Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of June 11, 2012

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The Habit of Integrity

(Spiritual Habits: Part 6 of 7)

When our will is whole, integral, and always acts in accord with our conscience, we become a person of integrity. Such people are responsible, honest, keep their word, and live by their principles. Yet integrity does not always come easily, even for them. Integrity can become a habit, but one that requires continual reaffirmation in specific situations both large and small. Temptations abound in this world, testing our integrity. The question that keeps coming back is why bother? Why resist those temptations? As long as itís not illegal, what difference does it make how I act? Canít I cheat just a little? Yet that little may cost a lot.

It turns out that a clear conscience is precious, very precious, especially for anyone who aspires to a spiritual inner life. Once we have established ourselves in the habit of not violating our conscience, the clarity and the inner wholeness it brings become invaluable to us. When our conscience becomes who we are, we act to protect it. We ask ourselves in any situation that pricks our inner sensibilities: what is the right thing to do? If we persist in that questioning and follow through on the responses of our conscience, we establish the habit, wherein integrity breeds more integrity. This makes our commitment to integrity grow stronger and helps us overcome the inevitable moments of weakness.

One difficulty comes as the temptation to cheat in small ways, rationalizing that this minor violation will not affect our integrity. But it does. As the saying goes: God is in the details. Integrity means in part the striving for perfection, even or especially in the details, the small things. Minor temptations have the one advantage that they arise more often than the big ones, and so give us a chance to exercise and reaffirm our integrity.

When we notice ourselves inwardly or outwardly justifying some choice, we can take that as a danger signal. Doing the right thing does not require justification or rationalization, but the contrary does.

If we find ourselves on a downward spiral, falling into patterns of action that lack integrity, we need to find a way to reset. One approach is through self-confession and penance. We take time to take stock of ourselves, to review our actions with as much honesty and objectivity as we can muster, to see clearly our situation. Then we can resolve to break with that behavior and we invest in that resolution by giving up some particular pleasure for a short time. Maybe we skip a meal, or give up chocolate for a day, or forgo watching an episode of our favorite TV program. We give up something simple, not too difficult and not too harsh, but enough to seal the deal. If our wrongdoings have negatively impacted other people, we may also need to make amends and/or apologize.

Without integrity, we sometimes live by conscience and principle, and sometimes not. This split, these divided loyalties, put us at war with ourselves and weaken us. Guilt, for example, is a sign of this, as is the wish to hide. How can others trust us, when we cannot trust ourselves? Lack of integrity puts us at the mercy of whatever impulse gains the upper hand in our chaos of desires. We vacillate with the wind. We lack a stable direction. And we lose ourselves in the process.

If we are not at war with ourselves, we at least do not have that particular obstacle to wholeness. Acting with integrity brings our disparate parts, our conflicting impulses and desires, into the singleness of choice, the singleness of a unifying will, the singleness of I. Instead of our will being splintered among a myriad of impulses and desires, we become whole. We integrate ourselves by harmonizing our inner discord under the umbrella of presence and love.

Each impulse, each desire is a part of us, not an independent actor. We do not give ourselves over to it alone. Succumbing to anger or jealousy, for example, damages us, chews up our inner life. Nor do we ignore such impulses or bury them, because they are a part of us. Instead, our expanding presence, in service to our conscience and expressing our will-to-be, absorbs and integrates all our parts. Love, which must include ourselves, embraces the whole of us and all our parts. We love ourselves enough not to fall into some damaging impulse from one of our parts.

Thus with integrity, we become ourselves. We stand for something: for doing the right thing and being ourselves. Integrity attracts integrity: it is contagious. When we are with a person of integrity, we tend to treat them with integrity. If we know they always keep their word, we want to keep our word to them. And because we are integrating our discordant, contrary parts, we can keep our word.

When it comes to the spiritual life, integrity is an absolute requirement. We cannot fool God, for God, Who gave us the freedom to choose, sees through us. We cannot enter or even touch the deeper realms of the spirit as long as we have a guilty conscience. A confused and contorted conscience makes a confused and contorted self, a barrier to the spirit. This is one of the inner reasons for the religious emphasis on avoiding sin, repenting, and seeking forgiveness. We seek forgiveness to alleviate the burden we carry for our wrongdoings. And going forward, if we build the habit of integrity into our life and become established in it, then our conscience gradually clears up. This leaves us free to approach the Sacred with some degree of the required purity, with an open heart and a selfless mind.

Wholeness, singleness of will is one of the deeper meanings of integrity. It speaks to integrating across the breadth of our impulses, desires, and wishes. Another meaning is inner and outer purity of action, which speaks to integrating in depth, to allowing the Sacred source of our will to affect our choices and manner of living. Out of respect for the higher, we live with integrity, always and without exception. In a very real sense, our integrity is our connection with the Sacred.

For this week, make a habit of integrity.


     

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