If you are new to my 5-Part Yamas Series, I invite you to start with Part 1 which began with the practice of ahimsā. In this series we explore each of the 5 practices within the yamas, the 1st Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga outlined in the Yoga Sūtra. The yamas provide ethical practices that are fundamental to the yoga practice. For each yama I will provide a more detailed explanation of its intent and varying ways to practice them in your day-to-day lives.
Now on to Part 2 – Satya, Honesty
Satya is the Sanskrit word for honesty, truthfulness. This yama points out the profound affect our words have on ourselves and others. Our speech literally creates the energy around us which ripples outward and touches everything around us and beyond---it’s karma. Therefore, it’s important that we think before we speak.
Being honest can be scary!
We have been taught that “honesty is the best policy.” But sometimes being honesty can be scary! It takes courage and commitment to be honest. Satya is about expressing the truth and the truth can be hurtful, but necessary to be said. That’s good communication and critical in order to cultivate intimate relationships. It can be scary to share the truth for fear of looking bad or stupid. Or it can be scary because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or we are afraid of not be liked. Whatever the reason, these are valid feelings. But like in many areas of life, if we want to get better at something, then we may need to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations.
Confession: For me hurting someone’s feelings is something I try to avoid. Most of the time I will tell a white lie or not express my feelings at all. But on those occasions when I do have enough courage to express myself honestly---in a kind manner---I feel so much better about myself and I feel so much closer to the other person. It really creates a closer connection. What I have learned is that when I practice using ahimsā (non-harming) when I’m being honest and when I truly listen to the other person I am able to be less fearful and much more skillful in my communication.
How Can We Be Honest yet Compassionate?
How can we lessen our fear of hurting ourselves (by looking bad) or others (by hurting their feelings)? As I mention above, it takes courage and commitment. It also needs to come from your heart---a true desire to want to be a better communicator in order to create intimate relationships. We need to hone our skills to be able to have these difficult conversations in a way that can bring us closer versus separating us. Using ahmisā with this practice is key and was Patañjali’s intention. The two skills that are helpful are by: 1) speaking the truth with ahimsā and 2) really listening to the person you are communicating with.
Speaking the Truth with Ahimsā
Michael Stone, author, yoga and meditation teacher, psychotherapist and activist, developed a simple matrix that is helpful to guide us to speak with integrity. Before you express your feelings he suggests you ask yourself the following questions:
- Is what you want to say truthful? If not, then don’t say it.
- If it is truthful, then is it beneficial to the person? If what you say is harmful versus helpful to the person, it’s better to say nothing.
- If it is truthful and beneficial, then will the person hear what you have to say? Is the person in the right frame of mind to listen to what you have to say? If the person is angry or distracted or rushing out the door late for a meeting, they might not hear you or may take what you say the wrong way. Timing is everything and Michael suggests waiting for an appropriate time.
- If what you have to say is truthful, beneficial and the timing is right, then say it!
Truly listening is about focusing your attention on the other person. It’s about letting go of any preconceived notions or biases you may have about the situation. It’s letting go of thinking about how you want to respond to the other person and being fully present with the other person. This type of listening creates true connection and is at the heart of yoga.
Ways to Practice Satya
Here are a few ways you can practice satya:
First, identify the areas of your life where you may tend to lie. For example, as I shared I tend to tell white-lies or not express myself so as not to hurt someone’s feelings.
Second, Practice communicating using Michael Stone’s Right Speech Matrix. Post it on your vanity mirror or your desk to remind you to follow this 3 step process.
Third, make it a point to really listen to someone when they are talking to you and practice this on everyone you encounter. Not only may your responses be different, but you are giving the other person a valuable gift---making them feel important and worthy.
Satya and ahimsā are meant to go hand in hand and these two practices will also help support all the other yamas. Next month we will explore the third yama - asteya, the practice of not stealing. Namaste.