Yoga is not just about getting bendy in lycra or chanting weird mantras – it’s actually a deep and complex system to achieve happiness and union with the divine. Underpinning this system is a set of ethics and observeances (called the yamas and niyamas) that are essential for living a pure and stress-free life.
One of the yamas, is Satya or honesty.
Patanjali, the “father of Yoga,” teaches us that living a life of truth and honesty is essential on the path to spiritual union with our deepest self.
When I first began studying the yamas and niyamas, I thought, “Well that one’s pretty easy, I don’t lie to people.” Tick.
But after looking a little bit deeper into the notion of truth and honesty in my life, I found a world of untruth within me and I could see how this held me back from living a life of integrity and inner peace.
I thought that I didn’t lie to people. But I am a person and I realized that I lie to myself in many ways. Sometimes I justify unhealthy habits in my head when deep down I know they are not good for me; sometimes, I am scared of hurting someone’s feelings and I commit to doing something with them when I don’t really want to, but I refuse to really admit my true feelings to myself.
On occasion, I even lie to myself about my capabilities, I tell myself I can keep going, when really I need to rest, or I tell myself I cannot reach a goal when deep down I know I can, I’m just scared to try. I realised I also break promises to myself a lot of the time, I promise myself that tomorrow will be the day when I give something up, take time out or start a better habit, but tomorrow rarely arrives.
The result of course is that I don’t take myself seriously or really believe in what I say, which leads to a wishy-washy life of unfulfillment.
Assumptions or Reality?
Another aspect to untruthfulness lies in making assumptions. Don Miguel Ruiz covers this beautifully in his book, The Four Agreements. My egoic self bases its reality on a whole bunch of assumptions.
What I believe about myself, other people and the world may seem like it is the truth, but actually they are projections from my own mind based on my past history, judgments, and personal experiences.
It is quite profound to realise that much of what I think is real, is actually deeply personal and subjective.
If I lie this much to myself, I thought, then perhaps I do lie to others in subtle ways. Looking closer, of course, I do. I noticed how in different situations I don’t really voice my true opinion or feelings. The need to be accepted by the “tribe” often seems to outweigh the need to speak the whole truth, or rather my truth.
I realised that I show some people some parts of myself and others different parts and that this lack of self-acceptance and truthful expression was causing me to live life in a powerless and compartmentalized way.
Truth and Personal Power
Ultimately, I began to understand that truthfulness has a lot to do with how we handle our personal power in the world. Perhaps power isn’t the best word. I want to say energy but that isn’t quite right either. What I am trying to say, is that if we are living a life of untruths, half-truths, hiding, unquestioned assumptions, and a lack of authenticity, then we are somehow divorced from a vital and potent part of ourselves.
The circumstances of our lives reflect this lack of integrity and we find ourselves confused, struggling, and at odds with life.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali wrote:
“When the sadhaka (practitioner/yogi) is firmly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realization”. (Yoga Sutras 11.36, trans. Iyengar)
This sutra hints at two profound concepts. First of all, our reality is shaped by our own thoughts, words and actions. If we lie to ourselves and others then we are not creating our life from a place of true clarity and potency.
The second concept teaches us about the importance of being “a person of our word.”
When we are clear and truthful, we mean what we say, and we act on what we say. This is very powerful, our will becomes strong and our lives reflect this strength and authenticity. We also become someone who is truly trustworthy.
The Whole Truth
Ultimately this yama has inspired me to seek the deepest truth, peeling back the layers of my life and self to find out who I really am and who you really are. And the truth is we are one and the same.
Maya, or the illusion of separation, is the biggest lie we all buy into, and by practicing satya, by living the truth, my thoughts, words and actions shift. I feel more loving. I realize that if I judge another it is not who they truly are. It makes it harder to blame or get caught up in victimhood.
I realise that a lot of my actions stem from erroneous beliefs and I am then able to change them.
Living from a place of truth allows my life to flow with greater ease and despite learning just how much of a liar I can be sometimes, I am most grateful for the lesson.