Satya – speaking your authentic truth

I want to talk about speaking your authentic truth, and being your true self..

The yogic practice of satya (truth) focuses on carefully choosing our words so they do the least harm, and most good. It’s about speaking the truth, being authentic and as open as you feel comfortable to be.

Most of us hide our true feelings when we talk to others, for fear of hurting them, or with some misguided notion that it’s not ‘ok’ to speak your truth, that it’s somehow selfish to say what you what or say how you feel. But in holding back we often give mixed messages, cause confusion and end up hurting ourselves in the process by not being true to ourselves. And we perhaps hurt others inadvertently by holding them hostage to our own happiness, when they know we say what they want to hear, or do what they want to do, in spite of our own true feelings. Being selfless isn’t always being kind – to yourself or anyone else!

Who are you? If you were asked to describe yourself in one word, what would it be? You’re not your work, your relationship, your family. Who are you? I am the one who…. what one word describes you today. Truly?

How are you feeling about yourself today?
How do you feel about the person closest to you, either physically or emotionally?

Speech is perhaps the most human of all our activities – it differentiate us from primates and all other animals. Parents are keen to hear their children’s first words and the spoken word has the capacity to inspire, frighten, delight. It dominates most of our waking hours, although in many ways it is our least important or effective means of communication. In fact most of our ‘communication’ is physical – the things we don’t say. Often our verbal communication is very clumsy indeed, and it can get us into trouble!

What we say has profound power to affect our own consciousness. Our unconscious mind takes everything we say and it had a profound effect on our body, and our conscious perception. Importantly, our mind doesn’t process a negative….. If I said to you, “Don’t think of a blue whale!”…. What did you do? You can’t fail this exam….. What does your mind hear?

Buddhism teaches Right Speech as one of its main precepts. Right Speech means speech that is non-harming and which has the intention to support all living beings. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he presents the concept of satya (truth) as a similar teaching. But he offers a slightly different slant.

Satya is one of the five yamas, or restraints set down by Patanjali 1700 years ago, that yoga practitioners often aim to incorporate into their lives today. The other four are:

1. ahimsa, non-violence
2. asteya, non-stealing
3. brahmacharya, sexual continence
4. aparigraha, non-covetousness

So, the practice of satya is about restraint: about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with the first yama, ahimsa, non-violence. A good thing for all of us to consider in our daily lives. Isnt it?

Patanjali would say that no words can reflect truth unless they flow from the spirit of nonviolence, and often from the heart, which is in harmony with the Buddhist teaching of Right Speech. It is clear that Patanjali did not want his readers to confuse satya with speech that might be factually accurate but harmful.

The idea of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg. His work helps us to separate judgments from observations – making your statement of personal observation, rather than a personal judgement which may not be founded, and depends on your perspective – what you see is not necessarily what everyone sees.

Instead of saying, “This room is a mess,” you might say, “This room does not meet my ‘need’ for order.” The first sentence is a judgment; the second one is an observation. In the first sentence, I am imposing my standards on the world; in the second, I am simply expressing my needs in this moment. “Gosh, you’ve eaten all the calamaris you’re so greedy,” as opposed to “Would you mind if we order more food, I’m still hungry!”

You can tell I’m in Gozo when I write this, can’t you!?

The practice of yoga is very much about becoming self-aware, and become increasingly aware of one’s own perceptions and beliefs, and to acknowledge they are only your individual perceptions and beliefs. To speak them as if they are “truth” with a capital “T” is not to live in reality, and it’s certainly not the practice of satya. If I say that someone or something is “bad,” my words may be spoken as a truth, but it is actually just an opinion. I am not suggesting that we try to attain some, perfect state and attempt to avoid evaluating anything. If we did this, we couldn’t judge what to wear in the morning. I am suggesting instead that we focus on our thoughts and speech so we that we become aware of when we choose to judge, and how that might be perceived. Self awareness I guess.

Even when we are practicing yoga, or perhaps working through a gym routine that someone else has written for us, we can easily confuse observation and judgment. In the yoga studio, for example, it is not uncommon to make judgments about a pose we find unpleasant. When the teacher suggests we try such-and-such a pose, one we don’t particularly like, first, we might say to ourselves, “This pose does not do anything useful” (judging the pose). Or we may inwardly judge the teacher; “Why does he keep making me do this pose?”. Finally, and probably most commonly, we think, “What’s wrong with me that I cannot do this pose?” (judging ourselves, and comparing ourselves with the other awesomely flexible yoga students around us).

When we use speech that expresses judgment, we limit ourselves and others. In this case, we limit ourselves by putting the pose, the teacher, or ourselves in a box, a box labeled “bad, or at least not as good as….” We lose track of the fact that it is not the pose which is bad, nor the teacher, nor us. Rather, “bad” is an interpretation that arises within us. Whether we speak them out loud or silently, such judgments are not satya.

An alternative way to speak to ourselves about a difficult pose is to say, “I am having trouble with this pose right now.” When we use speech this way, whether silently or out loud, we create an opportunity for learning, for growth. To make the observation that I am having trouble right now makes no statement at all about the pose itself, the teacher, or my worth as a student. Neither does it assume that things will not change. You allow yourself the space and freedom to change right now or at any point in the future, with help or without.

The importance of Satya is even more apparent when we interact with others. Recently, on a car trip with my sister and her husband, my sister turned to him and said, “Are you thirsty?” When he answered, “No,” she slowly became more and more agitated. Soon, observing from the back seat, the tension grew and they had a bit of a fight. This dysfunctional interaction stemmed from the lack of clarity in the initial question. Instead, she could have said, “I’m thirsty. Would you be willing to stop for some water?” That request would have been more clear, expressing her own needs in a non-hurtful way and thus more in keeping with satya.

Other powerful writers about satya have also interpreted it to imply that the words of a person established in satya have the power to evoke virtue in others. When we experience a person speaking from satya, we resonate with those words. Hearing words that express truth helps us to experience a deep recognition that unconsciously we already know the truth. Upon hearing such words, we feel that some deep, essential part of us has been seen, heard, and understood. It comforts us. We feel at home from the inside out, and we are inspired to act from that place of virtue within ourselves. Thus, beginning to practice satya by bringing more awareness to our words not only aids us in our lives and relationships but also contributes to the well-being of the whole world, bringing out the very best in others.