She's the kinda girl that looks at you, calls it the way she sees it, bats her eyelashes and says 'I'm just speaking my truth, babe. Sorry if it upsets you'. The thing is, she knows it upsets me. She has that uncanny ability to push my buttons, and she knows it, because she says: 'You can never take the truth, honey.' She is a brutally honest friend. Note the way 'brutal' and 'honesty' are often bedfellows. It's because the truth can hurt. We know it does. It's why we have those conversations with friends that wonder whether we should tell our bestie that her boyfriend's sleeping around on her, or that we shut our mouth if someone we love isn't looking as fabulous as she thinks she is in that outfit. We know it can hurt. It's all very well to say we should 'speak our truth' or 'be our truth', but when someone else confronts us with a 'truth' about our identity we weren't ready for, that undoes our carefully constructed 'self', what then?
The truth often hurts because it makes us uncomfortable. It can force us to reassess our realities, and damn, we have good defence mechanisms for shielding us from that discomfort. Ultimately, it is freeing, because it forces us to drop the stories that we have constructed as we build the version of ourselves that we think we can live with. To speak 'our' truth, we believe, is to speak honestly about our beliefs and values - who we are. And that's fabulous - sure, instagram this 'truth!' Come up with a pretty meme, perhaps, tack it to your fridge. Speak your truth. Be your truth. Even if your voice shakes.
Yet therein lies the problem. We often tell these truths without real awareness of what it actually means to tell the truth.
Because mostly, we are lies.
Consider Buddhism, for example. The ultimate truth above all is that individual identity does not exist. Instead, we are a product of our desires and needs. Under spells of ignorance, we crave happiness without realising we have access to it in the present moment, and as we try to run away from suffering we're actually inviting it in. We bind ourselves to fleeting joys. You only have to consider something you loved and lost to understand that. Is the thing you loved beyond all reason the real cause of your happiness, or is it your attachment to it? Because your neighbour or sister sure as hell might not love it as much as you do, nor might it cause them happiness. Being lost, is it really the lost thing that creates suffering, or your desire to have it back? Or, consider something you loved that caused you great happiness and then, a few years down the track, it's gathering dust in an attack, or you've left them behind for another. Like youth, beauty, or money, nothing lasts. Nothing is permanent. To believe it is just causes more suffering. I'm always reminded of William Blake:
He who binds to himself a Joy, Doth the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the Joy as it flies / Lives in Eternity's sunrise.
To Patanjali, it's all fluctuations of the mind stuff that cause suffering. One of his first yoga sutras - yogas chitta vritti nirodha, which roughly translates to 'yoga helps us understand the fluctuations of the mind stuff'. The fluctuations - vritti - are all those identifications and mental disturbances of which Buddha speaks - the ego that says 'this is mine', 'this is me', the thiings we attach to without really knowing we are doing it. The mind is very, very good at these fluctuations. Our job as yogis, or as students on spiritual pathways, is to understand this, and work toward quieting the mind through practices that lead us to mental peace.
Consider again our 'truths'.
When we feel deeply wronged according to our value systems, we lose sleep over it, our mind constantly ruminating over what was said or what could have been said in return. We identify so deeply with the event that it can alter our thoughts, behaviours and actions. For example, when I was in the middle of my nervous breakdown, I thought everyone hated me. I felt worthless and undervalued. This 'truth' seemed like madness to me - it was deeply traumatic and affected my ability to interact with others. Yet a yoga practice helped me to detach from that - it taught me to be witness to these fluctuations rather than identify myself with them. I could observe instead: 'This feeling of worthlessness is rising' rather than 'I am worthless'. In doing so, I could see my thoughts for what they were - transient and fleeting. They were not really 'truth'.
I could stop repeating these thoughts in my head that were becoming actions in my world.
Patanjali sets out a path for us to attain freedom from suffering - a moral code like the eightfold path - called the yamas . The yamas are one of the first of the eight limbs of yoga, concerned with our interaction with, and reaction to, the material world around us. Two of the most important ones are ahimsa (non violence) and satya (truthfulness) - whilst the others are important too, these two are the ones I always reflect upon.
Above all, is ahimsa - cause no harm.
Let's come back to the truth - satya. It feels right to say what we think and be honest about it. Superficially, all lies are bad and all honest truths are good, right? Pinocchio's nose is a fable told to children that demonstrates the consequences of lying. However, there is more to it than this. If your truth causes others or yourself harm, then it does not obey the first yama - ahimsa. So then satya must be examined more closely.
“Satya pratiṣṭhāyāṁ kriyā phalā ‘śrayatvaṁ”
As truthfulness (satya) is achieved, the fruits of actions naturally result according to the will of the yogi.
We can't lie - but neither should we go about telling the truth to others because it may cause harm. We have to know the difference between superficially speaking our truth, and speaking and acting the deep truth of our core beings. To tell the truth is often understood as a value judgement: 'That dress looks too tight on you' when someone else thinks it looks just right. Or, 'your room is a mess' over 'this mess doesn't conform to my need and desire for the room to be clean'. These aren't truths - they are acting out those fluctuations of the mind stuff. My mind is disturbed, I speak, I cause an action in the world.
If, however, we are being true to ourselves, we don't need to lie to please people or construct false identities to fit a mould of what we think we 'should' be according to social, culture or other constructed value systems. Satya asks us to think, speak, and act according to how things are, not how we desire theme to be. It asks us to examine our conditioned identities that colour our worlds so that we believe that they are true, without realising that this truth changes all the time. Satya, therefore, means we have to consider truth in this moment, as it is, moment to moment. By doing so, we cause ourselves less harm by digging down to find the joy of the true self, shedding the skins of the false truths that cause ultimately cause us shame, unhappiness and even physical illnesss as our thoughts become manifested in the world.
I only have to thing about my relationship with my husband to consider satya. A month ago, we were stressed and in the middle of work dramas and illness. He was irritating me beyond belief. I was witnessing my mind fluctuate with this: 'This feeling of irritation is rising', 'this feeling of anger that he DIDN'T PUT HIS CUP IN THE DISHWASHER AGAIN is rising' 'this feeling of loss of control is rising' and so on. Had I not checked my thoughts, they might have become words, which would have had a direct consequence on our relationship. It wasn't that I was withholding how I felt about particular behaviours, but rather making sure that the truth was the right truth: was I going to say what was bubbling and brewing up inside of me because it was the truth, or was it just a reaction and response to chitta vritti nirodha? Had I exploded like I may have done in my youth, we would have had a helluva fight, and for what? I would have been hurtful, and he would have said something hurtful back. Instead, I drew on everything I knew, and breathed, watching those thoughts drift across my consciousness, witnessing them rather than investing in them. Hard work, but worthwhile.
Two weeks later, he's still not putting his cup in the dishwasher, and I love him beyond belief. I take it from him, kiss the top of his head, and ask if he'd like another cup of tea. It doesn't matter. I can say 'I feel inconvenienced' rather than accuse him of being thoughtless. And by doing so, he doesn't get on the defensive. No harm is caused. Ahimsa.
We must watch our 'truths' from a distance, as a witness to them, considering whether they are relative truths, or eternal ones. Once we are able to detach from relative truths, the eternal ones arise - love, compassion, kindness - and we find ourselves in perfect peace and harmony.
And so to 'speak our truth' becomes an important mantra that is daily examined, so that we can be sure that we are actually speaking and living our genuine truth, not the one that has been conditioned.
This post is in response to the Freedom Tribe Challenge, which you can find here. You can win up to 40 Steem in prizes. It's a fabulous incentive to write your truth, or examine a lie. I am sure this won't be my first entry - 'truth' is a value I hold dear to my heart and as human beings, it's something that we must always reflect upon and consider - what is our relationship to truth? What is our 'truth' as individuals, communities, societies - and how does this manifest in the world? Big up Freedom Tribe for bringing this to our attention on the Steem blockchain!