Living Yoga: Satya & Speaking One's Truth

Satya is the second Yama or moral constraint of Patanjali’s Eight Limbed Path of Yoga. In its essence, Satya is our inner truth compass. The Sanskrit derivative “sat” translates to “true nature.” It is the principle that holds a mirror to one’s face and asks for a raw and honest look at one’s thoughts, words, and actions. Satya asks the question, “Are you living in alignment with your truth?”

From an early age, we are encouraged to tell the truth. Yet the truth is never quite that simple. The worlds we grow up in, the people we surround ourselves with, and the experiences that feed our characters all color the ways in which we experience life. One’s understanding of truth is subjective. What one experiences as real differs from person to person. Our thoughts shape our perspective. The more we reinforce these thoughts, the more real our beliefs of the world become. Hence why truth can be a tricky affair.

There comes a moment where we find ourselves stuck in our own web of deception. We can rationalize and justify our thoughts or behaviors to the point that our lies become our truth. It takes the brave act of honest self-inquiry to keep this cycle from growing deep. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “All throughout history the way of truth and love have always won.” As we parse out the truth, we must do so with love. As we explore the depth of Satya we will discover how it rides on the practice of love, rooted in the first Yama, Ahimsa. Truth is strongly linked to our hearts.

Truth calls upon courage. The Latin root of “courage” is “cor,” meaning “heart.” Positive Psychologist Brené Brown writes, “Courage originally meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’” There is a misconception that speaking truth is seamless, that it flows naturally because the truth rests in the heart. Often times telling the truth can feel like the greatest challenge. It requires great vulnerability. It summons strength and sensitivity. It asks us to love hard.

In Deborah Adele’s exploration of the Yamas and Niyamas, she poses the dichotomy of real versus nice: “nice is an illusion, a cloak that hides lies. Nice is the person who is trying to be who they think they should be rather than who they innately know they are. Real, though not always pleasant, is trustworthy.” Trust lies in directness. Those who are direct and honest make us feel safe. Those who hold integrity in their words and actions create the space for trust to grow in a relationship. Often times, summoning the courage to be honest and direct and speak truth meets the biggest resistance when it comes to treating ourselves.

Sincere words written by novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his book The Brothers Karamazov speaks, “Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” And so we see the deep interplay between Satya and Ahimsa.

There is a story that many of us have come to know, myself personally. It is the one where we travel the road of expectation. We rise to that which beckons and asks of us, a common pursuit as a citizen of society. We take on roles and responsibilities that are projections and dreams of others because we think we should. On a subconscious level, when we act from this place, we seek approval and love from external sources. There will come a point when the heart is finally tired of living in conflict. One arrives at the crossroads of expectation versus dharma. And there lies the choice to travel the path with a heart.

Deep within, we know this lesson. Poets, philosophers, shamans, psychologists, monks, people of all walks encourage the power of connecting to your intuitive heart. Ask yourself, as Carlos Castañeda poses in his novel The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yacqui Way of Knowledge, “Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.” 

I am not advocating that we leave our responsibility as citizens of a greater world behind. We all have roles—be it a mother, a father, a friend, a partner—we all live in relationship and so our actions directly affect the greater web of our community and those around us. But it is important to listen, to begin to notice what makes your heart beat. Even if it is simply a gut feeling that cannot be defined, quite often words don’t do truth justice anyway. If you are driven by grace and the desire to act without expectation of return, follow that. It’s the fruit of this world.

Peeling away the layers of confusion that shroud our personal truths often pose challenges. Our egos are loud and distracting. Our intuition, on the other hand, speaks in a whisper. Connecting with the heart and uncovering clarity is a practice in mindfulness and silence. Satya requires that we give ourselves space from situations and thoughts that are driven by the ego. In doing so, we diffuse emotional reactivity and allow compassion to fill the void. We come to an understanding that each person lives in his or her own truth, and we respect where each other stands.

In the end of the day, we must remember that the Yamas and Niyamas exist as a guide to bringing more harmony and happiness into our human experience. We all walk this Earth trying to avoid the inevitability of suffering and encourage happiness. In this dance, Satya invites us to step into integrity. It asks us to be honest and truthful—with others and most importantly with ourselves. Satya encourages us to trust oneself, one’s intuition and inner wisdom. Throughout this journey, we must remember that despite all our human differences, we share in the simple pursuit of happiness, and that truth alone can engender compassion.