Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Second Yama - Satya

Satya is the Sanskrit word for truthfulness. This is the second of five Yamas or restraints. Together with the five Niyamas or observances these make up the ten jewels of Yogic Philosophy for living an ethical life.

What is truthfulness? The obvious answer is truthfulness means not telling a lie.  Well truthfulness goes beyond that but first let's explore the obvious answer of not lying. As we consciously pay attention when we know we are not being completely honest or truthful we can gain insight into the fears that steer us away from truthfulness. Why is it that we may not tell the truth all the time, or why do we sometimes tell partial truths, or why do we convince ourselves that "little white lies" are ok? By "little white lies" I mean those that are usually told to spare someone's feelings that seemingly do no harm. For instance a friend asks you "do you like my new haircut?" What if you don't like the haircut. What do you say? Do you lie and say "yes." Do you go above and beyond over the top with niceties saying "oh I love it, it is fabulous, you look gorgeous." Or do you tell the truth and say "no" or perhaps a nicer version of the truth "I am so used to seeing you in the haircut you had for years, give me a moment to get used to it before I answer." Who knows maybe it will grow on you. If you feel like it is mean to answer "no" because it hurts the other person's feelings, what you are doing is compromising your own authenticity and perhaps you are using the first Yama of Ahimsa or non-violence of doing no harm as your excuse to not be truthful in cases like these. Then do you truly understand what Ahimsa is? How can telling even a little white lie be less harmful than telling the truth?  These are questions for us to consider.  More often than not if we lie in situations like these, there is a program running in our mind that says it is better to be nice than authentic. If we run around saying we like everything all the time just to be nice, how does that impact our trustworthiness when asked for our honest opinion.

Husband's get asked questions by wives quite frequently that go something like this "does this dress make me look fat?" They are usually programmed to automatically say "no" regardless of the answer because they don't want to upset the peace. In that case there is a program running that says it is better to lie and keep the peace than to tell the truth.  Perhaps instead of saying "yes" and leaving it at that another truthful answer could be "it is not as flattering as some of your other dresses." We can all pay attention to our little white lies to find out what programs we have running in our minds that prevent us from being completely truthful with one another. However, I know I would prefer someone tell me if a particular cut of a dress does not look right on me for whatever reason than to wear it believing it looks good. So the flip side of this is that we all need to be prepared to hear the truth when we ask questions. In the end we know deep down that we would appreciate the honesty even if it stings for a moment, because that is probably better than walking around in an illusion.

I am reading the book The Yamas & Niyams by Deborah Adele which is a very good book for understanding the depth of meaning of these ten jewels. There is a section in the chapter on Satya that is headed "Be Real Rather than Nice." She begins this section by quoting Carl Jung "A lie would make no sense unless truth was felt to be dangerous." Deborah asks the question "Are we afraid to hurt someone's feelings or afraid if we told the truth we would not be liked or admired anymore?" [p44]. She suggests that nice is an illusion, an imposed image by an outer authority of what we think we should be. She says "Real comes from the center of our unique essence and speaks to the moment from that center. [...] Real asks us to live from a pace where there is nothing to defend and nothing to manage. [...] Real, though not always pleasant, is trustworthy." [p45]  This is definitely something to consider about truthfulness.

Of course there are the lies people tell because we know we did something wrong and want to cover it up out of fear of being caught in our wrong doing and getting into trouble, or out of fear that someone will think us incompetent for screwing something up, and many other instances where fear freezes our truth and sends lies rolling off the tongue. This then becomes about ownership of your mistake. We are all human, we all screw up and make mistakes. Being truthful about them ends them. Lying and covering them us creates more fear of being found out.  It gets buried in our psyche where it takes root to grow more lies to continue the cover-up.  Herein lies a more obvious example of how are lies are imposed by an outer authority who will dish out a punishment or think less of you. If we are truthful with ourselves and everyone else around us in the moment regardless of external consequence, we are being real and authentic with our self and we have freed ourselves of the lies that take root and weigh us down on some level or another, often in guilt. But where does that guilt come from our self or some superimposed external authority?

Satya or truthfulness is also about living authentically. Deborah Adele speaks of our need to belong and our need to grow. She writes "when a conflict arises between the need to belong and the need to grow, we have to make a choice. We must either sacrifice a part of ourselves to maintain our belonging, or we must risk the approval and support of the group by growing." [p48] I think this also extends not just to growing but also maintaining authenticity in our values and beliefs. When we compromise our values and beliefs by keeping them silent to go along with the group, we are compromising our own integrity. The fear at the root of this non-truthfulness by keeping silent is fear of not belonging or the fear of disapproval which again come from a superimposed external authority rather than our internal authentic self.

There is one more point about living truthfully that has to do with what we do in the world. Deborah gives examples of being in a job that holds no fulfillment but pays more than what we would really like to do or wanting to go back to school but having too many other obligations. We can all probably think of some instance in our life when we were faced with such a decision - to keep the status quo where things are safe, familiar and known or to go off into the uncharted territory and pursue the unknown where we feel a longing or calling toward. Those of you who are astrologers probably hear the western astrology delineation of the nodal axis here. Often times we feel we are at cross roads and this can be marked by a transit squaring our nodes or the transit nodes squaring one of our natal or progressed planets. We say to ourselves "I don't know what to do" and we may ask others for their opinion or help in deciding. However after reading all of this how do we know they won't just be nice and tell us what they think we want to hear?  We need to find the answer from within. Deborah says, when she hears people asking that question, "I think more often than not, we do know what to do; the cost of our realness just seems too high at the time. Truth rarely seems to ask the easier choice of us."[p49]

I will leave you with a question that I too will be pondering this week, along with paying attention to my own truthfulness, realness and authenticity. This question isn't mine, it is Deborah's and I think it is a good one.  "What might life look like if I were willing to contact truthfulness in every moment?"


Friday, January 2, 2015

8 Limbs of Yoga: 1 Yamas (1st Ahimsa)

One of my New Year's Resoultions is to blog more and become more active in social media. I also have New Year's Resolutions about eating healthier (my husband got me a juicer for Christmas & I have been drinking my vegetables every morning), quitting smoking, and having a daily yoga practice that includes pranayama, asana, mantra and meditation.

I thought I would start a blog and focus on the 8 limbs of Yoga, paying attention to one limb each week to help me stick to my New Year resolutions of having a daily yogic practice.  This will go on for 16 weeks at least since the first 2 limbs have 5 parts each. Please subscribe so you get notified when I update this, or check back weekly on Mondays.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

1. Yama: restraints (5 of these: ahimsa, satya,  asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha)
2. Niyama: observances (5 of these: saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, ishvara pranidhana)
3. Asana: postures
4. Pranayama: breath control
5. Pratyahara: sense withdrawal
6. Dharana: concentration
7. Dhyana: meditation

8. Samadhi: absorption or unity consciousness

The first two limbs combine as a set of restraints (5 yamas) and observances (5 niyamas) that create the ethics of yoga. Since Yoga is a way of life, the yamas and niyamas are the 10 ways to live an ethical life. The five yamas are non-harmful (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-stealing (asteya), non-excess, continence, chastity  (brahmacharya, translates to sacred behavior), non-possessiveness (aparigraha, translates to non future-grasping).  The five niyamas are purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), self-discipline (tapas, translates to asceticism), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender (ishvara pranidhana, translates to abstract contemplation on the Supreme).

You can read The Eight Limbs of Yoga  article at my website for more information on the rest of the limbs. 

The First Yama - Ahimsa 

Ahimsa is often translated to non-violence, but it means so much more. It is also "do no harm." This includes not putting harmful things into your body (good for all of us with a New Year's Resolution to cut something we digest or inhale out of our diet!)  This also extends to our speech and not saying harmful things to each other or even about another behind their back. This non-harming in our speech also extends to our thoughts and the things we tell ourselves that undermine our self-love, courage, creativity and provide us with a sense of powerlessness.

Ahimsa is cultivated through love, courage, forgiveness and compassion.

I'm currently reading The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. In the chapter on Ahimsa she talks about fear creating violence and how we can trace "acts of greed, control, and insecurity back to their root: fear." [p 23]  We see this happening on a global scale every time we turn on the news.

Ahimsa reminds us to see the role fear plays in our own life.  Maybe we are afraid of not meeting a deadline and snap at anyone who interrupts our work. Deborah talks about creating balance in our lives because imbalance can also lead to violence. She wrote "Think of the times you were 'short' with others because of too much work to do, or too much caffeine and sugar, or a restless night of sleep?" [p24] I recognized that I do that when I am overloaded with work. So part of this week's focus as I become aware of Ahimsa will be to catch myself and work on that. .

Power struggles lead to violence through anger and frustration. Deborah made a very good point that really made me think: "When we feel powerless we have forgotten how much choice we really have. We have a choice to take action and we have a choice to change the story we are telling ourselves about our powerlessness." [p27] Thinking of a past time when we successfully handled a challenging situation can help.

We all tell ourselves harmful stories that have their roots in powerlessness, fear, judgement or guilt. Ahimsa asks us to find courage, compassion and forgiveness that fosters self love and uproots the harmful stories. Maybe we are afraid we won't be successful so we undermine and harm ourselves with our thoughts instead of having the courage to do whatever we are trying to do. Also if we are ubber critical of ourselves, we will tend to also be critical of others. The more we learn to be soft, gentle and forgiving with ourselves, the more we will be so with others. Deborah makes this point "We would never purchase a can of red paint and expect it to be blue. Yet we can be so harsh and demanding of ourselves and then expect to be loving with others. It just doesn't work that way," [p30].

Often times when we feel there is something in our own life that is a mess, we try to fix someone else. Our ego fills with pride as it pats itself on the back for the amazing things we've done for someone else that day. What we need to remember is that when help someone by making decisions for them,  doing something for them, or even worrying about them, we are saying we don't trust them to do the right thing for themselves and are taking away their autonomy. Even if we think we are doing it because we care about them. This is a subtle form of harming to others and odds are most of us do it. Each of us has our own answers and our own path.  To do no-harm we should support rather than help each other, by holding space for someone with respect for their own inner journey.