This precept is based on the understanding that honesty is the bedrock of relationships. Harm is inflicted when we deliberately deceive, exaggerate, or speak mistruths. So it makes sense that one of the best ways to develop satya is with right speech.
A large part of our everyday comments and conversations are based on our core beliefs. Many of these beliefs were formed early, before we had much critical input. Part of the task of adulthood is form our own core beliefs. This can be tricky, given the steady stream of information we float around in everyday.
Perhaps the biggest challenge with satya is ourselves. Or, rather, our ego that doesn’t want to see what it doesn’t want to see. Unfortunately, avoiding our shadow is what keeps us in the dark. Being “impeccable with our word” is like shining a light into the darkness.
The demands of modern life can make this guideline challenging. It asks that we examine commitments, promises made and broken, as well as unrealistic expectations. If we want to set our intentions for satya, we need to be honest about our limitations, obstacles and strengths.
With so much competing information in the world, it’s critical to use your truth to light the way. Listen to your heart like a North Star. Be honest about what you hear. If you don’t know what to do, keep listening.
To Thy Own Self Be True
Perhaps the hardest form of this practice is being true to our integrity. The constant flow of information pouring in from all sides can make it difficult to know the nature of our heart’s desire. But even when we become clear enough to recognize what is true for us, we may lack the courage and conviction to live it.
Following what our heart knows may mean leaving an unhealthy job, setting firm boundaries in a relationship, or taking a risk that jeopardizes comfort. It may mean making choices that are frowned upon by the outer culture. The truth is rarely convenient. One way we can know we are living the truth is that while our choices may not be easy, at the end of the day we feel at peace with ourselves.
Many people think being blunt is being truthful. While it can be, the first guideline of the Yoga Sutras is ahimsa – which asks that we do no harm. Is your intention clear? Or is there something behind it? The first of The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz is that we be impeccable with our word. That’s satya.
To illustrate it another way, there is a Sufi saying that keeps us in check when speaking our truth.
Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true?’
At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?’
At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’
Perhaps the biggest challenge with honesty is ourselves. Or, rather, our ego that doesn’t want to see what it doesn’t want to see. Unfortunately, avoiding our shadow is what keeps us in the dark. Being “impeccable with our word” is like shining a light into the darkness.
Honesty is about learning our own essential truths – the pretty and the not-so-pretty parts that exist within us. Personal truths are so startlingly honest that every cell in our body perks up to listen. It could be our true calling, true love, or truest piece of advice we’ve ever received.
Living our truth is liberating, yet getting to that place can be one of the most difficult journeys we endure. We come to know it through self-study and experience, through art, good friends, wisdom teachings and spiritual guides. But most of all, through the wisdom of our own inner voice.
The next yama is asteya.
Thanks to Donna Farhi for inspiring this definition from her excellent book
Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit.