The truth will set you free!
So they say. Lately I’ve been wondering—set you free from what, exactly?
Satya, or truthfulness, is one of Patanjali’s five Yamas, or precepts for living an ethical life. It’s always been my favorite one—I’ve found that the times I’ve been honest, asked a difficult question, or taken a risk with what I really feel, have been the most rewarding and enriching, if somewhat terrifying, experiences.
Thing is, I don’t always do it.
One of my teachers, Bernie Clark, tells us there is a reason why Ahimsa, or non-violence, comes before Satya, or truthfulness. His example is when his 8-year old sister asked him if she looked fat in her new dress. He answered, and she cried. Choosing truth was not the kindest response, in this case!
And there are times when your ‘truth’ is not someone else’s truth. If it’s just your ‘truth’ to tell someone you don’t like the cut of their jib, it may not be any of your business in the first place. Then again, non-violence sometimes stands in for convenience—lying to someone and telling them that you are fine when really you are not is, in it’s own way, a violent act, both to yourself and to your relationship with that person. In the words of a good friend and spoken word poet Lisa B:
Savour the truth, even and especially when it stings, practice saying Brokenhearted or Hole In My Chest instead of Fine, never Fine, retire that f*cking word.
Ana Forrest, an amazing and terrifying teacher I hope to meet this January at the San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference, encourages her students to become Truth Speakers—to break through the walls of politeness and discomfort and be bloody honest with yourself and the people around you for the sake of the wellness of all humankind. In her book, Fierce Medicine, she writes these lines, that haunt me still:
If we put our little masked self out there, the horror is that other people might accept and end up making love to it, while we starve and die of neglect behind it.
We talk a lot in Yoga about the chakras, and the throat chakra is the one that carries (or deadbolts) our truth in it. I sometimes think of it as the spot that gets caught in the crossfire when your brain and your heart are disagreeing. Your heart feels, and your brain thinks, and that can be confusing when words are trying to come out of your mouth.
And we do want to be careful about what we say. Sometimes it is appropriate to keep your mouth shut, especially when it would hurt someone else. A friend of mine said to me the other day when talking about a difficult situation, “People in the world are really uncomfortable in situations all the time.” Which is so true: you can’t control the fact that sometimes you bump into people, like your exes (exes and children: the truest challenge to your yoga) with their new partners, and yes, you might want to stab yourself in the face with a cocktail fork but you smile and you deal with it like an adult and maybe, in that case, don’t say anything. Or say it later, if you need to, when all the mutual friends are not around to see the ship sink from its cocktail-fork-shaped hole.
Just like with an open heart, an open mouth needs a little intelligence. We can’t say every little thing that passes through our minds (it ain’t always pretty), but we have to choose which words are rich truths and which ones are just hurtful little word turds.
Forrest puts it this way:
There’s a difference between an open heart, which can feel, process, and stay steady, versus a stuck-open-window heart, which lets all sorts of crap fly in.
So let’s not let crap fly out of our mouths either. Let’s find the truth first, sit with it, and start by being honest with ourselves. And then yes, speak it, tell the truth, be honest, even though it might sometimes be uncomfortable.
And, honestly, I don’t always do that. But truth-telling is sometimes the only way of letting go of that desire to stab yourself with a cocktail fork. I’ve been given the opportunity to have several difficult conversations recently, and I’m trying to navigate that place where I’m being honest without cruelty. As my good friend advised me: “say the one thing you want to say, and then SHUT THE WINDOW.” The one truth is enough—get it out in the world, off your heart, and lead with compassion from there. And compassion is sometimes silent.
So on that note, go forth with an honest heart, an open throat, and a selectively talking jaw. And let me know what it sets you free from.