I is for Integrity.

I was asked to write about Integrity as part of Molly Mahar's “Blog Crawl” on self-love this February. Today’s post is part of Stratejoy’s The ABC’s of Self Love Blog Crawl + Treasure Hunt. Molly’s series is part of her bigger program called The Fierce Love Course. I had a chance to meet with Molly in San Diego last fall and see her amazing work first-hand, and I was delighted to be picked to post as part of this series.

I is for Integrity.

“Integrity is not achieved, attained, or accomplished. Integrity, like character, is built through quiet persistence, a structural consistency in all that you say, do, and believe.” 

“To have integrity is to believe fully in your soul, and your being. It is to act in accordance with yourself, and accept nothing less.”

Continual Motion.

I’m sweating. Breathing hard. I’ve got my leg over my shoulder, and my knee is creaking. My hand is slipping, slowly, against the rubbery mat surface and I can hear seventeen other students also breathing hard. I’m trying to get into a new space, move towards a new pose in my yoga class, and I can’t figure out if I’m going to be able to get there today. Leftover alcohol and chlorine equally permeate my sweat, and I curse having spent a week and a half doing nothing – why didn’t I say in shape? – I mutter. I forget it, letting the thought slide out of my brain easily. I’m here now. This is good. This feels good. But bad. Good lord, does this feel bad. Awful in a stretching, pulling kind of way. Unglamorous.

I drop my head, lifting my left hand quickly off the mat to wipe sweat from my face. Drops fall from my face to the mat, making it more slippery, less sticky. Damn.

And my leg slides, centimeters, stretching again, and all of a sudden I can point my toes. I feel it, a balanced, taught centeredness, muscles working together. My hands are aligned below me, my chest is centered squarely above me, my bones stacking neatly, my legs pointing towards opposite walls.

It’s graceful, but exertion doesn’t stop. Sweat keeps dripping. I’m still moving. I’m either working towards the pose or relaxing, dropping from it.

Movement, the teacher intones. It’s all about movement. You’re constantly moving, constantly shifting, always realigning and re-centering.

Yes.

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

Commitment.

We made a commitment at the beginning of class, a small devotion to ourselves and our practice, and we chose a phrase or a word to stick to for the night. A set of words to recall when our brains freeze in mindless chatter, when our thoughts dart outside of the room and into the future or past, worrying needlessly about all things could-have and should-have and might-have and would-have. The words bring our loose cannons back to alignment, briefly, like five-year-olds in a small class, restlessly bopping about while waiting for lunchtime.

My commitment, my word, my phrase – how do I pick a word? I mused over independence, over writing, over being, over gratitude. My frazzled brain did it again, tumbling through a thousand thoughts, looking for a life-line and a mantra to relax into. Words float in: blessings, health, kindness, of being kind and grateful for everything, of releasing the relentless pressure I build up in myself to achieve and to do and to be. And then I my mind, like my body, stumbles onto a phrase that settles nicely in my mind, a gentle kindness that pulls towards a longer form of being, an integrity. “Move towards,” the voice told me: "Move towards your goals. Move towards integrity."

Movement, this idea, resonates: there’s no need for a valiant, chest-puffing stake in the ground, a moment in time that says, I WILL DO THIS! As though now that I have shouted it, it is and it will be! (Insert multiple exclamation points). It is quieter, more peaceful, more consistent. It's a set of actions, a layered being, a nuanced commitment to yourself over time.

Moving towards integrity.

“Character is not what you say, it is not what you boast. It is what you do when no one is watching.”

What is integrity? 

Integrity is knowing what you stand for. It is showing consistency in your actions and having a soundness of moral character. Integrity is doing what you say you’re going to do, even when no one is watching.

Integrity is being accountable to yourself.

In buildings, structural integrity means that the building will stand up – that the components, the joints, the system at play is sound and built well; that it won’t deteriorate or break down over time. It is a consistency and standard of excellence in engineering.

Some definitions include "the state of being unimpaired; soundness,” or another: “the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.”

 “ You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do” – Henry Ford

For me, integrity is living up to my expectations of myself. It’s upholding both my thoughts and actions; it's  behaving my best, even during the worst situations. It’s going to the gym, even if I don’t want to, because I made a commitment to myself. It’s planning ahead, giving someone grace when it’s due, it’s standing up for myself, it’s for chasing after your dreams even if no one else knows what you are up to. It's believing in yourself and your dreams, and holding yourself accountable for acting in accordance with the best that you can be.

The opposite is also true.

We’ve all screwed up. Royally, beautifully, messily, fantastically. If we were perfect already, I suppose that would be boring. We mess up. We’re human. The difference is in how you decide to behave. What you choose to do before, during, afterwards. Whether or not you are capable of repairing a situation.

Integrity is not a stake in the ground. It’s not a goal that’s achieved. It’s a consistency of action, over time, that builds in what you say, believe, and do.

You’ve probably encountered situations where someone or something lacked integrity.

Perhaps it was you.

I've been there.

Last year, in Paris, traveling with my sister, I found one (of many) weaknesses in my character through exploring new settings, circumstances, and places. In particular, I found I had to question my ability to make decisions and what I thought was true about myself. I got beautifully, horribly conned in Monte Martre, duped into doing something, and I was rattled by the change in my behavior in the given context. More alarming than losing dozens of Euros was the red glaring flag hitting itself loudly against my conscience:

Do I really make good decisions? Am I what I think I am? Or am I actually just all talk? I babbled as such to my sister as we walked up to the top of the Sacre Coure, wondering how I could have wandered down a spiral of decision points that led to very silly—and alarming—behaviors.

Yet all was not lost: dissonance is good. Dissonance reminds us when our behaviors and actions aren’t in line with what we believe to be true about ourselves. Moments of discomfort tell us when we’re not behaving in accordance with who we truly are. The act of testing, of being, of doing--these are the moments that matter.

You’re not perfect. You’ll mess up. I’ve found that time and again, I test my integrity and sometimes fall short. Each time, I have to stop and analyze, wondering: what am I? Is this what I want to be? Do I like this?

Why does it matter?

Does it matter? You can brush it under the rug, sweep it away, think, “Oh Sarah, who cares!” – but it matters. It’s not about what other people think, say or believe about you.

At the end of the day, you’re the one that has to live with you. You’re there when you wake up, when you breathe, when you think, when you act.

I’m the one who has to sleep with myself at night; I’m the one who wakes up when I can’t stand how I’ve behaved; I’m the one who runs away from my emotions at times. It’s all just me.

And at the end of the day, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?

If you don’t do what you say you will—not for anyone else, but for yourself—then you lose trust in yourself. If you can’t keep your own word to yourself, and do what it is that you say you’re going to do, then what good is your word?

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” –David Star Jordan

What does integrity look like? What does it feel like?

“I never had a policy. I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.” – Abraham Lincoln 

The things I’m proudest of aren’t the big goals, the declarations, the accomplishments. They are perpetual works of art, things I’m continuing to move towards. A quiet integrity, the knowledge that each action is cumulative, and that with each effort, exertion, breathe and stance, I’m working towards becoming what I say I want to become.

And from yoga, standing next, upright with my leg straight out, foot held in my hand, my upper thigh quivering with tension, my hamstrings stretched to their maximum, my opposite leg shaking silently in exertion. This is the act of standing, of balancing, an act of perpetual motion. Of persistent strain. Of forces, acting in opposition, continual moving back and forth against each other.

Tracy Chapman plays in the background: “… All you have is your soul,” she sings, deep and rich. She’s right. You’re all you’ve got. You know what you are capable of. And you know when you don't live up to what you could be.

The most beautiful poses in yoga, in life, in being--are actually those of endless motion, of shifting and moving and realigning. Even in the long stretches, the folds and the bends, the fibers in our muscular systems shift and lengthen, releasing millimeters, day by day, until one day we wake up with our face against our knees and wonder,

Well, shit.

How did I get here?  

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This post is part of Molly Mahar of Stratejoy’s “Blog Crawl” for self-love this February. Find out more about The ABC’s of Self Love Blog Crawl + Treasure Hunt here. Check out the previous authors and their thoughts on self-love, here:  

The ABC’s of Self-Love:

A is for Acceptance by Molly Mahar: “Luckily, accepting who I am is more than embracing my (gorgeous, quirky, messy) imperfections. It’s also about celebrating my strengths, admiring my awesome, appreciating my honor.”

B is for Beauty by Rebecca Bass-Ching: “I now revel in the awe-inspiring beauty of courage, generosity, gentleness, kindness, sacrificial love, compassion, vulnerability, motherhood and respect.”

C is for Celebration by Dani: "Stand in front of the mirror and point out all the things you love about yourself. Instant self-love!”

D is for Determination by Ash Ambirge: “Want success? Make more decisions, choose more often, gain more control, and then take responsibility over your success. Period.” 

E is for Enough by Amy Kessel:“The resistance to loving ourselves disappears when we know, really know, that we are enough.”

F is for Freedom by Jenny Blake: “A fallacy of freedom is that we must not allow ourselves to be tied-down, lest we lock the cage on our ability to fly.”

G is for Growth by Justine Musk:  “It’s how you grow through and out of it – the meaning you make of it – that can not only shape yourself and your creative work (and your life) — but inspire others.”

H is for Honoring by Randi Buckley: “The deepest honor in the name of self-love shines light onto the whispers in the heart.”

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