My wife and I recently watched the Oscar-nominated movie Flight. It’s an incredibly powerful and even disturbing story about an airline pilot (played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Denzel Washington) who is forced to come face to face with his own truth–something he’s been avoiding his whole life. Spoiler Alert: The powerful irony of the movie is illustrated in the final scene where he sits in his prison AA group and remarks that he’s never felt this free in his whole life.
There is something very liberating that comes from standing in your truth, embracing who you are, owning your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures, and being willing to look past your performance to the more foundational issue of core identity. Where does your true value and worth come from: the roles you play every day? The quality of your behavior every day? Or is there something more grounded and centered and fundamental?
Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) gets those two realities confused. He’s clear on his performance as an airline pilot–he’s one of the best in the industry and the story’s crisis reveals that truth. But he has placed his identity exclusively in that role to the exclusion of admitting another truth: his alcoholism. And as long as he refuses to stand in that truth, his denial continues placing people, including himself, in painful harm’s way.
Captain Whitaker doesn’t experience true freedom until he finally embraces the whole truth.
So here are FOUR WAYS TO EXERCISE YOUR TRUTH MUSCLE:
Embrace the whole truth about yourself.
We all have a shadow side–that place that is trying to get heard in order to make sense of life–which often manifests itself in unhealthy, unhelpful ways.
For example, we lash out at and fight with our partners, not because we want to be jerks, but because we want to be heard, we want greater intimacy. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen an approach that goes counter to the very thing we’re longing for and instead creates greater distance. We maintain some addictions, not because we want to imprison ourselves in unbreakable chains and create terrible chaos and pain and suffering in our lives and everyone else’s, but because we’re hungry for belonging, a sense of worth and value, and we desire deeper, more lasting pleasure and intimacy. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen an approach that goes counter to the very thing we’re longing for and instead creates greater distance and suffering. We get hooked on unhealthy ways to compensate for our lack–it’s quicker, sometimes easier, but far more deeply painful.
But the whole truth is also that we have a light side in us. We love others with good motives. We serve others for their own good not just ours. We develop healthy intimacy with ourselves and others. We give with unselfish compassion and caring. We choose delayed gratification at times for the right reasons, in the right places, in the right ways. We show honor and respect to people, including ourselves. We affirm and appreciate others, including ourselves.
As the great wisdom traditions describes, we are this mix of yin and yang, shadow and light, healthy and unhealthy motives, ego and soul. Both sides are a part of us which make up the whole truth. To deny one for the sake of the other is to cripple the whole.
Honor your Shadow side.
Our shadow side must be acknowledged and honored for what it contributes to us–the understanding of what is trying to be heard from deep within ourselves. My cry for intimacy, or for wanting to be seen and heard and honored, or for wanting to feel the depths of life and joy and happiness, or for wanting to feel significant is a deeply human hunger and need. We have to address these desires. To deny them is to deny our humanness and short-circuit the goal of being fully alive as God intended. Our goal is to learn how to dig deeper for the most basic ache inside ourselves and then to choose the most effective, healthy ways to satisfy it.
Genuine satisfaction can not be experienced until the deepest, most true hunger is identified.
How would you describe your shadow side? How does it manifest itself? What is your shadow saying about what’s most important to you?
By being willing to embrace your shadow and listen to it, your honoring it will facilitate your experience of your whole truth.
Learn from your Hungers.
Hungers are not bad. Even Jesus affirmed and blessed hunger when he said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
Having hungers is not bad. Acknowledging them is a part of wisdom. Understanding them leads to wholeness.
The hunger that has the most satisfaction and fulfillment, says Jesus, is the hunger for what is right, true, noble, pure, just, helpful, loving, compassionate, hopeful. Hunger, which is the deepest, truest form of desire and want, is what must be honored and embraced.
So what do you learn about yourself from your hungers and desires? What values do your hungers reveal are most important to you? How do your hungers correspond to the above list of what Jesus calls the most satisfying? What is it that you really, really, really want and how does that specific truth inform you about your whole truth?
One of the powerful paradigms in the 12 Step Recovery program is the insistence on standing in your truth, the whole truth, and practicing it relentlessly. That means refusing to deny the addiction and what it means to you; refusing to live in dishonesty; agreeing to name your shadow daily. And it also means working hard to embrace the other side of your truth–learning how to feed the light side, live in it more completely and honestly, stepping into regular practices and behaviors that reinforce that part of the truth.
What are the practices you’ve developed that reinforce and solidify your experience of your truth? Do you have daily mantras and inspirational readings that reinforce your truth? Do you pray and meditate on it? Do you finds creative ways to serve and give to others from a place of unselfish compassion? Do you engage in self affirmations about who you really are, your true identity as a deeply loved and fully accepted human being by God?
In the end, as Jesus once observed, it is only the truth that sets us free. Captain Whip Whitaker experienced that in a very dramatic way. You and I can experience it in our own ways. The nature of truth is that when it is honestly embraced, it is the most truly liberating and empowering experience on earth.