Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Authentic Self

The one Natural that I have ever encountered was Roy Hobbs.  I first met him about ten years ago, when Robert Redford came into my living room and introduced me to the dangers of women who invite themselves to your hotel room and the concept that someone could hit a baseball 600 feet on the reg after: A. Not having practiced for fifteen years; and B. Having been a pitcher in his previous career; as long as C. The bat that was used had been infused with lightning.
I took both points to heart, and while I'm still to allow a wary woman into any hotel room I've occupied (which has worked out quite well, as can be seen by my lack of gunshot wounds to the hip), I do credit the second major concept from that film with ending my baseball career.

Young William showing a confident smile, knowing that all he needs is a magical bat to keep his baseball career going.

Young William circa October 2009 upon finding out that he'd been cut from the Notre Dame baseball team.
Unfortunately for me, I never found a lightning bat and I hadn't worked hard enough to make it the old-fashioned way.


My buddy Pete recently gave me The Legend of Bagger Vance (novel form).  I had planned on using it to avoid reading my psychology textbooks, but I was unable to do that as Pete obviously had me figured out from the beginning, because after a mere 74 pages, I stumbled into a trap of deep psychology.  For anyone who hasn't read the book or seen the movie, Bagger Vance is a caddy of mysterious origins who is less of a man who carries a golf bag and more of a life coach.  That's not to say he isn't a golf fanatic.  He is.  And while he does know the game from physical side, he is more worried about the mental and spiritual aspects to it.  He has the belief that every golfer has an "Authentic Swing," which cannot be coached, but rather follows the player from the very first time he picks up a club.  He describes the swing with a man named Keeler, another student of the game, thusly:
"'I believe that each of us possesses, inside ourselves,' Bagger Vance began, 'one true Authentic Swing that is ours alone. It is folly to try to teach us another, or mold us to some ideal version of the perfect swing. Each player possesses only that one swing that he was born with, that swing which existed within him before he ever picked up a club. Like the statue of David, our Authentic Swing already exists, concealed within the stone, so to speak.' Keeler broke in with excitement. 'Then our task as golfers, according to this line of thought...' ' simply to chip away all that is inauthentic, allowing our Authentic Swing to emerge in its purity.'

As I'm sure you've all figured out, he's not just talking about a golf swing.

"'Consider the swing itself,' he said. 'Its existence metaphysically, I mean. It has no objective reality of its own, no existence at all save when our bodies create it, and yet who can deny that it exists, independently of our bodies, a...s if on another plane of reality.' 'Am I hearing you right, sir?' Keeler asked. 'Are you equating the swing with the soul, the Authentic Soul?' 'I prefer Self,' Bagger Vance said. 'The Authentic Self'"

Once again.  Not only targeted towards golf

Will Smith as Bagger Vance.  Quick side rant: This absolutely should have been Morgan Freeman.  Big Willie Style is way too young/unmysterious for this gig.
 Bagger Vance believes that there are three paths to find one's Authentic Swing Self.  The first is Discipline - hard work, dedication, commitment.  The second is Wisdom - analyzing, dissecting.  The third, however, is a "pure love of the game."  Only when this pure love is actualized does the Authentic Swing Self come about.


In The Natural (movie version), Roy Hobbs hits a home run to win the Pennant for the New York Knights (great name for the future Nyets, Prokhorov), blows up the light towers, and rounds the bases in a shower of sparks.  The only thing he learns is that it was him, not the bat, the whole time.  

In The Natural (book version) [Spoiler Alert], Roy Hobbs strikes out.  He's been forcing a relationship with the owner's daughter, which has clearly been a terrible idea from the start.  He gets paid to throw the pennant, and while whether or not he actually does is left unclear, he is faced by a child at the end who tells him to "say it ain't so," and Roy can't.  He has tried to force himself into being a celebrity instead of the simple man that he grew up as.  He tries to force a relationship with a woman who repeatedly shows no signs of caring for him.  He tries to build himself into a superhero instead of being himself, and the book ends with him walking away in the rain, a sorry and bitter man.

If asked how to describe Roy Hobbs' Authentic Self after finishing that book, I'm fairly confident that nobody could actually do it.  He grows on his strong, farmboy values, throws them away, and then is left in a state of ambiguity.  It could be that the natural wasn't so natural after all, or it could be that he simply stopped after the Discipline step from Mr. Vance.  He put in the time, the dedication, the effort to try to woo Memo (the girl) (shouldn't a weird name like that be the first clue that something's wrong??), but he never stops to analyze how terribly the situation that he's putting all of his time towards, and he certainly isn't doing it because of some pure love.  

You see, it's really easy to find Discipline when you want something.  The dedication and hard work that Bagger Vance refers to are the first (and often only) things that we try to increase when faced with a goal.  We rarely reach the Wisdom step, and almost never do things because we have a Pure Love for them.  We have the ability work so hard for something that we want it to be love so much that we can convince ourselves it is, but often it is contaminated with things that would be clearly noticed if we ever took the time to do the dissecting and analyzing that Bagger requests. 

That's because Pure Love can never be forced.  Pure love occurs when you love something for what it is.  You have no desire to change it.  You have no desire to manipulate it.  You don't approach it looking for something in return.  Pure love means loving something unconditionally for what it is in the purest sense.

I think that the most important line from Bagger's whole talk about finding the Authentic Self is when he says that what we need to do is to "chip away all that is inauthentic, allowing our Authentic Swing to emerge in its purity."  He says swing, but once again, I'm pretty confident that he means Self.

This doesn't mean that we need to avoid all outside influences in the world.  My parents have different ideas for what my life should be than what I think it should be.  I don't mind dropping a few tenths of a point on GPA in order to experience something that I feel I'll value more in twenty years, but they're worried about my grades because grades lead to jobs, which is a hard stance to argue with, especially considering that they've put me under their roof for the past twenty years, they've fed me, raised me, clothed me, made me into who I am today.  Just because they want something different from what I want doesn't mean that I have to run away from it.  It just means that I have to understand why our views differ.  I need to have a conscious, concerted effort to understand who I am even when the world is throwing influences at me from every angle.  

I'm guilty of having done things to get something in return.  I'm fairly confident that we all have.  I've thought at times that having a girlfriend would be great just for what it stood for, and not for who the person was.  I've wanted leadership roles for status instead of to lead.  What I've recently realized, however, is that I'm always a lot happier when I control myself and hope that that leads to the consequences I desire than when I throw myself at a desired consequence and totally lose control of myself, and while I never realized it before about an hour ago, I'm pretty sure that Bagger and I are on the same page.

It seems to me that all of this could be avoided if we simply turned our Discipline efforts another direction.  Instead of trying to attain something, why do we not focus those efforts on ourselves.  God knows that we have room to improve.  If we really, truly put as strong of an effort as we can into finding and maintaining our true selves, into chipping away the inauthenticities, as we do into manipulating other people to like us, we should be able to figure it out pretty quickly.  

And isn't that the person that we want other people to see?

Time is way too short to try to bullshit people with a false self, and even if it wasn't, why the hell would we want to do that?  Personally, I would rather find one person who loves me for my true self than a thousand who love me for something I'm not.  When we meet others we automatically go through the Wisdom stage.  We analyze them, we dissect them, we recall past experiences to figure out what's going on with them.  That's easy.  That's a short step.  We do that every day.

If we can take these first two steps and really, honestly be happy with them, that is when we will find a pure love for our Authentic Self.  We need to take that Discipline, take that Wisdom, and figure out what we truly are, and once we have, once we've analyzed and dissected it all away we will find out that we've found ourselves.  And if we've gotten rid of all the things that we really can't stand, if we've chipped away all the unnecessary buildup that has stuck to us, chances are that the stuff that's left is something that we love.

The hardest part of this whole thing (as recently pointed out by Pete) is not actively analyzing what's going on when it's going on.  You can't think in the middle of a golf swing.  You know the checkpoints of the swing, you know the basics, but you can't be constantly analyzing it to see if you've hit them.  You just have to trust that it'll happen.  You have to do.  You have to be.

I know that I have to figure out who I am before I jump into relationships.  I need to have confidence in myself.  I also need to be able to look back and know where I deviated from that self.  I obviously need to know how my Authentic Self acts, I can't do outrageous things and just hope to analyze them later, but like the golf swing, I just have to trust that I'm hitting my checkpoints and being myself and not be constantly double-checking to make sure I've been there.  If I keep looking back, by the time I turn around the moment will be gone, and that's not what the moment is for.

The moment is for being.  I want to be me.  Just like trusting my golf swing to hit the ball down the fairway, I need to trust myself to find pure love and to ride it out for as long as it lasts.  If it ends, I can figure out why, but bliss isn't meant to be interrupted by the conscience.  If it's all set up on the tee waiting to be driven straight and true 250 yards down the fairway, I have a responsibility to let it fly.  If I shank it into the trees and the relationship falls apart, that's the time to figure out what I did wrong, where I deviated from my swing, but for now, I'm going to trust myself to be the person that I know I am, and I'm going to love this for all it's worth.