“Your life will tell you the truth.” —Martha Beck, author of The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self
Divided. Compartmentalized. Unable to give what is needed, not by choice, but by pure, sincere inability due to time and energy. Signs of living a life off the track of the way of integrity.
Martha Beck explains in her new book, The Way of Integrity, the word integrity originates from the Latin integer meaning “in tact” and therefore cementing the definition of integrity as “to be one thing, whole and undivided”.
When we are not living a life of integrity, we are not being true to ourselves, nor the world. Now you might be thinking about the general and more commonly understood definition of integrity – living by your ‘values’ or abiding by the morals society applauds, but this is not what Beck writes about in her book. Instead, Beck looks at the true meaning of the word and applies it to each of us individually, daring to step away from any culture’s expectations – a life of integrity is one when you have aligned your body, mind, heart and soul – your actions, your mental strength, your true self – you set yourself free. In the introduction she uses a phrase commonly known on this blog/podcast – you achieve a sustainable joie de vivre. “You may not believe that such a fulfilling life is possible. It is,” Beck states with calm, assured confidence and goes on throughout the rest of the book, speaking from her own incredibly challenging and terrifying and finally liberating life journey, indeed what she shares is true.
“No matter how far you think you’ve strayed from your true path, the moment you say I’m going to trust myself, I’m going to follow my truth, the healing begins.”
Beck’s book crossed my path just after I had officially and publicly announced a resolve to live my own life of integrity as I had turned in my resignation papers concluding a 20-year career in teaching public education at the secondary level. I arrived at my decision after more than a few years of hemming and hawing about such a choice being necessary for me to live fully in alignment with what I knew to be true in my heart of hearts. And, as I shared in my May episode of the video series A Cuppa Moments (learn more about becoming a TOP Tier subscriber and discover more intimately why I made this decision here), it wasn’t about running away; it was about running toward something I loved even more.
Another way of looking at the way of integrity is much like putting together a puzzle. It can be especially hard to rationalize why we should leave something when on paper and to onlookers everything hums along beautifully, but if the puzzle doesn’t allow your true nature to be nurtured, as Beck describes, when you are “rushing to conform . . . often ignoring or overruling [y]our genuine feelings—even intense one, like longing or anguish—to please your culture . . . you’ve divided yourself. [You] aren’t in integrity (one thing) but in duplicity (two things).” In other words, the puzzle isn’t your puzzle to be a part of. Having the courage to step away from something that works, even if we languish while others shine is not living a life of integrity.
“When you pursue a career that pulls you away from your true self, your talent and enthusiasm will quit on you like a bored intern.”
The question we each need to ask ourselves is, “Does the culture nurture your nature?” Pause for a second before answering because I would have answered yes a couple of years ago as the quality of my overall life improved immensely having moved to Bend, Oregon. And what enabled me to move to this dream-of-a-town in my eyes? A teaching job; however, upon reflection, with more truths revealed, and after reading her book, my answer whilst trying to teach and write, is most certainly no.
How do you know if you are out of your integrity?
1.”Your life goes pear-shaped”
Beck reveals how our inability to communicate civilly, snapping at people we love, letting ourselves be distracted regularly by rabbit holes on the internet, and on the health side – your “immune system and muscles becomes weaken . . . emotionally feeling grumpy, sad or numb.” Focus and clarity — difficult to maintain, sickness is more frequent and energy is depleted. All of these ‘symptons’ are red flags your life is out of integrity.
Let’s end this point on some good news: “Integrity is the cure to unhappiness. Period.”
2. Living a life governed by the ‘should’s and ‘supposed to’ expectations
Living simply luxuriously, at its core is built upon questioning society, putting into practice critical thinking skills and thereby thinking well. When we think well, removing our biases and acknowledging the short-sightedness as well as true motivations of the culture we live in, we can think clearly and free ourselves from the pressures and guilt placed upon us to live a certain way. Even if ‘your way’ seems simple compared to significant societal differences such as announcing you are an atheist in a family full of devout believers of any one religious institutional faith, acknowledging your truth regarding your gender even if your family or friends cannot understand your truth, or standing up for a political issue which forces your family to confront their own long-held unconscious biases. Your way of integrity needs to be honored to set yourself free.
Beck writes in detail about her own breaking free from the ‘should’s when she speaks about her stepping away from Mormonism (receiving death threats for doing so), sharing with the world and her husband that she is gay, and choosing to keep her child who she knew to have Downs Syndrome (even though at the time, people she respected urged her to not to). In great emotional, yet step-by-step detail, she shares how she made it to the other side and because each decision was her truth, her choice, she set herself free. She stopped living the life she was ‘supposed to’ and stepped courageously into a life of integrity.
3. Emotional Struggles
“Whenever you lose your integrity, you’ll feel your own unique brew of bad moods, depending on your personality . . . anxiety and depression [or] . . . free-floating hostility, itching to punch everyone in your office, familiy, zip code [or] . . . full-on panic attacks, especially during special occasions.”
For me, leaving teaching felt culturally ‘wrong’. What I mean by that is, teaching and being a teacher is held in high regard, as, in my bias, yet as much as I can remain objective, it should be. So leaving a profession which society holds in deservedly high esteem felt to already be making the ‘wrong’ decision. However, as Beck calls them, my ‘wild beasts’ of bad moods would arise in the weirdest of times. I knew something was not in alignment, but nearly all of my acquaintances, friends and even my mother, were or are teachers. So how do you have a conversation with them about leaving a profession they are already in and most of whom sincerely love and have found their calling? In my case, you keep teaching.
4. Bad habits — can’t break them
The bad habits could be an onslaught of a variety of behaviors ranging from less harmful to incredibly life destructive, but anything which does not constructively add to your life and the quality of your days is a bad habit. Whether excessive financial expenditures, harmful drinking or eating habits, relationship failure after failure because you refuse to have the ability to either see or change what needs to be addressed, such habits stay with us because “when [you’re] feeling fundamentally lost, afflicted by purposelessness, foul moods, and bad jobs, anything that stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers can become an addiction.”
I can thankfully say, I had a positive outlet for my lack of finding complete fulfilling purpose in teaching: blogging, which turned into podcasting, which turned into cooking, which became my pleasure and purpose and I am incredibly grateful I honored my curiosity to explore what this ‘blogging thing’ was all about way back in 2009. I don’t think we all have to have horrible habits so much so it becomes painfully obvious to outsiders we are not on the right life path for true integrity, but what I appreciate about Beck’s book is bringing to our attention habits which if we are being honest with ourselves, aren’t helpful to living a life we sincerely love living, but we keep engaging in said habit because we need the pleasure; we need something to ‘feel’ good because so much doesn’t, and we don’t know or don’t have the courage yet to step off the path that isn’t ours to walk.
How to return or begin to live a life of integrity?
“Here’s the rub: if you stop lying, you’ll eventually, inevitably violate the rules of a culture that matters to you.”
Stop lying when responding casually to the question, “How are you doing?” Be comfortable with expressing your exuberance or exhaustion about the day. The passive or a default way of living is not living, and it’s not the way of integrity. How we connect with others, truly connect, is to be honest. I find that our culture is more comfortable with complaining even though America strives to be happy at all times. It is as though we must not be ‘too happy’ lest someone either question what makes us happy or want our happiness, when the truth is, there is not a limited supply. However, most Americans are too exhausted to figure out their own unique path to happiness. But the supposed secret as Beck reveals is simple: finding and living your integrity will lead you to peace, which will lead to the desired outcome of happiness. Again, this is a push-back on culture, not the people living within the culture. Admittedly, yes, a culture is made up by people, but when we recognize we are complicit in any culture which doesn’t wish for its people to find peace and contentment, we must question it. Doing so is an exercise in critical thinking. And how we do that is by finding our own way of integrity and living it.
2. Knuckle down for the first step of changing your life – it will be hard
Be prepared, the first step, the first shift you make will be the most difficult and will feel impossible on your way to fully being your true self. But the good news is, it is ‘steepest at the start’.
And in even better news, because you are stepping into your integrity, let that energy be your fuel. Just as it did for Dante (Beck’s entire book parallels the journey of Dante through the levels of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, Part I of The Divine Comedy) who because he wanted to be set free “so damn much” used that “intense wanting” to “propel him forward over terrain he doesn’t believe he can cover.”
3. Acknowledging and walking away from ‘bad or disordered’ love
“‘Bad’ or ‘disordered’ love emerges when people are well-meaning but mistaken—for example, when we feel loyal to people and ideas that don’t match our inner truth.”
So many of Beck’s anecdotes are specific and clearly teach what she is introducing to readers. On this point she shares, “You might stop laughing at your coworker’s crude jokes. You may come out as gay or trans. You may start posting things on social media that shock your loved ones. You may turn into some version of Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person.” In sharing these examples, she reveals how quickly our lives will change when we step away from ‘bad’ love. And it happens quickly because while you’ve known for quite some time your truth, you haven’t shared it with those who you’ve let keep ‘loving’ you in a way that serves their needs, but neglects yours.
4. Be prepared to contemplate returning to old ways (even if they weren’t true to you)
Prior to deciding to leave teaching, I chose to regularly see my counselor, and I am grateful I did. On this point, she reminded me, after always checking in with me about how I was feeling about my decision (once I had decided I would write my resignation letter) that there will be mourning for the ‘old misery’. In other words, the life you know and are leaving, you will at times – whether in your dreams or in different states where you are emotionally weak or exhausted (these times especially were when my doubts would arise) – seriously doubt the decision you are about to make. What is happening is natural, and it does subside in time as I can share now after having felt those moments of mourning for the known misery early on after having made my decision. “Studies in psychoneuroimmunology show that if we plunge too quickly into any major change, even a good one, our bodies and minds can’t absorb the shock. We must give our psycholoigcal and physiological systems time to adjust.”
How we give ourselves this time is where the phrase “mourning the known misery” comes from. And it is knowing that such a temporary state exists that we are able to better navigate through this time and into a life in which we are fully embracing our true nature. A few words from Beck on this subject,
“If you start honoring your true nature and find yourself missing your old culture, don’t panic. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time and space to grieve. Confide in loved ones. If they don’t understand, find a coach or therapist. But don’t think that missing your old life means you should go back to it.”
5. A life transformed for the better
“Whatever you do to heal the world, it will replace [bad health, habits, moods, etc. – what Beck refers to as ‘dark wood of error symptoms’] with purpose, happiness, vitality, love, abundance, and fascination that specifically match your true nature.”
Perhaps this all sounds too good to be true, but simply the fact that you are thinking that is the hope you have unconsciously, that you hope it can be true. That it can be possible.
Benefits of finding your way to integrity and living it daily
1. A life full of “meaning, enchantment and fascination”
The world needs what you uniquely can give to it. When we each find the courage to honor our nature especially when the culture doesn’t nurture it, we step forward toward a life full of meaning, and we as well become uplifted and enthralled with the awesome life we have the good fortune to live.
Beck points out that thankfully, ‘nature doesn’t give up without a fight’, so if you are doubting that it is too late, that you’ve waited too long, no, it’s not and no, you haven’t. The mere fact that you are still contemplating, wishing, hoping, wondering is nature’s strength of hanging on until you finally take action to courageously find your way of integrity.
2. Breath-taking moments are experienced beyond what the culture tells you is possible
“Obviously, no one will have taught you how to navigate such wonders. No worries. You’ll learn fast. You were born for it.”
If happiness, and based on having read Beck’s book, I think more deeply it fits the definition of contentment, if contentment is something you could buy in the store and be promised a life of awe, wonder, peace, would you buy it? What if I told you it was free? I have a feeling some would question it must be too good to be true, but that is our conditioning when it comes to believing in how possible living well is. We have been conditioned to believe happiness can only be pursued, not attained, AND that only so many people are capable of attaining it so we must hurry up and chase it down, ignoring the present and constantly live in the future. But that is errant thinking.
The ability to attain contentment for free is possible because it exists within us each already. Our answer resides in each of us. Our true nature, our true selves, has always been with us. We now just need to let it speak. In other words, let ourselves speak honestly, truthfully, and the world begins to change for the better. Not only for each one of us who courageously takes this step, but for all of us, as we begin to see who each of us actually is, how diverse and awesome we actually are and how to think well without unconscious manipulation.
3. A stronger you both physically and emotionally
As you begin to step off the wrong path and onto your way of integrity, there will be push-back, but wonderfully, you will be more capable than you might have ever imagined because, “Even if the people around [you] raise merry hell, [you] find yourself coping—more than that, thriving—more easily than [you’d] imagined.”
4. A more peaceful you
The truth about feeling drained, emotionally exhausted, is not necessarily the environment’s fault, but rather that we shouldn’t be in that environment. We are needed some place else. Find that place and find your peace.
5. A life of inner harmony
True contentment, as shared on TSLL many times previously, is capable of being experienced even during the most difficult of moments and heartbreaking days and events. Why? When you’ve found and know what inner harmony is, an alignment of your true self – body, mind, heart and soul – you acknowledge and tend to what you have control over and clearly recognize and let go of what you don’t. You are living a life of truth in your actions, words and thoughts, and you are strengthened knowing how to navigate forward well, modeling and, when applicable, and you are capable, nurturing those around you forward as well with kindness and compassion.
6. Find your people who ‘get’ you
“If you don’t walk your true path, you don’t find your true people.”
Ah, while I have met so many amazing people during my years as a teacher whether the staff and colleagues I have been incredibly fortunate and privileged to work alongside, the many, many parents who’s love and tireless efforts to raise children in a world that is ever-changing, and especially the awesome students who through their natural strengths and honed skills, learning from struggles and finding truths along the way, my connection has been professional as I kept, for the most part, my writing life compartmentalized from my teaching life.
Once I finally began talking about what I love about blogging, which was only this spring (except to one, maybe two people over the years), a burden on my shoulders was lifted and I felt free. Some don’t understand what I am stepping fully into, and consequently, our relationships, even though respectfully collegial, have lessened, but to others, we’ve had far more honest conversations than we have ever had. And this is just the beginning of a positive shift.
“We simply can’t chart a course to happiness by linking up with others who are as lost as we are. The path to true love—true anything—is the way of integrity.”
In order to fully and deeply connect with others, we must be our true selves – no holding back, no editing, no ‘hoping they like us’. When we are our true selves, it doesn’t matter if everyone ‘gets’ us so long as we let ourselves be set free, and that is what draws others of similar understanding and those who can see our honest and raw expression and who appreciate such strength into our lives. These are the people you want to connect with. These are the people with whom healthy, loving relationships grow.
Yes, balance is possible (although our culture would have us believe otherwise, believing the skill to master is not balance but rather being constantly thrown from side to side, stressor to next stressor. Don’t buy into this myth!). In The Divine Comedy, Virgil writes something that ‘stuns Dante. All these ‘sins’ are actually based in love. Sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust are simply unbalanced relationships with rest, abundance, nourishment and sex. We can err by either compulsively indulging or rigidly repressing our natural relationship with these things. This lack of balance doesn’t come when we allow union with our true nature, but when we split ourselves away from it. It’s misguided thinking, not natural behavior, that causes us to stray from our innocence.”
Our innocence is our true selves. Our true self is found and experienced when we step into the way of integrity. Bravely doing so, courageously striding, becoming ever stronger and exhilarated with each step.
8. Fulfill your long-term heart’s desires
For this last point in today’s post/episode, I’ll leave you with Beck’s words as she reflects on her own life journey and teaches us one of the grandest benefits of finding your own way of integrity, embracing your true self:
“As this internal shift occurred, life seemed to deliver more and more of the things I’d longed for during my life. I began to imagine that the universe works like this: whenever we humans long for something, the Powers That Be immediately send it. But everything we’ve ordered is always delivered to our real home address: peace. This is why we struggle for things in a state of desperation, they don’t come to us—nothing works when it’s misaligned. But when we return to a state of peace, the things we’ve ‘ordered’ can finally reach us.”— Martha Beck, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self (2021)
The way of integrity is a path through and with life that makes you excited simply to envision it for a moment during your day. You may breathe a sigh of relief and a smile may even creep upon your face spontaneously each time you dare to think what you imagine could be your real life.
I have been so incredibly excited to share today’s episode with you because while my last day of teaching doesn’t occur for another two weeks, the announcement has been made, the reality has been put into place, and a peace not-yet-known-until-now is already being felt (yes, moments of mourning the known misery creep up, but they are fewer and fewer, and now I know immediately where they stem from and how to navigate respectfully through these feelings).
Living simply luxuriously doesn’t just happen, and it indeed takes time. When we learn the skills necessary for living a life of true contentment, we can then begin to build what will be unique to each of us. The foundation of a fulfilling, joy-filled life, is to realign yourself with your true self. To conclude with more sagacity from Martha Beck on making our way to integrity, “Not because this path is virtuous, but because it aligns you with reality, with truth. Your life will work for the same reason a well-built plane will fly. Not a reward for good behavior. Just physics.” Logical and simultaneously honoring the full humanity of each and every one of us.
SHOP Martha Beck’s book The Way of Integrity | Amazon | Bookshop.org
~Lupin, on Netflix
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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #307
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10 thoughts on “307: How to Step into your Fullest True Self — The Way of Integrity, as taught by Martha Beck”
I am excited to read her new book! I am in the midst of deciding on major life shake ups, between being a single stay at home mom with my “baby” entering senior year, a huge revelation that relieved decades of burden off my shoulders that resulted in the final end to blaming myself for certain peoples’ behavior as being a result of my actions (which is what they wanted me to believe..) and the calling that I really want to move back to where my heart calls me (I had to move across country 15 years ago due to my former husband’s job and I really do not fit here no matter how I try) and it may need a major decision that for the first time in my life, I will make based on what makes ME happy and not go with what will work for everyone else in my life. I am , at some point I need to live MY happy and stop allowing my life to chart the course that works for everyone else. So, I will patiently prepare myself to make the move over this year and when it falls into aligment, I will take that as my cue. I don’t know when it will actually be time, but I figure if I prepare, the rest will fall into place. Thanks for insight into her book!
Upon reading your comment I was cheering for and with you, celebrating your courage which in time will grow even stronger and before you know it, you will be taking that step even before all of the ‘pieces’ fall into place. Your happiness is worth it.
This book looks amazing. I grew up in a culture where I was encouraged to speak honestly and truthfully and thought that was normal until I moved away and found myself in a culture that did not encourage that. I was trying to assimilate into my new environment by conforming . I felt so confused and so said things that people wanted to hear rather than what I thought . Some relationships were tricky to say the least . It made me feel so uneasy and a bit of a fraud. I knew that wasn’t me and after about a year I decided with my parents’ guidance to revert back to ‘ myself’. I felt as though I was set free. Being true to myself resulted in my inner peace.
Thank you for sharing your journey, for your vulnerability and what you discovered when you returned to your true self. Your final words are all the evidence needed to convince me, indeed courageously stepping forward in our unique integrity is indeed the best and most fulfilling way to live.
I smiled when reading your response Kameela. I grew up in a culture where personal opinions and path were not accepted. There was a structure to our lives and anything beyond that was considered rogue! Through time I have most certainly shed that notion!
Good for you Lucy. I wish you continued progress with strengthening your self beliefs. It isn’t easy going against some structures in our society but as long as you believe in yourself your truth will prevail. Very best wishes. Kameela.
I think this journey, seeking personal integrity and being true to yourself, is a life-long process. With each decade I find myself analyzing my path, learning from past mistakes, and carefully plotting a new future knowing I must be flexible for certain changes and challenges while holding on to my core beliefs. Recently a dear life-long friend lost her husband to cancer. For his memorial she wrote and published an amazing poem, never before revealing her gift. I was so touched by her talent that after a long discussion she is considering returning to her craft after long years of absence while caring for her husband. She illustrated to me that she had maintained her core beliefs and integrity despite obstacles that I can only imagine. She has a portfolio spanning many years. This podcast came at a very opportune time for me, it touched my heart. Thank you Shannon, your skills for communicating this information is most welcome.
Thanks so much for this episode, Shannon. It resonated deeply. When I think back over my younger years, I sometimes feel sad because I often felt so lost. I can’t tell you how much this put it all in perspective, like a piece of the puzzle that helps me compassionately understand the young woman I was. Blessings to you.
Hi Shannon, Thank you for sharing your detailed process of how you are transitioning to your ‘true’ calling as you leave teaching. I took a redundancy package last January from my university education work of 12 years, where I had felt during the first 7 years, that I had developed a range of new skills and ways of tutoring and teaching, never before experienced. Then in the last 5 years I kept on in the job telling myself the it was ok to stay, and that there is still new to be learnt. But the annoying debilitating aspects of it lurked. Now that I have left, I experience much of what you refer to: today’s reading of your post had me suddenly see that when we leave a job, we may mourn even the habitual hum dum part of it, as it has become a habit. I have also realised that I miss colleagues who became friends over many of these 12 years. Missing their daily friendships got collapsed in to missing the actual job.
So your post and the referencing of Martha Beck’s writings is assisting me in re framing what has happened.
I am still left with the question: What now? Probably because much energy and time has been taken up with renovating my new home, which I moved to 1 year ago, at the end of our first pandemic lockdown, I have avoided facing the adjustments that now need to occur for me to move forwards as I settle in to my new identity, not coloured by the profession I have been a member of for 43 years.
The chat from folk around me is often using the word ‘retirement’, referencing what I seemingly have done – this still does not resonate with me, as I am preferring the word ‘retirement’!
Thank you for your sharing and insights.
Thank you for all that you have shared. Your self-reflection and desire to continue to grow and learn in your profession is a testament to the confidence I have that you will figure out your ‘What now’ and there is no doubt in my mind. The term of retirement for me as been one of celebration with a great smile and appreciation and a looking forward into the next chapter of growing and deepening the quality of life. It sounds as though you are looking for something similar. How lovely to have a home project to keep you engaged in the present as you navigate these questions that will be answered sincerely in their time. Thank you again for stopping by and tuning in to this episode. Wishing you well. xo