What Is Conscious Integrity?
I’m sure you know folks who have a strong sense of integrity. They feel sturdy, reliable, and trustworthy. They show up on time and do what they say they’ll do. They feel whole, like all parts of their being are in communication.
The good news is you can use practices to consciously cultivate integrity.
So what exactly is integrity? It is all about congruency. You have a unique set of values, desires, ethics, and commitments. How well does your life and your actions reflect these parts of your being? In this way, integrity is the link that binds your actions to your values, desires, ethics, and word. I’ll walk through each of these in a moment. But first, it’s helpful to convey that you can either be ‘in integrity’ or ‘out of integrity.’
The best way to tell if you are in or out of integrity is by feeling. If you are ‘in integrity,’ you’ll feel strong, whole, relaxed, and proud of how you’re showing up. It’s like you acting like the person you want to be, and all parts of yourself are welcome.
If you are ‘out of integrity,’ you’ll feel weak, dismembered, shaky, and remorseful – even if all subtly. It’s as if you are acting like someone who you don’t want to be, and parts of yourself are sequestered from the whole. When you act out of integrity it dis-integrates you.
The Four Types of Conscious Integrity
Now we can explore what it means to be in or out of integrity in these four different dimensions.
1. Your Actions Align With Your Values
We each have a different set of values. Your values are your unique blueprint of what you care about and stand for. A few of my top values are connection, exploration, honesty, and kindness. Your’s probably look different.
Your values represent the qualities of the version of yourself you hope to become. Living out your values – that is to say, being in integrity with your values – feels fulfilling, because you are being who you want to be.
When you are out of conscious integrity with your values, there may be a complex emotional response. You may feel like some part of yourself is atrophying because it is underfed. Or you may feel guilt for acting like someone you don’t want to be.
For example, imagine that one of your top values is generosity, and yet you never spend money on gifts, you donate approximately $0 per month to charities, and you are miserly and overly-protective of your time. There may be myriad reasons why you are out of integrity, ranging from complacency to fear. To practice conscious integrity is to acknowledge where you are out of integrity, and to find your way back in. I’ll explain more below.
2. Your Actions Align With Your Desires
We all have different frameworks for interpreting desire. You may think your desires are signals from your higher self; perhaps your desires come from your inner wisdom or your eros or your intuition; maybe they are biologically based; or perhaps there is no complex story, and they’re just what you want. Regardless of where your desires come from, they ultimately lead you to what you…want.
When you are in alignment with your desires, you’ll find yourself in a life flow. Acting on your desires is a good thing because it will give you the life you want. Desire need not be selfish – your greatest desire may be to raise a child, or to contribute to restoring our forests.
We get to practice acting on our desires in literally every moment. Every meal is an opportunity to consult your desires. Even now, do you want to change your posture to be slumpier or more post-like? It is endlessly valuable to pause throughout the day, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself “what do I want right now?” and see what emerges.
When you listen to your body, it naturally attunes itself to your desires. That’s why dance and other embodiment practices can be so profound, because they slip you into a state of embodied flow. If someone asks you to dogsit for them, a simple tool to tell if you want to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is to see what the idea of doing it feels like in your body – ‘desire’ and ‘yes’ often feel expansive and exciting. Whereas ‘I don’t want that!’ often feels contracting and dulled.
When you are in integrity with your desire, you are taking action on the things that you want for yourself. And when you are out of integrity, you are making decisions and building a life that don’t match what you want (though maybe it’s the life your parents, spouse, or culture want for you). Being out of integrity with desire feels diminishing, like you are hocking a green-phlegmy loogie in the palm of your hand and giving your self-worth a wet slap to the face.
Three common challenges to be in integrity with your desires are
- When what you want is really scary because it’s something that’s really important to you.
- When you have a habit of self-sabotaging and giving yourself less-than what you want.
- If you are so out of touch with yourself, you don’t even know what your desire feels like. This one is common for people-pleasers, ‘nice-guys,’ and most females (given that our society de-prioritizes female pleasure and desire)
Most people who smoke cigarettes are out of conscious integrity with their desire. If you ask them if they want to quit they’d say yes, and yet they return to the pack every day. I’ve only met one person – my friend Sarah, who I could accurately describe as a soft-hearted badass – who felt in integrity with her smoking. I asked her if she wanted to quit, and she replied something to the effect of: ‘Obviously not. If I wanted to stop smoking, I’d stop. I smoke because I want to. If I die early, I don’t give a fuck. At least I enjoyed my cigarettes.”
3. Your Actions Align With Your Ethics
We each have our own sense of right-and-wrong.
The more you study/think about morality and the more you mature, the more your own sense of right-and-wrong evolves. It is a dynamic entity.
However in any given moment you have the moral compass you have. And when an ethical decision presents itself to you, you can either do what you believe is right or what you believe is wrong.
To be in integrity with your ethics means that your moral actions are in alignment with what you believe to be right. Living this way has your hands feel clean and can instill a fierce and empowering sense of honor into your heart.
To be out of integrity with your ethics means that you are taking action that you believe to be wrong. Perhaps you didn’t slow down to consult your moral compass, or perhaps you caved to other pressures. Either way, this tends to come with a feeling of guilt, shame, or remorse. People with naturally strong consciouses don’t necessarily have better ethical frameworks, but when they do what they believe is wrong they feel immensely guilty (shout-out to all the cubscouts out there!).
If you pay attention closely, you’ll see that there are endless tests to act in accordance with your ethics. Especially if you espouse truth-telling as a moral principle, you’ll be shocked at just how difficult and nuanced it is to commit to always telling the truth.
4. Your Actions Align With Your Word
We all have promises, agreements, and commitments in our life. To be in integrity is pretty simple – you only make agreements you believe you can honor, and once you make an agreement you strive to keep it. Doing so will make you a person others can trust and rely on. And how spectacular and rare it is to have collaborators who always do what they say they’ll do!
If you are out of integrity with your word, it means you are breaking a commitment, agreement, or promise you made.
Your word is sacred. It is an emblem of trust and power. The more you honor and adhere to your word, the stronger it becomes. With a strong word you can etch declarations into the fabrics of reality and trust them to actualize – just like every other time your word has come true.
Each time you give your word and then violate it, not only do others lose trust in your reliability, you also lose trust in your own word.
Conscious integrity with your word extends to yourself as well. You also have agreements, commitments, and promises with yourself. The more you keep them – and stay in integrity with your word – the more you’ll trust yourself and the more powerful your word will become. If you continually violate your word to yourself it (and you) will become weak and floppy, and you will lose trust in yourself.
There are so many ways to practice empowering your word. First, just be very careful what you commit to. Really make sure you can hold a commitment before you make it – and once you give your word, do your best to follow through with it.
I have a practice where every time I read a book, I give myself the first 50 pages to feel it out. At page 50 I can either abort the book or commit to finishing it. If I do commit, I do my damn best to finish that book – because my word is on the line. I make it a practice of commitment, a chance to fortify my word. And I’m not perfect – I still fail to finish about 15% of books I set out to complete. And each time that happens I have the growth opportunity to better understand why that commitment fell through.
30-Day-Challenges are another phenomenal way to build your word. I’ve done many such challenges – writing a letter to an old friend every day, eating raw vegan only, taking a cold bath, etc. Embarking on a challenge and committing to it is a powerful rite. Each time I come out the other side I feel that much more confident in my ability. to stick to my word.
It is very powerful to build your capacity to complete your own promises. Because perhaps you’ll want to see just how big of promises you can make yourself.
The Steps To Being In Conscious Integrity
There are three guidelines to staying in integrity: First, set expectations for yourself you believe you can reach. Then do your darndest to stay in integrity (without burning yourself out). And then, if you do fall out of integrity, be gracious with yourself, acknowledge your breach in commitment, and make repairs.
1. Set Expectations You Believe You Can Reach
Is generosity (or plug in whichever value here) really a value of your’s? If you’ve said it is for years, but you never act in accordance with that value, then perhaps it’s not your integrity that’s out of whack. Maybe you actually you’ve named the wrong value. Perhaps you admire generous people, but it’s actually not a primary value of your’s.
And if generosity is a value, make sure the bar is reasonable. Maybe donating $50 a month is in range for you, but $1000 just ain’t gonna happen right now.
Some desires are really scary, and will ask more of you than your courage can offer. Be gentle and accepting when this happens.
I’ve had countless opportunities where the desire was too much and I couldn’t act on it in the moment. If I’m at a concert and want to offer a dance to someone. Or if I want to invite someone into a group-coaching program I’m running but am afraid they’ll say no. When I do fall short I simply practice self-compassion and develope an understanding that I cannot expect myself to act on every desire all the time.
Sometimes doing the right thing will ask more of you than you can give. Or your sense of rightness may compete with other values.
For example, I have a friend who is a vegetarian. She considers it to be ‘wrong’ to needlessly eat meat. However her parents are devoted farmers and butchers. When she visits her parents they always feed her meat, and their own sense of identity is attached to their edible cows. My friend tends to eat beef with her family, to avoid undue conflict.
I’m not making a claim on what is ‘right’ here, but simply that my friend placed a value on family-relations above her ethics. Or she just wasn’t ready to confront her parents’ beliefs that she conflicted with.
If someone asks you to keep something confidential, take a pause first and check in with yourself if you think you can.
If you engage in a coffee-chat with an acquaintance, don’t say “I’d love to do this again” if that isn’t true for you.
Let’s say you are late for a meeting with a collaborator, and you automatically assure them “I won’t be late again.” Don’t say that unless you mean it. If you are late next week, your word will take a hit.
Before making any commitments or agreements, pause. Get in conversation with yourself if you mean and can stand by what you’re about to say.
2. Do Your Best To Stay In Integrity
This one is a little simpler. Just do your best!
Listen to yourself and try to act on your values. When you notice you really want something, try to act on it – or even speak the desire. If something feels wrong to you, try not to do it. And if you give your word, do your best to keep it.
And also note that self-care is a real thing. If staying true to your word means damaging your wellness, or overwhelming yourself into burnout, then give yourself a pass.
3. If You Fall Out of Integrity, Make Repairs and Be Kind to Yourself
You are going to fail. And that’s not even pessimistic bad news – it’s just real!
You will act in conflict with your values. You will sacrifice your desires for someone else’s. You will cower away from doing what is right. And you will falter on your agreements. Many times.
To be in conscious integrity does not mean that you will be perfect. It means that as soon as you notice that your actions are not aligning with your values, desires, ethics, and word that you acknowledge it (to yourself and to anyone else impacted), make any necessary repairs, and then you do your best next time.
Plain and simple. Half of the game is just noticing when you’ve fallen off track, catching yourself with a loving hand, and bringing yourself back into right effort.
Conscious Integrity as Wholeness
One last topic I’ll touch on is viewing integrity as wholeness – full self-integration. This is a different spin on integrity, and touches on integrity’s etymological ancestor: ‘integer’ (which is a ‘whole’ number. Eg 3.0 is an integer, 3.1 is not).
In this sense, to be in integrity means that all parts of you are welcome. Every aspect of your being is brought out of shame and fear and into conscious awareness. Integrated into the whole. The beautiful and the grotesque.
The two best methods to achieve this type of conscious integrity is through:
- Self love. Which is to bring loving acceptance to everything that comes into your awareness.
- Shadow work. Which is to actively bring pleasure to the critters of your being hiding in the darkness.
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