My mother used to say, “There is no rest for the wicked.” Religious views and centuries of shame aside, when we step out of integrity, we are cast out on the turbulent seas of our own making. The level of that turbulence will be in relationship to what we know is right.
Having integrity is not about following someone else’s view of what is right or wrong, even if that person is a spiritual teacher, a parent, or a good friend. It is not about following a doctrine or a diet. It is listening to the truth of our heart and the wisdom of our soul in the process of choosing what is right and good.
It can be easy to berate ourselves when we notice a step out of integrity. The right step being so obvious, how could we, why would we, choose another way? But these momentary lapses of judgment represent areas where we have not yet blossomed into the fullness of who we might one day be.
In this moment, we do not yet have the strength to realize the highest and most noble aspects of ourselves. These moments also serve to alert us to what work still needs to be done, where there is a need to strengthen our resolve and let go of our baggage.
When we attack ourselves for our mistakes, we are not able to learn as fully from them. We divert our attention from the important task at hand, which is bringing ourselves back into integrity so that we might once again be able to benefit from the well-being it bestows.
It is helpful to remember that if we innocently make a mistake, this has a different effect than when we knowingly act in ways that are out of integrity. It makes no sense to judge ourselves harshly for something we were simply unaware of. However, once we recognize our errors, we are responsible for and to them.
It does not matter how much we try to fool ourselves: we know what is right. We know when we have chosen to act in ways that are wrong. We feel the impact whether we try to hide it or not. If we play cat-and-mouse games with the truth, we are deeply out of integrity. And although we can do so for a lifetime, at some point, there will be a reckoning.
Accountability is a central mechanism of integrity.
The path of integrity requires taking responsibility for our actions with compassion for the parts of ourselves that are still growing. We do not let ourselves off the hook, but we understand that sometimes we will fail. Mistake are inevitable; our job is simply to correct ourselves and get back on track.
This can be hard work in a world where integrity seems scarce. It can be challenging to know what is right, and even more challenging to follow through on that. While we can be aided to act with integrity by those around us, the true answers to what is right can be found in our hearts.
In a world where so many people so often act in contrast to their values, we might also wonder if is it even safe to try to act with integrity ourselves. Are we not putting a lamb before a wolf? What is the price that we might pay to try in this kind of world?
However, integrity offers its own protection.
This does not mean that harm will not come your way or that you will not get confused in situations that are designed to confuse you, because even the best of us fall or get taken down sometimes.
Being in integrity means that your heart is clear and therefore less easily taken advantage of. It means your mind is clear and therefore less easily corrupted. It means you know the truth of who you are and therefore are not a pawn for others.
Integrity is a blazing sword of protection and clarity. To wield it, we need to deeply respect ourselves and others. And, from this place of respect, choose to do what is right—plain and simple—each time we are faced with a choice.
To have this is to have an inner peace regardless of the circumstances.