satya is some hard shit
the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it. ~Flannery O'Connor
I really love that we’re continuing to cycle through the eight limbs of yoga at one of my studios. I mean, we’re doing it for the students, but I sometimes wonder if we don’t get more out of it because it forces us to thoroughly examine each area of yoga, studying them and making them relatable to our worlds on and off the mat. This is simple, really, but not at all easy for me because I teach through lessons I’ve personally learned, and some of these lessons leave me wide open – vulnerable, uncomfortable, and trembling on the inside. This week is a particularly tough one as we talk about satya, or truthfulness.
Now, honestly (yes… please do note the irony), I’ve always been a terrible liar in most cases. I freeze. Literally, I’ll stand there, unable to move, unable to talk, unable to breathe until something happens and the moment – that moment that is balancing between truth and fiction – is over. Actually, let me tell you a story of the first time I can remember having to make that decision. I was probably six years old, give or take a year, and we were still living in Alaska. My biological parents were still married, for worse or for worse, and pot was still legal there. It actually may be again, but I don’t know for sure, and that’s not really relevant. In any case, they grew it, they “made their own cigarettes”, they smoked it, they did all this for years until one day my mom stopped and my dad kept going. I never knew it, or if I did, I didn’t think anything of it. Who knows, really? I was six. I was more concerned with climbing trees and sledding down the side of the mountain on which we lived than my parents’ recreational drug use. Anyway, my dad also smoked regular cigarettes – Winstons and Kool Menthols to be exact – so it wasn’t unusual to see him with something dangling from his fingers, and I was too little to notice that ‘the kind you buy’ are held differently from ‘the kind you make.’ I was also too young to know that although both kinds had become a major source of conflict between my parents and that they’d agreed to quit slowly killing themselves with either, those little sticks of homemade pleasure were far more troublesome than the kind you pick up at the local Exxon.
One day, I bounced down the stairs and on my way out to my favorite tree, I paused to give my dad a quick hug just as he was pulling something out from underneath the couch. “What is that?” I asked. “It’s what I use to make my cigarettes,” he answered in the calm manner that was so very much him. Of course, it looked interesting to me, and of course I had to try it, and my dad, always encouraging learning and exploration, let me. We’d just finished making the cigarette in this fancy contraption (what fun, meticulous work it was!) and were putting everything back under the couch when my mom walked in. I can’t remember the entire fight, but I do remember him saying that it was leftover from before they quit. I remember him saying that he wasn’t going to smoke it. I remember my mom accusing him of lying. And most vividly of all, I remember her looking into my eyes so hard I thought she could see all the way through them to the windows behind me as she asked me if dad was getting ready to smoke his cigarettes. I looked up at her and couldn’t form even the simplest of words. I didn’t quite understand the situation, but I knew from her face that he wasn’t supposed to be doing what he was doing, and no matter what answer I gave, somebody was going to be in trouble. I turned my head and looked into my dad’s eyes and huge, bubbly tears started to form in mine and he softly encouraged me to tell the truth, as that is always best. Telling the truth is what would get me through that moment with a lighter heart and clearer mind. So I did. He was right. It was a shitty situation, but it passed, and it was a lesson that stayed with me in almost all the ways….
I’d like to say I have a strong moral compass that always points north, keeping me on path and permanently staves off those moments of question and the bubble tears that come with them. I want to say that I’m always truthful in everything that I do. I want to say that satya comes easy for me in all aspects of life, but the thing is I’m a human that has normal human reactions to normal human experiences, in effect causing me to deal with normal human struggles. Don’t get me wrong… I mostly don’t fib, and I find that telling the truth is far easier than not and the consequences of a hard truth are much less painful than those of an easy lie. There is one area of my life, though, in which this statement doesn’t always ring true, and that is with my emotions. I don’t like sharing them, and if they aren’t positive, I’ll fake it like a champ.
Yeah, for those of you reading this who know me, I can hear your “no shits!” from over there. I, like most people, don’t like to hurt and I will go to great lengths to ensure that I don’t have to, including dishonesty about what I’m feeling – whether it’s through omission or straight up lying. I’m not one of those people who wear my heart on my sleeve, so to speak. Hell, if it were up to me, my heart would be hidden deeper than where the universe put it. I mean, is a little bit of skin really enough to shield it from the pain that life can bring us?! No, I didn’t think so, either. It’s sooooooo much easier to bury that shit way down under the layers of, well, anything impermeable you can find, right? Except maybe it’s not…. This is something I’m learning (very slowly, I might add), and am taking (very gingerly, I might also add) the steps to dig my heart out from the calcified sheaths of its protective barrier. I have a friend who once told me (actually, even that’s a lie… he’s probably a hundred times told me) to “remember it takes like one second to let it come out of your mouth, and then it's out there, and then it's in the past!” Sigh….. he’s right.
So, as I go through this week with satya as my intention, as I go through this week placing satya at the root of my teaching, and as I go through this week helping students relate the importance of satya on and off the mat, I am doing the things that bring me closer to my truest self. I’m doing the things that help me be true to others, and that starts from a place of vulnerability and being honest about how I feel about being in that place. That starts with these words, admitting out loud – or in plain sight, as it were – that I’m not always truthful about my emotions.