Integrity Intro, Exercises and Questions
What Does It Mean To Be
A People of Integrity?
Wholeness is never lost; it is only forgotten. Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves: it is more an undoing than a doing, a freeing ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves… Often in reclaiming the freedom to be who we are, we remember some basic human quality, what we find is almost always a surprise but it is also familiar; like something we have put in the back of a drawer long ago…
– Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom
We know the usual “integrity advice”: Build your character! Get better at being honest, with others and yourself!
It’s about addition, we’re told. Being better. Becoming more.
But our faith, like Rachel Naomi Remen, says it’s more complicated than that. Some subtraction is also needed. Removal needs to occur. The path needs cleared.
And why? Well because integrity isn’t simply something we build; it’s something already there. We UUs talk mostly about inherent worth, but we also believe in inherent integrity. All the building blocks are sitting there, waiting. They are, as Remen says, hidden like something we have put in the back of the drawer long ago.
It’s all a reminder that our integrity is much more closely tied to memory than we acknowledge. Those moments from our youth when we felt most truly ourselves. Those mentors and models that departed wisdom about what really matters. It’s all there. Just forgotten. As the poet, Charles Bukowski says, “Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?”
So friends, please don’t make this month just about “being better.” Make some time to also be quiet. Think of the hunt for integrity more like getting away from all the noise of the traffic so the song of the birds can be heard. Or like when we wandered off a bit too far into the woods as a kid. It could have been scary, but somehow we knew that all we had to do was stand still and listen. We knew the call of our parents would soon come, leading us back home. It’s the same with our memories and our deepest selves: They are calling to us from the edge of the woods.
All we have to do is stop and listen.
Our Spiritual Exercises
Counting Your Values on Your Hand
Integrity and value-clarity go hand in hand. But do we really take the time to name and bring our core values into awareness? And do our self-proclaimed values match how others see us? This exercise invites you to wrestle with both of these questions.
To keep it simple, we’ve created a list of values. Here’s how to engage it:
- Pick your five core values from the list.
- Give a blank copy of the list to someone close to you and ask them to pick the five they think are your core values, without letting them know which you picked earlier.
- Compare lists and discuss the differences, as well as why each of you picked what you did.
- Come to your group ready to share insights.
Taking it Deeper
Here are some additional questions and an activity to explore more:
- From your selected five values, which one would like to live into more fully?
- What were your parent(s) five core values? In what way are your core values and theirs the most same and the most different?
- Which of your core values are most directly and deeply related to your UU faith? i.e. which value would not be on the list if it wasn’t for your faith?
- What’s the newest value to make it on to your list of top five? Which value did it “replace”? Did that happen consciously? Or did the shift sneak up on you?
- Take this online values test and see if it reveals anything new: https://www.valuescentre.com/tools-assessments/pva/
Remembering Our Way into Integrity
We know that integrity is about the way we act: acting in alignment with our values, acting honestly, acting faithfully. In this sense, it is forward-looking. But it’s easy to forget that integrity also is about looking backward. In other words, it’s not just about how well we act; it’s about how well we remember. Important life lessons come our way. Some of them stick and some slip away. Our integrity is determined by whether we remember them or forget, whether we hold our life lessons close or let them evaporate.
So this exercise asks: What life lessons do you want to make an extra effort to remember?
Spend some time this month creating a list of
“5 life lessons I want to remember.” Think of it as self-talk. As your better
self-helping your forgetful self-return to your center. Pull out a sheet of
paper or pull up a document on
your computer or phone and type out a list numbered 1-5. Then spend the month filling it in with the pieces of wisdom or advice that are important to you but that you also often forget.
Bring this with you to your group and be ready to share 2 items on the list that were most surprising or engaging.
Here are some example reminders to get you thinking:
1. Remember that failure stings but regret haunts.
2. Remember that masks that stay on too long will stick to my skin.
3. Remember that assuming good intentions is not only kind-hearted but also creates those good intentions in others.
4. Remember that the only audience I am really trying to please is myself.
6. Remember I always have a choice.
7. Remember I am different not less.
8. Remember that everyone is carrying pain, even if I can’t see it, so be kind.
9. Remember I’m not the only one that feels like an imposter. They only look like they have it all together.
10. Remember if they ask me to keep a piece of me hidden, this is not where I belong.
12. Remember I’ve already “made it” and I’m already enough. So I can put the striving and the
proving down whenever you want.
13. Remember that they will likely laugh or leave but do it anyway.
Name Your Many Names
This exercise also asks us to explore the connection between integrity and memory. Instead of asking us to remember a specific value or life lesson, it asks us to remember all of who we are. It’s a reminder that integrity is about finding and holding on to our wholeness.
We turn to Israeli poet, Zelda, to lead us on our way. In her poem, Each of Us Has A Name, she makes it clear that integrity is a matter not so much of holding tight to your one true name, but remembering and embracing the many names given to us by the experiences of our lives. The full poem can be found at this link, but here’s a taste:
Each of us has a name given by God
and given by our parents…
Each of us has a name given by the mountains
and given by our walls…
Each of us has a name given by our sins
and given by our longing…
So, this month, reflect on how these universal
human experiences have “named you” and how those names call you back to
integrity. Spend a few hours or a few days going through Zelda’s poem line by
line, stopping after each one to think about how that experience imprinted itself
on you and added a dimension to the wholeness and integrity of who you are.
It helps to think of each of these experiences as saying to you: “You are…” or “I name you…” Here’s an example of what you might ask yourself as you work with each line:
- What name was I given by “God”(or Love)? How did my first God experience say to me: “You are …”?
- What name was I given by my parents? How has my relationship with them said to me: “You are …”?
- What name was I given by the mountains? How has my experience with nature said to me: “You are …”?
- What name was I given by my “sins”? How has my experience with my shadow side or mistakes said to me: “You are …”?
To help, we’ve created a fill in the blank form related to the lines of the poem. Find it here.
After answering the questions, consider assembling all the sentences or all of your names into a list that functions as a poem of sorts. Read your many names aloud one by one or ask someone close to you to read them as you listen.
Come to your group ready to share your “poem of names” as well as what surprised you about the exercise and the 1 or 2 most significant insights that came from it.
Find Integrity in Our Recommended Resources
Our recommended resources are full of wisdom about what it means to be a people of and a person of integrity. Engaging these resources and finding the one that especially speaks to you is a spiritual practice in and of itself.
So, if none of the above exercises call to you, engage the recommended resources section of this packet as your spiritual exercise for the month.
Set aside some regular time throughout a week
to go through them and meditate on them until you find the one that most
expands or deepens your understanding of integrity. After you’ve found it,
consider printing it out and carrying it with you or pinning it up so you can
continue to reflect on it throughout the weeks leading up to your group
meeting. Come to your group ready to share where the journey led you.
Don’t treat these questions like “homework” or try to answer every single one. Instead, make time to meditate on the list and then pick the one question that speaks to you most. The goal is to figure out which question is “yours.” Which question captures the call of your inner voice? Which one contains “your work”? What is that question trying to get you to notice or acknowledge?
Often it helps to read the list to a friend or loved one and ask them which question they think is the question you need to wrestle with!
- What’s your “integrity path”? Is integrity for you about staying faithful, allowing yourself to unfold, putting the pieces back together, matching your insides with your outsides or refusing to hide?
- Is integrity harder or easier for you than it was when you were young?
- What did your family of origin teach you about telling the truth? How about telling the truth of yourself?
- Is it time to remember what your 20-year old self hoped you’d be?
- Who is most likely to walk away if you stop hiding?
- Could it be that integrity actually wants you to break that promise?
- That thing about yourself you’re trying to fix… Is it really you that wants it fixed? Or them? Who are you fixing it for?
- Which of society’s lies was the hardest for you to shake off: “You are what you have,” “You are what you do” or You are what other people say or think about you”?
- What’s so scary to you about saying, “I’m sorry”?
- Can you imagine a workplace where you don’t have to wear a mask?
- Whose voice is making it hard to hear your own?
- What if you told yourself that you are different not less?
- Are you tired of accepting their apology?
- Do you feel authentic?
- Which is easier for you? Telling the truth to others or telling the truth to yourself?
- Do your friendships have integrity?
- Does your spiritual life have integrity?
- Are you tired of being so good at pretending?
- What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it. Or maybe the question or call you need to hear is waiting in one of the quotes listed below. Consider looking there!