1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
This word has come up a lot in the NY yoga world lately. Not sure if it’s having such a popular come back in other states or communities, but it’s like, the word of the year here. It’s a good thing to be thinking about, and a lot of us perhaps take for granted the meaning and implications of the what it means to have integrity.
In basic yogic principles we first see this taught as the Yamas and Niyamas, the ethical principles of living a yogic life written in discourse by Patanjali, some few thousands of years ago. These are seen as the ‘abc’s’ of yoga; do these first, and in order, and you’ll be on the pathway to and more likely to reach samadhi, or enlightenment. I remember my teacher saying that these are like the laws of adulthood, and by the time you reach actually becoming a practicing yogi, you better have those things in order.
I love this second definition of ‘integrity’ above, grabbed right off dictionary.com:
The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished
This is what we always call in anusara, purnata, or ‘full’. Its like saying your worth as a great being is assumed. We start this way, and we will end this way. The question of yoga is are you upholding yourself to it by living it.
I was totally called out recently for not living up to my word. Although it was a hard conversation to have, everyone came out unscathed, there was no blood shed, not even any tears. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity on my part and the other person’s, and though scary it was doable and necessary. I learned. Immediately from that conversation, I learned. I learned that its my responsibility if I don’t understand instructions or duties, to ask for clarity. I learned to simply follow through and take all commitments as serious as I do the most important one’s in my life. Just to name a few.
What I appreciated most from that difficult conversation was the woman speaking to me had what I would call integrity; both in her reasons for speaking to me, and how she spoke to me. It was just flat out appropriate. She used what I have recently discovered comes from Sufi folklore called “The Gates of Speech”, and it goes like this:
An old Sufi tradition advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates. At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?” If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.
I first learned the Gates of Speech in TT with Amy nearly 10 years ago, and I do my best to uphold these principles. They’ve been quite useful in teaching me the hardest one, which is speaking kindly. It means to speak kindly inside as well as outside, to yourself and to others and about others. In my terrible habit of self depreciating thoughts, I wasn’t following the Gates of Speech, and also had a habit of shit-talking others. Yuck. Its been really cool to keep this practice going, and empowering to see I can change. I’m waaaaay more careful now with my matrika.
But the Gates are also a plea against gossip, of all kinds, especially under “are these words necessary?”. Like, do you really need to be talking about that? With her/him? Even if they are true, and you’re speaking kindly. You still have to pass through the 4th Gate, “is it beneficial?”. Well, is it?
On the other hand, lets say you have a friend in your community, you’ve shared a room with them here and there at yoga events and car rides, some intimate discussions about past loves, even deep old wounds, alongside laughter, support and general “you go!”-ness. Do you tell him or her some difficult news that you know will benefit them, you know it’s true, yet the challenge is to find the right time, and the right words so it comes out kind? This is sometimes where we can fall off the integrity train by not saying anything. Let it slide into “It’s not my responsibility”. Well, why isn’t it? We’re activists for so many other things in life, so why not be an activist for helping someone else stand firm in their integrity?
I’m loving the 2nd definition of integrity from above, and I’ll state it again:
The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished
No matter what, each one of us begins this way and ends this way. Mistakes will be made, apologies and forgiveness can be found, lessons can be learned, and wounds can be healed. Its etched into our moral code, which is really our dna. The yoga is, do you create it and adhere to keeping yourself and those around you etched in it too? Can you step into the first definition of integrity by remembering the second? To me, the second definition is the true meaning, the first listed definition is how to do it. We all deserve it. The deeper implications live inside kula’s definition: ‘herd of cows’, ‘assemblage’, ‘flock’… it means community. We’re in this together and can and should have each others’ back to uphold the integrity of the flock. In Anusara we define it sweetly as ‘the community of the heart’ and ‘the company you choose to keep’. To keep good company means to be good company. Living with honesty connected to your own and others inherent worth will make you speak in the right place at the right time to the right people.
Do you want to hang out with yourself? That’s a good question to ask.