Mn the wonderfully delightful mystical book and movie on golf and life, The Legend of Bagger Vance, the main character Rannulph Junah is instructed by his mysterious caddie Bagger Vance in how to find his "authentic swing." Junah's journey is the journey of everyman as we seek to find our "authentic self."

In a fictional match against Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, Junah is having grave difficulties. Bagger Vance diagnoses Junah's problems on the golf course: "Junah's problem is simple, he thinks he is Junah." Bagger continues: "I will teach him he is not Junah. Then he will swing Junah's swing."

What could Bagger Vance mean? All of the great spiritual traditions teach that we have a true self and an ego self. Our true self is our soul, which is given to us. Our ego self is a personal identity that we create. The problem is not the ego per se, but failing to recognize that we have an ego. Although the particular beliefs our egos present to us are different for each person, they are always predicated on a dream that is different than our true authentic self. The ego existence, we frequently find, is characterized by lack and limitation.

Since Junah is not his ego, his ego only gets in the way of his true self. The source of our creativity and our talent lies in our authentic self--not in our ego. Our authentic self automatically bubbles up if we simply get out of the way. As with Junah, to the extent that we don't get out of the way, our effectiveness as managers, spouses, friends and parents is certain to suffer.

 

The Delusion of a Personal Self

Our personal ego identity is a delusion, says the perennial spiritual wisdom. We begin to understand our true self as we begin to understand our relationship to the unbroken totality of existence. Like a wave in the ocean, or a grain of sand on the beach, our life is inseparable from the whole.

Einstein called the belief in a personal, separated self a delusion: "A human being is part of the whole, called by us '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 the few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison."

Bagger advises Junah: "There is a perfect shot out there trying to find each and every one of us, and all we have to do is get ourselves out of the way. Let it choose us. You can't see the flag (that marks the hole) as some dragon you have to slay. You have to look with soft eyes. See the place where the tides and the seasons all come together; where everything that is, becomes one."

Of course we all share Junah's problem of being in an ego-created prison. Few of us ever completely free ourselves from that prison, but journeying toward that freedom is a lifetime's journey and the rewards are great. Bagger points the way as he says: "It (freedom and oneness) gets to us. Surrendering to it at last, we allow it to possess us."

 

A Process of Subtraction

Freeing ourselves from our ego's prison is necessary in order to experience our own unique place in the oneness of all things. Bagger Vance taught of the "one true authentic swing that is ours alone. It is folly to try to teach us another, or to mold us to some ideal version of the perfect swing. Each person possesses only that one swing that he was born with, that swing that 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." Our task, then, is to chip away at all that is inauthentic, allowing our authentic self to emerge.

The process of chipping away is the process of giving up our ego. This can be difficult, since in so doing, our very identity is threatened. To access who we are is a process of subtraction. Our authentic self is not our personality nor our particular history nor our beliefs and opinions. It is our soul, it is timeless and it can access the wisdom of the whole.

As we value that authentic self above all, we become more and more willing to give up our self-importance and every concept of who we think we are. We seek to hold on to nothing. And most importantly, we become the observer of the fact that it is our refusal to relinquish our false learning about who we think we are that is our barrier to finding our authentic self.

"You can't make the ball go in the hole, you can only let it," Bagger advises. To our ego, the idea of a greatly reduced role is very insulting. The understanding that we are not the source of goodness in our lives but only a conduit for it is at the heart of the search for the authentic self.

 

BARRY BROWNSTEIN is the Yale Gordon Distinguished Professor at the Merrick School of Business, University of Baltimore and the author of the Brownstein Letter (www.brownsteingroup.org/BrownsteinLetter.htm).