What is truthfulness? What is YOUR truth? How do we bend the truth to our advantage? What lies do you tell yourself? These questions spring from a conscious consideration of satya, truthfulness, the second in the ethical practices oulined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. On the surface, we all know: Thou shalt not lie. As prerequisites to living your yoga, maintaining these edicts simplifies your life, and helps keep your mind and heart clear, allowing the other practices to unfold more easily. If you lie, not only will you likely find that lie bouncing around your brain as you try to practice, but you have to remember who you told what, and life can quickly become very complicated, like some sort of bad situation comedy.
BENDING THE TRUTH
Yet how many times do we bend the truth? I know a teacher that loved to use good stories in his teaching. Often I knew he was exaggerating, adding, or deleting details, or otherwise “bending” the truth to make his point. I grew to distrust his words because of this, and he therefore became less effective. Politicians are notorious for bending of the truth, sometimes then spending a lot of energy explaining themselves. In both cases, we as consumers of information must then decide whether to perpetuate the untruth, ignore it, or call out the perpetrator.
I’ve also had teachers responsible for giving me feedback on my work who didn’t give me anything but positive praise, and in doing so failed to tell the whole truth, which in the end didn’t allow me to grow. The examples of how we bend the truth are many, and I’ve included several such examples for you to contemplate below.
BALANCING TRUTH WITH NON-HARMING
On the other hand, satya must be balanced with the first listed (and therefore most important) yama, ahimsa or non-harming, so perhaps those teachers who only give positive feedback simply didn’t want to create harm. I know for myself, I have at times been too quick to speak the truth, or have done so unskilllfully, and indeed people have been hurt. And there are certainly times when lyng is the best course of action (e.g., those helping Jews during the Holocaust). So although the aspiration to tell the truth is obvious, there are many situations in which we must consider more carefully our responsibility to uphold both non-harming and truthfulness.
STANDING IN YOUR TRUTH
Examining subtler layers of truth makes the practice of satya even more compelling. Consider nuances of the word that relate to being “authentic” and “genuine.” You may have seen the sanskrit word “Sat” in different chants and it means “Truth” with a capital “T.” In this context, translations of Sat include Truth, Reality, Being. So one way to think about practicing satya is to become aware of your Truth. Before reading any further, you may want to take a moment right now and consider: What is YOUR Truth? What is the truth about who you REALLY are? Stop to sit with this question, then write what comes to mind.
On one level, my answer to this question relates to the values I hold dear: e.g, integrity, love, and respect for nature, among others. Penetrating deeper, I see myself as a manifestation of the Divine, and thus as a being of love and light. So then the practice of satya becomes one of aligning my thougths and actions with this definition of my Truth.
Sometimes our practice or other life circumstances challenge this Truth, e.g., when we find ourselves thinking: I can’t/I’ll never be able to ______ (do this posture, teach others, understand….). Or I am ________ (stupid, fat, old…). Each of us has habitual ways of thinking about ourselves that are more or less true. Often we perpetuate telling these lies to ourselves, and they could fulfill themselves to become true if we allow them to.
There are many other ways we may fail to stand in our truth. I recently overheard a conversation in which one guy said something to another about a nearby woman that was blatantly sexist. I saw the second guy flinch, but he did not say anything. How often to we tacitly participate in or perpetuate such lies instead of standing in our own truth and speaking out?
Ultimately our ability to be truthful on all these levels is in direct correspondence to how well we have established a strong connection to our innermost “True” Self. Once this connection is clearly established, we are compelled from inside out to stand in our truth, and our ability to navigate the nuances of truthfulness comes naturally.
CONTEMPLATE and PRACTICE and JOURNAL
What is truthfulness?
What is your truth? What is the truth about who you are?
Watch what you say: are you always truthful? If not, why? How does it feel?
Do you ever say things because you think it is what another wants to hear? Is that appropriate?
Watch what you think: are your thoughts always truthful? If not, why? How does it feel?
What lies do you consistently tell yourself?
Watch your actions: do you always act in a way that is true to yourself? If not, why? How does it feel?
What is required for you to be truthful about who you are?
In what ways are you not totally truthful? What is the effect of this?
What other ways do we bend the truth?
How does truthfulness fit in with non-harming?
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