Authentic Relating: Unpacking the 5 Core Practices
“Authentic Relating” is the name of a new(ish) movement, It teaches ways to be more real – with your self and in relationship.
I recently completed a training with a company called ART (Authentic Relating Training), held in person (a rarity in this time of the Covid Pandemic!) up in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. ART has distilled Authentic Relating down to 5 core practices. This article discusses each of these practices to give you a sense of what they are and how you can begin applying them in your own life and relationships right now. I bring in some Buddhist teachings and perspectives because they fit so beautifully with these core Authentic Relating practices.
#1 – Welcome Everything –
‘Welcome Everything’ is the first of the 5 core practices of Authentic Relating. To practice Welcoming Everything is to practice becoming more and more attentive to the here and now experience. It is to take an attitude of being with whatever is. It is exactly the attitude expressed famously by the Sufi poet Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
The inn keeper of this guest house – you – can practice seeing every experience as like a precious guest; something to honor, to be with, to welcome. This does not mean allowing yourself to be walked all over, disrespected and abused – not even by your self or your own thoughts. This practice is not always easy! And it asks of us to practice being present.
This present moment personal experience is constantly unfolding, developing, changing, collapsing; to pay attention is to experience movement or more precisely, energy. ‘Welcoming Everything’ includes the subtle and paradoxical dance of being with stuckness, heaviness, and the experience of not welcoming. That too is included. That too is a part of it.
Welcoming Everything includes being with my own self, my own senses and perceptions and it includes being with you, my perceptions of you and my ideas about your perceptions of me! It includes welcoming my thoughts as they form stories, including thought-formed-stories of what your own thought-formed-stories might be.
Welcoming Everything includes this sense of me and you, separate as well as connecting.
Welcoming Everything includes the experience of no self and no separate you, arising and co-creating this ineffable dance of inter – being together.
Welcoming Everything includes this fear of being seen, of being known. It includes this tiredness at looking into your eyes. It includes this wanting to turn away & to close my eyes. It includes memories of triumphs and failures. It could include an Imp sitting on my shoulder telling me what a failure I am at this. At this practice of welcoming everything.
Fundamentally, ‘Welcome Everything’ is an attitude of openness to what is and a willingness to be with it and to name it. This is foundational to being real. And like all of these core practices, it applies just as much to being real and authentic to oneself as it does to being authentic with others.
#2 – Assume Nothing –
‘Assume Nothing’ is the second core practice. It refers dropping all the judgements and assumptions we typically carry into any communication. In practice, one quickly realizes that all these assumptions cannot just be dropped; but they can be seen and named and one can practice not being under their sway. This can become quite deep and subtle. However, in terms of being more authentic in every day interactions and relationships, it has a certain common sense flavor: check your assumptions at the door. Let yourself be surprised. Give someone the benefit of the doubt!
If we explore this in a deeper way, we may come to see some similarities between ‘assume nothing’ and what the Buddhist mean when they prattle on about ’emptiness.’ In fact, Emptiness, which really is the most famous concept gifted to us by the Buddha, means just this: drop assumptions, expectations, judgements, beliefs; drop the constant trying to make sense of whatever this is.
Assuming Nothing is a practice of seeing things more and more as they are, without mistaking the conceptual label for the thing itself. It means not mistaking the map for the territory. It means not eating the menu. It means that ‘tree’ is a word that refers one to a conceptual basket in the mind, a lazy place holder, and this very concept obscures or blocks the direct seeing of the thing in itself. To genuinely and authentically see a ‘tree’, one must be free of the concept ‘tree.’
Assuming Nothing means first, becoming aware of all the assumptions one has in this moment. All these assumptions, whatever they may be, are always conceptual and based on past experiences and conditioning.
Assume Nothing means secondly, that having become aware of these concepts and assumptions (such as ‘tree’ or “this person is a man”, they are ‘white’, they appear ‘wealthy’, they seem ‘tired’, ‘they look boring’) one is no longer possessed or controlled by one’s concepts; the assumptions don’t necessarily vanish, but they too are seen for what they are, which is mere concepts, and the thing itself, this moment, is experienced directly & intimately.
This process is messy and imperfect. If one develops one’s mindfulness beyond a superficial level, it gradually dawns on one how immersed in such concepts we are all the time! It is truly amazing.
You may read these words and imagine that you can drop into assuming nothing, that you are a good authentic relator or whatever. But if you train yourself in meditation and study philosophy and sharpen your conceptual understanding, you can realize how extremely subtle this becomes – and how challenging it is. This is what makes it such a beautiful practice. Assume Nothing. Speak. Notice the assumptions. Drop the ego and begin again. Name the assumptions. Don’t try to get rid of them; know them through the power of effortless awareness and let them be what they are.
The great Master Tilopa said to his main student:
Drop your clinging Naropa! You are not bound by appearances but by clinging. So drop your clinging, Naropa!
# 3 – Reveal Your Own Experience –
The next practice of Authentic Relating is ‘reveal your own experience.’ This implies that our truth is often concealed- and we have a choice of how much of it to share.
One beautiful thing about Authentic Relating is that all of these practices are possible in each and every moment. That doesn’t mean one can personally access them and use them in any given moment, but it is theoretically and practically a possible choice. Right now you are having an experience. It is possible to sense into your body, your emotions, your thoughts, your perceptions and to give voice to them. In this moment, you might be ‘starving’ i.e. feeling great hunger, or thirsty or have to pee; there is no law of the universe that says you have to act on those impulses in this moment and no reason you can’t share them. And yet the point of these specific examples is that in moments of greater stress or tension or when one’s fundamental needs aren’t being met, in those moments it can feel impossible to fully communicate. Luckily, if you name any of those things, the people you are practicing Authentic Relating with will most likely want you to do what you need to do to be comfortable. It is much easier to relate authentically when your basic needs are met.
Revealing your own experience sounds simple. And it is. But as the saying goes, ‘simple but not easy.’ It first requires being aware of what is true in your experience. When I practice this, I will often catch myself when what I am saying no longer feels true – it may be a memory or it may be coming from a more intellectual place. It is good to name that if you notice it as well.
The art of Revealing Your Experience is discerning when and where to say what; the secret is to take a leap and say something real. There may well be things that you don’t want to reveal; that is totally fine. You could then name that. Or not. The choice is yours. The point is to be aware of your experience and put words to it; to build a bridge from here to there. Interestingly, you can do this within yourself as much as with a partner. By naming it, even if it is just to yourself, what is happening for you, in this moment, there is a magic that can occur. The ‘self’ is distinguished from the ‘experience’ so that one is no longer fused with the experience; naming it as such reveals certain characteristics of it. For example, naming that “I feel angry” automatically gives more clarity as to what is going on. Rather than just being identified as the anger, you – the subject – is now distinguished from the object of experience, which is the anger. And there is space in between those two. Because you no longer experience yourself as simply the anger, but rather as one having an experience of anger, there is greater possibility of movement and clarity. And there is the possibility to a refining of this Revealing; the act of refining makes one’s experience more clear and at the same time gives one greater vantage point to witness the changes occurring in real time as you talk about it. “Actually I feel more irritable and my stomach is growling. There is a dull pain in my lower back that I am noticing again. As I talk about it, I feel a heaviness. It’s almost like a sadness that is starting to well up…” The anger is no longer identified with; before long, in one’s present moment experience, it may not be there at all. Or it may come surging back. The practice is to not control it or predict it but to be real with what is actually here and now.
There is a deep inquiry to be made around the process of revealing one’s experience and insight into how experience is constructed on a deeper level.
Ways to access this:
Try starting your sentences with “Right now I am noticing…”
“In this moment what has my attention is…”
“I am somatically (in my body) feeling …”
“My mood is like…”
“I am having the thought of…”
#4 – Owning Your Experience –
The fourth practice of Authentic Relating is ‘Owning Your Experience.’ This is a potentially very deep practice. It means that acknowledging that your present experience is your experience. It is not someone else’s. It does not (necessarily or even likely) reveal some great cosmic or universal truth. And even if it does, it is your experience of it that you are knowing. Owning your own experience is claiming what is true for you, what is undeniable to you. It is a very empowering practice.
I have found in doing this practice that there is often an element of surprise in the owning of my own experience. That is to say, before taking the time to slow down, check in and own it, there was a subtle underlying sense that ‘this is just how things are.’ For example, ‘Those politicians suck. This country is going to hell in a handbasket.’ If I am thinking those thoughts and owning my experience, I could say “I am thinking that all these politicians are terrible and I am worried about the direction I think our country is heading.” Another example could be thinking or saying, ‘wow this quesadilla is amazing’ mid bite. To own my experience here, I could say ‘To me, in this moment, this quesadilla tastes amazing and it is really hitting the spot. I love the warm perfectly melted cheese and slightly crispy tortilla.” Notice how the first sentiment “wow, this quesadilla is amazing” is presented as an objective universal fact about the quesadilla. The second sentiment makes clear that this is your experience. It goes into greater depth and detail. And it acknowledges that it is true in this moment. 20 bites later, owning my experience may well entail “my stomach is a little uneasy. This doesn’t even taste that good but I can’t stop eating!” In fact, all of these Authentic Relating practices have as their bedrock the practice of mindfulness. And as a side note, slowing down and being somatically aware of one’s body is an incredibly effective way to avoid overeating with the added bonus of you getting to actually taste your food. Don’t miss your life being distracted. One of these moments will be the last.
#5 – Honor Self and Others –
This is an important one! (Perhaps the most important). It includes all of ethics and respect. It is interesting that in ART’s presentation, self and other need be distinguished here. I think this reflects how individualistic and materialist our culture is. And in this culture, it is an important and valid distinction to make. Especially since so many of us who are drawn to self-growth and meditation and therapy have a tendency to be very self-critical. Honoring Self means slowing down and not pushing oneself. It means “treat others as they would like to be treated” (the platinum rule) and also – treat yourself with some kindness while you are at it. No one gets a gold medal for rushing to the top of the Mt. Everest of Authenticity – whatever that means! Instead, take some time and actually appreciate yourself for having an interest, for reading this, for trying it out.
It also means honoring your basic needs: use the bathroom when you need to urinate. Drink water when you are thirsty. Let yourself have enough sleep. Don’t be afraid to eat a cookie. You know, allow yourself to feel pleasure. And extend that same courtesy to others.
By Julian Francis Royce
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