What does integrity mean to you?
I get the impression that people generally take it to mean being true to their word and treating other people well. But I think there's a lot more to it than that. When looking up the word in my handy little dictionary app, it comes up with three meanings.
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
3. a sound, unimpaired or perfect condition.
The first definition doesn't appeal to me that much. Moral and ethical principles are mind-generated and are therefore coloured and distorted by the mind's inherent limitations. I agree with Lao-tzu that the highest virtue comes not from following mind-made morals and ideals (which are usually just conditioned into us by the culture we live in), but from being rooted in our own sense of BEING.
When we're aligned with Self, we spontaneously act from 'rightness' because we're in alignment with the innate flow and perfection of Life expressing through us.
The one word that does jump out at me from that first definition is 'honesty'.
I believe the essence of integrity is being honest to who and what we truly are. This is something so few of us actually do, because again we're indoctrinated by a culture that demands we do the exact opposite, wanting us to follow its ideals and nothing more. The only problem is, it's impossible to be true to anyone or anything other than our Self. For truth isn't out there and it never was. "To thine own Self be true" -- great words by Shakespeare, and perhaps the best definition of integrity there is.
I love the other two definitions of integrity because they perfectly point to this Self-honesty I'm talking about.
When we know what are, when we've really delved deeply beneath the surface and journeyed through all the layers of mental sediment, conditioning and ego-identification, we come to that place of expansive emptiness/fullness within us at the core of our being, the very ground of our awareness. You've either experienced this or you haven't, which will make all the difference between understanding what I'm trying to point to and thinking I'm just talking utter gibberish. Because you're reading this at all, I'm going to assume that you've had at least some taste of the deeper Reality of Being.
When we've experienced some degree of Self-knowledge, when we've seen through the screen of our minds, egos and conditioning to the deeper Reality beneath, then part of us is never the same again. Sure, it's extremely difficult to hold onto and sustain this realisation. It's one thing having transcendent spiritual realisations in meditation and quite another thing maintaining them in our daily lives. Our minds and egos have deep grooves and exert a tremendous gravity that keeps the old structures firmly in place (and let's face it, everything in the world around us is also designed to keep the ego in the drivers seat).
But when you've seen the TRUTH, even just a little glimmer of it, you can never go back to the way you were before, at least not entirely and not forever. A little sliver of sunlight has got through a crack in the brick wall of your mind/psyche/ego (a hefty construction if ever there was!), and it wants to shine again. It'll take any little gap it can get and surely, in time, as the bricks start to erode and dissolve -- as they inevitably will, whether by grace, by pain or by death. As this happens, the light gets its chance to shine through, ever stronger and brighter, dispelling the darkness of ignorance and illusion and allowing the truth of life to be seen, experienced and realised.
Perhaps you can now see why I was so enamoured by the dictionary definition of integrity as being "the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished" and "a sound, unimpaired or perfect condition." Isn't that a pretty much perfect description of enlightenment? Is it possible that integrity is in fact synonymous with enlightenment? I'm beginning to think so.
My feeling is that enlightenment is the seeing through of what is false and the realisation of what is true. First comes the recognition of truth and then the integration of that into the entirety of our being. For enlightenment to be true, it has to penetrate every aspect of our being and lives. It's no use having a strictly mental and/or conceptual understanding of reality -- lots of people have that and they're about as enlightened as plant pots. Some people might understand what I'm talking about, and they might even have experienced it, and yet still don't truly GET it on the deeper levels of their being. They might intellectually know that they're the transcendent Reality, yet in their daily lives still behave not unlike like the most monstrously insane egos out there.
This is why I think integrity is such an important thing to reflect upon, particularly for ‘spiritual people’. Integrity isn't as big an issue for people that are completely under the spell of their minds and egos, because they’re too deeply immersed in a world of dreams and illusions and have no conception of what they truly are. Self-integrity is impossible when you don’t even know your Self!
But those that have had some degree of awakening, yet are still operating from the level of ego, then I think integrity is a huge issue. As I said, it takes a certain amount of time and effort to break free of the gravity of the old mind structures, but it's something that ultimately has to be done. Until we do, there's a deep divide at the core of our beings; a gulf between who we truly are and who we're choosing to be in our daily lives. Whether we're aware of it or not, this inner conflict causes enormous pain and is most likely reflected by all kinds of difficulties and problems in our outer lives. It's impossible to be at peace and to flow with life as long as we have this fundamental lack of integrity eating away at us from the inside out.
The ego can deceive us in a million different ways. That's not to make the ego into an enemy, or even something tangible and real, because it's not; it's really just a detour from truth and can be overcome each and every time we move back to that truth. Whenever we catch ourselves suffering, even if it’s just a bad mood, it's likely a sign that we're out of integrity, that we're lost in our thoughts, concepts and egos again. When that happens we’re probably trying to hold life to ransom, as we so often do when we're relating to life from that level. Above all, it's a sign that although we know the truth, we aren't in that moment LIVING it.
I hope I've managed to convey why I feel integrity is so vitally important, especially for those of us in the process of awakening. Perhaps enlightenment (the recognition of truth) is just the first step, while integrity (the embodiment of that truth) is the crucial second step. Enlightenment is actually pretty easy because when we lay the appropriate foundations and invite it in, it comes more or less of its own accord. Integrity, on the other hand, requires a massive amount of vigilance, honesty and persistent effort on our part...