Satya is a Sanskrit word meaning truth or reality. Patanjali refers to it in verse 2.28 of the Yoga Sutras as the second of the five Yamas – a list of guidelines for “right living”.
This can seem like such a simple concept – tell the truth, don’t lie. But is it really that simple? Yes… and no.
In his book, “The Heart of Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice”, T.K.V. Desikachar delves into the subject a little deeper. He speaks of the need to decide whether or not the truth, if spoken, could cause harm to another. If speaking the truth would have a negative impact on another person – which would violate the first Yama of Ahimsa, or non-harming – then it should not be shared. He quotes the Mahabharata, a great Indian epic as saying:
“Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths.
Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma.”
How do we navigate this incredibly touchy, potentially devastating code for living our lives without causing others unnecessary pain and suffering yet still live in a way that is true to ourselves?
First, know what your intention is. Are you wanting to share something personal about yourself, about your life, or are you in any way hoping to change another’s actions, thoughts, beliefs, or patterns? If your “truth” is aimed at them, it is no longer truth. If however, by sharing this bit of information about yourself, you feel that you are living more authentically, more in step with your Divine Nature, then it is truth.
Secondly, does your truth have anything to do with a belief that someone else may not share with you? I offer the example of “You must believe in Jesus to be saved.” That is a belief that someone else may or may not share. Just by changing the WAY it is said, it can be offered as a deeply personal Truth – “I believe that to be saved, I must believe in Jesus”. Do you see the difference? It is YOUR truth and you have opened yourself and your heart to the other person in a way that allows them to know you better, to see YOUR Divine Nature. That is beautiful and powerful.
Third, by speaking it, do you feel more in tune with your Divine Nature, your truest self, God, the Creator, or whatever word you have for that essence that is uniquely you? Does it give you a sense of freedom? Of peace? Maybe it needs to be spoken to another person and maybe not. Maybe it’s a truth that you only need to know for yourself.
Truth has to happen first on the inside. What are the thoughts that float through your brain? What do you tell yourself throughout the day? Do you say things like, “I’m not (good/smart/pretty/tall/fast/strong…) enough?” Or on the flip side of that, do you tell yourself you can do something when perhaps it’s not the best option (as in the Vinyasa example above)? Does an overinflated ego or a desire to compete override your truth?
Fourth, do your actions match your words? Most of us, at some point, are complete hypocrites. We say one thing (“Don’t yell at your sister!”), and do the opposite (yell at the child who is yelling). We say, “Listen to your body” and then we go through an entire Vinyasa class ignoring the fact that every time we jump back to plank, something catches in our low back. These are more subtle, a little harder to see and feel, but when we take the time to slow down a bit, tune into our thoughts, words, breath, and body, we will find small ways that we are not being honest – either to others or to ourselves.
Every single day, many, many, many times a day, each of us is faced with an opportunity to tell the truth, act the truth, or hold back a painful truth or even tell a flat out lie. What we do in these moments will create unknowable waves through our lives, and the lives of others. Our words cut deeply and our actions, as the old saying goes, speak even louder than our words.
To speak your truth, is to be absolutely vulnerable. You are opening yourself up to criticism and judgement, dislike, rejection, and full-blown hate. Author and research professor Brené Brown, who has spent the last decade studying vulnerability says:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable,
but they’re never weakness.”
Being vulnerable, opening yourself up and speaking your truth allows deeper connections with other people and builds relationships with real meaning. Instead of engaging in surface level conversations about work etc. you will give people permission to be that same way with you as well. They will feel safe to share their truth, knowing that it will be received with love and grace which gives you the opportunity to know them on a deeper level as well.
As mentioned above, our truth happens first on the inside. So the fifth step is utilizing the tools to tap into that inner awareness. This is where a yoga practice can help us so much. When we learn to slow down, feel and experience the breath, allow the mind to quiet, feel the sensations of the body, and then move with reverence, grace, compassion, and acceptance from that place, we are experiencing our inner truth in that moment. By practicing this way on the mat, it becomes easier and easier to bring that mindfulness out into the world. When speaking to a friend, loved one, co-worker or stranger, can you slow down and tap in before opening your mouth? Can you feel what rises up inside of you and look at it closely before letting it out into the world? What are you holding back out of fear? What is your truth? Speak it, be it, and you will see, the truth will set you free.