Modesty and Integrity

Sunlight through Tree
February 16, 2022

Being modest means reconciling ourselves to how things are, including ourselves. True modesty builds confidence. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

To me, honor and integrity are pretty much the same thing. For me, integrity means following the sense of sweetness, alignment, goodness that I feel everywhere in my heart in relationship to Guru, and my feeling of Guru being everywhere, staying in sync with that, no matter what.

That's what my integrity consists of.

And sometimes that is something that other people either approve of or don't approve of. But that's all part of integrity. Integrity means, for me anyway, sticking to that sense of wisdom and its sweetness, no matter what anybody else says or thinks of it.

And that's a really hard thing to do, I've discovered over my 65 years. I've always felt that, but I have lost track of it sometimes. And those were pretty dark times when I lost track of following that. And I wouldn't say that I did anything really against that, but there were years— I had a pretty rough childhood, and my early 20s weren't really that great either.

Once I started practicing, everything got a lot better. But there were some years there that felt very dark, kind of like I was in a dark tunnel and couldn't find my way out. And when I look back, it's not like I was doing anything so against my own integrity, but I just felt like I was half-alive during some of those years.

And so it was hard to follow wisdom. But now that I have more of an understanding of it, what is this thing I've been following my whole life? It's really willingness to just follow that and do your best, even knowing that you might make mistakes.

And I certainly tried my best to follow that sense of sweetness and goodness and wisdom and have made mistakes. But it's also being modest and humble about that and not getting all exercised, just recognizing that's part of my own integrity, just being modest and recognizing that I am going to fumble sometimes.

And that's just a human thing, and there's no need to get really all reactive about it. You just pick yourself up and start following again.

It's also extremely practical. Some of you know that when I was a little kid, I identified with Casper the Friendly Ghost. I felt like this was a character that said something about me. This kind of friendly, sweet person in a hostile world. That's how I felt.

When you have a lifetime of feeling connected to this sense of wisdom and goodness, what I have also noticed is that once I started doing sadhana and started being able to really understand in a more articulate way what it was that I was following and developing a lot more confidence.

My first teacher taught me how to feel more confident in that process of following. And one thing I noticed is that in our culture, at certain points in my life, I have run into a lot of opposition to being a woman who has that kind of confidence.

So sticking to that, no matter what, even in the face of literally people actually trying to make me be less confident. And when I say confident, I don't mean confident like I'm always right. I don't mean that at all.

Thinking that you're always right is a very brittle, fragile thing, because, of course, no one's always right. So it's just a bunch of bullshit. If your measure is you're always right, you can never be wrong, or you can never make a missed step, or you have to be perfect. You're always trying to be perfect. You're actually extremely fragile. That isn't confidence at all.

Confidence just means you have basic confidence in the process of being human in nature and the wisdom that is accessible to us. There's a refuge there. It's like taking refuge in that. And you take refuge with all your bumblings also. It's nothing to do with the ordinary ideas of perfection or mistakes or anything like that.

So when you have that kind of confidence and you know what you're following, it's wonderful. But then some people can be mad at you too. So it takes a lot of fortitude to keep doing that. It really does. It takes a lot of fortitude.

At the same time, it's the most wonderful thing ever. Those two things together.

So this is my idea of integrity is doing that and living that way, and it's kind of uncompromising. There's no compartmentalization. There's no compromise.

If it's wisdom, it's wisdom. There's nothing that tops it.

It doesn't matter what anybody else's opinion is, because their opinion is nothing compared to this wisdom.

When I was very young, I just felt this sense of inner rightness that I was following. I knew it wasn't rectitude or being right. It had nothing to do with that. It was like this feeling of being in sync, putting my foot in the right place.

And I had no other word for it than that. And then as I got older, in my teens, I started calling it the Friend, which I later found out was actually a thing. That other spiritual folk had called it the Friend.

Now I have a much richer sense of it and this sense of what it is asking of me, to be really openhearted, pour to everyone in every moment. And that is obviously something I'm going to be walking toward my whole life.

I don't know that I'm ever going to accomplish that, because I've been given the transmission of that full-on unmitigated compassion that's woven into that wisdom. So that's now my biggest beacon. That's now my honor, my integrity, if you will.

So first you have to let yourself identify that. Everyone has access to that feeling of rightness, or almost everyone does. There are some people that don't, but that's mental illness, basically. But we all have, even if it's just like in the split-second flashes, we know what we're supposed to be doing and what we're not supposed to be doing.

And it's not intellectual, and it's not ethical, and it's not moral. It's a different kind of a knowing, right? It's just a knowing that has no other source of knowledge itself.

We have to train ourselves to follow that.

I was trained to follow it. I came in wanting to follow it and following it as best I could in a kind of inarticulate way. But my first teacher actually taught me techniques to follow it, those inner divination techniques, like the two roads meditation that I've taught you guys and other kinds of things. That was just a revelation.

And that teacher was kind of New Agey. She wasn't like a guru or anything, but what she taught me was just invaluable—making decisions like that through this inner process of divination. She didn't call it that. I call it that in retrospect, just boosted my confidence so much. I just suddenly felt like as long as I followed that, everything is fine. I don't know where it's leading me.

It's not like a plan. ‘Oh, that plan sounds good. And I like where it's headed.’ You have no idea, because you're just listening to it fresh in a moment. It's just telling you where to put your foot next.

You have no idea where it's leading you, but you can have absolutely utter confidence in it. And nobody else and nobody else's opinion or nobody else's demands can hold a candle to this.

So it creates that kind of refuge and confidence, and sometimes conflict. But if you start training yourself to listen to it— you need to do that if you haven't already.

Many of you have learned some of those things I learned from my first teacher, from me. I hope you're using them. And we're doing all these heart practices, and we've talked so many, many, many times about first thought, best thought or first impulse, best impulse, where that wisdom jumps out and how you shouldn't override it or overthink it or negotiate with it.

You have to train yourself to follow it no matter what, without any intellectualizing at all. No second-guessing, no intellectualizing.

And then you can live a life really of a lot more confidence and that's integrity. And then you feel right with yourself. You feel right with the world.

It's a practice, so that means it's a process. Remember that spiritual life is long, and we feel every possible thing that can be felt, and one of them is coming to terms with how things are. And that is hard.

We have fantasies for a reason because they're pleasurable. Then we don't have to look at stuff. But not everything that we discover is something painful. We also discover the beauty in everything and the value, and things just feel much more alive. And we become more skillful.

But becoming more skillful does mean having to reconcile ourselves to how things are, including ourselves.

We have to get past feeling badly about ourselves. Feeling badly about ourselves is not modest. It's not humble because it's like we feel badly about ourselves because we're not measuring up to something.

Really, who do we think we are that we should be measuring up?

However we're showing up, that's just how we are, period. There's no measure. So having no measure and just seeing yourself as you are, that is humility.

People often feel badly because they're not better than they are. That's immodesty.

When I was in undergraduate school, I had a work study job at this thing at UC Berkeley called Athlete Study Table. And it was for people on the university teams, like the football team, who weren't getting a passing grade in the various subjects. And they couldn't stay on the teams unless they had passing grades, so they would come and get tutoring from other students.

And then when I was in grad school, I taught freshman writing. And in one of the freshman writing courses I taught, there was a lot of athletes. And one of the things I noticed in both those circumstances was how modest these kids were.

They weren't interested in being praised or having to tell them everything that was good about what they were doing. They wanted to know, what am I doing less well and how can I improve? And they were very practical about it.

There was no excess emoting around it. It just felt very straightforward and simple. They would just come with their work and say, how can I make this better? And they really wanted to know. And if you told them something wasn't quite right, they didn't go into any emotional reaction to that at all.

They were just like, oh, okay, well, tell me how to do that. And I think part of that was like their work with their coaches. If you're going to be a professional athlete, these were very high-level athletes. They probably hear from dawn till sunset everything they're doing wrong.

Their coaches aren't sitting there going—Good job. Oh, I like how you did that. I hope you don't mind if I mention it, that there was one little thing that you did wrong—which is what a lot of people want.

These kids were just getting feedback all day long, and they just had a really beautiful attitude towards it.

We should try to adopt that attitude. It was very impressive.

There are times when it's really hard to access my value. And I guess I wouldn't articulate it as not being humble or having—

There's a difference between just having painful feelings and feeling badly because you aren't doing something or being something better than how you are.

So you have some kind of internal measure, or you want to be perfect or you always want to be right about things. And then whenever you're wrong about something, it's like [groans] or whenever you fall short in some way [groans]. Then you feel badly about yourself because you fell short of this measure that you have internalized in some way.

This is the situation I'm talking about. Pain is pain. Pain is not immodest.

People who are depressed are feeling pain. There is no immodesty about that, or just having difficulty experiencing your own innate value. Everybody has difficulty experiencing that to some degree or another.

Otherwise we'd be totally enlightened. So that's just what it is. It doesn't necessarily come with another story about it.

For instance, if I'm doing sadhana and I think I should be feeling something that I'm not feeling instead of just working with how I am feeling. If I feel a lot of sadness, let's say, and that's part of my sadness. But then I see somebody else and I imagine that somebody else never feels sad and they're doing great and I shouldn't be feeling that. It's like putting salt on the wound.

First you have an honest feeling, and then you tell yourself you shouldn't have that feeling because it's not good enough, it's not perfect enough, it's not right enough, it's not advanced enough. It's not whatever, it's not holy, it's not whatever people tell themselves.

So it's like you have this suffering and then you re-suffer. You double-suffer by telling yourself you shouldn't be that way. And that's the immodest part.

It almost sounds like the subtext of that is also a lack of honesty then, of just not being real with where you are in terms of—God, I'm so tired of feeling this way,—which creates more suffering.

No, I mean, I think it's fine to think, God, I'm so tired of feeling this way. That feels very honest, also. It's more like I shouldn't be feeling this, it's that sense of—

I can feel that too.


I guess my question is where does immodesty line up with honesty?

Yeah, very simple equation. If we feel we should be other than we are, we will often lie about it.

So if we feel we should be other than we are, then we have a feeling of shame. And then to ourselves we might lie, but we also might lie to other people in various different ways because we're hiding something that we feel we're failing at or not measuring up.

Whereas if I just say, for instance, let's say it's about sadhana, maybe I think I'm not doing well on my sadhana. So instead of just saying that, I kind of fudge and lie a little bit about that to make it seem like I don't feel that way and that's not happening.

So there's a direct line between having this internal measure that you feel you're not meeting and wanting to hide that, wanting to hide this sense of failure that you yourself have generated.

Basically, you cannot fail.

There's no such thing as a mistake or a failure. Everything here is just God doing these things and playing this part.

There's no possibility of failing or making a mistake. It's all just a play.

And even if we're thinking dualistically, which is fine too, even then we get more into the question of modesty because you're human, so in terms of making mistakes, we're doing something badly. I keep saying this, but really, who the fuck do we think we are that we shouldn't make mistakes and shouldn't do things badly?

We're just humans.

There's probably a billion other intelligent races, probably some of them are on this planet and some of them are on other planets. Maybe out there there's some race of beings that always does everything perfectly but that sure as heck isn't us, right?

We're ruining our planet and we're treating each other like shit, basically. So why do we think we're going to be perfect and never make a mistake and always be right or always have some fabulous, deep thing happening?

Why do we think that would be? We're humans.

So having more of the attitude, I'm just going to do my best come what may. That's the modest attitude.

Come what may, I'm just going to do my best and if I fall down I'm just going to pick myself up and keep going. As simple as that. Then I'm going to be honest. Because why not? Why is honesty even a question? Because we're ashamed of how we are. If we weren't, there would be no question of honesty.

That's not true. Because people use dishonesty to manipulate other people too, for their own gain, it doesn't really have anything to do with shame. It's just gross manipulation.

Being dishonest because you feel shame is also manipulation. But just for a different reason. You're doing it to gain someone's approval, or at least to avoid disapproval. You want admiration, you want approval. So I guess it's all for gain. It's just not all of it is power and money.

But just think about, like why not be honest. Really.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.