Authentic Self

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 3, 2010

Dear Julie,

In 1931, a mysterious man named Bagger Vance and the writer O.B. Keeler walk a darkened golf course discussing something Vance calls the Authentic Swing. It's the swing you were born with, the way you swung the first time a golf club was put in your hands, the swing that is unique to you, the swing you've been trying to rediscover ever since the beginning.

Vance says golf is so alluring because the search for our Authentic Swing equates to the search for our Authentic Self. Your Authentic Self can't be embarrassed by a bad shot or by a mistake. It learns from them and wants to find out what will happen next.

A corollary to the novel "The Legend of Bagger Vance" began unfolding this week when Oprah Winfrey interviewed Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Ferguson watched video of herself offering someone access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, for half a million dollars. Afterward she told Winfrey she didn't recognize the person on the video. I think she meant that. It wasn't her Authentic Self. She wants to begin finding out exactly who that is.

The Authentic Self is the inner self that watches us sometimes act in ways that are untrue to ourselves. They are often ways someone else or society expects us to act. Or they're actions taken to try to meet those expectations. The Duchess of York can't possibly be bankrupt, can she?

The Authentic Self is the part of ourselves that knows what's best for us but must battle our egos for control. Like the Mafia, egos are in the protection business. Protection from what? Whaddya got? But what about me? our egos always ask.

This shrinking world is demonstrating that it's us that really matters.

A few months after Hurricane Katrina, I drove to Mobile, Ala., for a vacation, assuming normality would have reappeared since the storm came ashore 150 miles away. Someone had told me about the beauty of Dauphin Island, a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Dauphin Island looked as if an army of toddler gods had thrown a tantrum in their sandbox. Graders were trying to rearrange sand that would never be the same.

Now oil is beginning to appear on Dauphin Island's beaches.

Hurricanes are unavoidable. This environmental disaster we caused ourselves is not. I say us because we -- you and me -- allowed this to happen. We can blame BP. Oil companies obviously don't know what they're doing when they drill for oil in deep water. Worse, they don't care that they don't know what they're doing.

We can and will blame politicians and government for failing to provide the necessary oversight. For being cozy with the oil companies. Now there's a revelation.

The rest of us are most to blame, though. We have been spectators with expectations: Cheap petroleum products and clean beaches. BP and the government merely met our expectations. Now we have to ask ourselves, What do we really care about?

Vance is described as a man who could crush someone's skull "and yet, inexplicably, what came from him was a sense like what the Hindus call ahimsa. Harmlessness. In the intentional sense. Not that he couldn't harm, but that he wouldn't. In fact he would protect."

What is our Authentic Self? Are we despoilers or protectors?

Discipline, wisdom and love are the paths to the Authentic Swing and to the Authentic Self, Bagger Vance says. Of these, love is the best. Love is surrender of the me to a much larger wisdom. Love trusts.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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