Similar to “love”, "integrity" is a word used often without the application of deeper understanding. Integrity, similar to love, is not only an act, but also a manner of being and a state of consciousness. With both love and integrity it is said that one must first have the experience and quality resonating within themselves before they can extend it outwards and exhibit the behavior toward others.
How do we cultivate this quality within ourselves to enable us to live and act with integrity? First, let’s explore what integrity is.
The most accurate and simplistic definition of integrity is “the state of being undivided and whole”. To be undivided means to not be at odds within ourselves. Saying we’ll be there, but not show up; offering assistance and not following through; making commitments to ourselves, then breaking them. Those behaviors lack integrity because they exhibit a divided or discordant nature between our intention and our resulting behavior. More simply put, our actions don’t match our words.
Cultivating an undivided nature in what we say and what we do is only the first part of living with integrity. It may be the case that due to no fault or shortcoming on our part, we are unable to keep our word, or unable to show up when and where we said we would. One can still maintain integrity if they find they have to break or renegotiate their commitments. The key to maintaining integrity here is to be upfront and honest in communicating that reality to the self, person, or persons to whom one made a commitment, to take responsibility for the fact that one is unable to maintain their commitment. And perhaps, if it’s possible, offer an alternative course of action. I think this is where many of us human beings miss the mark with integrity. We may have the best of intentions to remain undivided with our objective and behavior toward others and ourselves, but life inevitably throws us curve balls that require us to make adjustments. How we make those adjustments is important when we are intending to live with integrity.
The two biggest elements of living with integrity are honesty and accountability. We cultivate honesty within our own being by recognizing and acknowledging our tendencies toward self deception and deception of others. Bearing witness to that tendency helps us mindfully work toward adjusting from a “divided state” into a “unified state”. When we open ourselves up to acknowledge the myriad of ways we lie to ourselves, it is an opportunity toward creating integrity within the experience of the self. We apply the witness to observe the egoic, defensive, and fearful nature of ourselves that is prone to self deception in order to be, or feel, ok.
We tend to think the lies we tell ourselves, the lies we tell others, are our secrets alone and that, as long as we do a good job rationalizing that behavior, we are breaking even. Not so much. There is a deep and true nature within the depths of our being called our soul, some call it our divine consciousness, that operates in the realm of truth alone and is totally undivided in its nature. This transcendental nature within us knows what is true and what is false. It knows what is honest and dishonest. It knows what is life affirming and what is life depleting. So to the degree that we deceive ourselves and others from the truth, there is a deep spiritual nature within ourselves that we begin to alienate and disconnect from in order to keep up the mind’s rationalizations and desire for control. We close ourselves down from acknowledging the truth of our fears, our feelings of lack thereof, and our desire for control, and we become divided in our nature. When the undivided nature begins to grow and become reinforced within us we then extend it outward into our relationships with others and thus we lose our integrity.
To many, the idea of accountability is uncomfortable. To live one’s life endeavoring to seek responsibility within, as opposed to looking for a scapegoat or a parent figure to displace the responsibility of yourself onto, can feel like a heavy burden. True, people may hurt us, take advantage of us, and disenfranchise us, and this may not be due to any shortcoming or misstep on our part. In response to that, we can still take accountability for who we show up as in reflection or response to those challenges. We can choose to connect to the undivided nature within to determine what is true and untrue, what allows us to remain whole and continue to move forward with integrity as opposed to placing the responsibility of our reaction, response, or behavior onto someone or something else.
In many ways it may seem hard and uncomfortable to remap our process into a completely self contained resolution center, no longer rationalizing the lies we tell ourselves, seeking external scapegoats or excuses to justify our divided nature. However, it is in fact the most life affirming, empowering, and loving act we can do for ourselves. Notice how strong you feel when you start to hold yourself accountable to yourself. In this context, we are holding ourselves to the highest and most life affirming standards possible, facilitating a self-contained system of checks and balances.
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