“To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.”
– from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, chapter 2, verse 36; translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda.
Satya means truthfulness.
It seems to me that when we begin to examine the role of truth in our lives, we can’t help but bring out the magnifying glass. (Well, either that or the other extreme, in which we choose to ignore the obvious. In which case, the magnifying glass is generally shoved under our nose from some outside source until we HAVE to see ourselves.) So, I have my magnifying glass out. I’ve had it out all week as I examine this sutra. What does it mean for me to be honest, and to live with integrity?
Satya in Speech
Truth is simple. If you don’t tell a lie, you don’t have to remember what you said. Handy, if you happen to have a bad memory. ;) Telling the truth, like ahimsa, is a guideline in all spiritual traditions: Thou Shall Not Lie. Just be truthful. Seems easy. All black and white, until the black and white bleed into each other and you wind up with gray.
The idea of satya is connected intimately with ahimsa. If speaking truth means harming another, is it best to lie? I think not, but silence is sometimes in order. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” my mother used to tell me as a child, and I think it is wise advice.
Perhaps satya in speech is threefold: telling the truth, discerning what should be said when, and being conscious of the words you do speak. I think we say many things that are unnecessary. Have you ever said something, maybe something about yourself that was not true, and then immediately realized that no one even cared? The only person you hurt with that lie was yourself. Have you ever said something that you immediately regretted because it hurt someone’s feelings? Right. Sometimes truth is in not speaking.
Words are powerful, words are sacred. Words can harm, words can heal. For me, this is a practice in learning to speak consciously rather than re-actively, and choosing words carefully, with precision.
Satya in Thought and Being
We’ve been telling ourselves stories about who we are since we were children, and we’ve been telling them so long, that we have to come to believe them. Some stories we borrow from other people, some we make up by ourselves along the way. Some are good stories, some not so pleasant. Which stories do we tell, which stories do we believe? Are any of the stories true?
‘I am successful in business.’ - ‘I am a failure.’ - ‘I am strong, I can handle anything.’ - ‘I am too busy to exercise.’ – ‘ I have weird toes.’ - ‘I have a great smile.’ - ‘I have high blood pressure because my mother did; nothing I can do about it.’ - ‘I am late to class because traffic was bad.’ - ‘I don’t need anyone’s help.’ – ‘I am weak, I can’t do that.’ – ‘I have to be like this or they won’t like/love me.’ - ‘I am an artist.’ - ‘I could never be an artist.’
The list could go on forever. These are stories we tell ourselves, and they are quite often fictional. Our unconscious fear is that without our stories we might be seen for (gasp!) who we really are.
Holding tightly to our stories means defending them. We do everything we can to prove to ourselves that this is who we are. Even when we clearly see that these old identities no longer serve us, we hang on to them. (Shall I switch to first person? Yep, I am, even now, clinging like crazy to old identities.)
The thing is, old identities just cause us to lie. To ourselves, to each other. All of our actions proceed from something that is not true. Sure, at one time, this identity was useful and maybe even true, but is it true for me today?
The practice of satya is to recognize what is true now, in this moment. Not something that might be true tomorrow, or was true yesterday. The truth of who we are is an evolution.
Bringing the practice of satya into our lives can help us to see ourselves in a more truthful light. Maybe we find a truth about ourselves that we don’t like. So what. That’s ok. Then we have an opportunity to practice ahimsa, and to make changes.
Satya is simply being truthful with what IS, being real in this moment. With Satya we can relax, set down the old identity, let go of the fear that we might be seen as __(fill in the blank).
In truth, we can just be ok with who we are, here, now. There is freedom in being real.
Satya in Action ~ Off the Mat
When we are truthful, actions and results become subservient, says this sutra.
Here is my interpretation of that: when I am truthful, my actions and the ensuing results simply become an extension of that truthfulness.
I think our actions ALWAYS reflect our inner reality, which is why we have the saying “Actions speak louder than words.”
Actions can spring forth from our inner truth, or from the identity that we are holding up as our truth. I notice that as I let go of old irrelevant identities, my choices and my actions change.
I notice that as I become more conscious about the interconnectedness of life, I am also more conscious about how I live: how I spend (and make) my money, where I buy (or grow) my food, what I eat, whether or not I use plastic bags. What I do with my garbage, how it impacts my neighbors. What I support with the dollars I spend.
As I become more truthful in my being, I also live with greater integrity.
It is an on going process, an awakening. It’s not always easy, and choices are not always cut and dried. But I think to live honestly requires living with questions, and being willing to examine them.
Satya in Action ~ On the Mat
I recently heard that Warrior Poses are great poses for practicing satya on the mat. In Warrior, this person said, you stand forward in your truth.
I like that. Try it. See what it feels like the next time you do a warrior pose. Does it feel like you are standing in your truth? Do you feel firm in that pose, or unstable? Strong? Weak? Somewhere in between?
No judgement, just an interesting exercise.
I think, as with ahimsa, any pose can be useful. Practice telling yourself the truth about each pose: where you are in it, how it feels, if you like it or hate it. See how it feels to sit in truth in any pose on your mat.
Be real, be honest, let go and have fun. It’s all good.
So, tell me the truth, how does satya play out in your life?
Read on – Asteya post here