On Satya

What is “truth” to you?

I’m thinking that there are essentially two kinds of “truth”: the truth of “how things are (really)”, and the truth of what I’m actually experiencing in the moment. Perhaps there’s a third dimension that bridges those two that might be akin to what’s been called “right action”, “righteousness” or the “true (or divine) will”.

In regards to “how things are”, well, that one seems rife with problems and pitfalls. During this month’s unfolding COVID-19 drama, I’ve come to appreciate what a large gap exists between what we actually know and what the reality out there actually is. In between (and around, and throughout) is a lot of mystery and unknowing.

A Buddhist teacher told me once that in Buddhism there are three sources that are considered to be authoritative (or true in the “you can take it to the bank” sense): 1) The Dharma or the teachings of the Buddha (and by extension all of the Enlightened Ones), 2) the instruction of your teacher/guru, and 3) your own direct experience. Regarding number one, it occurs to me that in our modern culture, we’ve got a healthy amount of skepticism and it seems difficult to simply accept an idea because it comes from a source that has been traditionally venerated somewhere, and on number two we’re equally uncomfortable with trusting that a human being might be a divine channel to such an extent that they’re infallible.

In a parallel secular vein, it seems like in our increasingly polarized society there’s a distrust toward institutional authorities such as executives, preachers and politicians on the one hand, and on the other toward scientists, the media and the “experts” who are seen as “elite”. And so it seems like as a society we pick-and-choose what feels true, sources of information that seem trustworthy to us, and that fit with our worldview. There seems to be little agreement among the whole as to who is authoritative and how things really are.

At this stage of my life I’m feeling more and more comfortable with “not knowing”, with admitting that the mystery seems to be more prevalent than the known, and this actually feels more spacious than disturbing to me.  I still have my pet theories of “how things are”, but when communicating with others I’m clear that these are my working hypotheses, not statements of immutable fact.  My sense is that what’s as, if not more, important to explore is the truth of what I’m actually experiencing. Even a cursory attempt at observing “what I’m actually experiencing” reveals how layered and tricky this can be. Senses can be distorted.  The weather of my emotions howls across the interface.  I’m aware that there’s a continually running inner dialog that seems to want to describe what’s happening and to weave stories around it, pulling away from the present into the past or future and putting a buffer between what is and the description of it. There also seem to be areas that are impenetrable, dark and frozen, as if there’s not enough will or energy to look at what’s really there. I suspect that this is where the yogic juice is: the willingness and the energy to look and see, the determination to look deeper, to enter the silence, and truly witness. My inner compass tells me that “truth” lies in that direction.

And meanwhile, one has to continue to act. So what is being “true” to oneself? My experience is that even getting to the truth about our real motivations can be tricky at best. Why did I want to do Yoga School again? Did I really want to become a more serious Yogi? Or did I just want the company and support of good people? Perhaps part of the nature of this whole life thing is that we’re compelled by forces that we don’t fully understand (maybe an admixture of free-will, karmic compulsion and external forces of all kinds?) that thrust us into these mysterious situations where we ask “how did I get here and what do I do now?”. I appreciate another teaching I received about the Buddha’s use of the word “right” in the description of his Eightfold Path:   that rather than “correct”, we might think of it like “upright”, as in what you want to be when you ride a bike. Not leaning too far one way or the other, but in a dynamic balance (which involves motion and lots of micro adjustments!). Perhaps acting in a way that is “true” is something we can feel into. I certainly can look back and feel pretty keenly when I was out of balance, not aligned with that mysterious, and yet often palpable flow.

What is it like in your asana to be honest moment to moment – to meet the honesty of your body and raw sensation as it is?

I got an interesting new angle on this question this morning when I participated in my first virtual yoga class via Zoom. It was lovely to see all the faces and to enjoy my last sips of coffee while we were getting underway, but it was when we muted and shut off the video that I realized that there was no one there but me to keep me “honest”. I mean, I could have kicked up my feet or turned on cartoons, and no one else would have been the wiser. That, and no one was going to have an opinion about what I was or wasn’t doing and how my asanas looked externally.

So all of a sudden I was aware that there’s this other factor when we know we’re being watched that perhaps modifies if not detracts from our “honesty” in how act. Trying to please others, trying to look good, trying to do the “right” thing. None of that was there, and I found the honesty which was demanded of me (by me, haha) really bracing and refreshing. I mean, no one else was going to judge me (maybe there’s some old yogi in the sky keeping score, but I don’t think so), so if I didn’t enter the practice with as much effort and keenness of observation as I could muster, well… that wouldn’t seem completely “truthful”. It was a different kind of self-consciousness, not rooted in the opinions of others or my vision of myself as I thought I might be seen by others, but in my own desire to actually engage with my body, breath and mind. Yoga!