Satya, or truthfulness, is the second yama in the Yoga Sutras. Last month, we examined ahimsa, or non-violence. In the sutras, truthfulness is closely aligned with non-violence. In fact, satya without ahmisa is not satya. So as we dive into the second sutra of truthfulness and sincerity, we’ll view this sutra through the lens of non-violence.
Alignment and Manifesting
It is said in the sutras that when one’s thoughts, actions, and words are based in truth and are aligned, what we seek will manifest. This occurs not by magic, but because we are acutely aware of our actions and reactions. We are observant. We are in the present moment. We make wise decisions. We walk our talk.
It’s not uncommon for our thoughts and actions to be at odds. Perhaps we feel one way about something, but choose to ignore those feelings and take a contrary action. Whether the cause may be fear, self-doubt or stress, everyone fails at one time or another to take the high road.
Have you ever made an internal promise to stop a harmful behavior? Whether overeating, drinking to excess, too much TV, or using recreational drugs – the list is endless. How successful were you? If our actions contradict our thoughts – we express our desire to change, but instead continue the same behavior – that is a misalignment. It is a violation of satya. We have stated one thing and done the opposite.
It’s quite common to have such conflicts. The first step is to recognize them. In fact, if we cannot recognize such contradictions first within ourselves, then we are unlikely to expand our practice of satya outward into interpersonal relationships. The second step is making a mindful and informed decision as to what to do next, even if the next best action is no action at all.
Satya requires daily vigilance and a keen awareness of ego. Ego may not always want the highest good. In fact, ego may delight in drama, even if it causes suffering. But it is only through awareness of our thoughts, which leads to mindful speech and right action, that our truth can serve the greater good and we can reap the desired results.
Satya as a Guide to Right Speech
In my late 20s, I was dating a kindhearted man. After a few dates, it was clear from his actions and words that he felt more enamored of me than I of him.
While I appreciated our acquaintance, I was certain that I didn’t want to pursue a relationship. I knew then that I had a choice. I could either ignore his calls (this was before the age of social media and texting) or I could deal with it head-on.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, I felt awkward and self-conscious expressing myself. I also knew that if I just disappeared on him, I’d feel cruel. I had been on the receiving end of being dumped and I knew how that felt.
At our next meeting, I communicated my feelings in person and was astonished to receive a handwritten note several days later thanking me and saying that he wished other people would be as honest. He said it was the first time in all his years of dating that someone had communicated to him in this way. While he said he felt disappointed, he also said that he felt respected, and was grateful I shared my truth.
I’m not revealing this story to boast. I’ve not always communicated in ways that are exemplary. I simply share this as an example of how thoughts aligned with words and appropriate action can have positive results for all parties.
When we are up against difficult or sensitive communication, it’s worth asking ourselves these questions:
• Is my communication helpful?
• Is it appropriate?
• Is it unselfish?
• Am I practicing non-violence?
When we can answer these questions affirmatively, we know that the likelihood of positive outcome is increased.
Satya as a Guide to Right Action
Another way to practice satya is on the yoga mat. As in the practice of non-violence when practicing yoga (or any physical endeavor), if we are honest with ourselves, we have an opportunity to identify what we need.
For instance, if it is our tendency to push through an action even if we have an injury, we learn to pause and consider the results of that action. It may take many times for this to stick. It may take years! But this is the practice of satya in action. Our truth in this situation is that we have limitations, as everyone does, and that we acknowledge and honor our reality in that moment. Mindful action then leads us to proceed with caution.
Satya in Relationship
Once we have a sense of satya and the practice of aligning thoughts, words, and actions within ourselves, we can turn our awareness to relationships.
Mindfulness plays a big part of satya in relationship with others. Ego, irrational thoughts, and jumping to conclusions can make things challenging.
“You don’t understand me.”
“He always does that.”
“She’ll never change.”
“I give up.”
It’s easy to lay blame on others. Open, honest communication, and taking responsibility for our own thoughts can transform a situation.
Here’s an example of this from my private practice:
A client of mine was eager to leave his job because of stress. He reported that it wasn’t actually his job causing him anxiety; he was stressed because he felt he had little support in managing his substantial workload. This was his truth.
He had never communicated these concerns to his boss. He feared his boss would think less of him, or perhaps penalize him in some way for not managing it all. Notice that this was not the truth of situation, but rather a projection of his concerns.
When he decided to honestly broach the topic with his boss, he was relieved and amazed to find his boss not only sympathetic, but willing to find solutions to lighten his load. My client was able to continue the work he enjoyed without burnout.
This is just one way in which this sutra teaches us that when we align our thoughts, words, and actions, the results of our actions can bear fruit.
Exploring Satya for Yourself
• Identify a time when you’ve had a good outcome, either within yourself or in relationship. Can you trace it back to alignment in your thoughts, words, and actions?
• Think of a time when you’ve had a disturbing experience. Can you spot incongruity or a lack of deep truthfulness within yourself or the relationship?
• Are you generally honest with yourself?
• Can you identify for yourself what makes it easy or hard to be honest with others?
Share your satya wisdom with us below!