Experience: The Emergency
Flying at 7,500 in a tiny Cessna 150, seven miles from the airport over the burning Mojave Desert, the last thing I wanted to hear was my engine shutting down. The plane began to fall like a rock in the thin 115-degree heat as I scrambled to maneuver my way to safety. My girlfriend turned to me in horror, “Is everything OK?” Somehow, I was able to muster, rather calmly that, “yes, it will be OK.”
For a number of reasons, the word “integrity” was the last thing on my mind at that moment back in 1986. But over time, this word began to mean more than my surface understanding implied. It can even mean the difference between life and death, although not always in the short term. I learned the deeper meaning of integrity can have a huge impact over the arc of one’s life.
While I used to think of integrity as synonymous with honesty, the second dictionary definition, “…the state of being whole or undivided,” speaks to an often-overlooked range of possibility in our lives.
When I say possibility, this in itself represents quite a change of mind. In my younger years, having integrity seemed to point to being a bit difficult, inspiring perhaps a sense of obligation or extra effort. While this may be true, what we often don’t talk about is the cost of being out of integrity. That is sometimes hard to see in the short run.
Say for instance that you didn’t take as much time as you should have planning your 300-knot course from Ridgecrest, CA to Moffett Field. Sure, the headings and checkpoints may be OK but what about winds and fuel management? Did you notice that after fueling up at your destination, you only had a gallon and a half left? Good God, you knew that that is exactly the amount of unusable fuel in a Cessna 150. That would have meant that you arrived on fumes without admitting it. Did you also forget that you had a 12-knot tailwind in your favor? Or did you just figure the universe owed you this stroke of luck. Why waste any time reviewing potentially life-saving lessons you might have learned when there are more exciting and entertaining things to do? After all, we just arrived in a new place and deserve to have some fun.
When a ship sets out to sea, a course is set and navigation begins. The ship’s captain sets and maintains the course so the ship remains “in integrity” with regard to going where it has said it was going to go.
Now consider the “deeper” integrity necessary for this mission to be successful. What if we were to inspect the bowels of the ship to make sure there weren’t any leaks. After all, leaks will likely slow down our progress if not literally sink our efforts if they get worse during our journey.
Do we have enough supplies (fuel, oil, parts, etc.) to maintain the mechanical function of the ship en route? Do we have enough supplies (food, first aid, waste handling, etc.) to maintain the health of the crew during the voyage? Is the ship tidy such that any unnecessary materials have been discarded so as not to present extra weight or hazards? How is the crew getting along? Do they have a good stock of respect and mutual support in case things get iffy during the trip?
Practice: Integrity in Action. Integrity (wholeness) is available in multiple dimensions all of the time:
- Inner Self: Do you have your inner and outer house in order? Do you treat yourself like you would treat a respected friend? That means are you well fed with healthy sustenance, getting good rest, enjoying time doing what you like with those you enjoy? Do you take quiet time for yourself to meditate, reflect…to just be?
- Outer Self: Do you do your best in all of your efforts, both personal and professional, as if everyone was watching? Do you treat your outer environment (home and earth) as if you were preparing it for people you care about?
- Society: Do you do give your share of responsibility to each of the systems of which you are a part? Because a ship with only 3 of it’s 4 engines running will not be all it was designed to be. Where can you extend compassion where you might be experiencing rancor? Where can you share the light of your honest experience where others may turn a blind eye?
Maybe you are so exhausted and spent just keeping your head above water that this all sounds like a pipedream. If so, my heart goes out to you. Your circumstances may be grim due to no fault of your own. Still, where can you patch a leak, just a little one, to take some measure of control in your situation
I’ve found that when I seek and maintain integrity, life simply works better. Good things come to me in their good time and the unforeseen difficulties don’t seem to be all that much of a struggle. In fact, if I choose to take 100% responsibility for all my experience, I have opened for myself an incredible range of possible actions in response to any situation. More on this in a future article.