The work of authenticity is supposed to feel very vulnerable and scary. If this process is not terrifying, one has not yet begun to approach the truth.
It works in a somewhat backwards or negative fashion. You don’t technically become something; it is a peeling away so that something else can emerge, rather than a becoming something entirely new. It works by a continuous recognition of where we are not being authentic or truthful, and then the awareness and healing work to fix it. So we are actually learning at each step by failing. The ideal standard is to “be fearlessly real,” and the actual work is the constant recognition of where we fall short. For some people, the very nature of this constant sense of failure is enough to demoralize them and drive them away, but that’s the only way it works.
While it does get easier with time, at first it is really complex and dangerous. With each new deeper level of truth that seeks expression, fear is triggered again and again, until it is processed out and a comfortable equilibrium is reached. In this way, the process of authenticity is also helping us to conquer a whole bunch of fear.
I’ve met a few people over the years who claimed that they are “ego-free” and “totally authentic.” Surprised by their assertions, I asked them to share a bit more of their work with me. It turned out (each and every time) that they just “decided one day” to “stop being fake” and “got real.” Or they had an “ego-death” experience, and that was it. Just like that, with a snap of a finger, they magically stopped having an ego… Silly, right? That’s not how any of this works, but people have an endless capacity for self-deception. God bless them. (I find it’s better not to engage with them or make any attempt to explain anything. Just let them believe whatever they wish to believe and back away slowly. Trying to convince them that they’re confused doesn’t ever work out.)
Back to those of us who are engaging in real spiritual work…
The ego, by that I am referring to the false self, is formed in childhood as a response to fear and pain. As aspects of our personality emerged and were rejected or scolded, we learned to hide those feelings, behaviors, and expressions. The false self then is the collection of traits, behaviors, and expressions we learned that we must be, in order to feel safe, accepted, and loved, because the real version is not acceptable or leads to pain. The more hurtful and oppressive the childhood, the stronger and broader this false self is. (This makes sense, right? The more you experience rejection of the various parts of yourself, the more you learn to hide those parts away, until the only thing left on the surface is the acceptable pleasing version.). So the false self is really a game of pretend, designed to seek love and approval from others, while the real version, the truth of who we are, stays buried deep inside.
To now unmask the real version (which, absent a psychosis experience, happens very slowly in stages) and to emerge as that person, is going to naturally trigger all of the original pain of rejection. It will also trigger fear of it all repeating, and it will likely even bring up lots of childhood trauma.
The real version, with authentic feelings, is going to threaten existing relationships and dynamics, which have been comfortably stable up until now, even if they were dysfunctional. It is going to threaten careers and livelihood, and the relationship to work. It is going to bring up and revise the entire value system, and likely with that existential questions and moral concerns will arise. It is really nothing short of a revolution of one’s entire life. And all of this doesn’t even begin to touch the mystical arena (which is a far grander and infinitely deeper area of work).
This basic process of becoming real is very hard. And it takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. It’s also filed with incredible joy, satisfaction, soulful meaning, and the healthy pride and confidence of personal achievement. There are experiences of real freedom and liberation of the spirit. There is a growing sense of love and belonging (often to a new community of like-minded folks). There is inspiration, creativity, hope, and healing, and most importantly, the sense that one is finally “on the right track.”
Being ego-free or totally authentic all the time is an impossible ideal. No one is that through and through. But getting to some imagined ideal isn’t the point. It’s not about being or becoming something perfect. The point is really each tiny step we can take in that direction. That’s perfectly enough. This is precisely what the evolution and transformation of consciousness is about.