By Rolf Gates
It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.
The moment satya (truthfulness—one of the five yamas, or ethical guidelines, of yoga) is brought up at a workshop, a heated discussion about truth always ensues. What if your partner comes downstairs wearing an unflattering new dress and asks what you think? Do you tell your boss he drives you nuts? Do you tell your employer about the padded expense account? And what about those sexual indiscretions that happened oh so long ago? Such ruminations are a staple in any discussion of the yamas and the niyamas, but they rarely bear fruit. It’s my belief that they represent some sort of last-ditch effort to hold up the process. These protestations are the equivalent of the alcoholic’s claim that she would stop drinking now, but since the holidays are coming up, it would be better to wait till next year; or the food addict’s worries that if he gives up white sugar he won’t be able to eat the wedding cake, despite the fact that he is recently divorced and not in a relationship.
Satya is about living our truth; it is that simple. There are as many ways to do this as there are people who practice satya, and no one can tell you how you should listen for and find the truth within yourself. It makes sense to talk things over with someone you trust, but the point of the discussion is to come closer to your truth, not to have someone relieve you of the responsibility of discerning your truth. For some of us it is a long road back to our own truth, for we live in a culture in which truth is a rare commodity. Our work environments, home lives, and friendships are often permeated with falsehood. We distrust the slogans of the media, the promises of our leaders, the testimonials of politicians, the declarations of businesspeople. Many of us come from families in which appearances are more important than reality. Still others have grown up in upside-down households, in which children took care of parents or were expected to play prescribed roles in order to meet their parents’ needs. Elaborate no-talk rules must be deconstructed. Old fears must be released. Habits of silence must be examined. Are we failing to speak the truth out of a desire to protect or care for others? How do we respond to information we know to be untrue? How do we get in touch with what is true and good within ourselves? The list of ways in which we have obscured the truth from ourselves and others is as endless as the suffering such obfuscation produces.
Before we begin this work, it can feel overwhelming. But we are each possessed of an inner compass. When we stand still in the wilderness and take our bearings, we are able to apprehend the truth—about ourselves and the world around us. And once we commence the practice of satya, we will never want to look back. We have only our own suffering to lose. As Plato said, “Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth, for then he can be trusted.” Over time you will have the pleasure of watching this beautiful practice blossom in your life in a way that is honest and authentic. As you learn to speak the truth, you will learn to be true to yourself, to all that is best in you.
Rolf Gates is a leading voice of contemporary yoga. He conducts vinyasa intensives and 200- and 500-hour teacher trainings internationally. This article is excerpted from his book Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga.