Sh*t To Help You Show Up May 14, 2021
How do I get from here to there?
So, maybe you’ve been reading this newsletter since the beginning, enjoying the ideas but feeling intimidated by the process of stepping into greater integrity in your life. Maybe you found this newsletter because you have this unsettling suspicion that something is essentially wrong with your life. You like this concept of integrity but you just don’t know where to begin.
Allow me to offer you three starting points for your work. Pick any one of them you like to begin. Eventually, you’ll end up working through all of them, but we must begin somewhere, yes?
You don’t have to know where you will end up in your life. You can’t actually. None of us can. You only have to see one step out in front of you and commit to it. Step-by-step you’ll get where you need to go.
Develop a relationship with silence
Growing up as a Quaker, where most of our worship is spent entirely in what we call “silent, expectant waiting”, instilled in me reverence for the transformational quality of deep silence. Modern life doesn’t really allow for silence, nor does it encourage it. The screens are always flashing and talking, the music is always playing, the traffic noise, depending on where you live, is nearly constant.
We also often avoid silence, because it can be so deeply uncomfortable. When we step away from the screens, talking, music, and noise we are left with the chaos of our thoughts, what Buddhists refer to as the monkey mind— endlessly chattering and screeching. If you try to get quiet and the swirling of your thoughts is overwhelming know you are not alone. I have been sitting faithfully in silence on and off my whole life and some days I can’t quiet my brain to save my life.
Meditation practices involving breath work and visualizations can be excellent tools for learning to quiet your thoughts. One of the things that I find helpful is to ground into my body, scanning all of my senses one by one in order to come into a more embodied presence. What can I hear right now? What can I see? What am I touching with my skin? How does my weight rest in my chair? Can I smell anything, or taste anything on my tongue?
So often the chaos of our minds arises from fixation outside of the present moment, either on something that happened in the past or something we anticipate or fear will happen in the future. Bringing ourselves into the present sensory moment can settle us.
If you, like me, carry a lot of nervous physical energy nearly all the time then repetitive movement can discharge that nervous energy and allow your mind to reach some stillness. I walk, a lot. Sometimes I listen to podcasts, music, or audiobooks, but unexpected clarity often arises spontaneously when I turn all of that off and just let my mind wander along with my feet.
When I was younger I was a weaver and a potter. The steady, repetitive passing back and forth of the shuttle and the endless spinning of the clay on the wheel kept my agitated body focused and busy, allowing my mind to settle into deep stillness and quiet. Some people clean, or garden, or drive. Whatever works.
Why does making space for silence in your life matter for developing an integrity practice? Because integrity arises from discernment, which is the process of grasping or comprehending that which is obscure. The clamor of life and our thoughts obscures. If we want to discover deep truths about ourselves and the world we have to develop a habit of laying all of that down and seeing what rises up in its place.
Most of us aren’t in the habit of lying about big things regularly— where we’ve been, who we’ve been with, what we’ve been doing, which is great. Good for us. However, many of us omit, obscure, or avoid telling the whole truth in order to grease social wheels, avoid our own or other people’s discomfort, or to avoid conflict.
It goes against nearly everything that we’ve been taught, especially if we’re female, but we have to stop doing this. Assuming that you are not in danger, in which case lie like a rug if you have to in order to get to safety, the habitual hedging of the truth we engage in to avoid upsetting anyone keeps us constantly out of integrity.
Is telling the truth all the time fun or easy? Nope. Start telling the truth all the time and you will quickly learn what relationships and situations can hold your truth and which ones crumble under the weight. Here’s the complicated part, though (as if just telling the truth to other people wasn’t complicated enough). You also have to stop lying to yourself, and that can be the hardest habit to break.
The vast majority of our suffering is created by stubbornly clinging to beliefs that are untrue because it is easier, or less terrifying, than admitting they are utter bullshit. Maybe it’s a belief about the world and your place in it. Maybe it’s a belief about who you are. But part of getting out of our own way long enough for deeper truths to rise up out of us is being willing to ask ourselves over and over, Is this really true? What if it’s not? Who am I then?
If you ask yourself who you are without a particular, deeply held belief and the only thing that rises up is fear, grief, or loneliness, there’s some deep truth work for you there.
If you don’t do that deep truth work you will be living out of your integrity forever, or the universe will force you into it. My marriage ended dramatically and precipitously, in part, because I refused to admit the truth of how miserable I was. Two beliefs kept me in that unacknowledged misery: one, that I had made a commitment and had to honor it no matter what, and two, that I would never be chosen, so his habitual chasing of other women made a certain horrible sense.
Over the course of time, I came to appreciate the inherent lie in the first belief. I’m still working on the second one, to be honest with you. Integrity is a habit and process for me, too.
Pay attention to your impact
We aren’t responsible for other people’s emotions, nor can we control, as hard as we may try, other people’s responses to us. At the same time, if there is a consistent pattern of divergence between your conscious intentions and the impact you are having on the people around you, that divergence is your responsibility to deal with.
In my experience, when there is a consistent difference either between what we say we’re trying to accomplish and what’s actually happening, or between what we say we want and what we’re actually getting, then there’s some unconscious beliefs and desires that we need to unpack. This is when we need a therapist and/or some good friends who will lovingly call us on our bullshit.
Then, of course, we have to listen to them.
Bonus: Get comfortable with discomfort
In many respects, pursuing a life of integrity is somewhere between peeling an onion and getting naked on a crowded street. Slowly but surely you are stripping away all of the unnecessary and untrue things— all of the beliefs, habits, learned behaviors, communication tactics, and survival strategies that obscure the truth of who you are. From that vulnerable, clear place you then have to stand, publicly, for whatever core beliefs are left to you without shame or equivocation.
Being in your integrity does not mean you will be universally loved, liked, or even agreed with. You will have to get comfortable with not relying on other people’s responses to you for your sense of grounding or self-worth.
But, oh, the exhilaration of living from the inside out, instead of the outside in! I can tell you, having been jubilantly naked in a crowd before, integrity is even better.
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