At the conclusion of a recent workshop, one of the participants said, “Well, now it’s back to the real world.” I had heard that comment a number of times before in situations like this, but this time, it crawled inside of me and took up residence.
During the previous four days our small group had entered into an agreement to practice just being who we are. Our genuine selves. We had spent several days in an incredibly beautiful natural world. We had engaged in activities that resulted in an unusual degree of honesty, vulnerability, and sharing who we were. We had experienced a time of incredible personal warmth, openness, mystery, safety, acceptance, and sacredness.
We had experienced being as real as human beings can be. No pretense. No acting “as if.” No role playing. Everyone had been invited to share who they were. No advice giving, no analysis, no questioning, judgment, evaluating, or interpretation of what they had heard of each other. Just a simple “thank you.” Our time together had been special and priceless. “Back to the real world?” Wow. If this isn’t real, I thought, I don’t know what real is.
I also knew exactly what he was talking about. The world that he and the rest of us were returning to, had a different set of expectations. A different set of rules. A different ranking of values. A very different world indeed.
I found myself saying, something to the effect, “What we have all just experienced is real, and the world we are going back to is real in its own way. Both are real and different.” That got me to wondering.
What if there actually are two (or more) worlds? Both exist. Both are real. Both have purpose and are of value. One is not necessarily “better” than the other, though one might feel better to experience. I wondered what the effect would be if we were able to move effortlessly between these two worlds. Would it be as if having two legs, instead of just one?
Two worlds. One is called the “Authentic World.” This was the world our group inhabited for the four days of the workshop. One in which the norm is that each person is willing to explore and share who they are, letting go for a moment, title, and role.
In this world there is no judgment of one’s thoughts and or self-awareness by anyone else. There is simply a sincere appreciation for a person for their willingness to share who they are. This is the world that the gentleman, and the rest of was leaving.
One doesn’t have to attend a workshop to experience this “Authentic” world. Visits to this world can happen while having coffee or taking a walk; when we fall into one of those “special” conversations; or a bird doing its thing and totally captures our attention. A perfect vacation. Watching a sunset and the wonder of it all sends a shudder through our body. Sometimes it is that crazy, quiet, surprising thought we have. Sometimes it is sharing a rainbow with another, turning towards each other, and sharing a tear or wonder.
Perhaps it is the timeless moment of pure pleasure in watching a little one play as if no one were watching. A wordless touch of a friend. The moment with a friend, family member, lover, client where everything falls away and there is just what is. A sacred, special, holy moment. This authentic world is all around us. But being aware of it isn’t all that common for many of us. When we do experience it, we feel the specialness of it.
There is some fear for those who populate this world. The fear of being judged for who we reveal we are. All of us are born into and live for a while in this authentic world. Gradually we are hypnotized to move away from this world of authenticity and innocence, gradually moving into and primarily occupying what I call the other….the Authentically Inauthentic World. We are gradually hypnotized into believing that this is the “real” world.
Artists, sculptors, authors, musicians, and lovers often spend time together more in this authentic world, and by sharing what they find there, allow us to vicariously touch this world.
The Authentic World is one where the norm is for me to live my life, from the inside out. It is a world where the heart, not my head, leads.
There are benign sources of feeding our “authenticity” hunger. There are many more dangerous sources also. Cults, extreme edges of political parties, religions, charismatic leaders, and movements can and do feed on this inherent desire to be real. One sure sign of these kinds of situations is a person, group, movement, or organization that suggests that it is in possession of THE ultimate truth. Membership requires total acceptance and any questions one might have about said “truth,” are seen as characterological problems of the questioner.
The Second World, the one that the gentleman mentioned we all were returning to, is what I would call the “Authentically Inauthentic World.” It isn’t fake. This world is very real. The norms, rules, requirements, and expectations are different in this world.
This Authentically Inauthentic World is not focused on WHO I am but how I appear to be. Focused on what I do. Focused on image, performance, and production. It is based on what this world needs me to be, think, and do. How I behave is far more important than who I truly am. How well I do what I am “supposed” to do, is the measurement that counts. The end product, rather than what I really think and feel takes a back seat to what I am able to accomplish.
This is a world where my emotions are corralled. If they get too prominent, I will be encouraged in a number of ways to feel less. My job here is to work towards contentment and happiness rather than spend time asking my sadness and discontent what it would like for me to know.
This is a world of acting. It is a world of logic, not emotions. He or she who displays the fewest emotions wins, save for blissful, contentment and satisfaction. “Fine,” “good,” “great,” all the ‘good.’ It is a world of creating an image of myself, selling it, and then trying to manage it.
This a world of role playing. A world of props (houses, cars, watches), titles and costumes. It is a world of what is sociably acceptable. That may be very different to how I actually feel.
It isn’t a fake world in any sense of the word, but it is not the only “real” world either. It is a world in which the inauthentic is the expectation and the norm, thus nor more real or unreal than a movie.
This world is authentic in the sense that I know that I am allowed to be myself within strict boundaries and I know the rules of how much. A common fear is that my costumed image will slip, and I will be found “out.” These days this fear is known as the imposter syndrome. I know that there is a gap between who I truly am and think, and the image I project to this world. It is a world in which the head leads (logic, facts, rationalizations, figures), rather than the heart.
There are moments when I touch the authentic world, (from this inauthentic world), through a worship experience, a special moment at the symphony, play, or a dose of Yo Yo Ma. A magical conversation with a stranger, a shared moment with a friend where, for a moment, all the expectations of this world are suspended for a bit. I am left wishing the experience might last forever. It is, on a daily basis the exception rather than the rule. It is the rarity of such an experience that makes them so notable and special. I always long for more.
We are among the very lucky ones if we have been able to create a life for ourselves where the gap between who we truly are (the authentic world) and what we do (the authentically inauthentic world) is small or non-existent. The greater the gap, the greater the existential pain.
Alcohol and other mood-altering substances and behaviors (eating, drinking, spending, exercising, binging on TV, movies, and social media among them) are tools I may use to try to move closer to the authentic world as well as create some distance from the authentically inauthentic world.
So that’s my hypothesis about what it means when one might say, “This has been great, but now back to the real world.” What’s yours?