Know Your Own Truth
The Yoga Sutras set forth guidelines for living, both in relationship to ourselves and with others. The second Yama, or Code of Conduct, is “Satya”, or Truthfulness. This encompasses much more than not telling lies. It involves discovering our own truth, living in alignment with it, and sharing it with others-- wrapped in compassionate speech and action.
The best way I know to discover our truth is not through our intellect, or developing a black and white idea of what is true and what is false... rather it comes from an innate knowing that exists in all of us and that we can learn to recognize with practice. Anything but the truth hurts inside. It creates uneasiness, tightness, dullness-- a nagging feeling.* I think we all know this feeling… when we made a choice that isn’t right for us, or when we say something we later regret. The beauty is that once we identify this feeling, we will be motivated to get to the truth as quickly as possible. Life will then become simple-- not easy, but simple. This is an important distinction. Speaking and living according to our truth can be difficult and scary at times. However, when we recognize and operate from our truth with kindness, life is indeed simpler. There is no longer a need for second-guessing or manipulation. Our only job is then to listen internally, act and speak in alignment with our truth, and accept the outcome.
Why do we, as humans, engage in dishonesty? Like most damaging behaviors, our dishonesty stems from fear: fear of disapproval, rejection, shame, or getting into trouble. We are also taught that some types of dishonesty are acceptable, or even desirable. For example: saying we’re ok when we’re not, claiming we don’t need help when we do, or dramatizing to gain sympathy or have our way. These behaviors result in a short-term gain, but a long-term loss of integrity. When we learn to simply state our truth, without elaboration, exaggeration or story-telling, we can preserve our integrity and live in alignment with our values.
Gandhi said that his only practice was a balance of Ahimsa (non-violence, the first Yama) and Satya (truth telling), and that all his other practices came out of these two. So our truth telling must go hand-in-hand with kindness. Sai Baba instructed us to ask before speaking, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? Does it improve the silence?”
How do we know if our truth-telling is kind? We must explore our motivations. When we uncover the parts of ourselves that are carrying past hurts, are controlling, are lonely or want power, it will influence our truth and how we communicate it. All of this is rooted in clear-seeing.
First, we can root out interpretations and start focusing on observations. This is the difference between saying the weather is lousy, or stating simply that it is raining and cold. I suspect if we begin to observe ourselves we will notice how many judgements and interpretations we make all day long! Weeding these out will necessarily influence our perception of the world we live in as well as our journey on this earth.
Secondly, we can be aware when we are operating out of past hurts and experiences rather than what is happening in this moment. We can pause and ask ourselves “What was actually said or done?” “Do I see a common pattern in my behavior or reactions?” “What is this really about?” We may also be operating out of conditioning and the particular “lenses” through which we see the world. By keeping an open mind, and looking at things from many perspectives, we can start to set aside these lenses and more readily access our own truth.
Thirdly, we can become aware of the stories we tell ourselves. These stories are usually about the past or center around wishful thinking. They stop us from seeing the truth of our current experience. “It is like commenting on life rather than living it.”*
Once we have begun to access “clear-seeing,” it is our next task to find acceptance of whatever the moment brings…this includes ourselves and the people in our lives, as we and as they are. Not accepting what is, is the primary source of suffering in our lives, and the primary mode of self-deception. This does not mean resigning ourselves to destructive situations. Rather, we seek a life of “radical acceptance.” We say a profound “yes!” to whatever arises, not as a method to avoid pain or trick ourselves into a positive attitude, but rather as a way to open to life as it is.
One of my favorite quotes on this topic is by Rumi: “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and attend to them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture. Still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame. The malice. Meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
Rather than our emotions and experiences being problems that need fixing, we can view everything as a path to softening and opening further. A fun way to look at this path to acceptance is to imagine our life is a workshop that we signed up and paid for. If this were true, we would want to get the most out of every experience, even the hardships. We would say to ourselves, “Well, I signed up for this workshop, so I might as well figure out what I can learn from this!”
As we begin to welcome all the parts of ourselves, we have begun the journey of authenticity. If we can cultivate a feeling of being safe, supported and accepted by the important people in our lives and by a benevolent universe, then we can allow our true selves to show. This can be such a relief after a lifetime of crafting ourselves to gain approval and acceptance and to avoid rejection and abandonment. Perhaps our internal truth-telling barometer will get so finely tuned that we will necessarily have to reveal ourselves to the world, come what may!
Before we can reveal our true selves, we must discover our true selves. If you are a woman, you will know that we are programmed to please, to nurture, and to not make waves. Men have their own set of societal expectations around being strong, stoic and successful. How we present ourselves to the world is often not who we truly are. Carl Jung said, “A lie would make no sense, unless the truth was felt to be dangerous.” So why do we feel that being our authentic selves would be dangerous? We carry this idea deep inside us that if we are truly seen, we will not be accepted, desired or loved. However, if we never reveal our true selves, we will never be accepted for who we are. Then, rather than feeling a sense of belonging and security, we find ourselves walking a precarious line of pretend.
Whenever my children were picked on or began to doubt themselves, I reminded them to “know their own truth.” The path to knowing your own truth is a gradual process, that can begin simply by starting to observe your likes and dislikes, your preferences... by pausing and tuning in before you decide what to do next. As you move towards authenticity, there is no longer anything to manage or defend-- what a relief!
There are many subtle and not-so-subtle ways we are dishonest with the people in our lives. Sometimes our words and deeds are not in alignment. Often our words are carefully composed to achieve the result we want. Clearly stating our desire or preference without knowing how someone else is going to react feels very different from scheming to steer a conversation to go exactly where we want it to go. We must remember that others’ reactions are beyond our control. Another way we are dishonest in relationships is by overcommitting ourselves. When we juggle too much we find ourselves backtracking on promises, arriving later than we said we would, and not being true to our word.
Just as often, we are also not honest with ourselves. We see this so clearly in relationships, when, out of fear, we are unwilling to see the reality of how things are. We make excuses and hope for things to change, this signals that we are not living in reality. How many times have you, or people you know, stayed too long in a destructive relationship, saying things like: “I know what’s deep inside him,” “I see the person no one else can see,” “He’s had a hard life,” “He has so much potential,” “We’re soul mates,” “The sex was so magical,” “I’m not perfect either,” “He’s not so bad,” or “There may not be anyone better out there.” When you find yourself caught in this pattern of rationalization, ask yourself, “What is true right now about this person?” and “Can I accept this person as they are right now without an agenda for change?”
It may be hard to move away from old destructive patterns in relationships. Stay alert for mushy, sentimental feelings of wanting to rescue someone. Avoid thinking that if you are good enough, kind enough or smart enough that you can change the other person. Ask yourself why you keep expecting different behavior from someone who does the same things over and over again. Rather than focusing on what they need and how to get through to the other person, keep the focus on yourself-- the only thing you can control. Notice if you are just trying to avoid the grief of a relationship’s end, especially if you are attached to some fantasy of what might have been. Even though it might hurt to admit it to yourself, be aware when you are forcing things. Others have their own free will, and trying to fill an emptiness in ourselves by acquiring or influencing people to want us is not part of a life of integrity.
Finally, on our exploration of Satya, it is important to remember that truth is fluid, and changes over time. Carl Jung put it so eloquently when he said, “Thoroughly unprepared, we take a step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning - for what was true in the morning will be little at evening, and what was true in the morning will at evening have become a lie.”
To live an authentic life, we must get comfortable with changing our minds. There is no shame in evolving. We carry around a fear that if we change our minds we will be perceived as failures or that we were wrong somehow. Because of this, people stay too long in jobs that don’t fulfill them, in relationships that hurt them, or stuck in various aspects of their lives. When we let go of the fear of judgement, our whole world opens up! As we learn and grow, we may need to pivot, or we may not. Think of how empowering it would be to say, without judgment or self-recrimination, “I simply changed my mind!”
As you begin to explore the many ways Satya relates to your life and relationships, remember that the idea is to simplify, not complicate your life. Keep coming back to your inner barometer of truth. If something feels off, it is. Don’t run from your feelings, let them guide you… they are your messengers from beyond.
* (For further reading, check out Charlotte Kasl’s “If the Buddha Got Stuck”, “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach and “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. Much of the content of this essay was taken from or inspired by these insightful works.)