January 2013: On Personal Integrity

by Brad on December 31, 2012

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” — Yogi Berra

Disclaimer: I didn’t take the photograph of the pyramids below. Problem: Neither did the guy who says he did. So, why do I bother to write about it? It’s to open up a question each of us faces every moment – am I living in integrity? Do my thoughts, words and actions match my own personal truth? 

In order to answer that question, you have to know what “your own personal truth” is. We live in a fast-paced, complex, uncertain world, with society pressing us to be someone we’re not – to achieve, to conform, to succeed, to consume, to believe, etc. The pace of life makes it easier to just go along; after all, there’s a lot of company on that path. Most of us want to be in integrity, yet being who you really are rather than who you’re supposed to be invites a long, often lonely road. You can’t know your truth unless you stop to discover it, inside you, where it lives. Society tells us not to stop, however, so we commonly feel relegated to the treadmill and dogma of other people’s thinking instead.

Although the outside world may conspire to have you live someone else’s life instead of your own, your inner world knows the pain of making that choice. Every time you give up even a small piece of your truth, your body, soul and spirit absorb the hurt. Whether it be to make a living, keep a relationship, make other people like you, or as the ‘photographer’ did, for a lot of exposure on the internet, someone else wins and your integrity loses. The issue is not lack of caring, or that you would knowingly trade away your truth. The issue is that because most of us really don’t know, to any level of clarity or depth, what our own unique truth is, we’re easy prey for promises of happiness from the external world – at the expense of listening to our own hearts. As Yogi Berra says, we end up somewhere else.

To compound things, that same external world would have us believe there’s “only one truth,” simply because conformance is easier if there’s one standard. But in fact, truth is not always rational or objective. My truth may differ from yours, mainly because we see the world in different ways – the result of different life lessons, experiences and challenges. “Truth,” therefore, is not only unique to each of us, but changes over the course of a lifetime as our perspective changes. To know who you really are is the result of a life-long process of personal inquiry and reflection, reflection that emerges from a space of silence, just the silence society tells us to avoid in favor of its noisy yammering and demands. Knowing of this sort requires a shift from unconscious “knowing” to conscious knowing. Through the process of inquiry, you discover your own uniqueness, your reason for being here, your depth, your truth.

Once you become re-united with the clarity of your truth, you can sustain your newfound integrity through critical thinking, the ability (along with the courage to use it) to think for yourself, making choices using the fine art of discernment. Critical thinking isn’t a “heavy science thing.” Nor is it the use of cynicism. It’s the result of conscious awareness, presence and questioning – processing life and its experiences through the “filter” of your personal truth. This is how you come to a place of courage and commitment, choosing personal authenticity over social acceptance.

Exercise: Toward personal truth. The heart of a life you love is knowing yourself deeply, then maintaining that truth by thinking for yourself. To get here, you need to be willing to look at your inner self, willing to step apart from the crowd, willing to think deeply, willing to claim your uniqueness. A few questions to ponder deeply during your regular quiet time: What do I truly know? How did I come to know it? How do I know I know it? Where and how do I sell out my truth? What thought causes me to sell out? What belief drives that thought? Again, each of us is unique; there is no one answer here. The answer that matters is the one you choose – for you. A life that matters, then, is the sum total of how you live those choices. Yes this is personal work. Yet there’s no need to “try” to change yourself. You’ll not only find that your own truth feels much more OK than awkward once you come to know it, but that the process of inquiry creates its own energy, so one day you simply notice that you’re in charge of your life and your choices. I define freedom as the lack of self-doubt. There’s nothing like personal clarity to eliminate self-doubt.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

I’ve included two images here to support the idea of personal integrity from the perspective of a natural phenomenon. The one on the left is purported to be a photograph of December’s planetary alignment of Saturn, Venus & Mercury. A striking scene, but not real. The one on the right is a photograph, and looks just as it did to me several mornings last month as I headed out for a walk a bit before 6:00 a.m.  Venus is in the center, appearing far brighter than either Saturn (above it to the right) or Mercury (below it to the left, near a soon-to-be-rising sun). Why the image on the left is not real:

  • Aside from the moon, Venus appears as the brightest object in the sky, far brighter than Mercury or Saturn.
  • Planets generally do appear in a line, because the solar system is a relatively flat plane. The angle that plane makes with the horizon, however, is far steeper than shown on the left, especially from the latitude of Egypt.
  • The image was online for months, describing an event that hadn’t yet happened. That can’t be a photo.

Although the person who manufactured the pyramid image knew he was lying, those who oohed and ahhed over the image and reposted it around the internet probably didn’t know. True, you may need some science background to ‘get’ where planets are in the sky, but you don’t need science background to do a bit of critical thinking before you “adopt something as your own truth.” Whether it’s a phenomenon from nature, a big new idea, or a claim of the end of the world, the combination of knowing your own truth and a bit of critical thinking will help you steer a course to your greatest potential. Does this feel right to me? Does it make sense to me? How do I know what I know? Am I willing to ask another question before I move forward? While it is true that you may stand out in a crowd seeing life this way, you’ll never be “lost” again.


Openings to New Possibility 

My book: A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom – This ebook offers a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life, and helps you to reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it as a series of blog articles to which you can subscribe at no cost.

11 Years: 2012 concluded 11 years of monthly newsletters from The Road Not Taken. If you’d like the full set, (132 issues), it’s available for purchase on my website here as a single pdf file. I’m deeply grateful to those who have been readers for much or all of this time. I’d love to hear about how your life has changed.

Gift ideas: In my spare time, I lead nature tours to some of the world’s special places. I’ve selected a few images from my travels and make them available here on a variety of fun products, from note cards to coffee mugs.

Join The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription offering giving you an opportunity to stay connected, interact, be challenged, learn. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.  

An invitation to bold possibility: Big ideas have big potential. They become your ideas with personal felt experience of them. Gaining personal experience is often difficult because, on our own, we use the same thinking that got us here to take us forward. If you’d like to consider a “guide for the unexplored territory” of your future, contact me, I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your path, and together we’ll chart a course into your potential.  

Book of the month Illumination, by Alberto Villoldo. “We have to forget about embracing “truthiness” and start embracing the truth. We can’t do this until we accept responsibility for the beliefs we choose to hold. We can dance with the demons or the angels.” Villoldo shows us how to free ourselves from the pain and drama of the past, and declare our way into a new future that is authentically our own.  … And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


Download January 2013 pdf

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

RC Woodberry December 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Thanks again Brad for a thoughtful newsletter—with good “illustration”—the “real” and the “sure-real”! Wishing you good health and happiness in the ‘New Year’–the world may not have ended yet . . . (!?!)—-but as we all know, past performance doesn’t predict future returns!!


Sydney January 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thanks Brad,
I found these guiding thoughts helpful for sticking to my resolution of creating my life from a place of courage and commitment by choosing personal authenticity over social acceptance. I look forward to another years worth of your insights to keep me conscious of this endeavor.


Susan January 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Januarys news letter is beautiful. As always you seem to know exactly the perfect subject to write about. I feel blessed to be able to recieve your news letter, bless you for all that you share with us.


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