What Is Satya And Why Are We So Afraid Of It?
This Halloween I’ve been thinking about fear and the things that scare us. I don’t mean clowns, public speaking, or falling over in your favourite yoga class. I mean the kind of fears that hold us back from having the experiences and connections we want, and the lives we dream of creating for ourselves. The root causes often being our uncertainty, fear of failure, judgement or rejection.
As I was writing I was reminded of an experience I had on my yoga teacher training this year in Nepal. As part of the training we were asked to write a short essay on one of the Eight Limbs from Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras.
The Eight Limbs are a series of guidelines outlining the stages along the yogic path to a meaningful and purposeful life and ultimately Samadhi (bliss, union, absorption into the higher realms of consciousness).
I chose to write about Satya (truth) the second of the Yamas, the first of the eight limbs. The idea of the assignment being that it could be a potential blog piece that we could put on our websites as yoga teachers. Here is what I wrote…
On Satya (Truth).
I felt quite anxious about this assignment, especially with it being in the tone of a potential blog piece. I had planned to write about something else than this, but I felt it would be most meaningful to talk about what I learned during the process of writing this essay.
Keeping a regular journal, I expected that writing this would be relatively easy. However, I found myself holding back from sharing feelings and insights that I felt were too personal. I'm not wholly comfortable sharing my inner world. I tried writing something very personal, then something academic, and then something funny. But, each attempt came out contrived or I was unwilling to share it. I either felt it wasn’t honest enough or I was being too honest, which I recognise now as another means of justifying not sharing.
Throughout the process of the yoga teacher-training course my concept of truth has continually been challenged and re-evaluated. From the gross, anatomical body and recognising variance in everyone’s physical reality, to experiencing and better understanding the vast emptiness of our inner consciousness as a kind of shared truth.
It was the truthfulness of my writing and my fear of sharing it that was bothering me most deeply. Writing this essay brought up fear and anxiety in me. Fear that what I wrote wouldn’t be good enough and anxiety over the process. Why was I finding it so difficult? Why was it taking me so long? I tried meditating on it. Perhaps meditation could lead me to a more authentic representation of myself and what I wanted to share.
My greatest fear was judgement. What would people think of me? So, I wanted to be sure I got it right. The writing of an essay had turned into an attempt to summarise the essence of my being. It became more about the way my mind worked and how it was constructing what I thought were truthful representations of me, than it was about sharing my explorations and discoveries within yoga philosophy.
Ironically during the process of writing this essay on one of Patañjali’s Eight Limbs, in this case Satya, I had managed to go against the teachings of almost all of the Yamas and Niyamas.
I was being heavily self critical of myself and my writing. Going against ahimsa (no-harming).
Beginning to manipulate my writing because of fear of rejection. Being dishonest with myself, avoiding satya (truth).
Turning to quotes and anecdotes, because my writing was not enough on its own. Breaking asteya (non-stealing).
Expending energy excessively trying to create something to satiate my ego. Violating brahmacharia (celibacy, indulgence and wasting of energy - sexual or otherwise).
Seeking constant approval, from my teachers and peers. Disregarding aparigraha (non-covetousness).
Harbouring negative energy and thoughts. Forgoing saucha (cleanliness). I may also have skipped a shower or two, because I was too busy worrying about my essay and missed the hot water. (In the guest house where we were staying in Nepal, once the hot water ran out that was it until the next day.) I couldn’t be contented with sharing the truth of where I'm at now, because I was ashamed of my fear of the past and my anxiety about the future.
Then, lacking self-discipline, I contemplated giving up and turning in something I didn’t truly believe in. Abandoning tapas (heat; spiritual austerities).
It was svachyaya and isvara pranidhara that saved me, saved this essay and ultimately lead to me discovering my truth. Through the practice of svachyaya (self study), in meditation, vigorous journaling and reflection; I found that my truth had been there all along buried deep beneath my negative self talk. Facing another truth, my fear, I found the only answer was to confront it and write about it. And finally, isvara pranidhara, trusting and surrendering to that which is greater than me, I gave myself over to the process of doing this assignment. Trusting my teacher’s intention and my inner Buddha nature to guide me through.
So, six drafts later following the shining beacon of my inner truth and having a significant lack of time left to procrastinate, I recognised that to write the truth, I needed to see the truth. I needed to recognise and let go of my fear, to be kinder to myself, and rid myself of false ego and the temptation to exaggerate. I had to realise that hiding the truth within was in itself dishonest and keeping me from experience it wholly.
Reflections on my essay.
The process of writing the essay, opening myself up and sharing with my fellow yogis and yoginis was a very emotional and revealing experience. The whole process of my yoga teacher training has truly been transformative. I deepened not only my physical asana practice but also the mental and the spiritual aspects too. Studying the sutras and fortifying my practice with the teachings of Patañjali has raised that practice to a higher level.
Regular practice helps us to identify, observe and watch the passing of our irrational thoughts, worries, emotions and challenging situations. It may seem difficult at first, but don’t worry. We call it practice for a reason. Learning that these experiences pass will help you accept that they are not unchangeable. It will also enable you to deal with them as a part of your existence that you can either fight or learn to manage.
In order to see things as they truly are, our true nature, we have to recognise that we are not solely what we think and feel. Practicing according to the sutras, we look to still these vrittis or fluctuations of the mind. We create space in the body, in the mind and begin to see the space between the ego and the atman, the true self. By practicing with honesty and openness we bring honesty, truth and openness to our whole lives. We free ourselves from fear and ignorance. We see who we really are and our connection with that which is greater than ourselves, our connection to all.
Wherever you are on your journey, remember this truth, you are never alone.
Patañjali quotes on truth from The Yoga Sutras
“With this truth bearing light will begin a new life. Old unwanted impressions are discarded and we are protected from the damaging effects of new experiences.”
― Patañjali, The Yoga Sutras
“Here is, in truth, the whole secret of Yoga, the science of the soul. The active turnings, the strident vibrations, of selfishness, lust and hate are to be stilled by meditation, by letting heart and mind dwell in spiritual life, by lifting up the heart to the strong, silent life above, which rests in the stillness of eternal love, and needs no harsh vibration to convince it of true being.”
― Patañjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. the Book of the Spiritual Man
A mantra for confronting fears, overcoming obstacles and healing the throat chakra to speak your truth.
The Jewelled Lotus Flower Mantra:
Om Mani Padme Hum
Ohm mah nee pahd may hum
Om is a sacred syllable, the sound of the origin of all. Mani means jewel / bead. Padme is the lotus flower, the Buddhist sacred flower. Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.
“OM” purifies ego, “MA” jealousy, “NI” passion, “PAD” ignorance, “ME” greed, and “HUM” hatred.
14th Dalai Lama, on the meaning of: OM MANI PADME HUM
"Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha [...]."
— H.H. Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, From a lecture given by His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet at the Kalmuck Mongolian Buddhist Centre, New Jersey.