Lessons From a Guru & Redefining The Meaning of Integrity

On the way to meet Guru Dada J.P. Vaswani I wasn't quite sure what to think. Just seven days prior I'd had the opportunity to listen to and briefly meet Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, another incredibly influential guru and the founder of The Art of Living Foundation. It seemed surreal that in just a matter of hours I had been granted a private audience with a man who has captivated the hearts of millions of people worldwide. Was the universe trying to tell me to keep searching? Go back to India? That I'm on the right path?

Walking into the room I felt a bit nervous. I'd had the opportunity to do some research and even before meeting him I already admired the man I was going to meet. There he was. A lovely man sitting on a chair dressed in all white and definitely not looking 96 years old. A bit hard of hearing but incredibly lucid and quite funny. What was most striking about him though, was that he had this uncanny ability to create a beautifully open and nurturing space for our conversation to unfold and yet filled that very space with his unbelievably powerful spiritual presence.

Some people just radiate peace. He is one of them.

In the time we spent together, Guru Dada imparted on us (we were accompanied by his staff and my beautiful friend Fati who facilitated all this) enough wisdom to last me a year. He spoke slowly but clearly and one of the things he said that resonated with me the most was strikingly simple yet had far reaching implications for me personally. He said:

'We own nothing. Everything we see here--the table, the chair, the lamp, our bodies--everything is on loan.'

Pretty simple and to the point. No fuss. No complicated language, no decorative metaphors. In fact, I'd heard something similar said before... To some, it may have even felt a bit anti-climactic and if I'm being honest, a couple of years ago the idea that I'm a perishable good wouldn't have really made me think much had been phrased that same way. Other than bringing up feelings of fear and uncertainty around the concept of death, nothing about that statement would've captured my imagination like it did this time around. Now I realize that the true message for me was always out there, it always has been, and always will be. I just wasn't open or ready to hear it.

What makes Guru Dada's phrase particularly special, is that it's closely tied to a concept that is perhaps not the most obvious. For me, while this phrase provides wisdom around the idea of attachment and the importance of not developing too much of it, its true value lies in the fact that it speaks to the way I've chosen to define integrity.

But what, you may ask, does integrity have to do with the fact that we have a shelf life?


To me, living with integrity means that we come at life from a place of gratitude and appreciation because we understand that our existence is fragile and transient. It's a short ride folks, a gift. None of us has tomorrow guaranteed.

When we truly understand how lucky we are to be alive there's no reason or justification for bad behavior or the mistreatment of ourselves or others. We learn to love our bodies, our minds, our souls, our faults, our past, and our futures.

I can't help but ask though...

What would happen if we truly put those words to practice and were grateful that we're here now and allow that simple fact to become our moral compass? Wouldn't we also understand that other people's lives are just as precious and just as short? Wouldn't our shared journey and fragility help us see each other almost as an extensions of ourselves and by default motivate us to start living a life of integrity defined by that partially shared meaning? The whole 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' shpiel would almost become irrelevant because we would realize we are our brothers, we are our sisters. There's no real separation.

In the grand scheme of things we are all in this trying to do the best that we can with what we've been given to work with. The time we have to do it in is comparable to how long that head of broccoli you picked up yesterday at the supermarket survives in your fridge... Perhaps longer than you expected, but never long enough.

Integrity shouldn't feel like an externally imposed moral obligation. Integrity shouldn't be the expected but terribly 'unsexy' word used in corporate mission statements, political speeches, or plastered on a cheesy poster of some guy climbing a mountain in your gym locker room.

Integrity is a code, unique to each of us individually that we choose to follow when we get aligned with our truth.

We choose it because we understand and are grateful for the journey we're on. Integrity should be each and everyone of us honoring the opportunity we've been given to do something beautiful and meaningful in whatever way that means to us.

Wouldn't that alone make the world a better place but also a more interesting and fulfilling world to live in?

Nobody is ever going to be able to live your life for you. Shouldn't that be more of a reason to make it count? We all have that luxury and responsibility. We are all creating our own and future generations futures...

Shouldn't that make all of us want and strive to be the best humans we can be? Wouldn't doing so also make us better people in the long run?

I for one plan to chew on this a bit more because I feel like I haven't gotten the full story yet. Will you join me?




(This is a post about integrity. Because of this Miles Davis needed to be featured as our musical accompaniment. Nobody plays or has ever played the trumpet with more integrity than he did. This also happens to be one of the most beautiful songs in existence. If you read the article and didn't hear the song, do yourself a favor, press play, and enjoy!)