That's A Wrap!
Well, 2021, you had your moments...
By the time you read this it will be nearly, or already, 2022. I hope wherever you are you feel safe, warm and loved.
As of today, December 31, 2021, I have written to you all 103 times. I have written fired up with passion. I have written forlorn and empty. I have written, sometimes, like my fingers couldn’t keep ahead of the rushing words, and other times as if wading through molasses. I have learned to simply sit down and begin, even when I don’t yet have any idea what the hell I’m going to say.
You might not be surprised that I always found something to say, but I was. Every. Single. Time. I was gobsmacked, relieved, and more deeply satisfied than I have ever been. “Learning to trust myself” has been a “fake it until you make it” exercise if I’m being honest. But I am making it, for you and with you.
Next week will be the first anniversary of Let Your Life Speak. I still believe, twelve months in, that rediscovering the art of integrity is essential— for me, for us, for our families and communities, and for humanity. I think integrity is a practice that affects mind, body, and soul. It is pragmatic work. It is emotional and psychological work. It is spiritual work. And it is the most important work we will ever do.
There are still so many conversations for us to have. There is still so much learning for us to do. The impact of that learning, I believe, will ripple out far beyond our individual lives, touching everyone and everything around us. I am so looking forward to another year of learning and conversing with you.
NOW! We’re at the end of the year, so it’s time for a little retrospective. I don’t always know when I send something out how it will land with people. Newsletters that I’ve loved have created barely a ripple, and others that I wasn’t at all sure about have really seemed to resonate. Writing is a weird, mysterious thing.
The following three newsletters topped the list of the most read. Revisit them. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
If there’s one thing we all share in this life, it’s the experience of making mistakes. How we internalize the experience— whether we see our errors as evidence of our lack of worth or as a productive struggle— is a result of upbringing, temperament, and culture. Despite all those factors, we can develop a growth mindset. It’s one of the most important aspects of our integrity practice.
So, temperament is involved in how each of us approaches learning. Whatever our temperament generally, however, when we’re talking about learning something that has to do with character— like how to live with integrity— we are more prone to default to shame and humiliation when we make mistakes.
Why is that?
I suspect it’s due to the historical association of integrity in Western culture with God. As I discussed recently, the idea of “doing what is right” historically means “following God”, and doing wrong is… basically everything else. Honesty, consistency, reliability, sincerity are all a part of integrity. Every time we make a mistake trying to practice any of these traits we are culturally primed, whether or not we actually believe in God, to feel we are sinful, ungodly, and at our core, wrong. Like, going to hell kind of wrong.
Allow me to suggest that this is not a good learning strategy.
These Friday essays were supposed to be link-heavy resources, but then somebody stole the rosebush I’d planted for my grandma right out of the ground in front of my house. It reminded me of how we have to show up when we get caught in the crossfire of someone else’s struggle.
Sometimes the world cuts us down, my loves, through no fault of our own. But as long as there is breath in our bodies there is still life to be lived and nurtured through us. That is our sacred work.
We may have to learn things we never imagined we would need to know. We may have to slow way down and pay more careful attention to ourselves for a while, making sure we get nourishing food, plenty of water, and some extra protection from the elements. We may have to pray to our ancestors and ask for help from our friends, to hold vigil with us until we feel rooted and solid again.
But we will be rooted and solid again. We will bloom and thrive and wrap the world in our beauty. Damn if they can slay us completely. There is too much life in us for that.
If you’re late to this party you might not know that I went through a horrible break-up last spring. In a moment my life was totally upended, and I spent months picking up the pieces. But I didn’t quit writing. This one was, on the surface, about my changing relationship to my bonus kids. But it was really about the reality of an integrity practice. It’s not a shield against trouble, but it does help us weather it.
The honest truth is that I don’t know what will happen to you, or to me, through living a life of integrity— showing up honestly as your whole, authentic self; making a habit of reflecting deeply on yourself, your values, and the world you want to live in; making the choices that reflect those values even when they are hard or uncomfortable. I know that committing to my integrity hasn’t magically given me a life with no problems or pain, nor has it eliminated all the reverberations of my traumas through every area of that life. But it has made my life easier.
The way I show up in my relationships feels cleaner. I don’t worry which one of me I have to be depending on who I’m with; I’m always just me. I don’t have to keep my stories straight for fear of what might slip out that I’m afraid of people knowing, or that I don’t want to take responsibility for. When I make mistakes, I am confident that I will own and learn from them. Even when relationships end, I am free of regret. I know I showed up fully, with as much honesty, kindness, openness, and vulnerability as I possibly could. I believe I am building the world I want to live in actively— in every choice, every word, every act of love and service.
The next three are favorites of mine. Primers, if you will, on some of the most important skills to develop to help your integrity practice. I hope you’ll revisit these, too. May they inspire reflection and action.
If you want to learn about discernment, this is your guide.
The short answer to the question of the difference between discerning and deciding is this: deciding is a hell of a lot quicker. Sometimes that’s fine. Not everything is weighty, or moral, or has long-term or far-reaching implications. Ironically, though, sifting through what is and isn’t requires discernment, so you’re not getting out of developing these skills. Not if you want to pursue a life of integrity.
Reflective functioning is, to quote myself:
the ability to make a mental distinction between what is happening on the surface of behavior and emotion, both in ourselves and others, and what is happening underneath. It is the capacity to consider intentions, feelings, thoughts, desires, and beliefs and how they motivate action.
Need some help to figure out how to develop your reflective functioning? Read this.
This newsletter was originally only for paid subscribers, but I unlocked it in order to share it here. It’s about the Buddhist notion of near enemies. The idea has revolutionized my integrity practice. I think it will transform yours, too.
Far enemies are the obvious opposites of desired emotions or virtues. If your goal is to be a compassionate human and you engage in cruelty, you, and likely anyone affected, are going to know clearly that you missed the mark on your compassion goal. Similarly, if you truly desire to feel worthy but are plagued with feelings of unworthiness, that you are trapped in the opposite of your desired state is fairly straightforward to figure out…
Near enemies are a much subtler and sneakier challenge. They so closely mimic our desired emotion or virtue we can trick ourselves into thinking we are achieving what we aspire to while all along the near enemy is undermining our conscious intentions from within.