Often understood as truthfulness, Satya is one of the Yama’s as presented by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The Yamas provide a context for us to navigate the relationship between our internal and external world. The Yama of Satya means to restrain oneself from falsehoods. Cultivating an appreciation of the Yamas helps us understand how to live our practice. It is a way in which we can find continuity between our discoveries on our yoga mat and our day to day life.
Satya is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘sat’ which speaks of that which is true, enduring and real. Satya is understood at the level of mind, body, heart and behaviour. For me, Satya means to live in truth. It is not something that can be judged or understood from the outside because Satya is expressed according to our Dharma/Path/Purpose (see this BLOG about Dharma). It is a lived experience wherein we know – not just in our head, but in our hearts – that we are connecting with what is true and real.
Living aligned with truth is not always easy. When we begin to know ourselves better, we can see our samskaras (ingrained patterns) playing out. The narrative we tell ourselves about our lives and personhood are stories that we have become very comfortable with. Often the seeds of these stories begin when we are young. The prism through which we see our world results in patterns of relating that are ingrained even at the level of our neurobiology. Sometimes we don’t notice that we are playing out these patterns because they have intertwined with our self-image so completely, that we don’t know who we are without them!
Time on our yoga mat or meditation cushion gradually begins to peel away the layers of who we think we are. For many of us, a time comes when we begin to wake up to our own avidya (ignorance) and can begin the process of shedding who we think we should be, to find out who we are. We begin to let go of narratives we are attached to which negate our ability to live with truth.
We begin to realise that we don’t always feel ok, that the stories we have bought into our whole life are not serving us. Sometimes it is easy to feel adrift or alone, not quite anchored within ourselves. We might struggle to allow people to truly see us, and I think this is because we don’t want to see ourselves clearly. Why is that? Because we need and want to be liked, to be loved to be valued by others.
Much of our life journey is about gaining acceptance from others: parents, friends, teachers, mentors, yoga teachers or life partners. A life founded on looking outside of ourselves for approval, for confirmation that we are ok is exhausting. The day finally comes where we are faced with an important decision: to accept an unfulfilled life or to radically examine and transform our ways of thinking. We realise we can undo the perpetuating nature of our samskaras and break free from living a life that doesn’t feel true.
This is when practice and life get really uncomfortable! People run for the hills, break up relationships, quit jobs and generally become very avoidant. Our psychospiritual patterns (samskaras) are so deeply ingrained that the fear of recognising them is overwhelming. If we think about the imagery of water flowing down a cliff face for generations, the grooves from the flow of water have become so deep that the possibility of the water flowing another way seems unimaginable. To change the flow of water would take substantial effort and time. It is the same with our thoughts patterns. Some of our inner narratives are programmed from our early years – the wiring of our brains in the first year of life can impact us throughout adulthood. Yet our brains have an inherent plasticity – an ability to change the way in which neurons fire and how we think and feel. I think the ancient yogis knew this experientially. They saw their samskaras (patterns) and found practices to rewire and create new patterns so they could see clearly, thus living with truth. This inner work requires both courage and effort.
The experience of seeing clearly can result in an experience of radiance and bliss, or utter devastation. For me the layers of seeing clearly have resulted in both these experiences at different times. In the first decade of practice the revelations were liberating, often beautiful and accompanied by a deep sense of bliss and peace. In the second decade of practice I have experienced the devastation also – the devastation of how I have treated myself, how I have been quick to believe the stories of others in subtle ways and the emotional, financial and physically consequences. I have noticed that motherhood triggered some of these patterns, particularly the way in which it can be my habit to put my own needs last. Now, beginning a third decade of practice I notice a shift. A certain steadiness has emerged in which I comfortably feel a little untethered to a specific self-definition. I notice a little more internal freedom and an inner sense of what feels true and right – and much less of a need to justify or explain myself to anyone else. Yet day to day I still work to check in with my motivations behind my behaviour – am I exhausting myself to meet the expectations of others? Do I need to rest? Should I say no or yes?
The confronting part about seeing clearly is that not everyone in our life wishes to go on the journey of Satya with us. It might be family, colleagues, partners or students, but when you stop buying in to your own stories, you don’t buy in to the stories of others to the same extent. Many of us are at a fundamental level pretty insecure about who we are – and we want people to ‘buy what we are selling’. Generally we feel best when others behave how we would like them to behave! We want people to go along with the stories we tell ourselves as it further entrenches them and there is a certain comfort in these patterns. Fear shuts us down to exploring who we might be and what our relationships might look like without them.
When we begin to see clearly, some relationships will only survive if the other is willing to open, to trust, to know themselves enough to share how they feel. Our seeing clearly can make others feel unsteady, or even unhappy as it can highlight in their life how something is missing or doesn’t feel quite right. This is particularly the case if you have relationships in your life which are unbalanced – wherein over time the energy flows more in one direction and the relationship lacks reciprocity. When we see clearly our patterns and begin to cultivate new ways of being and relating our relationships will inevitably change. This can be a difficult process, especially if people express their displeasure with you. Yet it is one in which we can be compassionate, without buying in to the other person’s story.
It might mean you disappoint someone along the way, yet not living up to the expectations of others might sometimes be path to freedom. Sometimes to be true to ourselves, this means we can’t be what someone else requires of us. Our dharma (purpose/path) is leading us elsewhere. The relationships that endure are the ones based in honesty and vulnerability, in a willingness to be real. Being in truth with another is a very big ask. It takes trust – not in another person, but in ourselves. It takes courage to be vulnerable and open, to take emotional risks.
When you are embodying Satya you will know it in your heart. Even if it is for fleeting moments when you are honest, share how you feel, tell someone your heart’s longing or take an emotional risk you will feel the light of Satya. It is a physical, emotional and mental liberation and you will feel free. A weight will lift, even momentarily as you are unencumbered by who you think you should be, and you simply become more yourself.
If you are not sure, perhaps the questions below will be helpful:
-Are you able to be honest with people about how you feel?
-When you communicate do you say clearly “I feel sad/worried/insecure/lonely” or does your communication blame another?
-Do you expect people to mind read how you are feeling and act accordingly?
-Are you open to being in truth with another person by sitting down and talking problems through – or do you turn away from dialogue?
– Do you need to justify and tell everyone what you think to be true, or is it sufficient for you to know it in your own heart?
– Do you pretend to be something you are not, or hide your struggles and difficulties from the world?
-Do you say yes to people and then resent them later?
-Are you being honest with yourself about your role in your life situation? Or do you blame others?
-Do you set yourself on fire to keep others warm? (see the blog about it:)
All of these questions can be kept in mind when we begin to explore how to live and embody Satya.
Image Credit: Broga Melbourne