The role of personal integrity in change, or "I am my own homeboy"

Monk Debate: The Young One Like driving in Los Angeles (or electricity most anywhere else), change continues to be both a sticky wicket and the only game in town. In other words, I'm not the only one wrasslin' this bear.

Exhibit A (from Andrew, in an email exchange generated by the last post on Change, that Bitch-Dog from Hell):

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about all the aspects of personal integrity and how important it is to a person's sense of identity. Some of it is the aftermath of events from last year and some of it has to do with my dissatisfaction with the way things are in my life and my commitment to changing them.

By amazing coincidence (or not), the very same day I happened upon this TED talk on happiness by ex-pat French Buddhist monk (say that 3x fast) Mathieu Ricard. It's a fascinating talk, I mean, how can a discussion of the impact of mind training on happiness as measured by MRI patterns of high-level meditators not be?, and I'd highly advise a look-see, for the delicious fusion of book smarts (Ricard completed his PhD thesis in molecular genetics), humor (he's funny!) and orange robes (he's a monk!) (and he's funny!)

But if you're not into it just now, the salient point of his talk as far as this humble, little blog postie goes is that you are your own best shelter against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. In Ricard's parlance, the trick is a high enough level of detachment to see that you are a part of The Whole, and that emotions are not the truth of you, but more like colors, light playing on the waters of you.

The bad news is that some people come to it more naturally than others: he uses the contrasting examples of the very poor man who seems content despite having "nothing", and the very rich man who, ensconced in the most fabulous luxury, penthouse apartment, outfitted with the sweetest amenities, in the tallest building in town, sees his window only as a thing to jump out of.

The good news is that, according to tests like this on meditation and "happiness" (possibly better described as "peace of mind" or maybe "inner peace"), given a strong enough desire and a commitment of time and effort, one can alter one's default setting.

Where integrity fits in, as I see it, is in helping to actualize that good-news change. Buddhist teachings are chock-full of references to "right" this and "right" that, living, thinking, work, etc. If you've got no integrity, or it's on the weakish side, you're going to be far more likely to spend time on the bad path, partly because it's the easiest path and partly because you may, at a certain point, not be able to discern any difference, much less benefit, between various paths.

If, on the other hand, your integrity is shored up nicely, you not only have a keener eye for the salubrious choice, but you also have the spine (or the stones) to make it.

All of this stuff is pretty simple, when you get right down to it, which is why it's so blasted confounding. I know that I'll be better off if I keep it to two glasses of Pinot, a few hours of farting-around time and early to bed. But in the moment, the choice can be difficult, because, and I'm a little sheepish about this, my integrity is a little weak in places.

"But Colleen," you say, "don't you mean your discipline is weak? Surely one can have integrity and lack discipline."

I used to think that; now I'm not so sure.

I don't believe I'm a bad person for eating French fries when it's been pointed out to me by my very own intestines that I shouldn't; I believe I'm a weak person. But framed that way, I'd say "weak" equals "lack of integrity."

Or let's take another example from my pathetic life. I got in a big fight with The BF today, which both Jon from my new-favorite coffee hang and Neil, from That Blog About the Talking Penis will attest to. Ostensibly, it was about money, but as with most things, it turned out to be about other stuff: my inability to communicate, my fears about communicating, my fucked-up views about abundance and scarcity and my lack of integrity when it came to gossiping. Don't worry, The BF wasn't dumping on me. He was providing the valuable and needed service of Calling Me on My Shit, something that probably doesn't happen enough these days.

And that last thing, the gossip thing, was what finally got to me. Because I understand the power of early patterning about money, and am working on repatterning mine. I can talk about what a petty bastard I am; I brought up the very topic of my petty bastard-ness. What I was deeply ashamed about, that is, what pierced my heart with the flaming arrow of truth, was that I was foaming at the mouth about someone else whose actions over the past year, AN ENTIRE TWELVE MONTHS, had progressively enraged me to the point where I blew a gasket (behind her back, to someone else) over an absurdly insignificant display of cluelessness which should have invoked, if it invoked anything, pity or compassion.

So much for enlightenment.

Here's where the change part, and the integrity part, comes in: five years ago, I would have fought it, and him, and the whole #%$@! world. I would have carved out a bunker next to Mt. Self-Righteous and hunkered down for the duration. But I've been working on observing (first step of change) and acknowledging (second step of change) my self as expressed through my actions fairly actively for the past ten years, and assiduously for the past five. Simple actions, but with a significant effect on integrity. And, I'm starting to see, "happiness", in quotes because, sadly, I think it's become too often confused with "pleasure" or, more specifically, "fleeting feelings of pleasure."

Oo-la-la. Such fancy talk. Really, it all boils down to another good news/bad news thing. If you get on board the integrity bus, both the good and the bad news is you're responsible for your "happiness-in-quotes." I think it's good. I like the idea that if I make some possibly tough choices up front, I can change the way I see and move through the world. I like that anyone can do it, and that it doesn't cost money. I like that personal change, or an investment in integrity, can possibly effect other kinds of change.

I like that I'm my own homeboy. Except when I hate that I'm my own homeboy.

But liking isn't really the point. The point is, it is what it is.

Namaste. And out.

xxx c

Image by silverlinedwinnebago via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.