What’s up with the truth anyways? During teacher training (as those of you who were there know), I became exceptionally close with two of my fellow classmates (big shout out to Amanda & Jen!). So close, in fact, that one of them is about to become my roommate at the end of this month, and that the three of us all got matching Mantra tattoos towards the end of teacher training. The Mantra is “Sat Nam”, translated as truth is my name, or truth is my identity. I realized then how subjective even a word like truth can be, in discussing what the tattoo meant to each of us (none of them bad, mind you).
Satya, the second yama of Pantanajli’s Yoga Sutras (laid out in my blog entry titled “To Live is to Fly”), is all about truthfulness, but what does it mean, what does it include and what doesn’t it include? The first, and said to be most important of the yamas, is Ahimsa – nonviolence. I’ve been told before that if the truth were to cause harm to someone else, then you shouldn’t say it, because it wouldn’t be practicing Ahimsa. I’ve had much time to contemplate this, and have, having been told most of my life that I was “brutally honest” or “honest to a flaw”. It’s true that throughout my adult life I’ve learned that there’s a right way and a wrong way to say things. But the question remains – is there ever really an option better than the truth, or is honesty really always the best policy?
To answer this question, I refer back to B.K.S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Life”, and delve deeper into the question of Ahimsa. On page 128, Iyengar’s book gives an example of the stages of human consciousness that I’m just absolutely crazy about, and have already mentioned in several discussions with people on the topic of right and wrong decisions. He explains that the role of the mind is to seek pleasure, and avoid pain. So, if we’re using our mind, then sometimes the truth hurts, and creative non-truth, or out and out lying, may seem like the less harmful, more kind option. A higher level of consciousness than the mind is our wisdom or intelligence, which often times recognizes that sometimes pain is necessary for the higher pleasure or truth. In other words, the right decision doesn’t come from instant ease or gratification. When we’re operating on a level of avoiding instant pain or seeking instant pleasure, we’re being ruled by what they call in yoga our “monkey minds”. When we’re stepping back, looking at the big picture, and weighing all our options, we’re using our wisdom and intellect.
So. When it comes to Ahimsa, and the effect that the truth will have on the recipient of the information, it becomes clear that we must use our intellect, not our mind. Examples that come to mind: “no, those pants don’t make your butt look fat” (when they really do), “it’s not you, it’s me” (when it’s really them, not you), and “of course I think you’re a really talented writer, keep at it!” (when, in reality, they suck). All of these will clearly cause harm, or violence, to the recipient upon initial receipt of the message. And all of them are clearly lies. If we’re using our mind, we think – avoid pain, seek pleasure – lie. If we’re using our intellect, we think – I care about the recipient of this message, and although the truth in the short-term may cause them pain, in the long run the pain will be much greater if I lie and continue to allow this delusion, simply because it’s easier for me to do so, or I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Therefore, it seems clear to me that the truth wins out 10 times out of 10, even with Ahimsa taken into consideration.
I chose the examples above, because they’d typically be considered “white lies”. Webster’s defines a white lie as: “a minor, polite, or harmless lie; fib”. In addition to the harm that I submit is caused to the recipient of a white lie (mentioned above), there’s also another type of harm that I believe comes from white lies – the harm to the message giver’s esteem and identity. What do you think of someone who’s constantly lying? Well, that they’re a liar. Duh. It begs the question: is that how you really want to think about yourself? Even if no one else will ever find out. I asked myself that question a long time ago, and the answer to me was obvious – NO! So, I changed. If this resonates to you, and you’d like to, you can too. I heard once that “self esteem comes from the doing of esteemable acts”. I like that.
So what happens after you make the conscious decision to stop lying? It isn’t necessarily a straight bee-line to Satya (truthfulness). I’d submit the next stop for most is creative deception. Lying without lying. We’re all familiar with this. Maybe you’re a spin-master, or just a master-omitter. Hey, I’m not lying – what’s the harm? Well, clearly manipulating the truth isn’t practicing Satya. But it also brings about with it the whole host of problems listed above. In addition, according to Guru Dharam S. Khalsa & Darryl O’Keeffe, in their book “The Kundalini Yoga Experience – Bringing Body, Mind and Spirit Together”, they explain on p39 that creative untruthfulness, or deceit without lying, is a manifestation of the Fifth Chakra being out of alignment. According to my studies in yoga teacher training, the purpose of aligning/balancing the Chakras is to be able to direct Kundalini (our latent spiritual potential – p11, “The Kundalini Yoga Experience”) energy from the first, up through the final (Crown) Chakra, at which point “Supreme Bliss”, or enlightenment, would be experienced. Therefore, based on my studies at least, traversing creative deception is clearly an important part of the process for all seekers.
Life is trying. Especially if you’re out there really living it. Situations will surely always arise that will test test your fortitude and will-power. Sometimes, telling the truth can be downright unpleasant. However, I’d submit to you, dear reader, that the more attention you pay to working on yourself, and leading the kind of life that you really want to live (according to your own highest truth), the less of these situations you’ll find yourself in. How could I possibly know that? Simple. Because it’s happened to me.
In summation: Try going a single day without doing a single thing that makes you feel bad about yourself in any way. Try living your highest truth, all day long. Try taking the love you feel for yourself, or your mother, or your husband, or your child, or your dog, or your car, or your Gucci bag, and extending it out to everyone who crosses your path. If untruthfulness or creative deception doesn’t yet make you feel bad about yourself, just try it anyways. And then, when you’re done, try it again tomorrow.
“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” – Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Peace and love,