I did some writing about what the word brings up in me and the metaphors that come to mind. The metaphor of water speaks to me here: that which is clear and cannot hide things, that which holds no odor or taste (or judgement) and singularly refreshes and nourishes, that which can be disturbed by the wind and other forces, becoming more opaque and less harmonious.
At first glance, honesty doesn’t seem that difficult of a virtue. I like to think that I’m honest. I don’t go around lying to people, generally speaking, and I make an honest-to-goodness attempt at just showing up as myself. And yet, I think this is only the surface level of what it means to be honest.
I dug into the word honesty a bit more by searching out what David Whyte says about it in his book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. It’s a book I love for its simplicity and its depth, and I highly recommend it.
In his essay on Honesty, he speaks of the ultimate trajectory of life towards death and the inevitability of loss. And within that, what grabbed me thus time upon reading was this passage:
“Every human being dwells intimately close to a door of revelation they are afraid to pass through. Honesty lies in understanding our close and necessary relationship with not wanting to hear the truth. The ability to speak the truth is as much the ability to describe what it is like to stand in trepidation at this door, as it is to actually go through it and become that beautifully honest spiritual warrior, equal to all circumstances, we would like to become.”
I am at a threshold of revelation. And I have to decide to walk through the door.
And before I can do that, I have to be willing to stand here and acknowledge the truth of the moment, and the discomfort of the moment, and all the less than stellar, less than beautiful stuff that stands here with me.
That serene pool of crystal clear and potable water, now feels like a sludgy, mucky, fetid swamp. How very honest, indeed.
It seems my job for now is to simply be with what is here in the swamp, to recognize the parts of myself that have shown up here, even the smelly, sludgy parts.
In practical terms, what this tells me is that it is time to get back to my meditation and journaling. To allow the dark, swampy things to come up for air. It is a reminder that I don’t need to fix or change. I simply need to be willing to sit with what shows up. It requires that I don’t run or drift away.
Running away for me might be checking my email in the middle of writing something or getting up to get another cup of tea. Drifting away is subtler; it might be putting too many things on my to-do list or staying up late in the evening which makes it harder to get up and meditate in the morning.
Instead, I’m being asked to stay.
Staying isn’t my strong suit - I like my cups of tea and my to-do lists. However, knowing what running or drifting away look like is the first step in staying.
And perhaps I'll mark this spot with a cairn, for those days when I realize I've wandered off.
What does honesty bring up for you?
Jessica Curtis is a professional coach who helps people cultivate intention and live from a place of meaning and authenticity. If you think you could benefit from working with Jessica or want to invite her to work with your group, reach out to start a conversation.