I have been out joy-seeking for the past couple of weeks. Pleasure hunting in the sunshine – and London in the summer is an enticing place to do it. The blazing heat has beckoned to me, called me out to find something I told myself I have been missing at home: delicious treats to eat, friends to meet, things to see.
This should all be fine – but it hasn’t been. Being out and having fun in a bustling, hectic city should be a wonderful thing, and if you are at peace with yourself, it normally is. But if you are discontent, if something is amiss, all the sensory pleasure you crave from outside is an attempt to fill – and mask – the gap that has appeared inside you. It will feel like fun, but in your heart, you know that something is not right.
The truth is, I have not been missing something at home: I have been missing something in myself. Restless wandering was the warning sign telling me something was up.
I couldn’t quite see what was missing. I know a couple of things have unsettled me recently, but thankfully those concerns have largely subsided; the root of my unease wasn’t clear. Yesterday, I prayed to God for access to something which would help me. As I lifted my head up from prostration at the end of my prayer, a word popped into my mind: integrity.
Integrity is one of the most important cornerstones of my life now, but there was a time when I didn’t even know when it meant. I only learned what integrity was when I realised it had been missing for most of my adult life – and as a result, my life was a landslide.
There is immediately an association of integrity with morality, of behaviours or things being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I have learned that morality is unavoidably personal and subjective, whereas integrity is impartial and, to an extent, objectively and intuitively measurable (this might seem like a contradiction, but I believe that we have an internal compass which keeps us honest to our true selves – the thing that connects us to God as our Creator, as He put it there. It is the thing that calls us out when we are bull*****ing ourselves! This is why I think we can ‘intuitively’ measure our integrity).
Integrity is about being whole and complete in all the parts of your life that matter. It is about being your word when you have given it to something; doing what you say you are going to do, and also being responsible for the expectations you know people have of you, and that you reasonably have of yourself (and interrogating the expectations you have of yourself is also a matter of integrity, because some of those will be created by you for no reason or real value).
Integrity is not about being right or wrong; it is about either having it, or not. I see it as dusting your life: you’re never done with it, for as soon as you’ve finished, a new layer of dust will have started to settle on everything, and you start all over again. So it is with integrity: it is not a static destination you get to and then sit down and relax; it is a dynamic, living, breathing way of life. And when you’re not living it, when your daily actions are not in integrity with what you’ve declared for your life, things will not work – and you will know it. Like our central nervous system, everything is connected, so if you are out of integrity in one part of your life, you will start to see the impact of that in another. The wheels start coming off, and you – I – start looking for somewhere to hide.
So, I am out of integrity in my life. I look back to my Ramadan goals, and realise that I have left a number of them by the wayside, and some of the others are hobbling along. Moreover, I have been neglecting my goals for the year: I declared that I would read ten books this year, and I’m not even halfway through my first one; I have not been looking after my health and well being; I have not been budgeting effectively (not helped by going out more); my daily routine is erratic and not working for me; I have been letting my dreams slide by letting fear of responsibility scare me away. I have forgotten my commitments, and because it is creating a mess in and around me, I am trying to run away and bury it in pleasurable pursuits. I have told myself the joy I need is over there, outside in the sun; I have not wanted to be trapped at home with my broken integrity for company.
Pleasure is not complete without integrity; it is reduced to an excuse. Actually, nothing is complete without integrity; by definition, it is needed to be ‘integral’. Quite simply, life just doesn’t work without it.
I am owning the restoration of my integrity now, and something has already shifted; I am reviving my commitments, and making some new ones, and already there is relief. I ate well today; I barely looked at social media, and I’ve switched off almost all of my notifications so that ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ don’t interrupt my day any more. I literally cleaned my house from top to bottom, and it was harder and longer than usual: this time, I was poking into the corners, making sure I lifted up the shoes and cleaned the floor underneath them. It was definitely an integrity clean-up. At one point, the sunlight was pouring in through the window and warming my face; it was calling to me to come out and play hide n’ seek with that elusive satisfaction, to find a little piece of heaven out there somewhere. Then I realised that my joy was right in that moment, with my face bathed in the hot sunlight as an interlude to my cleaning. I wasn’t running from myself any more, so I don’t need to chase joy as if it’s outside of me. I remembered that happiness is a choice I can always make, and it transforms a moment.
It was in that moment that I also realised that we have the power to create our own heaven here, on earth, in our own lives, within us, by living with peace of mind and contentment. This comes about when we have honourable intentions and fulfil our commitments, and also when we own our ability to choose joy in any moment. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible. We can bring heaven home, so it is around us, whenever we like.