Yogic philosophy provides 5 guidelines, called Yamas, on how to interact with the outer world. In previous newsletters, I have described Ahimsa (non-violence/non-harming) and Asteya (non-stealing). Here I explore a third, truthfulness.
The importance of speaking the truth is common to all of the world’s great religions and philosophies. In Hinduism, this is called Satya.
The value to society of honesty seems self-evident to me. There are times, though, when speaking the truth can mean saying things that others may not want to hear or that can be hurtful. I believe that it is important to speak the truth even in these situations, but tempering our words with compassion is more likely to lead to positive outcomes and mutual understanding.
Satya is not just about speaking the truth, though: it is also about being true in one’s actions. To take it further, this means that one’s actions should align with one’s words, and both should align with fact.
This all seems obvious on the surface, but what if we consider how we present ourselves to others?
We often express different aspects of ourselves in different contexts… Mother, Teacher, Athlete, Lover, Student, Brother… Each of these “masks” that we wear might truly reflect who we are in a given situation, but many of us are very good at deceiving even ourselves. We sometimes say things and act in ways that are based more on what we think others want to see or hear or on what we want others to see or hear, rather than on what is true. We hide our fears and vulnerabilities behind masks of indifference, perpetual happiness, anger, confidence, etc.
I think this is where problems and misunderstandings arise and we lose our connections to one another. We are all the same at our deepest levels. We want to love and be loved, to feel safe and supported and part of something larger than ourselves, whether in our communities or in our spirituality.
Revealing our sorrows and fears is scary stuff. It makes us vulnerable, and that vulnerability makes us uncomfortable, so we generally avoid doing it. We openly celebrate the joys of life events such as birth and marriage but are uncomfortable around their more difficult counterparts, death and divorce. Ever heard of a “Divorce Shower”? Me neither. We avoid these things, because we “don’t know what to say,” or deny the fact of our mortality, even when we have been through these things ourselves.
But it’s in these times of hardship that others need to feel supported.
Imagine what might happen if we were all willing to shed those masks and reveal our naked humanness to each other. Imagine if we shared our own fears and vulnerabilities, our sorrows and griefs, with those who are going through hard times. Imagine if we opened ourselves to sharing another’s dark in silence, because sometimes compassionate silence may be the best thing we can “say.”