“Follow the truth, and then the truth will follow you.” –Swami Satchidananda
Dishonesty is having a moment right now. Misinformation, disinformation, and Fake News are running rampant and unchallenged, poisoning everything they touch and plunging us into ever-deepening darkness. The warping of the truth for personal gain or ego aggrandizement has become so commonplace, that when people dare to simply be honest, we are quick to call them courageous heroes, or grind them into dust… Public officials who refuse to let lies go unchecked, celebrities who brazenly post photos free from filters and make-up, the exhausted mom who has the nerve to publically admit, “This is really, really hard.” We’ve been sold so many lies created to help a chosen few collect power, money, and admiration. The bright, shiny lies come so hard and fast that we could never manage to unravel them all. We just know they make us feel yucky. To combat them, we need to turn inward and deepen our personal relationship with honesty, commit to creating in our own lives, and get to know it so well that we can quickly recognize imposters.
Truthfulness, known as Sayta in Sanskrit, is the second of the Yamas, (moral codes) laid out in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. It is second in importance only to Ahimsa, our commitment to non-violence. Yoga is the process of truth telling. It demands that we be completely honest (and loving) with ourselves at all times if we truly hope to find peace and contentment. We do this by turning down the volume on our thoughts, and diving deeper into the wisdom of our bodies and breath. We practice tuning in to the way we feel when we are honest, and the discomfort we experience when we are not. We learn to listen to the clues that tell us when we are less than fully honest – tightness in the belly, guilt, shame, fear of discovery…
Our minds are masters of Spin. They can quickly concoct a lie, rationalize it a half-dozen ways, and buoy it with additional dishonesty – before we even realize what’s happened. The cheater tells himself that he deserves some happiness or excitement, but it’s a kindness to keep it from his partner. That way nobody will get hurt, the family can remain intact, and it might even make the relationship stronger…”Oh, and by the way, I’m working late again tonight, Honey.” No chance of unnecessary pain and suffering here!
But our bodies and breath don’t lie. The work we do on the mat within the laboratories of our bodies yields instant feedback that leaves no room for manipulation of the truth. You can tell yourself you are a hotshot yogi ready to plunge into the perfect, deep, photo-worthy forward bend, but if the truth is that your hamstrings are not ready, pain and injury will surely follow. When we fail to make our best honest effort, our bodies are slow to change. When we push beyond what is appropriate in the moment, our breath becomes shallow and labored. The only way we can truly transform is by getting real about our strengths and challenges, without judgment. And as we experience the value of complete honesty in our practice, it begins to spill into our relationships.
The path to real intimacy with our family, friends, and partners requires that we voice our truths. Sometimes we tell small lies to spare someone’s feelings, make ourselves look better, or avoid conflict. Sometimes we fail to be honest with ourselves, and end up resentful when an unspoken boundary is crossed or we feel like we are not being seen or understood. All of this can be avoided if we speak clearly and openly about our wants, needs, and expectations…and listen and acknowledge the same in others. Of course, like everything on the yogic path, Satya is a practice. And anything we practice with regularity and sincerity is destined to improve.
We feel the contraction in our bodies when we are dishonest. Deep down, we always recognize the honest thing to say or do. If we want to grow, we must have the courage to choose what is right over what is easy. A quick gut check can help keep us on track. There is a palpable lightness and freedom to the truth. Being truthful with ourselves creates peace within our hearts. Honesty in our relationships yields deeper connections and real trust. I know that I most value the friends who will tell me what they truly feel instead of what they think I want to hear. Honesty is a gift. As we stand unarmed in transparency, we grant permission to others to do the same. And according to Patanjali, Satya perfected transforms our words into benedictions made manifest. (PYS 2.36) As we share our truth bravely and lovingly, we gain trust in ourselves, and the trust of everyone we interact with. We slip into the refreshing stream of universal love and openness. We lose our fear of being exposed, and gain a deeper sense of self-respect and personal empowerment. We become warriors of integrity, unashamed and undaunted, as the words we think and speak from our deepest source of loving truth materialize into countless unimagined blessings.