Monthly Archives: November 2013

STAND IN TRUTH

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?

If you would like to learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, check out my self-paced course here

Respect for Life

I love yoga philosophy!  I love it because it has so many rich applications for how to live our lives.  In my local classes, we are currently exploring the yamas (moral restraints), the first limb of the aṣṭanga (8-limbs) yoga laid out by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.  In coming weeks we will explore each of the five yamas, then maybe move on to the second limb, the niyamas (observances).  It seems like a sweet exploration as we head into the holiday season.

So this week we’ve been considering the first of the yamas, ahiṃsā.  Literally, ahiṃsā means non-harming. As the first yama listed in the first limb of aṣṭanga yoga, it is of foremost importance.  This was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s primary practices, leading to a non-violent independence movement in India, and was later adopted by Martin Luther King as an approach to civil rights activism in the United States.

It is a huge topic, worthy of extensive reflection and practice. For now, let’s consider a few approaches to its practice, and I’ll leave you with some considerations to contemplate and further your practice.

First of all, what does non-harming mean to  you? Is it the same as pacifism?  Is it possible to be completely non-harming?  Where do you draw the line? For example, what if someone attacked an innocent child?  Is it OK to kill another being to sustain your own life?  These are challenging questions to consider, because sometimes it does seem to be necessary to do one being harm in order to not bring harm to another being.  That’s one reason I prefer “respect for life” as a definition for ahiṃsā.  It adds a nuance that I feel is important to my decision making.

It is important to remember that all of these qualities we seek to cultivate on the path of yoga come more naturally when they arise from our connection to a greater or higher or more essential part of our self, rather than some moral edict.   We have all heard the command, “thou shalt not kill.”  Yet killing other beings is rampant.  One reason I think this is so is because we are disconnected from our hearts, our essence, from who we really are.  When we have cultivated a strong connection to our hearts through our practices, we begin to understand that essence that flows through others as well, and we are less likely to hurt others as it would be like hurting ourselves.

As we start to delve into this practice of ahiṃsā, we will uncover layers of our actions, how our actions (or inaction) affect different layers of our being, and of other beings.  Speech is one such consideration.  Words have energy behind them, and what and how you say something to another can be more or less respectful or harmful. Have you ever been talking about someone when they walked into the room?  Given the content of your words, how did it feel?  If it was disrespectful, likely it felt icky.  And it wasn’t icky just to get caught gossiping, but when confronted with the actual humanness of the person, you realize more clearly your essential connection, and you feel less compelled to talk negatively about them.

What about our thoughts, including those toward ourselves?  Often we have habitual thought patterns about ourselves that are harmful.  For example, I sometimes think I am not expert  or skilled enough to present these philosophical teachings to others.  That thought squelches some part of myself that sincerely wants to help others with these teachings. So if I allow those thoughts to dominate, it creates harm not only to myself, but to those who might benefit.

Likewise, we can create a lot of harm in relationships by the way we think about them.  There have been instances in my life with particular individuals who rub me the wrong way.  I find myself obsessively thinking about how to win an argument with them or get back at them in some way, which can escalate conflict.  When I started shift the way I think about them, and even purposefully creating a more loving thought pattern,  the whole conflict dissolved.

Obviously there is much to reflect on, so much that it can be quite overwhelming.  The most important point is to consider for yourself how you think about ahiṃsā, and to start practicing it in a mindful way.  It is facilitated by creating that connection with your innermost self, then allowing that connection to guide you in refining your thoughts, words, and deeds.  Like any practice, you begin where you are, and then start shifting your life to align with the value of ahiṃsā.

I leave you with a long list of considerations, as this is quite a deep practice.  Pick any of them that stir your interest, and please leave a comment here, or on my Cindy Lusk Live Your Yoga Facebook page post of this article, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

CONTEMPLATE and PRACTICE and JOURNAL

Contemplate ahiṃsā, and write down a definition for yourself, and keep that definition in mind as you complete any of the following.

Commit to a mindful practice of ahiṃsā for some period of time, like a week or a month.  Consider whether each of your thoughts, what you say, and how you act is in line with your definition.  Journal about your experience each day.

What helps or hinders the practice of ahiṃsā?

What is the effect of practicing or not practicing the ahiṃsā?

What do you do when know someone is behaving out of line with the ahiṃsā?

How does gossip relate?

Why is ahiṃsā listed as the first yama?

Is anyone exempt from the practice of ahiṃsā?

How is your practice of ahiṃsā reflected in actions that affect the planet?

How does your practice of ahiṃsā relate to actions done on your behalf? For example, killing an animal for you to eat or drone strikes by our government.

If you would like to learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, check out my self-paced course here