In this Jan-April 2021 session, we are exploring the yamas and niyamas. To learn more about these "dos" and "don'ts" of yoga, please see my post "10 Invitations for a more Peaceful Life". Last week, we focused on ahimsa, which translates to non-violence or compassion.*
This week we focus on satya, which translates to not lying or truthfulness.
Most of us likely consider ourselves to be honest. We don’t likely go around telling big lies that get us tied up in crazy webs of deception like we see in sitcoms. However, do we always tell the full truth when we are relating a story about when we feel we have been wronged? Do we always accurately relate what the other person said or did or what we said or did?
I have regularly been caught out being false in this way. Let's say my husband comes home when I am upset with the kids. Before my kids can even approach him, I take him aside and relate all of the horrible things these kids said and did that got me into this state. Not only do I tell him, but I act out the whole drama, doing the voices, the facial expressions, the eye rolls, the foot stomping. If I am lucky, I get the whole thing out before anyone can step in to correct my interpretation. However, often, my oldest son overhears my dramatic reenactment and interjects, “I didn’t say that. My voice doesn’t even sound like that.” Much to my chagrin, I have to admit that he is right. He didn’t use those exact words or his tone was not as harsh as I have portrayed it. That’s when I realize that I am not repeating the truth of the events, but rather, conveying the way the events made me feel.
While there is nothing wrong with sharing our emotions, there is a problem when we believe that our feelings about an event reflect the reality of that event. In my example, not only have I given my husband an untruthful impression of what happened, but I have lied to myself about what happened. I have told the story in a way that makes me look calm and collected and my kids look like inconsiderate monsters. This may not be true. Truthfully, these situations arise when I am already irritated and have made a demand of my kids in an irritated fashion. They respond to me in kind, I get angry, they get angry and the whole thing gets out of control.
When I am unwilling to accept whatever part I may have played in this unfortunate incident and when I exaggerate the bad behaviour of my kids to show how they inevitably drove me to this state of upset, I am giving away my power. I portray myself as someone who has no control over my emotions and actions, and I give up any possibility that things could go differently next time.
In the yogic tradition, we aren’t told to abstain from lying because lying is evil, but rather, because it is pragmatic. When we lie, we are out of touch with reality, and when we don’t see the reality of a situation, we can’t act in ways that are appropriate. When we act in ways that are not appropriate, our lives are harder.
In my example, if I had been truthful with myself before approaching my kids, I might have recognized that I was in an irritable mood and may have decided to refrain from interacting with my kids until I have settled down. Alternatively (and likely more accurately), after I had approached my kids and things had fallen apart, I could take responsibility for the part I played in our little drama and know that I have the option of behaving differently next time.
If you choose to engage with satya in the next while, I encourage you to watch for times when you exaggerate or twist the truth to make yourself look good or make someone else look bad. See if you can resist the urge to be untruthful, or if you have been untruthful, take a moment to ask yourself why. When you are able recognize when you are untruthful, you have the opportunity to choose to be more truthful in the future.
* See my post Ahimsa: Showing Yourself Kindness.