We’re inundated with people telling us what they think is the Truth. It’s a popular thing to discuss on talk shows, and every host seems to think they have the corner on the market. Politicians attempt to convince you that their words are the truth, as do physicians, the press, your spouse, coworkers, children. You name it, somebody out there knows the truth and will do their best to sell you on it.
This is not to say that we should or shouldn’t believe them. They may know something true. But ultimately, the truth is something that we do not find outside ourselves; we experience it within, in this present moment. And it is not dependent on belief, but rather on a sense of knowing.
The changing truth
Many things that we considered true years ago are no longer true. This is the nature of the continually changing universe. A loaf of bread may have cost 39 cents in 1960, and a gallon of gas in 1970 may have been about 75 cents, but that certainly isn’t true today. Yet many of us have beliefs, ideas, and thoughts that we believe to be true that are similarly outdated.
For example, you may feel that you have a “bad back”. I remember years ago listening to a program of exercises for low back conditions. It was quite good, but there was one part of the recording that really bothered me. The author would say “remember, you have a bad back.” I wanted to plug my ears each time it came up. After all, wasn’t the program supposed to heal my back? Why would I want to keep reinforcing the idea that it was “bad”?
Belief vs. truth
Perhaps you injured your back years ago and it caused you pain for a long time. Maybe you’ve injured it a number of times. But is your back still injured now? Perhaps, perhaps not. The practice of Satya requires us to look with discernment at what we believe to be true and to see what really is.
Is your back in pain right now? Perhaps not. If that is true, in that moment, you do not have a “bad back”. In that moment, your back is fine. This doesn’t mean that you suddenly decide to do a backflip (although maybe you could!). But it does mean that, unless we are continually present to what is reality, we may miss what is true.
As we explore Satya more intently, then we can consider – what is “bad”? Even if your back is injured, is it really “bad”? The constant labeling of something affects our experience of it, so that we may experience it in our minds or emotions as “bad”, when it really isn’t. Pain does not make it bad, nor does stiffness or even injury. It simply means that you’re experiencing pain, stiffness, or an injury. To be most truthful, we must examine and question the words, thoughts, and actions we perform based on those assumptions to see if they are truly so.
Explore what is true
Taking this onto your yoga mat, we learn to practice Satya from moment to moment as we breathe and move through each pose. Instead of believing the thought “I can’t do that”, is it possible to mindfully try, with care and compassion, and see if that is really true?
If we move slowly and with awareness, we can sense as we transition into a pose whether the body is receptive to the action. We may be capable of more than we have believed. Off your yoga mat, you’ll find that more is possible than your thoughts have considered to be true.
If you have been “prone to injuries” in your past, especially in yoga classes, then the application of Satya may be slightly different. In the moment, as you feel the pose, explore the sensations more deeply. Is my body still receptive to this, or have I gone too far? Struggle in the body or mind may indicate that we’re biting off more than we can chew. Even if last week we were able to bind the arms behind the back in a twist, perhaps today, in this moment, your body resists. That’s OK – back off, honor what you notice, and know that you’ll likely be able to do it another time.
Conditions do not determine experiences
Everything changes – your thoughts, emotions, and your body. We all know that our bodies change: as we age, during a pregnancy, when we lift weights, when we eat too much. Few conditions are truly permanent, and even those that are can be experienced differently with a change in attitude if we are willing to see them clearly with Satya, truthfulness.
Consider an amputee. S/he may be missing a leg or an arm. We cannot pretend that this is not true. Does it mean that their life is over? Of course not. We’ve seen inspiring examples of what can be achieved without legs, arms, sight, or hearing. The fact of a condition does not determine our experience – what we believe to be true about that fact, however, does.
Courage with kindness
Practicing Satya develops courage in us. We are often unwilling to see what is actually true because of fears; of being criticized, different, incapable, injured again, etc. These are the fears we hold in our minds about what may or may not be true for us. The fears are not the truth. Swami Satchidananda says, “with establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes.” We no longer need be afraid of anyone or anything when we have the courage to see the truth as it is.
We may look at our belly and see that it is larger than it used to be. Some of us will be fine with that, and others will feel ashamed or frustrated. The fact that the belly is larger than it used to be is the truth; the belief that it is a problem, that it makes us less attractive, or is an insurmountable issue, is not the truth. Those are thoughts.
When we have the courage to practice Satya with compassion and kindness – to see truth without the judgments – then we can discern the appropriate steps to take. We may choose to enjoy the belly we have, to do more abdominal exercises, or to consider our diet without needing to criticize ourselves for what is.
The deeper, unchanging Truth
Satya changes from moment to moment in our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, actions, and circumstances. Yet there is a deeper level of Satya – the unchanging Truth. This is the part of ourselves that is ever-present, quiet, eternally witnessing, and peaceful.
The unchanging Truth is our inner essence, or divine spirit, that always has been and always will be. It is not subject to the constant fluctuations of our consciousness or our experiences. The more we seek and tap into this unchanging aspect of Satya, the more we find inner peace and a sense of oneness with all of existence. This is the aim of Yoga – union.
When we tap into this deep inner Truth, there is a knowing. We know what is true for us in each moment. This is different than believing. A belief is not founded on knowledge – it is based on faith. Faith is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as truth. We can have faith that life will improve, but that does not take away our responsibility for knowing what is true right now.
When we know what is true, then we can respond appropriately. If we are in debt, it’s helpful to have faith that we will get out of debt. Yet we must also honor our knowledge that we are in debt and take responsible action. The practice of Satya is founded on an inner knowing in the present moment. That inner knowing comes from the peaceful, non-reactive, unchanging essence of ourselves, which can guide us to right action in any circumstance of our lives.
The power of truthfulness
It is said in the Yoga Sutras that for those fully established in Satya, actions and their results become subservient to the Truth. Truthfulness is magnetic – all of nature recognizes what is true and is attracted to that. One’s mind is so clear and free of negativity that what one thinks, speaks,
and does will manifest because it comes only from Truth. Usually, these yogis who are completely one with Truth say very little, but what they do say rings with potency.
Therefore, truthfulness is power. We’ve heard of great saints through the ages who had this power – that their word was so full of truth that it could manifest things on the spot. Although probably none of us is even close to that impeccable practice of Satya, consider the power that our thoughts and actions have. When we are tapped into Satya, that power naturally manifests the good that is present in that pure place.
Allow Satya to be a focus of your spiritual practice. Honor what is true in every moment, seek within the unchanging Truth, and let your thoughts, words, and actions flow from that place. Then notice the results in your life. In his commentary on this ethical principle of yoga, Swami Satchidananda says “When the mind becomes clear and serene, the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the Truth in its own original nature.” May we all become
one with that place of Truth.
Copyright © 2006, 2011 by Constance L. Habash