Practicing Truthfulness: Exercises in Mindful Living

Last week I wrote about the ethical precept of nonviolence, or Ahimsa from the teachings of yoga.  This week I have been practicing with the second precept of  “truthfulness,” or Satya. You really can’t practice truthfulness well without nonviolence, so it’s convenient that they come right after the other. But even when you speak with nonviolence or kindness, it can still be hard to always speak what is true.

This precept, or Yama, gives us a chance to explore the concept of honesty and right communication through speech, writings, gestures, and actions.  Truthfulness has the obvious “don’t lie” interpretation, but there are many layers of nuance to consider. How do you tell the truth when it could hurt someone? Do you avoid telling the truth so you don’t have to confront difficult situations? How does that effect you in the long term? When you express yourself in the world through your dress, your speech, your actions, are you presenting your truth or some version that has been conditioned by others or the culture?

When I say “true,” I mean true for you, as truth is mostly relative. We can only follow the truth as we know it and see it. Knowing what “your truth” is and communicating it in a way that also honors the truth as others see it can be a challenging feat. However, this is how we achieve intimacy.  Hard as it can be at times, it will also be the practice that connects, rather than isolates, you.

This week try out the following exercises in truthfulness.

            (1) Observe the difference between “nice” and “real.”* It is easy to fall into the tendency to be nice instead of being real. Unfortunately, if you do this too much or for too long, resentment can occur and eventually you might express yourself with anger because you’ve been holding back for so long.

            (2) Speak “what’s real” for you from a place of peace and you’ll be more likely to be heard by the other person. If you have been emotionally hijacked by a situation, you might have to wait for a while to do this. I have waited a day to weeks before speaking my truth in order to know I can do it from my heart instead of from anger.

            (3) Pay attention to a tendency to hold on to set beliefs and ideas and be willing to explore all of the angles of a situation.  Your truth may change as you open your mind and heart to different perspectives. This happens to me all of the time and shows me just how complicated and varied perspectives can be.

            (4)  Being a co-dependent in recovery, I discovered many years ago that people don’t usually expect you to take care of them at your expense. (And if they do I’d recommend questioning the relationship.)  Saying what you want and need in any situation is actually a gift to you and the other person. Other people can’t read your mind.

            (5) Sometimes saying less is best. I suggest writing everything down you want to say in a difficult situation and then edit, edit, edit.  I can’t tell you how many times I have agonized over saying something in the “right way” and I ended up needing to say very little or even nothing. When I’ve taken the time to process my truth within myself, sometimes saying it to another is not even necessary.

Here is an affirmation from the Kripalu Center that might be helpful if you decide to practice with this teaching:  “I live in truth. I speak the truth to myself and to others. When offering my truth in the form of feedback I am sensitive to the feelings of others; I speak in the spirit of love. I also take responsibility for my actions. I do not blame anyone for my experience; I honestly see my own part in every situation.”

*Practice adapted from Deborah Adele, The Yamas and the Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice