Today I’d like to explore how living a life of integrity, with a sense of being grounded in who we are, is important to our health and wellbeing. Let’s start with a basic foundation, and then tie it all into how it affects our health.
Over the years I have come to learn, both through my own experience and from the words of my teachers, that we all have an internal voice that knows what is best for us, what is true, and what is right. Some may even go so far as to say that we have all the wisdom of the universe already inside of us. I have a certain amount of conviction in this idea, but have not yet had sufficient experience to confirm it. Obviously though that leads us to ask, then why do we screw up? Why is life so hard? Why do we feel helpless at times?
These are all natural questions to ask. The simple answer is that the wisdom we possess has been hidden from us by clouded minds and a disconnection with our bodies and environment. It’s ok, though, don’t freak out. There is good news: it’s supposed to be like this. We are essentially here on this earth for 2 reasons- to learn, and to help others. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what all spiritual traditions can be boiled down to. But don’t take my word for it- let’s take a look at some of those spiritual teachings:
Yoga Sutra 1.2: Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah:
Say what? Let’s translate this from Sanskrit to English. Commonly, this is translated as “The restraint of the modificiations of mind-stuff is yoga.” In other words, the waves of our minds are what keep us from being able to see our true nature, and if we can learn to practice non-attachment around these “modifications” we can eventually start to see clearly what we truly are.
The 4 Brahmaviharas: Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Upekkha:
Alright, more translation needed- this time from Pali, in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition. The 4 Brahmaviharas are the 4 “Divine Abodes,” and they are Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy (joy for the happiness of others), and Equanimity (non-clinging). We could spend our whole lives just studying this, so to keep this short and relevant, I will just say that these are the 4 qualities that the Buddha said one should cultivate in order to move towards total liberation, and live in line with the truth of the universe. In essence, these are the qualities to develop for a life based on integrity.
The 4 Noble Truths:
The 4 Noble Truths are the core of all Buddhist traditions. In the Majjhima Nikaya (1.431), the Buddha stated “And what do I teach? Suffering, its cause, its transcendence, and the way leading to its transcendence. And why do I teach this? Because it is useful, it helps in living the holy life, it leads to turning away, to dispassion, to stilling, to peace, to higher knowledge and to Nibbana.” These are essentially the 4 Noble Truths- 1. There is suffering in life, 2. There is a cause of our suffering, 3. Suffering can be ceased, 4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to the cessation of suffering. The Buddha called these the 4 Noble Truths because they are the foundational truths that make up all of material existence. If we are to understand the nature of who we are and how to get back to that nature, we must understand these 4 truths.
Other Spiritual Traditions:
There are countless teachings in other traditions that support these ideas as well. There is Mana, the 6th principle of Huna in the Hawaiian indigenous religion, which states that all power comes from inside of us. We have the power to shape and create our lives, and no one else can really hurt us or affect us if we are strong enough. Then we have Hermetic traditions, which state, “as above, so below.” This has many interpretations, but is generally understood to mean that the larger truth of the universe is reflected within us, and vice versa. Confucianism espouses the virtue of Ren, which maintains that basic human nature is good, and that we just have to find our way back to our basic nature. In short, we can find examples in all traditions that point to the idea that we have an innate wisdom that is always somewhere inside of us.
So why aren’t we just like this all the time?!:
This goes back to what I said earlier, about how we are on this earth to learn. Again, this is something that all spiritual traditions speak about. We have work to do here, and we have the choice to either address that with resistance, fear, and denial, or to let go into it and grow into our true selves, even enjoying the process. In his explanation of Yoga Sutra 1.30, Sri Swami Satchidananda says “…many obstructions are put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand and express our own capacities. We all have that strength, but we don’t seem to know it. We seem to need to be challenged and tested in order to understand our own capacities. In fact, that is the natural law. If a river just flows easily, the water in the river does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength in the form of tremendous electrical power.” I can’t possibly express this any more eloquently than he does, so I think I will leave it at that.
Putting it all together:
Now that we have built a foundational knowledge of how and why we are unable to see our true nature, and some of the ways to rectify that, we can address what I mean when I say living with integrity. Integrity means living in line with our deepest truth. A big part of this is consistency- when we consistently act on our deepest convictions, we are developing integrity. The Oxford Dictionary defines integrity as the state of being whole and undivided. This comes full circle back to everything that Holistic Health is about- creating a life that is balanced in a healthy way around ALL of the aspects of what it means to be a human on this earth. Living with integrity is one of the ways that we ensure that level of wholeness.
Our mind/body system knows when we are out of sync with our true nature, and it gives us all sorts of signs to tell us that something is wrong. In my life, it was anxiety. In my youth I was overcome with crippling anxiety, and it took me years to get to a place where I could manage it. After exhausting all of the external solutions and not being able to figure out the answer, I realized that I had to look internally. I soon came to see that the ways I was living, thinking, relating, and reacting, were not in line with who I really was. I set out on the lifelong journey to uncover my truth, and the more I discover about it, the more I am able to align myself with it and develop a sense of wholeness in my life. It is not an easy path, but it is certainly a rewarding one. I have seen massive changes in my life, not just in how I feel, but in the things that happen to me, and the people and events that make their way into my life. As we begin to listen to our first voice, which knows what is right, we develop the ability to hear it more clearly and trust what it is telling us. We must remember though that a big part of integrity is consistency. We have to live every day with a sense of greater purpose, always following what we know in our hearts to be true and right. With time, we will begin to see the light that has always been shining at our core. When we have seen that light, and tasted the freedom that real integrity can bring, it is hard to turn back. At every moment we are faced with the choice to do what is right, even if it may be difficult, or to take the easy way out and further distance ourselves from true contentment and wholeness. I hope that you all find your truth, and can experience the liberation that comes with it.
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