I've been thinking about the unfolding John Friend scandal that just became public. He's a yoga and spiritual teacher who's been revealed to be a fairly different person than he and his public reputation had lead people to believe.
How does something like this happen? What's the thought or decision process that leads someone so far astray?
I think a lot of this kind of thing starts with a fairly innocuous seeming mistake that eventually snowballs out of control. What really elevates this to a "scandal" as opposed to just another story of human imperfection (which we all have and experience every day) is the discrepancy between who he claimed to be and who he truly is inside. If Friend hadn't positioned himself in a certain way and encouraged people to see him in a certain light, then there would be no scandal. That doesn't mean his behavior would be any better or more acceptable but it would be just another small, human, and quietly personal failing, not a scandal that's rocking the yoga world.
I think that one of the most common mistakes that we make is to try to present ourselves as something we're not. We make implicit or explicit claims about ourselves that are inaccurate or incomplete. We do it because we think that molding our image in a certain way will produce positive results, helping us gain happiness and success.
Unfortunately, it's just the opposite. Inauthenticity is a sure path to misery.
The John Friend situation highlights the perils of not being ourselves; the consequences of presenting a false self to the world in the hopes of some kind of personal gain in exchange.
Of course, it's not only spiritual teachers that sometimes fail to be their authentic selves. It's all of us--and in so many different ways. We might find ourselves tweaking our outward personality at work in order to climb the corporate ladder or make an important sale. We might suppress parts of who we are to our romantic partners out of the fear that they won't really like us if they saw the whole picture. We might mold ourselves to fit a particular social group in which we're trying to gain or maintain entry. There are so many different situations that tempt us to withhold this part of ourselves here or exaggerate another part of ourselves there. All to fit into a box that we've convinced ourselves we just must squeeze ourselves into in order to gain something good in return.
The problem is, this never gives us what we truly want in the end. Any time we begin to notice that we're not being our authentic selves, it's sign that we're heading in the wrong direction. And our problems will only mount if we don't fix it.
Here's five good reasons to always be your authentic self, no matter what:
- Suppressing our true self makes us miserable. When we know we're either holding back who we really are, what we really think, or how we act and react, we can't help but to feel a combination of fraudulent and confined. It's a form of dishonesty. The more deceptive we are, the more distancing and alienated we feel from those around us. This ultimately backfires, most especially in our intimate and workplace relationships--or in any situation that requires us to carry on the deception for long periods of time. It also leads to a feeling of diminishment. That we have to be lesser than our full selves. It's like trying to go through life with one hand tied behind our back. It can be done but it's inconvenient, uncomfortable, and limiting.
- We can't fulfill our life's purpose. As I discuss in my book, The Bliss Experiment, the definition of life purpose is being in harmony between our inner selves and our outer worlds. That is, when what we're doing and pursuing outwardly feels integrated and connected to who we are on the inside. By definition, if we're not being authentic, faking who who we are, we are trying to fit ourselves into circumstances that aren't really the best choice for us. We can't possibly be in alignment with our Highest, Deepest Self--fulfilling our unique life purpose--while simultaneously withholding or exaggerating who we really are.
- Deceiving others eventually leads to self-deception. The longer or more successful we are at misrepresenting ourselves, the more likely it becomes that we'll actually start believing it ourselves. We'll forget who we really are ourselves, too. Once that happens, we're really, really in trouble. It means that when things implode--either we get caught by others or the pressure to be something we're not gets to us internally--it will be that much harder to get back on the right path because first we'll have to go through what can be a long and painful process of rediscovering who we really are, what we believe, what we want, etc.
- Authentic people aren't just happier, they're more successful. If we're not being true to ourselves, it means we're taking our cues from things outside ourselves. In turn, that means whatever box we're trying to fit ourselves into has already been created and usually well-worn by others. It's already been done. It's derivative, uncreative, and unoriginal. We're not adding anything unique or new to the unfolding of creation, we're just mimicking and repeating. That's seldom a formula for success on any level. Even if we can find some limited, external form of success by imitating others, is this the kind of success we want? It will always feel hollow and unfulfilling.The biggest successes in life are almost always those who blaze a new trail.
- Inauthenticity denies our ability to experience higher spiritual states and experiences like bliss. One definition of bliss is it's the convergence of happiness, meaning, and truth. Not being ourselves robs us of happiness, takes us out of alignment with our life purpose, and forces us to live a lie. Once this happens, higher order spiritual attainments are closed to us. We've essentially gone as far in the opposite direction from them as possible. The pathway to bliss, then, requires us to be as genuine and authentic as possible.