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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Authentic Life

For the past several months, I have been trying to figure out how to live my 'authentic' life. But first, I need to figure out what that 'authentic life' will look like. What is an authentic life? And how will I know when I find it?

This quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung says a lot about reaching for an authentic life: "Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart." So I have been looking into my heart.

I believe that living authentically means following the wisdom of your heart, and not necessarily following only the wisdom of your mind. When I first saw on the Internet the New Mexico pueblo-style home that I eventually bought, I knew in my heart that it was meant to be mine. Everything about it screamed, "I'm here, I'm for sale, I'm affordable, I have everything you want in a house, so come and get me." And I did. After some initial hesitation, I flew to Albuquerque, and visited that house and a few others in a whirlwind tour put together by a local real estate agent. A few days later, after questioning my sanity in buying a house with so little forethought, I made an offer on the house. Had I thought about this decision rationally and logically, as I usually do when facing a major decision, I never would have taken the plunge and bought the house. But I decided to listen to my heart and take a gigantic leap of faith.

Discerning and living an authentic life isn't easy, especially for those of us who are typically ruled by our brains rather than our hearts. It requires hard work to look inside oneself, to, as Jung wrote, "look into your heart," to ask the difficult questions and to honestly evaluate what truly is important in life. Another challenge of embracing an authentic life is facing the disapproval or lack of understanding of family or friends. You yourself may question the wisdom of your choices. Still, the authentic life can be discerned only by listening to the heart, by stilling the voices in our heads telling us why we shouldn't follow the path of authenticity, and by following what we know in our hearts is right for us.

For me, the elements of an authentic life will include the following:

moderate temperatures
interesting places to explore
not a lot of people
lots of outdoor exercise opportunities (for running, hiking, bicycling, walking)
interesting subjects to photograph
open space
a feeling that I belong where I am
time to do meaningful volunteer work
the opportunity to do more writing

Moving to New Mexico will provide many of the things on this list. There are mountains, lots of sunshine, interesting places to explore, not a lot of people (Albuquerque, the state's largest city, has just 600,000 people), great photographic opportunities, open space and outdoor exercise potential. My new house is on a 1/2-acre lot, unlike my current house that is surrounded on 3 sides by neighbors so close that I can hear their phones ring.

Living an authentic life means taking the first steps to follow a path that is true to who I am, as well as to who I am becoming. An authentic life will mean that I feel comfortable in my environment, something I most definitely do not feel here in overcrowded, overpriced California. Although I will miss my orange and peach trees, and the opportunity to buy wonderful sweet, fresh, juicy strawberries at the local farmers market, there are few other things about this bankrupt, out-of-control state that I will miss.

I won't really know whether I will feel like I belong in New Mexico until I move there and get settled later this year. But after numerous visits to the state, I'm pretty certain that I will feel at home. Although Rio Rancho does get snow, it usually melts quickly. And it provides opportunities for some interesting photography. I love the feel of the high desert air, the wide open spaces, the unbelievably blue sky, the awe-inspiring sunsets, the pueblo-style architecture, the lack of traffic in most of the state. I am looking forward to being able to gaze out my living room window at the Sandia Mountains, to see some of the 16 species of birds my housesitter tells me frequent the back yard, and to bask in the light streaming in the windows on all but the cloudiest days.

I am already looking at volunteer opportunities for my daughter and me, and I have discovered a no-kill animal shelter (Watermelon Mountain Ranch) that welcomes volunteers. I also am starting to get involved with OrphanBaby, a non-profit group dedicated to improving the lives of kids in orphanages in Ukraine. I am continuing to clear my house and my life of unnecessary clutter and things I no longer want or need.

And I continue to look into my heart to glean more information, no matter how obscure or insignificant it may seem, as I slowly build my authentic life.