The Second Yama: Satya- Truthfulness
If you search for tenderness, it isn’t hard to find.
You can have all the love you need to live.
But if you search for truthfulness you just might as well be blind.
It always seems to be so hard to give.
I take comfort in the fact that even Billy Joel struggles with satya. Why is truth telling a challenge-and in his opinion-a rarity?
Honesty can be a tricky business for a number of reasons. The first roadblock that comes to my mind is the matter of hurting someone’s feelings. For example, let’s say (hypothetically) that I was invited to my mom’s ex-colleague’s daughter’s baby shower; an event celebrating the impending motherhood of a woman I met once at a BBQ when I was 7. If I were to tell the absolute truth in this situation, I would have to call the soon-to-be-grandmother and say, “I am sorry, but I would rather rip off every hair on my body using Sally Hanson Home Waxing Strips than measure the circumference of your daughter’s belly with a roll of toilet paper while drinking booze-less punch.” No offense.
Thankfully, Patanjali was wise to this Catch-22, and asserts that while being truthful is important, it should not violate ahimsa; the first yama meaning “nonviolence”. While my feelings about attending the baby shower might be true, sharing this information honestly is not only unnecessary but potentially harmful- both to the host’s feelings and her (hypothetical) relationship with my mother.
Perhaps even more significant are the lies we tell ourselves…or the lies someone else told us that we now believe to be true. As a little kid, I was told by well-meaning adults that I was “too much:” too outspoken, too loud, too dramatic. This criticism is still lodged somewhere in my cranium. Even now as an adult, I will be in a situation where I am having a great time; telling a story and making people laugh. Then suddenly I will become vey aware of my voice- am I talking too much? Should I tone it down? Then I automatically backpedal out of loyalty to that lie. It’s as if someone kicked me under the table as a signal to shut the hell up already. Suddenly I go from feeling confident and animated to awkward and uncomfortable.
So how do I know that being “too much” is a lie if I grew up believing it to be true? The red flag is suffering. When I start to feel anxious, isolated, or start sweating like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, I take this as a sign that there is some untruth guiding my perception.
So if this lie makes me feel bad, why do I choose to believe it? What is the payoff in believing I should make myself smaller?
Carl Jung says, “A lie would make no sense unless the truth was felt to be dangerous.” Living your truth can be scary. When I allow myself to be authentic and uninhibited, I make myself vulnerable. I risk the chance of being rejected or criticized. Speaking your truth can make others uncomfortable because it shines an unwelcome spotlight on their own inauthenticity.
On the flip side, speaking your inner truth often evokes satya in others. For me, writing is an outlet for truth telling. When I put my writing out there publically, I open myself up to being lambasted for whatever my
craziness truth triggers in another person. But more often than not, the act of becoming vulnerable opens the door to others who are aching to air their own truth -but just needed an invitation.
By unapologetically speaking your truth, you invite others to do the same. Nothing fills me up more than getting an email or message saying, “OMG, I feel exactly the same way!” or “I thought the same thing but didn’t want to say it!” This connection fills me to the brim with love and gratitude. In the words of my 2 year-old, “It’s the best thing ever.”
So maybe satya is less about living like you are hooked up to a polygraph and more about living whatever is true for you in that moment. The real challenge, however, is holding firm in that truth-even when it feels like you are standing butt naked on the stage of your high school gymnasium. But don’t worry…you won’t stand there alone for long.