(Feel free to skip this introduction or to let go of it and dive into the stories whenever the spirit moves you to do so. This overview provides some context for the rest of the book, but is on some level not important. The real meat is in the stories. You might even find this section more meaningful after reading some of the stories.)
What is Radical Integrity?
Integrity, as addressed in this book, is a much more far-reaching concept and ambitious enterprise than just “being honest” or “telling the truth”. It refers to a life-long endeavor to find out who we are and then to find ways to be that in the situations of our life.
Big enough for you? Well it’s even more challenging than that. There are all kinds of fears and limitations within us that can make this difficult and many, many forces all around us that can get in the way. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a heroic journey, which it definitely is.
In a way, there is none. The rewards of integrity are contained in the experience itself. There is no bottom line, no additional rewards we get from this process. How our world, society, the people in our lives – our family, lovers, bosses, colleagues, friends – will respond to us living this way is completely unpredictable, and typically will be kind of a mixed bag. Living with radical integrity will in many ways rock the boat, for ourselves and others. We can’t predict the influence this process will have on the circumstances of our lives. We just show up and (as a teacher of mine used to say) “let God handle the results”.
There are lots of ways that this world is not set up for us to become radically our selves. We get all kinds of messages, conditioning, reinforcements for doing otherwise. The people around us mostly want us to behave in ways that will meet their needs. Our religions want us to “be good”. Our parents want us to make them proud. Our bosses want us to work hard.
Faced with the limiting and confusing expectations placed on us from all sides, most people just get by, settle. We carve out the best little lives we can. We try to fit in. We may surrender to what Eric Fromm calls the “marketing orientation” – we try to measure up to what society values, to make ourselves attractive or desirable. Or we build our lives around “satisfying our needs” – lots of pop psychology is built around teaching us how to do this. Or we addictively pursue money, success, romance, sex, “love”, work, or comfort. Or we base our life around consumption – cars, houses, vacations, sexy cell phones, Ipods, etc., etc., etc. Or we just try to turn off the whole noisy, crazy mix of these competing expectations with food, alcohol, drugs, music or whatever.
But living from a place of integrity can provide rewards in the here and now that cannot be quantified, that are available in no other way, that go beyond our wildest dreams. We are who we are and life is what it is. Not being who we are and not facing and living into life as it is cause suffering. Discovering who we are and finding ways to express that, going deeply into life through our real selves provides satisfaction, real pleasure, joy.
Integrity means becoming who we truly are meant to be, who we in this moment genuinely are – and finding ways to express these realities. “Radical Integrity” refers to building our lives around this quest, valuing nothing else more. We become sensitive and open to all the many clues around us and in us to each new little thread of our selves. We open our sensors to what is cued up in us to be expressed next. And we open our voices, our spontaneity, our self-expressiveness to live out the many faces of that miracle that is us.
We can express who we really are through art, relationships, work, play – virtually any form of human expression. But what comes out of us when we are practicing radical integrity will not be determined by fashion, market forces or the expectations of others. To be genuine, we will in some way recognize and deal with these forces around us – not simply ignore or defy them. Certainly, if we want to have the richness and joy of human relationships, we need to pay attention to the people around us, to their wants and needs.
But coming from a place of integrity will mean that we do not simply react to any of these forces. We recognize them – in some ways we get superbly aware of them, we go deep into experiencing them, listening to them. They are, after all, part of the reality of our here and now. But we, progressively over the course of our lives, find genuinely creative ways to respond to them, ways that simultaneously express some of the many facets of the jewel that we are. We become “response-able” – not unconscious, insensitive or “out-of-it”, but rather extremely aware and then able to respond in ways that involve us showing up fully in these various situations. Some of these responses will “pay off” in the marketplace, will make the people around us happy and/or happy with us – but some will not. We are driven simply to tell our truths in the situations of our lives and then let the chips fall where they may. We trust the process
If all these words seem a bit abstract, they are. The more tangible expressions of these ideas are contained in this book. Almost every chapter is based around a story or stories of people like you and me (in some cases, the key figure literally is me – in some of them, you will absolutely see yourself in the stories), facing the situations of their lives, listening to the promptings of their inner voice, and finding ways to express who they are in this here-and-now reality.
Some of these forms of self-expression are not the final answer. Some of them are experiments, halting at best, as the protagonists listen and watch for what is their authentic response to the situations of their lives. They may go on to experiment some more, to try to get closer to their own truths in this moment of time. Sometimes they will say “Bingo! This is it – this is what I really mean to say or do, right now.” Other times they may experience the relative satisfaction of knowing they are getting closer, that this response expresses who they are a little better than their previous responses. And there really is no final answer, because we keep changing and the life around us keeps changing. Each successful experiment at being and expressing who we are sets up the next experiment, allows us the opportunity of becoming even more richly that person we are meant to be, who we essentially are.
How to read this book
So, if you want, ignore all this talk, all this introduction. If it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, don’t worry. Dive into the stories – they will. Some of them more than others. Some you will find interesting. Others will absolutely hit you where you live.
You may have a variety of responses to how the person in the story handles these situations. Some of their actions, experiments and insights may excite you – may even thrill you. Others may make you nervous. You may find yourself having a variety of mental judgments about what I or the other characters do in these stories. As much as possible, simply note these mental judgments and go back into the stories. Have an inner dialogue with that character or those characters. Put yourself into the story and see what you want to do.
Or have an outer dialogue. Share the book or a particular story with people in your lives. Tell them about what you have read or pass it along for them to read. Nothing can increase the power of this book to transform your own life more than letting others into your process of reading and responding to it – talking with them, wrestling with these situations out loud, creating a process for taking all this out of your head and putting it out there on the street.
Don’t read more than a chapter a day. Each of these chapters should give you plenty to chew on – let yourself chew. Take this particular story into your day and see what bubbles up in you from it. You may find that what you just read has direct relevance to the situations of your day. Or you may simply find that the overall message of this book around self-expression can feed you in what you actually encounter as you go out into your world. “If I were to live from a place of radical integrity in this day, in this situation, how might that influence my thoughts/feelings/behavior? What might I do/try/say next?”
Skip around. Open the book wherever your fingers take you and trust that this is the chapter you most need to read today. (There is no necessary logic or development to the order of these chapters. I actually had a hard time figuring out which chapter should go where.)
You may already have a practice of journaling. If not, this might be a great opportunity for trying it. Find yourself a notebook that feels good to you and a pen or pencil you really like. (I have a nice, not-too-large, hard-back notebook that I really like on busses, at work, etc. At home, I word-process at my computer.) Then don’t write for anybody else – I pretty much commit that I will never show my journaling to anybody else. And don’t write to produce. Don’t worry about how it sounds, does it make any sense, is there any point, is there a beginning-middle-end. Just let stuff come out on paper. You may start from responding to a particular chapter or character. You could tell them what you think of them or what they are doing – have a little conversation with them. Or you could respond to the whole concept of radical integrity, as you are getting it from the book so far – what it means to you, what you think of it or feel about it, how you are responding to it. You could have a little conversation with me about it. (If you want, after you have journaled or instead of it, you could actually send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – I promise to reply. I love hearing how this stuff is affecting people. We might even end up having a real conversation.)
Don’t march through. You don’t have to read a chapter a day. Grab it when it’s grabbing you and set it aside when it’s not. You may need more than one day to absorb what you have just read. (When I went through the Course in Miracles workbook, the structure held 365 lessons, which you could theoretically go through in one year. I routinely spend two, three or seven days on a lesson, carrying it around in my pocket, applying it to the situations of my life – squeezing the juice out of it before moving on. I spent four years working through that book – then turned around and spent three more years going through it again.) This book doesn’t have slow learners – we’re all on the remedial track.
When it’s over, it’s over. It’s not important that you ever finish this book. You may read a couple of chapters and get exactly what you were meant to get. Or you may set it aside while you immerse yourself in work, love or vacation. You may come back to it later and you may not. If you become serious about radical integrity – fully and kind of ruthlessly being that specific person you were meant to be – then your way of relating to this book is just right. (But please try a couple of chapters before you give up – they are way different than all these introductory words.)