realize that the way we present ourselves to the world doesn’t align with these values. We can ask ourselves tough questions, trying to get to the core of our belief system. We may identify things about ourselves that are delightful, strange, or confusing. We may also find that parts of the identity we’ve crafted for ourselves are built around fear, jealousy, or reactive to specific moments in our past. Self discovery is a lifetime process. Authenticity is evolutionary. What may be true about me today, may not be true about me tomorrow, or next year, or next decade.
To develop authenticity is to develop intuition. To know one’s truths. To be aware that perspective shifts over time, and that what may be black and white one minute may be gray the next. Who am I? Where does my intuition lead me? What makes me the person I am in the world?
Yesterday, I traveled the same path I had walked a hundred times before. I followed the concrete slabs where I have seen spirits of those who guide me, liminal spaces and wishing trees. At the edge of the cemetery, Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart” appeared, written with careful letters on a large slab of slate. Published posthumously, this poem speaks of a different Bukowski than the man who wrote “Bluebird” or “Alone with Everybody”. This man had hope.
And that's what it boils down to. Trust yourself. Hold your own hope. Practice intuition. Find yourself, again and again, and one more time for good measure. Learn how to delight yourself. Revel in things just for you. Share your hopes and dreams and fears and love. Let other people into your life. Listen to other people’s experiences. Share yourself with them. And if you don’t know how, it’s okay to start learning. Let that old shit go. Keep telling the story of your heartbeat, i am, i am, i am.
(Credit to Charles Bukowski and Sylvia Plath, two deeply unhappy and brilliant souls with whom I’ve identified for decades, and to a friend who asked, “How do I know happiness is real?”