29 July 2020

Who You Are, and Why it Matters


In The Artist’s Way, a well-loved handbook on uncovering and nurturing creativity, Julia Cameron writes, “in order to have self-expression, we must first have a self to express”.

This “self” refers to our originality, a beacon of creative power that exists inside us, beneath our outward persona living and moving in the world. This persona might draw on our inner self, but is often largely composed of false layers, conditioned as we are by society, family and life experiences. Julia Cameron’s tools encourage us to strip away these layers and coax forward the original, “artist-self”. It is from this place of origin that true, unbridled expression, in whatever form, can arise. According to her, the vast majority of us have neglected, if not completely starved, our artist-selves.

The idea of recovering a lost, authentic self is not unique to this book nor the field of creativity and art — it actually seems to be appearing everywhere I look at the moment. One such place is in a book called Belonging by Toko-Pa Turner, a dream-worker and mystic, who noticed that almost everyone she worked with, regardless of their life situation and outward success, felt lonely at least to some degree. Despite our hyper-connectivity, we in the modern world seem to be missing a sense of belonging. And just like Julia Cameron’s reverence of our inner artist, for Toko-Pa, true belonging means uncovering and wholly embracing our deepest selves. “There is an essence in each of us intended to be expressed”, she writes, “to come into our true originality, we must surrender the layers of numbness we use to protect our hearts”.

Whether conscious or unconscious, these “layers of numbness” do us a whole lot of harm — not just emotionally and creatively, but also physiologically. Here we enter the territory of Dr. Gabor Maté, a medical doctor and addiction expert who studies the relationship between psychological and physical health. According to Maté, “illness comes along when we’re not being ourselves.” Habitually suppressing our truest needs, emotions and instincts, however small they may seem, makes us more susceptible to chronic disease, and can also influence the trajectory of illness; how and whether we recover.

These writers are three among many who seem to be expressing that authenticity — in other words, finding and expressing our true selves — is the foundation of our physical, emotional, creative, social and spiritual wellbeing.

How, you might ask, did we lose our authenticity in the first place?


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