Living Our Truth
Integrity means living and
in alignment with spiritual law
and with our highest vision,
despite impulses to the
From the heart of integrity,
we recognize, accept, and
our authentic interior reality,
inspiring others not with
but by our example.
I am not bound to win
but I am bound to be true.
I am not bound to succeed
but I am [bound to live up to
what light I have.
After watching the hawk spiral upward on rising currents of air, we headed into a deep valley where the trees wore a lace of emerald moss. As we descended, I thought about the laws I had learned so far, but could recall few details.
Addressing my concern, the sage said, “You don’t have to remember all the words, Traveler. Words are only sounds. Yet, some voices carry the power to penetrate the heart and touch the soul. You acquire this spiritual authority only by living the laws of Spirit.”
Stopping, she gazed into the distance and pointed to a peak behind us. “Can you see the summit of that hill?”
“You don’t want me to hit it with a rock, do you?”
She smiled. “No, nothing like that. I just want you to climb to the top and return here within thirty minutes.”
I gazed up at the hilltop. “Thirty minutes? But even if I ran all the way there and back, I still doubt-I mean, I suppose I could work with my beliefs-”
“You have twenty-nine minutes left,” she said.
I shut up and took off.
The run was difficult and painful. Halfway up, my lungs burned so badly that I considered turning back before I reached the top. I felt I couldn’t go on, but I had to, so I did; I hit my wall and went through it.
When I returned, I nearly fell at her feet. I was ten minutes late. I was breathing hard and wondering what this failure meant, when the sage asked, “Why didn’t you turn around before you reached the top? That way you could have gotten back on time. Who would have known the difference?”
“I would,” I said, catching my breath. “I would have known.”
She smiled broadly. “There you have it: The Law of Integrity is about living in line with your highest vision despite impulses to the contrary-about how you behave when no one is watching.”
The sage led me, still soaking with perspiration, over a rise where we came to a seasonal pond, still full from winter rains. Without a trace of self-consciousness, she removed her outer clothing and entered the pond. I did the same. It was not my everyday experience to be alone in the mountains, nearly skinny-dipping with a woman other than my wife. The sage was attractive enough; I found myself wondering if she had a love life. I felt a twinge of guilt. Not that I had any sexual intentions – I did have my rules – but I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind.
Just then she turned toward me and spoke to my thoughts: “Breaking society’s codes is like swimming upstream, against the current of contemporary values. It can be done if your heart’s deepest desire will not be denied, but it makes life more difficult-even exhausting-and it has consequences.”
“Such as ruffling the beliefs and emotions of others who take those beliefs very seriously,” she said.
“So integrity means following social conventions?”
“Following the conventions of your society and avoiding what is considered unethical, illegal, or immoral is not about integrity; it’s about intelligence.”
“So you recommend conformity because it’s easier?”
“I’m not recommending that you blindly conform or blindly rebel. Just keep your eyes open, and pay more attention to your heart’s highest wisdom than to indulging or denying random impulses or desires. Follow Martin Luther’s guidance on integrity: ‘Love God and do as you please’.”
Do as you please, I thought, wondering for a moment whether this were some kind of invitation, and what I would do if it were. My ruminations were soon interrupted by the sage’s words as she slipped back into her clothes and indicated that I should do the same. “As I was saying, Traveler, the Law of Integrity calls forth a genuine expression of our internal reality. It also recognizes that if envy, greed, and manipulation influence our actions or expression, the consequences are inevitable, built into the mechanics of the universe. In breaking spiritual law, the act itself is the punishment, setting into motion subtle forces whose consequences we cannot escape any more than we can escape the law of gravity.”
By this time we had walked deeper into the valley, where steep hillsides and thick foliage muffled the sounds of our passing. Lost in thought about convention, desires, and integrity, I nearly collided with the sage, who had stopped to point at a lizard peeking out of a rock crevice. “That lizard is not trying to be something else,” she said. Then she began pointing toward one object after the next, saying, “That is a tree. There is a brook – ”
“Yes,” I interrupted. “I see them.”
“But can you feel them?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.
“Unlike the creatures of the natural world, humans are surrounded by social artifice, cut off from their own true natures.”
Then, speaking almost in a whisper, she said, “The shamans-the healers of the native peoples-practice the art of shape-shifting. This art is not as much about changing your body as expanding your awareness into an animal, a tree, or a stream in order to feel them-to learn their lessons – identifying with each one so that you feel its inner qualities and ‘become’ it. This is possible because your larger Self contains all these things.”
“What does this have to do with the Law of Integrity?”
“I thought you might ask,” she said, smiling. “My friend Lao-tzu once said, ‘The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white; nor must you do anything but be yourself.’ The natural world is ripe with such authenticity; the rushing stream, the moving wind, and the chirping crickets are content to be themselves. Are you content to be who you are completely – to be nothing more, nothing less?”
“What if I want to become something more?” I asked.
“More?” The sage smiled. “How could you be more? You are already limitless, boundless! When you die, Traveler, no one at the gates of heaven will ask if you were a saint; they will ask you if you were yourself.
“The wisdom of the ages,” she continued, “from Plato to Shakespeare, reminds us, ‘Know thyself,’ end ‘To shine own self be true.’ Integrity means being integrated, knowing ourselves and being ourselves, so that our actions are authentic, consistent with our highest intentions – so that our body, mind, emotions, and attitudes complement one another, forming a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
“It’s meaningless to speak of integrity until we understand our innermost drives, values, and motives-until we accept who we are rather than who we hope or pretend to be. One person may give to the poor out of love and compassion; another may give out of guilt, or the need to impress others. Each shows charity; only one shows integrity. Motives and intent make a vast difference in the lives of both givers and recipients, because we give far more than coins; we give the currency of the self’
“I’m getting the impression that integrity is a lot more difficult to achieve than I thought.”
“Everything is difficult until it becomes easy,” the sage replied. “It takes courage and openness to achieve authenticity – to be able to say to yourself and to the world, ‘Like it or not, this is who I am,’ and then to live that truth. But once you accept your humanity, integrity is not difficult at all. It’s not about being perfect or infallible; we’ve all made mistakes. We can only do our best and learn from our mistakes, so we can do better next time. Alignment with the Law of Integrity means acknowledging our weaknesses and drawing on our inner strengths, so we become examples who light the way for others.”
“Maybe that’s what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said, ‘My life is my teaching.”‘
“Yes:’ she responded. “Children have never been very good at listening to their parents, but they never fail to imitate them.”
“I don’t think you’re just talking about children.”
“Indeed not:’ the sage replied. “We all influence one another by our example, and we all learn by imitation, whether or not we are conscious of it. We touch others not so much by what we say, but by how we live.
“I once walked down an isolated stretch of road with a woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim:’ the sage continued. “She traveled on faith, walking until offered shelter and fasting until given food, reminding us, ‘Live according to your highest light and more light will be giver.’ this summarizes the essence of integrity, Traveler, and this you are called upon to practice.”