Have you ever spent any time thinking about who you are – your Spiritually authentic identity? Maybe you’ve wondered how other people perceive you, or you’ve recently been more upfront and open about your Spiritually Authentic identity.
Perhaps you’re thinking about this now, at a point in your life when you’re considering the changes that are calling you and figuring out why what used to be so much a part of your heart and mind is no longer working for you.
Who you are – your Spiritually Authentic identity – is a powerful force in your life and speaks volumes to others who meet you.
Your Spiritually Authentic identity plays a vital role in the decisions you make and the relationships you have – or don’t have.
Thinking about who you are – including your Spiritual framework and how that framework fits into your life and your interactions with people – will strengthen the connections among your mind, body, spirit, and behaviors.
Also, you’ll have a better handle on where you are in life as well as where you want to be headed. We continue to grow and develop as we mature – if we’re fortunate – and your spiritual life is a big part of that growth and development.
Although there are plenty of psychological theories about spirituality, authenticity, and their individual and collective relationship to your identity, including its formation and how you maintain it, consider the following questions as we explore some of the essential elements of a spiritually authentic life:
Fundamental Spiritual Element 1: Your personal and family spiritual history
Where you were raised, who you grew up with, and the spiritual or religious experiences you had as you matured from an infant all the way through your early adult years are powerful factors affecting the development of your personal identity.
- What are some of the first things you remember about spirituality or religion being taught or reinforced in your family?
- How old were you when you thought about your earliest experiences with religion or faith formation?
- Did you have any “rites of passage” or noteworthy events that marked your transition from one age group or learning category to another – either within a recognized religious path or within your own group of experiences? For example, people who grow up in the Catholic faith often remember their first communion, those in Protestant faiths may remember helping out with Children’s Church, and there are other events in other faiths with similar themes.
- Were your parents your first religious or spiritual teachers, or did they encourage your attendance at Sunday School or a similar function at your local house of worship? Was there anyone else in your family who functioned as a religious or spiritual teacher for you?
- What are one or more of the aspects of religion or spirituality that you learned early in life that have stuck with you, either as a current part of your life or as a truth or principle you still adhere to?
It’s important to realize, that your history doesn’t have to be the end of the story when it comes to your spiritually authentic identity. An encouraging thing about life, religion, and spirituality as it relates to perfectly imperfect human beings (and perfectly imperfect human teachers) is that we can take steps to be the person we want to be at any time. It doesn’t matter how many years we’ve lived, what experiences we’ve had, or mistakes we’ve made, or what we do or do not know.
Fundamental Spiritual Element 2: The ‘group’ of people you hang out with, learn with, and are exposed to.
For many of us, much of who we are today can be attributed to the people we most closely affiliate with – including personal interests like sports, our career or business interests, and our spiritual or religious lives. Our friends probably share interests in the same kinds of things we find fascinating and many times, our social circles are strengthened and expanded by where we experience worship or religious services.
I’m currently serving a two-year internship at a local Unitarian Universalist church with a goal of becoming an Ordained minister, and they have multiple interest groups for adults of all ages that help them to become oriented to the life and activities of the church, help them build a social circle, and enjoy the company of like-minded people they have activities in common with.
- Perhaps some of your friends are involved with community theatre – there’s a theatre group at a local or regional church, and interested persons can help out by performing in their productions, acting as an usher during performances, and helping to spread the word via social media or email to build up their audiences and recruit supporters. Perhaps you’re interested in horticulture or gardening, and you take a few weekends during the year to help weed the garden around a religious or non-profit organization’s building, rake leaves in the fall or help clear snow in the wintertime.
You love music and singing, so when the community choir gets fired up for the holidays, you’re enthusiastically participating in a caroling group that spreads holiday cheer with public performances or neighborhood holiday observances like “Light Up City Hall” which we celebrate in my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut on the week after Thanksgiving. Even though you may have some negative associations with the idea of “cliques” or groups from your teen years, it’s still true that we gravitate towards people who share similarities to ourselves and can help us further define our spiritually authentic identity.
- What kinds of activities do you remember from your childhood, teen years, or adulthood do you remember that also had a connection to a religious or spiritual path?
- Are you still involved in that activity now, or have you found other activities that help to feed and support your spiritual life?
- You can be selective about the people you choose to hang out with. Have you developed additional friendships and relationships because of your spiritual or religious life, or have changes in your spiritual or religious life caused a distancing in past relationships?
Fundamental Spiritual Element 3: Your physical appearance.
Your clothes, hairstyle, and how you conduct yourself physically combine to make up an important aspect of your personal identity, and many religious or spiritual communities have guidelines or stated rules about how their adherents should dress and conduct themselves.
When I was a member of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church of God as a young adult, I was discouraged from wearing brightly colored nail polish by the more mature ladies in the congregation on the grounds that it was setting a too-worldly example for the younger girls who looked up to me.
Women were strongly encouraged NOT to wear pants to church services, though wearing a slim-fitting pair underneath your skirt as you traveled to and from services in the winter was permitted, as long as you did not wear them for services.
Controversy about close-fitting clothing, even if it covers the majority of a woman’s body, has been a recent subject of discussion about female gospel artists like Erica Cambell, pictured on the right.
Some popular artists have been admonished for wearing clothing – especially for public performances – that outlines the curves of the body and has been called “improper” or immodest.
For gentlemen, it’s a bit easier – a standard men’s business suit can be worn for a variety of business, religious, or spiritually-centered activities, and is much less controversial.
It’s a historical fact that women’s attire has always been more fraught with meaning and inference, and the “standards” – if you can call them that – change depending on who you’re talking to.
Although your appearance isn’t the only thing that’s relevant about who you are and how you express your spirituality authentic identity, the fact is that your physical state provides people with a picture of who you are. That first visual impression is made within 7 to 10 seconds of someone seeing your image for the first time – an image that doesn’t have to be in person! Our visual impression carries over to every area of our lives – including religious and spiritual activities.
Fundamental Spiritual Element 4: Your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about yourself.
Your self-image is made up of how you feel about yourself as an individual, and that self-image can be affected positively or negatively by your spiritual path.
What you believe to be true about yourself is a powerful force in determining your personal identity, and your religion or spirituality can have an equally powerful effect on your personal identity.
- For example, if your religious or spiritual path disseminates prejudicial statements about you as a woman – implying or openly stating that you talk too much, or that you should be subservient to a male partner, should you have one, it makes a difference in how you might react to situations and how you move through the world.
- If the path toward your spiritually authentic identity is one that encourages self-determination, strength, courage, and self-development, you’ll have a different, more empowered impression of your role and your place in the world.
- How does your religious or spiritual path help you see yourself as a woman? Were you encouraged to develop strength and display it, or were you encouraged to develop a softer, more genteel persona and not seek the spotlight or something in between?
- Does your religious/spiritual path leave you with a sense of responsibility for challenges that you experienced, or that were experienced by women in general?Some religions attribute negative events that happen in your life to your level of “disobedience” to rules and modes of behavior, others try to enforce good behavior by saying you’ll eventually have to “pay” for any and all misdeeds you performed in your life – past, present and future.
- What you feel, think, and believe about yourself are major aspects of your spiritually authentic identity – what did you take away from the teachings of the religious/spiritual path of your early life about yourself as a woman, and what of those takeaways are you still shaped or influenced by in your current life?
Recognize that your personal spiritual identity is a complex mix of your history, affiliations, influences, learning, and your thoughts and beliefs about yourself.
Expressing your Spiritually Authentic identity means that you’re living into and learning about a spiritual path or practice that feels genuine, that is true to your own personality, spirit, or character, and that is not a “false face” or an imitation of something or someone else.
How you appear to others – visually, emotionally, and physically – is also representative of your identity.
Realize that you have considerable power to influence the type of identity you possess and show to others.
Working to create and manifest a spiritually authentic life means that you’re open to learning about yourself, your spirituality, and what’s best for you. Next, you should strive to live into a set of principles that harmonize with your foundation and extend it to help you live your best life.
The true goal of a Spiritually Authentic identity and life is to help you create and manifest a spiritual foundation that uplifts and invigorates your soul every single day, helps you to build healthy self-esteem, and builds unshakeable self-confidence.
You become the best of who you are and who you CAN be when you live a Spiritually Authentic life – and it’s within YOUR POWER to start the journey right now.