Thorn Coyle talks about integration and alignment a great deal, and I’ve picked up her emphasis on it in my years of training with her. We all have many disparate parts, and working toward becoming better and more fulfilled people means coming to know those parts and finding ways for them all to work together — finding ways to become more integrated, to have more integrity.
For me, integrity means acting from a place of integration and alignment. It means I keep my word, I speak honestly, and I strive to be truly myself everywhere, rather than being one person at work and another at home, and yet another with one friend and another with others.
It’s not easy, of course. It’s in our nature to have different parts and to have different parts tend to show up in different places. It’s in our nature to have emotions rise up and make us act impulsively, suddenly — and usually, in ways we regret later.
Integrity means getting to know all those parts and getting them to work together rather than one lunging to take control and then another wresting control away, over and over. Integrity doesn’t mean those parts all somehow fuse into one mystical Mega-Ealasaid — it means they all work together and are aimed in the same direction (which is toward my Will, but that’s a post further down the list!).
In the video I linked above, Thorn talks about the idea of a person as being sort of like a horse-drawn carriage. There’s the carriage (the body), horse (the emotions), driver (ego / talking mind), and the master, the one inside the carriage (our higher self / connection to the divine). All four parts have to work together to get to the master’s ultimate destination — the carriage can’t move without the horses, the horses won’t take direction without the driver, and the driver won’t know where to go without the master. Integrity is when all four pieces work together.
What’s awesome is that when I’m in alignment, when I’m integrated, it helps me be consistent. It helps me to speak the hard truth instead of letting child-me take over and wiggle out of it. It helps me to apply my ethics consistently to both myself and to others — thereby avoiding hypocrisy, which is integrity’s opposite. If I think something is wrong for others to do, it’s wrong for me to do, too.
What’s awesome is that this doesn’t just mean I’m more reliable and more honest to other people, it means I have to work on being more honest with myself. I struggle with depression and perfectionism, and they are inveterate liars. Perfectionism says that what’s okay for others isn’t okay for me, that what’s admirable in others is the bare minimum for me. Depression says that there’s no point trying to do better, because things will never improve, and anyway, everybody hates me forever and I’m going to die alone under a bridge (Depression has some very over-the-top ideas).
Integrity means that I hear those parts of myself and treat them the way I try to treat other people — with compassion, but without coddling. I say to them, “I hear you, and I understand why you feel that way, but that’s not true.” In some ways, this is a bajillion times harder than having integrity in my dealings with other people, but it’s just as important. If I have integrity with others but not with myself, I don’t really have integrity at all, now do I?
You may be saying to yourself, “well, that’s all very interesting, Ealasaid, but what does this have to do with Paganism?”
The tools I use to work on having more integrity are by and large Pagan ones. I sit in meditation, I pray to my gods for guidance and assistance, and — most importantly — I regard integrity as something sacred. I believe we as humans are supposed to move toward integrity, it’s part of our purpose.
Integrity isn’t a duty laid on me by a vengeful god who has a lot of rules about how I have to act, it isn’t a way for me to escape to a better plane of existence after I die, it’s a goal for this lifetime.
Emphasis on goal there. Nobody has perfect integrity all the time. We all lose our tempers, fail to meet deadlines we said we would, flake out on friends, and so on. Nobody is perfect. Integrity doesn’t demand that we be perfect, it demands that we keep trying.
O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, said: “My students think I don’t lose my center. That is not so; I simply recognize it sooner, and get back faster.”
That’s what I’m striving for. To see when I am sliding out of alignment and get back quickly, and to be compassionate toward my own imperfections as well as with those of others. That’s integrity.