Satya:The Art of Honesty
The Art of Telling the Truth and Acting with Integrity
Satya is the second of the five Yamas, the ethical principles yogis apply to cultivating healthy relationships with themselves and others. Satya is translated as “truthfulness and sincerity”. As it is with many Sanskrit words, this meaning has many layers.
On the surface, Satya asks us simply to be honest, to speak the truth. However, in order to do that, we must know the truth. Therefore, Satya is asking us to mine our thoughts and root out ways of thinking that are based on our opinions, or the opinions of others. Knowing the difference can not only save hurt feelings and friendships, but can humble us to see the world in new ways.
Satya also asks us to examine our belief systems, and requires that we be able back up those beliefs. We may be walking around holding on to beliefs that were imposed upon us in our impressionable childhood years and thinking that they are truths, when in fact, they are not only untrue, they are not ours. We may find that upon closer look, these beliefs no longer resonate with us. This opens us up to experience the world in a new way, unencumbered by old thought patterns. Should we find our beliefs to be rooted in our experiences and resonate with inner truth, our resolve is strengthened. We can now stand in that truth and speak and move from it with more confidence. This empowers us, and drives us to act with integrity.
Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?- Sufi saying
What about when the truth hurts? The ancient yogis thought about this, and it is why Satya follows Ahimsa, the first Yama, which asks us to be kind. First, we must determine if what we need to say is true, or is it our opinion? If we do not like something, is it true that the thing is bad, or is that just what we think? Perhaps there is another way to look at it which is outside our opinions. Then, is it kind? If not, can we find a way to express this truth in a way that is kind? Rooting our actions in kindness allows us to lead with love. Therefore, even if the truth we are expressing is uncomfortable, we can find a way to express it that holds it in light and allows it to serve the highest good. That is assuming it is necessary to express it. Is it possible that we can have an impulse to express something that need not be said?
Let’s say that you have a daughter who is precious to you, and you dislike her boyfriend. You don’t like his hair, his ripped up jeans, or his taste in music. While it may be true that he repels you, these surface level bothers are based in opinion. Now, as time goes on you notice he is disrespectful to her. He is late to pick her up and doesn’t return her texts in a timely manner. Perhaps you hear something in his tone when he speaks to her that rings alarm bells. Out of genuine concern and love, you decide to speak to her about his behavior because his actions are disrespectful, and that is a truth. Should you say, “I think your boyfriend is a supreme loser, and I can’t believe you don’t have the self respect to dump him.”? You could, but this would likely cause hurt and anger in her. Another way to speak the same truth may be to tell her how you see her as deserving of respect and consideration, and how your heart wishes to know she is with someone who sees her with as much love and adoration as you do. This is likely to resonate and cause her to reflect. Even if she disagrees with you, your concerns will be spoken in service to her, and she will sense your care.
So you have chosen your words and the time to tell her your truth, but before you speak she tells you that she has decided to break up with him because he is a jerk. It is no longer necessary for you to speak your truth on the matter, because it will have no impact on the outcome. You can certainly tell her she has your support, and praise her good judgement (and celebrate inside!).
This is but one example of how taking time to incorporate Satya into your life can support and invite you to act with integrity. It’s practice helps you to know who you are and how to express yourself in the world with confidence. When you know your truth, you can speak it and act from it.
What about little white lies? Sometimes, it is easier to leave out piece of a story, or arrange our words in a way that allows us to avoid scrutiny, but this is not Satya. Satya asks us to paint matching pictures with our words, so that what we hold in our minds is communicated clearly, and creates that same picture in the mind of the person we are speaking to. In this way, we are asked to take responsibility when we may want to shirk it. In the end though, Satya serves our highest good, and moves us in the direction of creating less karma that we must resolve down the line. It breeds clarity and harmony in our relationships, including our relationship with ourselves.
Next time you step on your mat to practice yoga, slow your breathing down and settle in to a steady rhythm. Begin to sense the movement in the mind that is manifesting as thought. Examine the quality of the thoughts you have about yourself, your postures and your body as you move through your class. Are they true? Are they kind? Are they necessary? This is a valuable first step in beginning to observe Satya. Anything we can practice on the mat, we can practice off the mat!
May your thoughts, words, and actions be rooted in the truth, and may that truth be a guiding light in your life. Aho!