Satya, Truth, is the second of the Yamas, the foundational practices of Yoga that a true student of the path of Yoga observes and deepens along with their practice of physical postures, breathing, and meditation.
Truth is a complicated topic, and the practice of Truth has many levels. But — along with the day to day practice of speaking the truth and refraining from lying — we can start with the practice of recognizing — deeply recognizing — that there is such a thing as Truth. Supreme Truth. This practice alone can take us a whole lifetime. In our world of post-modern thought, negation, constant questioning, a myriad of conflicting opinions, and an all-pervasive deconstructionism, the deep, physio-spiritual recognition of Truth is a profound challenge.
So we start simply. We start with the Divine structure of our own bodies. There is — and this is a scientific fact — a true alignment to the human being. There is one specific point, one place, where our physical bodies are properly aligned, where we are supported and balanced, where it takes little to no effort to hold up our heads and there is no stress on our frame as we hold ourselves erect and walk. This is our center line, our center of gravity. Any deviation from this line results in stress, pain, and excess effort. For every inch the head moves off center, your frame has to support ten more pounds of weight. Any deviation from our True center is false alignment.
So in this sense, Truth is something we can directly experience. Its not a thought. Its not a concept. when we are in true alignment, our lives become easier. Everything requires less grinding effort. A big part of our practice of Satya is to recognize Divine Alignment, the place where we are yoked — “yoga” — to a larger order.
As we practice Satya, we recognize what Untruths do to our Divine Alignment. When we speak a lie, we directly take ourselves off center, because generally the aftermath of a lie is that it requires a good deal of management. We have to keep the lie going. We have to lie again. We have to remember who we lied to and what we said to them and soon we end up juggling a lot of external circumstances. This type of intensive management takes us energetically outward and forward, as we scramble to cover things and modify our words. It might sound simplistic, but lying directly keeps us from our alignment to the Truth.
Hopefully most of us — especially those of us who teach yoga — aren’t engaged in the practice of actively lying. But there are subtler forms of Untruth as well. In the practice of Satya, we look at how we use our word. We try not to say things we don’t mean. We try not to over-commit. We try not to use our word to manipulate. We don’t build false friendships. Our words and deeds should reinforce our true alignment, our ability to walk tall and free of stress, not take us off of it.
We also don’t spend hours a day engaged in activities we despise. Finding, as it is often called, our “true calling” is a huge part of the practice of Satya. We don’t live in a way that takes us off center. We commit to a lifestyle in which we can stay as centered as possible, in which the stresses of daily life are met with a strong foundation within ourselves and from the support of our communities. If our communities, or our partners, or our friends, do not help us grow our foundation stronger so that we can deal with life’s stresses from a more centered place, it might be good to ask ourselves: “Are they true?”
All of this is a lifelong practice. There is a simple and profound teaching in the Upanishads — Naste Satyasam Tapah. “There is no tapas (spiritual discipline) that compares to speaking the truth.” Our greatest practice is to recognize our true alignment and to live accordingly.
This does not mean, however, that we wantonly express anything we happen to be thinking or feeling under the umbrella of “speaking the truth.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people spout harmful words and confused thoughts and get swept off center in their rush to discharge a feeling. The practice of Satya is the exact opposite of this — it means going deep into thoughts and feelings and recognizing which ones are actually true before we emit them into the world. Feelings lie to us all the time. Developing trust in our True Hearts is not at all the same as putting misplaced trust in a fleeting feeling. So we stay centered, in our true alignment, and we go deeply into our thoughts and feelings and we part what is true and eternal from what is false and temporary like Blake’s Urizen charting the length and breadth of the World.
Then, every time we are faced with a challenge, a decision, a situation where the tempting thing is to react quickly or to manipulate the situation a little bit or to take ourselves off center somehow, we check in on it. We ask ourselves: “Am I being True?”
The answer that comes is not in the form of immediate reactive thoughts. We don’t sit for two seconds and then hear a resounding “Hell yeah!” and think that this means we are living our Truth. We sit deeper than the thoughts. We sit with the feeling. And then we sit deeper than the feeling. We sit with the knowing.
And finally we come full circle — to the practice of recognizing that there is a Supreme Truth and that our physio-spiritual organisms, on a very deep level, know it.
If you are a person who, like me, spent many years in a state of questioning and negating and modifying and philosophizing and talking my way around the reality of Truth, all I can offer is this. It might be good to examine if the human-born ability to negate and talk your way around the idea of one fixed Truth is serving you in your life in any way at all.
Some years ago I was fortunate enough to see an amazing exhibit detailing Ernest Shackleton’s fateful expedition to the Antarctic, in which he and his men were stranded for many, many months before finally sending a small boat hundreds of miles through the world’s most turbulent waters to find an island. In the storms that ensued, his navigator was only able to take two quick readings of the stars. If his readings had been off by a mere one degree, they would have missed their destination by over 250 miles.
It is a testament to the navigator’s skill and ability and his innate alignment to the fixed star that they arrived at their destination safely and all his crew were rescued.
For many years, my stubborn insistence on dwelling in the confused mental realm of small relative truths and negations and statements of ‘well if you look at it this way its this way” and “from a certain other point of view its this way” left me like a navigator trying to chart his way on all the other, lesser stars rather than focus on the one Fixed Star that could guide him home. The person who lacks true conviction, an actual connection to the reality that there is a Supreme Truth, rambles on about how if one were to look at the North Star from another point of view, or from another planet, it too would move, it too would be transitory. And all the while his boat drifts further and further off course.
The teaching of Satya is simple. We are not on another planet. We are on this one. And on this planet, in this physio-spiritual realm that we inhabit, there are fixed points, there is structure, and there is order in how things are. This order — for all our intents and purposes as incarnate beings who are inextricably linked to the sun and the cycle of day and night and the divine structure of our physical form — is a fixed reality.
As the great alchemists who deeply understood the physical reality of Supreme Order wrote: As Above, So Below. There is one fixed star. One true alignment for the human organism. There is a Supreme Truth and a supreme order. Anything else, anything that negates the supreme is mental chatter that only serves to distract the individual spirit from its true destination — Union. Home.
Om Tat Sat.