“Learning to walk the walk of integrity is arduous at first, effortless by the end.” —Martha Beck, The Way of Integrity: Finding the path to your true self
When a rubber band is pulled taut with no more stretch to give, if there is a piece of the band that is already weakened or less pliable, that is where it will break. Similarly, in our own lives, if we are not living in alignment with our true selves, we too become weaker, and any constant pressure or pressing of a certain expectation or outcome can eventually break us into giving in because at least we will no longer be harangued for not ‘doing as the crowd does’.
It is only when we have the courage to step away from doing what we are told to do because something for so long has never felt right, that we come back into alignment with our true selves. When we return to our true selves (how to do so is shared in detail in episode #307), we give ourselves infinite reserves of strength to see the culture for what it is in such cases when it shames, guilts and pressures, rather than accepts, supports and loves, and live so as to honor what we know works best for us. This is not a selfish decision; this is a necessary decision, for each of us has awesome gifts the world needs and can greatly benefit from if only we have the courage to trust ourselves and find out what they are and then bring them forth to share.
As Martha Beck points out, “cultures need our cooperation to survive, so they’re designed to control our behavior”. Cultures don’t have to be the larger domestic culture of the city or country you live in, of course they can be, but we must not forget the most influential cultures that we are engaged in every day – the cultures of our home life, our friends, our social groups, religious groups, political groups, etc. If we choose to prioritize the ‘group’ or ‘culture’s approval over our own inner calm and true self, then we will be as I described in the first paragraph, shamed or guilted into doing something that doesn’t align with with and takes us away from our true self and our ability to find what we can uniquely give. And here is the part that often makes it more enticing just to go along, initially, it is VERY hard to step away and go your own way. So hard because you will be bullied which occurs in large part to cause doubt in your decision, but so long as you continue to heed your inner compass, it will become easier because you will begin to witness the awesomeness and the lightness that comes with living in your integrity.
Using any collective knowledge in a culture to advance, progress and benefit fellow citizens, including all fellow citizens, to give them tools and support to reach fulfillment and the opportunity to be self-actualized is a culture I want to be a part of and find that many of these aspects are part of the culture that surrounds me; however, when a culture purports blanket truths as the path to fulfillment or conversely, when one doesn’t follow/choose the ‘right’ path, shame and/or guilt, I become very wary. Myths such as the self-made individual; myths so narrow and constrictive, they allow for no flexibility or alteration acknowledging the diversity of any culture and its people; myths that threaten any harm or loss if such a decree is not followed; myths that reduce one in the eyes of others simply because they didn’t follow, go along, or kowtow to those currently in positions of influence; and most notably, whenever only two options are given – the “right” way or the “wrong” way – I walk away quite quickly from that conversation as it is fallacious at its core (see either/or rhetorical fallacies). However, it took me a long time to build up the courage and the trust in my intuition to turn away in such scenarios, to walk on my path that honors my true self, but when I did, it made all the difference.
The path of our true selves often isn’t straight, and it often isn’t always clear, but there is a constant grounding feeling we find on this path that gives us inner assurance that we are headed in the right direction. Yes, where the turn of our wheels takes us is uncertain, but as pointed out in Art & Fear, “you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot [the work aligned with your true self] and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot—and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, [in this scenario], uncertainty is the comforting choice.”
What is true for one person is not guaranteed to be true for another, or another or another, and so on. It is the most important assignment of our lives to unearth what is true for us based on our temperament (not our personality, as personality is nurtured, and our temperament is innate – something we are born with). By choosing to be the student of ourselves, we give ourselves the best gift, a path to living and discovering what true contentment really feels like. It will take your breath away in the most wonderful and unimaginable ways, previously hard to fathom when you were living the way you were ‘supposed to’ live.
The grounding big picture aha moment sunk in like a boulder dropped into a pond as this summer gradually began to conclude. For two, almost three months, I was living at the pace that felt natural to me, every single day.
I began to cement certain habits into my life that I had only previously been able to occasionally exercise, I made a few small, yet significant changes to both my eating, exercise and mindfulness routines, not too many that I wouldn’t be able to remain consistent, but not insignificant changes, so that I could, with time, begin to notice a difference.
I shifted how I thought, specifically focusing on what was working, rather than giving time to what was not. Gradually, that simple shift which gave less oxygen to bad or unhelpful habits, caused them to no longer be part of my routines and my way of living or seeing the world.
By paying attention to what and who supported where I wanted to go and how I wanted to feel, I began to see clearly what and who was not supporting the journey I wanted to travel, which made it easier to let go.
And this is where quality over quantity entered into my awareness once again, simply because I let go of something or someone did not mean I needed to welcome another someone or something to fill the void. There was no void, but rather more wide open space to see clearly, think clearly and take a wonderfully restorative deep breath. What I gained was more space to live, more time to live at a slower pace, more energy to engage fully and not be drained, and so I am now becoming even more thoughtful and discerning about any new hobby or person that I might consider welcoming into my life, taking more time to get to know and explore, and because I am not rushing, what I know without a doubt to be mainstays in my life, those hobbies and work projects, receive more undivided attention, more creative energy and more investment which deepens the moments I have engaged with them whether it be while I am writing, while I am gardening, while I am spending time with Norman, while I am daydreaming about my next excursion abroad to Britain or France. The ‘boulder’ as I mentioned previously, is clearing out space that was formerly occupied by energy drains that reduced the quality of living well. And that boulder was only able to drop because I took the initial step to turn away from what was not working and step toward something that was full of much uncertainty, but I knew intuitively was right for me.
Many of the non-truths I have run up against have to do with being a woman in America who has chosen to be childfree and independent (it is not lost on me and what our culture ‘approves of’ that it is hard to find a word meaning single by choice which equates to unwed or unmarried that does not have a negative prefix, hmmm). Others have to do with the pace at which our lives in America should go on any given day or week or season of the year. A simple example is this current Labor Day Weekend. I have often chosen to stay home here in Bend on this long weekend primarily (while I was teaching) to rest up for what I knew would be a fast paced schedule that I didn’t have much control over, so since I had control over the three days off, I turned the speed down and savored every minute, a large part of me wanting just one more day at that slower pace. But, as you know, I now work for myself and can keep that pace that I love during the weekend and carry it into the work week, but I still chose to stay in Bend on this long weekend because it fuels me to do so, and the other options haven’t proven themselves to render the same results.
The simplest way to begin exploring what might just be a non-truth and therefore something to walk away from is how you feel when you choose to go along with what supposedly is the ‘right way’. Are you energized or drained? Are you at peace and content while engaging, even though it may have been something new and challenging, or are you exhausted and shaken because it pushed past or ignored your tenets of what you know to be true for your contentment and inner calm?
In these moments, you may not know exactly why something doesn’t sit well with you, but there is something within you asking you to explore further because there is a deeper truth rooted within you that is a key ingredient to knowing what your true path needs to be and who or what to step toward. For me, stepping into a relationship with someone who wasn’t both secure in themselves (i.e. not dependent on me to make them happy, but enjoyed my company and companionship) and innately drawn to a broad perspective of possibility for life’s awesomeness and potential triggered my gut to hesitate proceeding any further. I didn’t always understand these were the two non-starters for me, but as I reflect now, and as I know myself far better than I ever have before, I know it to be true, and these are two things, one a skill (security in oneself) and the other innate (vision and perspective of possibility and mindset), I am thankful I trusted what my intuition was nudging me to recognize to be true about what was best for me.
The key, and this is important for all of us, whatever we discover to be true for us, does not mean it is true for someone else. This is where we have to open up our myopic view of the world, and do something that can be very difficult if we have yet to use anything besides our Lizard Brain because we are only able to live our life: to imagine there is more than one or two or three (you get the idea) ways of living well and finding contentment. In other words, check yourself when it comes to giving advice, check yourself when you feel your opinion should be expressed (does it really? perhaps exercise your listening muscle instead), check yourself when you doubt that [insert life choice that makes someone else happy but you cannot fathom for yourself] could be possible; and lastly, check yourself when you question whether it is worth it to honor your true self. You have something awesome to share with this world to constructively nurture and bring awareness and/or teach others, but if you follow what doesn’t sit well with you, what dims your brightness, what closes the door on possibility, we’ll never and you’ll never know the inner calm that is possible to experience every single day.
Embracing your truth isn’t an instantaneous switch of the light from stress and doubt and mere survival to thriving, but it rights the ship of you. You will experience pushback both from the outside world and your inner world as your mind has become so accustomed to thinking certain life paths and approaches to day-to-day living were the ‘norm’ and ‘just what you do’, so be gentle with yourself. Gradually, and much like compound interest, since you are headed in the right direction that is the path of your true self, Martha Beck reminds and knows from personal experience, “[you] become physically and emotionally stronger, healthier, more peaceful” and thus “thriving—more easily that [you] imagined”.
I will leave you with one more analogy that parallels the path of adhering and acquiescing to the culture versus honoring what you know to be true for yourself and what brings you inner calm even if it goes against the non-truths you have lived with and perhaps accepted up until now. Here’s Martha Beck:
“When we first begin following the way of integrity, it’s like cleaning a dirty windowpane, where false beliefs have muddied the clarity of our minds. At first we can only scrub away in the dark, not even able to see what we’re doing. After a while, glimmers of light start to sparkle through here and there. At some point the process accelerates rapidly. As bigger areas come clean, we get more motivated, more able to see how the process works. At some point, the whole windowpane effectively vanishes and lets light pour through unobstructed.”
Beck explains that this process applies to individuals as well as to groups of people and humanity as a whole. One person, one seed of an idea that you have uniquely to give to the world is powerful if you have the courage to ‘clean’ the window.
Wishing you a wonderful start to this brand new week and unofficial new season, an opportunity to step more solidly into and onto your true path as you honor your true self. Thank you for stopping by.
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