Dignity. It’s one of those words that’s fallen out of fashion; it sounds somewhat stuffy, full of itself, as though it wears an un-ironic bow-tie and plaid sports coat to sit down to breakfast each morning.

And yet, nothing’s further from the truth.

Dignity is the lived expression — the embodiment, if you will — of a net of soul qualities: Integrity, alignment, truth, sovereignty, trust, faith, power, and communion, among others. Together, they show up — in a person, a tree, a mountain, a sparrow or a cheetah — as a unique identity that is recognizably… dignified.

Because these soul qualities are alive in all of us, and because I’ve done my fumbling and fallible best to practice living them most days, my dignity can be assailed but it can’t be demolished. It cannot be diminished by person or circumstance, any more than yelling obscenities at the sky will cause it to kneel at your feet.

My own sense of dignity stems from an inner world that’s richly crafted of everything from the stories I’ve lived or participated in, inherited or created, to the spirit of Divine Order which organizes my life and all of my experiences.

While my outer world nourishes my senses with beauty and delight and fills my heart with the joy and presence of my beloveds, its comings and goings are like clouds scudding across the sky. What remains steady beneath the movements of clouds, wind and rain, contrails and jets, is the sky’s living being.

It’s the same with my inner world. Awake or asleep, dreaming or flying, the world within me is always vibrant and alive with the textures of my soul. They reveal themselves as a quiet, unassailable dignity, along with a profound respect for, and commitment to uphold the dignity of all beings.

Being exquisitely attuned to energy — my own, as well as that of the people, places and situations around me — I experience the energy behind words and actions as clearly as their outer manifestations. Misalignment is a whole-body experience, for me, and while it’s confused me in the past, I recognize it instantly when I encounter it now. It shows up in a variety of ways — in everything from my own choices about the food I eat and where and how and by whom it’s grown, to the forces that fuel the economic engine of our society, to the depredations of the latest news cycle.

Lack of alignment in us humans shows up as lack of dignity. Wild animals are immensely dignified, because they are always entirely themselves. They aren’t checking their investment portfolio for its impressive rate of returns, or measuring their worth by the size of their home and their status in the workaday world. They’re mostly concerned with what’s for dinner and how best to navigate their environment, so they can eat in peace without being eaten. What happens next, in their world, depends on whether they’re predator or prey. They aren’t performing for someone else’s gaze. Hence, their innate dignity.

We, on the other hand…

So many of the folks I have the privilege of loving and working with are brilliant, accomplished, creative, and deeply committed to the people and causes they serve. And yet, too many of us believe we are lacking in some way. Despite all our accomplishments, all the love we offer, receive, create; despite all our successes, we believe we’re not good enough, smart enough, desirable enough; not deserving of the goodness that is the very fabric of the universe.

The fact that this belief is untrue doesn’t diminish the pain it causes. Self-doubt undermines our innate sense of dignity, which is not dependent on the right person or the right circumstances – or anything outside of ourselves — to reflect and amplify, or praise, love and affirm us into knowing the immensity of the treasure that we are.

Dignity is an outer expression of an inner world that’s rich in soul qualities harmoniously acting together. It’s that simple; it’s that profound. Cultivate your inner being, and your dignity reveals itself as organically and effortlessly as your voice, your fingerprint, your singular and infinitely precious personhood.

You don’t have to proclaim your dignity; you simply live it. You are it. You are dignified because you’re innately whole, even when you’re nursing a new baby and haven’t slept or washed your hair in days; even when your world is chaotic, and your life seems to be falling apart. You are dignified when you’re living your soul’s truth.

My friend C____ is immensely kind, clear-hearted, brilliant, generous, and wise. She’s also funny, playful, goofy, and fun to be with (but that‘s a story for another day.) She’s dignified because she’s herself, no matter what. She can’t be knocked off her pedestal because she doesn’t plant herself on one; and she laughs off any attempts to place her there.

Being dignified has everything to do with being true to yourself – to all of yourself. If you love riding motorbikes, by all means get on one and ride! If you love baking cakes or making art or dancing till dawn or volunteering at your local shelter or all of the above, go do them. Do them all. Do what waters and feeds your heart. Be that which nurtures your soul, and the soul of the world.

Our world can be brutal and gorgeous, lacerating, generous, confusing, horrifying, magical, and every shade in-between. Dignity won’t shield you from its onslaughts, but it will dwell as a living light in your heart; a light that cannot be dimmed, stolen, or taken from you.