The Sanskrit word SATYA means truth.
Seems simple and maybe even familiar. Do the Ten Commandments not include “Thou shalt not lie”? But therein lies the problem. It is familiar. Perhaps too familiar.
The human ego is capable of glossing over this very challenging yama (restraint) without a ripple of concern. Meanwhile the very word truth brings the wise to tremble in their shoes. The wise know the depth of challenge and personal accountability involved in practicing truth. They appreciate that satya is a tremble-worthy inquiry!
In her book “The Yamas and Niyamas”, Deb Adele offers a scene from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as an example. But I remember very vividly a personal experience of trembling in my shoes over the prospect of truth.
It was during my 200 level teacher training. Tami Schneider of Cleveland Yoga had gathered a large group of prospective yoga teachers for training in 2010. (Likely you know a few of us from Yoga Bliss!) She created a safe space for growth and we felt comfortable in her presence. Although there were many of us, we had become a community rather quickly. We enjoyed each other and felt safe together.
Despite that, I have a visceral memory of the day Tami assigned The Mirror Project.
It was a sunny spring Wednesday afternoon when she reviewed the requirements of The Mirror Project. The assignment was basically this: strip completely naked, look at yourself in the mirror and write about what you saw. Make no mistake, Tami wasn’t asking about the color of our eyes or width of our girth. This was to be a soul searching, heart opening, and honest conversation with ourselves. We were to write about what we saw through the window of our own eyes. Not only that but we were expected to read our project aloud to the group in a future training session.
Whew! The room fell silent. The thought of that assignment brought instant sobriety. The lightness and laughter that had been dancing in the air dropped heavy to the floor. And as we walked into the adjacent room to set up for the evening’s yoga practice, there was not a word exchanged. I don’t think we even made eye contact. Not one of us could support or save the other from the daunting assignment we had just received.
That’s the power of truth.
The fact is truth goes well beyond the little white lies we tell or even the big bold fibs! It moves beyond the obvious to slice right through the fake, the phony, the pretending, the hoping, the manipulating, the exaggerating, the desperate maneuvering…oh, the ego has countless was of shielding us from (and helping us dodge!) the truth. Until we face the mirror. Until we are courageous enough to look into our own eyes and ask, “What’s going on here?” and “Who are you really?”
In its most mature expression, truth is authenticity. It is integrity. It is stripping naked and looking in the mirror. And it is not easy.
And that’s why, when one is working with satya, we return to the first yama,ahimsa/non-harming the first yama. A solid foundation of ahimsa is necessary before even approaching satya. If we are unable to hold loving kindness for ourselves, if we have no capacity for ahimsa, truth will lead us into our shadows with no compassion from which to make benefit of the experience. Similarly spouting our truth rashly and non-discriminately at another will not facilitate helpful healing within our personal relationships. And is the purpose of the practice not to create those very results: loving connection to self and others?
I stress this because I sometimes catch myself (and notice others) using ‘authenticity’ and ‘truth’ as a platform from which to behave badly. To post this and share that. To curse unnecessarily. To truncate relationships. To vent. Basically to create a personality or posture that may or may not be ones best self. It’s like the ego has found a back door through which authenticity becomes another mask. And there is neither ahimsa nor satya in that.
In order for us to live with integrity from a place of wisdom, ahimsa and satya must partner.
So I say seek the truth, certainly. Absolutely acknowledge the truth. Yes, reveal your deepest heartfelt truth with all of the courage you can muster. But always, always from a place of loving kindness towards self and others. Live truthfully without harming.
And you’ll know when you’ve got it. It’s a tangible sensation. When we speak the truth without harming, the knocking of the knees stops. Our stance is solid and our gaze steady. The message comes from the heart with clarity and purpose and without the edginess of ego. It’s not necessarily easy but it is kind and honest. Wisdom has that feeling to it, that’s for sure.
This week I invite you to strip down and look in the mirror. Okay, maybe not literally strip down but consider taking on the mental exercise. Search for honesty around the stale, hard edges of yourself. Look with curiosity and listen with care. Courageously investigate yourself from a place of compassion and non-harming. Practice with integrity and if you need to act on what you discover, do so with wisdom. Ahimsa + Satya = Yoga!