THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE
But first it will piss you off.
Satya, or truthfulness, is one of the yamas, meaning one of the ethical guidelines of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, by many considered the 'Yogic Bible.' Truthfulness is also one of the cornerstones of Buddhism, as one of five precepts to live by. And I'm not very knowledgable about the Bible, but I'm pretty sure Jesus had something to say about it too.
I have been un-truthful a lot in my life. To others and to myself.
I have told many lies. And unfortunately I keep telling them, they sometimes just slip out, and I only recognise their untruthfulness after the fact. I have withheld the truth. Dodged questions.
The lies come in many shapes and guises and are told for various reasons, it seems. But upon closer examination, the same motivation is behind every lie.
The so called white lies, are told to 'protect' other people. The standard example being: Do I look good in this garment? And we answer the question in a way that isn't in line with 'our truth' to 'protect' the person asking. This may seem harmless. But I don't think it is. Not in the long run. Because if we always try to 'protect' others, by not offering a truthful answer, or constructive criticism, in the long run, we probably cause more harm. Example: Ghosting or bread-crumbing your Tinder date instead of telling them straight up that no, you're not interested or attracted might prolong the suffering. Not telling a close friend or partner what you think of their new garment or haircut or whatever, when asked (of course) might erode their trust in you in the long run. Not offering constructive criticism of someone's work or art, might prevent them from growing and developing.
Then there are the bent truths. The embellishments. The exaggerations. Calling a snow fall a snowstorm may seem innocent enough. Am I not just making a good story great?
Another bent truth is the excuse. For example, I might tell someone when I want to get off a phone conversation: I got to go now because I need to tend to my potatoes in the oven. Even though there are no potatoes in the oven or they don't need tending. Or I might tell someone I can't help them move because I'm busy with X, Y or Z when the reality is I just want to stop talking or I don't want to help with the move.
Another form of non-truthfulness is ignoring questions and/or requests. Getting a text from a friend asking to go to a movie and never replying.
Another form of lying is not speaking up. Whether it's about some injustice in the world or at work. Or about how you would like sex to be with your partner.
I've often denied wrong doings (No, I didn't take the last cookie).
I've tried to make myself look better; Yes of course I've read Dostoyevsky's classic 'Crime and Punishment.'
And then there are the lies we tell ourselves. How much damage are we doing to ourselves when we stay in destructive relationships, or under abusive bosses, or when we keep denying our needs. I don't need closeness. I don't need friends. It's fine to drink three beers every single day.
I remember an incident long ago, when I was in my early twenties and living in NYC. I was doing my Bachelor's at the university and receiving student aid, but I was living well over my means, and the funds were drying up, way before the date they were meant to last until. The balance in my bank account was rapidly shrinking, and I would still have to eat, still have to pay rent. I went over to a friend's house, looking for consolation, or maybe even (embarrassingly) a loan. She gave me no sympathy, no shoulder to cry on, no hand out. Instead she said: Put your sneakers on, hit the streets, and start going places and looking for work! I remember feeling really hurt. But then it dawned on me that of course she was right. I had put myself in this situation of having no money and now I had to fix it. Was I gonna starve? Get evicted? Or ask my parents to bail me out?! The next day I did go out, telling myself I had to hit up at least ten cafés and restaurants to ask for a waitressing job. I started working the following day.
Once, during my first year teaching yoga, I was audited by the owner of the gym in Stockholm where I was teaching. She observed the class and afterwards had some constructive criticisms. Even though I didn't enjoy hearing them, she was totally right and it helped me become a better teacher. In my experience, it's the 'negative' feedback that has made me grow, way more than praise and compliments have.
When I investigate the various kinds of lies I've told, they all pretty much come down to the same thing: My ego. They are either about making myself look better or at least less bad. And in the case of the so called white lies, about avoiding unpleasant confrontations, which the ego doesn't like.
I'm not suggesting here that we should all go out into the world and blurt out 'our truths' left and right. If someone hasn't asked for your opinion about their new hairdo/garment/artwork there's no need to offer it. And of course, there are ways to speak one's truth gently.
I also believe that satya, or truthfulness, starts with being honest with ourselves. Because if our egos are allowed to run the show, we might be trying to cut people down by telling un-truths masquerading as truths.
And if we are lying to ourselves all the time, we might be so twisted around that we don't even know what is true and what isn't.
I definitely think that trying to be truthful all the time is incredibly hard. I consciously took the decision a few years ago, and I haven't succeeded. But I'm getting better. Just like with asana and with meditation -- it's a practice, a process.
Are you true to yourself and to others?
Photo Elia Pellegrino via UNSPLASH