The Ethics of Authenticity and the Transpersonal Self

paper presented at first UKCP Ethics Conference, London, 2006

I would like to explore the potential conflict which might arise out of having to make a choice between authenticity and ethics: In other words having to make a choice whether to place authenticity above ethics, the self above others, or whether to make sacrifices of oneself on behalf of others.

I also want to consider the idea that it is our concept of what the self is that creates such a potential conflict of interest, rather than it being something inherent in the concepts of both authenticity and ethics. Furthermore, I also want to consider that in the concept of the transpersonal self, authenticity and ethics are in fact synonymous.

In writing this paper, I have chosen to rely upon only my own experience as a means of exploration. I have chosen this for two reasons. Firstly, because as a therapist I value the individual’s experience as the surest source for meaning in a world shrouded in mystery. Since I see clients as budding therapists and therapists as emerging journeymen and women whose craft is to enable the flourishing of one’s being it is appropriate that I too rely on my own experience as my primary source. 

The second reason is that I want to explore the issues raised in this paper in the real world, that is, in my world. Consequently, to find whether there is any merit in the argument for me, I need to pursue the path of my own authentic being in the world.

Because words are moveable feasts to which we all add our own spices, I need to be clear just what authenticity, ethics and the transpersonal self mean to me.

I am defining authenticity as being true to and honest with my self. Both as a client, and as a therapist, the discovery of this truth, this sense or feeling, is met by a definite experience of understanding and knowing, of relief, or joy, or fear, and of clarity. I experience it as the inevitable progression in the journey of being, the revelation of a self that awaits discovery. It is usually the discovery of a part of an overarching truth, the slow emergence of a sense of knowing which builds up to a picture of my self, contextualised in the story of my life, and which is meaningful in that it offers me direction and purpose. I do not construct, invent, create or choose it, it is simply there. My experience then is of discovering the self which I am, and then of being faced with the challenge of living in strict accordance with that self. I experience a relationship with my self which can be fulfilling and maddening by turns; it is a discovery of a complete being flowering before my very eyes. For this reason the relationship I have with myself is the primary and most important relationship I will ever have.

Throughout time, this relationship has been spoken of many times and referred to in many ways. The very term itself, ‘myself’, implies this relationship; something is aware of, and adopts a role of ownership of, the self. I look upon this relationship as the relationship between the noumenon and the phenomenon, between the mystery and the knowable. As I said above, it is this relationship and our understanding of it which generates the conflict implicit between authenticity and ethics.

By transpersonal I mean the capacity for, and the interdependent nature of, our attachments. I am referring to an expanded sense of self to incorporate all that we are attached to on the basis that we become dependent upon and vulnerable to the experience, state  and health of everything we have become attached to. Clearly, from my definition of authenticity, it is implicit that the self is the first thing to which we become attached and through which we begin to understand our interdependence and vulnerability.

I understand ethics as a set of moral principles which together form a code of conduct which regulates inter-personal relationships. The purpose of this ethical code is to live a morally good life in relation to others.

What I want to discuss is whether it is possible to avail ourselves wholy of our capacity for attachment if we are not able to be truly ourselves. That, to be true to ourselves, requires a deep understanding of that self and that such deep understanding will ultimately involve an understanding of our interdependence in the world our connectedness thereby and that to have a concern for ourselves is to have a concern for the world. In conclusion I want to explore the possibility that to act ethically is nothing short of acting in our own self interest.

David Mazure is an integrative psychotherapist in private practice in north London where he works with individuals, couples and does supervision. He is head of 1st year training at the Minster Centre and their representative on the UKCP HIPS section.

* Does ethics exist independently of our selves, is it something which can be discovered in the world?

* If not why do we create it? Who does it serve?

* If ethics can be discovered in the world what are the implications of that being so?

* What do you understand by the term ‘myself’?

* Do you have an experience of having a relationship with yourself?

* How did your understanding of this ‘self’ emerge and what was the nature or quality of that relationship?

* Who or what is having the relationship with this self?

* If we call this other part the observer, which is more important to you the observer or the self?

* How do you experience attachments?

* What is your experience of attachments?

* How would you define ‘authenticity’?

* Is authenticity important, why? why not?

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty


Quote from Albert Einstein