A Well-Grounded Integrity
When I contemplate upon integrity I am reminded immediately of the first agreement noted by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements, “be impeccable with your word.” How we describe or create the narratives of our lives provides the structure upon which and through which we choose our behavior. This is true from the broad stories we tell of our families and social connections to the smallest of phrases in the slightest of interactions with others.
While our words do not encapsulate the entirety of our lives they are the means by which we socially organize our experiences, have the unconscious become conscious and form the dialogue that is back of every relationship we create, from the random platonic to the long-term romantic. The stories we tell will determine the shape of our connections and whether they will serve the purpose of growth in ever-increasing awareness or keep us asleep to the inherent potential for greatness that lies within each of us.
This is the ground upon which our integrity rests, the conscious acknowledgement of our interconnected and reciprocal relationship with all things/people. We endeavor to awaken to a greater appreciation for who we are, thought breeding action and returning upon itself in a reciprocity of union. This is the principled means of defining a healthy confidence. Stephen Batchelor notes:
“Self-confidence is not a form of arrogance. It is trust in our capacity to awaken. It is both the courage to face whatever life throws at us without losing equanimity, and the humility to treat every situation we encounter as one from which we can learn.” (Buddhism Without Beliefs)
Notice that with a solid ground the result is equanimity. This should not be confused with placidity. Our capacity for resiliency in the midst of emotional upheaval is not found in the removal of disparate emotions or to ignore the power of their influence but to intentionally accept that emotions are an identification of the presence of change and a pointer to what we find important.
The performer balancing on the ball does not do so by standing still but by making small subtle changes in their posture to flow with the forces coming up through the ball, recalibrating their center in a reciprocal relationship. To do such in life requires a convergence of word, deed and thought, where each is a supportive block through which and upon which the others manifest. In Buddhism it is referred to as Dharma, the living out of the principles given by Gautama for the purpose of ethical non-attached living.
“Dharma practice cannot be abstracted from the way we interact with the world. Our deeds, words, and intentions create an ethical ambience that either supports or weakens resolve.” (Buddhism Without Beliefs)
Integrity is grounded practice, an identification with the principles of growth which give our stories structure within a reality in which every word and deed we utter and do have consequences. This is an appreciation for living in a world the complexity of which will likely always be in its fullest sense outside of our ability to grasp. When we act from integrity we do so with an intellectual/emotional empathic relatedness to all the creatures we encounter.
“While rooted in empathy, integrity requires courage and intelligence as well, because significant ethical choice entails risk. And while we cannot know in advance the consequences of the choices we make, we can learn to become more ethically intelligent.” (Buddhism Without Beliefs)
Our words/deeds have consequences, dissipating with time but no less important for their diminishing strength, seen often in the immediate aftermath of our choice and many of which we are unaware. We will never be capable of plotting out the entirety of the consequences of our actions. The pursuit of increasing awareness can strengthen our humility as we courageously understand more of reality and the greater appreciation for consequence entailed in every action.
To be impeccable in word is to live a life of integrity where we continue the practice of awakening to a greater appreciation for the consequences of our actions. Practice is constant movement and never stagnation. In an ever-changing universe in which the karma of cause-effect relationships is cosmically complex, our willingness to live a life of integrity is in line with a commitment to be awoken to an ever-greater though still tentative grasp of understanding the relationships in of our lives.