Tag Archives: Yoga Sutra II.31

Pants on Fire

lady gaga telephoneI caught myself fibbing the other day. Hazel wasn’t feeling well and I called her friend’s mom to cancel plans. Totally reasonable, right? Certainly every mom of a 12-year old has had to cancel plans for a sick kid. Never-the-less, in that moment ‘reasonable’ didn’t matter because while we were on the phone I detected disappointment in the mom’s voice. The disappointment triggered my old insecurities and these insecurities took control of my thoughts and my communication. Is she judging me? Oh, she’s totally mad at me. What if I’ve messed this up and our kids don’t get to hang out again for a super-long time. Five seconds in and I was spiraling. It was from this needy, nervous, and not rational place that all these could-be truths started to spew from my mouth. “I’m going to pick Hazel up from school” (though hadn’t made arrangements to actually do that) …”And we’ll go see the doctor” (possible, but not a plan). “And we’ll get a strep test and if it isn’t serious, maybe we can get the girls together tomorrow instead” (maybe, maybe not). “Yeah. She’s that sick.” (I wasn’t actually so sure how sick she was.) I was fishing for some reassurance that I was still okay in this other mom’s eyes. That this was normal. That she understood. I wanted to feel better about myself and lying was the way I attempted to get the sympathy and acknowledgment that I needed in that moment. I hated what I was doing, but it just kept playing itself out until finally, I got off the phone.

Satyam, truthfulness or right communication, is one of the yamas or ethical principles that Patañjali lays out for us in the second chapter of the yoga sūtras. (II.30) This chapter teaches about the obstacles we face and the path and practices to diminish them. The ability to communicate thoughtfully, truthfully, and with sensitivity is one of these practices. Who can argue with that? When we lie, we create problems or obstacles for ourselves down the line. We worry about getting found out. We miss out on intimacy. Dignity diminishes. This resonates with me and even seems kind of obvious. Honesty is the best policy.

There’s another aspect to this truthfulness conversation and it comes later in the chapter. Sūtra II.31 says that if the five yamas aren’t interrupted by circumstances including one’s occupation, jāti, place, deśa, or time, kāla, AND they are sustained at all levels (action, speech, and thought) then it is as if the person is upholding a great vow, mahā-vratam. Start talking about upholding a vow, and this shit gets real. Why we practice honesty isn’t just policy, it is something sacred. Efforts we make to be truthful are in line with a holy promise or a hallowed act. When I think of this sūtra, I shudder. Mahā-vratam. Truthfulness as a great vow.

YS II.36 describes what happens when a person demonstrates a very high-level of satya. ”If you only tell the truth, then what you say will come true.*” Satya pratiṣṭhātāṁ kkriyāphala āśrayatvam. I have a friend that totally follows through on what he says he’ll do. He also is very sincere and thoughtful about what he says, everything he says. He’s straightforward and honest and i admire and appreciate him so much because of it. For example, if Mark says, “let’s get together for dinner next week on Saturday,” I know that he is going to make it happen. I’ll receive a text or a call with a time, a place, and a plan and I’m happy to go. He comes through every time. I know I can count on him so when I say yes, I’m more likely to follow suit. What he says comes true.

Satya, or truthfulness, hasn’t come easily to me. For a long time, I lied for convenience, to avoid awkward moments, to avoid getting into trouble, or so that I can have the little hit of dopamine that comes when I let someone believe I’m going to give them what they want, even if I have no intention of following through. I’ve been working on these saṁskāras or patterns of mine for a while now and I’m happy to report that the self-awareness and the self-assurance that comes from my regular yoga practice is gaining ground. I’m getting better at being truthful. I still hope to be able to slow down when I’m talking and to better notice what I’m about to say and where it’s coming from. Is this insecurity talking? Is what I’m about ot say truthful? I working toward good habits around communication so that honesty is my go-to. I may not uphold a sacred vow of truthfulness when it comes to breaking plans and feeling like I’m disappointing people, but I’d like to keep working my way there.

*from Yoga Sutras lecture by Chase Bossart on 12.5.2014


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