The Truth May Set You Free…But…
“Truth should be told when agreeable, should be said agreeably, and truth should not be said that does harm; however, never lie to give pleasure.” –from the Mahabharata
After my last post, you’re so excited about how awesome being honest is that you’re ready to run out and shout every last thing you’re thinking and feeling from the rooftops, because the whole world needs to know your truth, right? Not so fast, my little yogis and yoginis! Now that we’ve explored what Satya (truthfulness) means on the inside, let’s take a moment and consider Satya’s outward expression.
In the Sufi tradition, our words must pass through four gates before they leave our mouths. Four gates, huh? Well here they are:
Are these words true? If they are not truthful, they do not pass. If so, we let them go on.
Are these words necessary? If not, zip it! If so, we let the words pass.
Are these words beneficial? If the answer is no, they stop right there. If they will be helpful, they go through.
Are these words kind? If the words are unkind, don’t speak. If they are kind, let them pass.
Go ahead then, speak up.
Can you imagine how it would be if we held all of our words up to the scrutiny of the four gates? There might be a lot more silence in the world. Imagine what we would hear in all of that silence. Birds chirping. Bees buzzing. Car horns honking. Wind blowing. Waves crashing. Life happening, in all its fullness, with no judgment, or ridicule. When people would speak, we would listen attentively, because we would know that they were saying something important, something helpful. How wonderful would it be to have more space in our lives to just experience the moment, without the need to verbally judge and analyze what’s happening or to hear that judgment and analysis from others? Speak when necessary, otherwise listen. What would we do with all of that space? What would we create on that blank canvas?
We carry our practice of the first yama, ahimsa (nonviolence) into our practice of satya, the second yama. We mindfully choose thoughts, words, and actions that are nonharming, because we know at our core that what we do to others we ultimately do to ourselves. Our words, and the pain inflicted by them, can last for a whole life-time. Knowing this, we are vigilant with our thoughts, and we choose which ones to express and which ones to keep for ourselves. The Golden Rule, people.
So yes, that women’s outrageous shoes may not match her outrageous outfit, but no need to let her know that, unless she directly asks your input. And if she does, you carefully choose your words so that your intention to help shines through them. If you can’t think of anything helpful to say, maybe try to find a graceful way to opt out. Think about that old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Imagine you’re standing somewhere with a group of friends, and a particularly pungent individual walks by. By the look of him, he hasn’t had a bath in a while. Instead of making faces and saying, “Wow, aren’t you glad you used Dial?”, what if you became silent, and inwardly acknowledged how fortunate you are to have hot water and soap to to get clean with, a warm home with a roof, food to eat? We can let go of the juvenile need to make ourselves feel more powerful at someone else’s expense. Do this work, and the whole world will thank you.
It may take a lot of effort to watch your words and to choose only those that are true, necessary, beneficial, and kind–but this is some of the most valuable work you can do. Try it for a day. I can tell you from personal experience–it’s so eye-opening to notice all the senseless commentary that spills from my lips, and so challenging to catch all that blather before I make it audible to those around me. As you exercise this muscle of intention to live with satya, your energy becomes more focused, and you can accomplish more with even less effort. So although the mind may complain saying something like, “What? I have to pay attention to all my words all of the time? That’s no fun!” You can take a breath, soothe the mind with that beautiful sound of your breathing, and step back into your center, becoming stronger each time you do so.
After a while, the truth becomes who you are, all of who you are. The need to put conscious effort into choosing the right thoughts, words, and deeds will diminish over time, because you will be living from this place of truthfulness–it will arise as naturally as the breath. Just like in our journey to master the postures of yoga, the practice of satya involves clear intention, perseverance, patience, and time. So don’t give up if you feel discouraged, if you notice your tendencies to be untruthful or unkind–this is precisely the moment of reckoning required to examine what it is inside of you that needs more awareness. Keep trying, and all of your effort will eventually pay off. And again, the whole world will thank you.
As always, I’m truly appreciative that you’ve chosen to come here and read and think with me. Stay tuned for the next yama, Asteya (nonstealing). I welcome your comments below!
Try practicing the Four Gates of Speech for a day, or even an hour. Did you notice anything arise inwardly–in your mind and body–or outwardly, in your experience? What does it feel like to imagine speaking only when your words are true, necessary, beneficial, and kind?