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Mary E. Vandenack: Satya:Truthfulness


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Last month, I focused on the yama of ahimsa in yogic practice. This article continues the journey through the yamas and focuses on the second. That yama is satya, truthfulness in thought and word.


The concept of satya is not simply a matter of speaking words that are factually true. The concept is bigger in that it looks to right thoughts and right speech. Thoughts and words have significant power. Writers about satya suggest that we speak pleasant truth and avoid unpleasant truth.

Right speech entails reflecting before, during and after our speech. Right speech avoids anything that is divisive, abusive or gossipy as well as that which is dishonest. In deciding whether to speak, one evaluates whether the speech is beneficial as well as factual. Also important is timing. Timing is particularly important upon the occasion when it is necessary to speak about a difficult subject.

Right speech contemplates the impact of our thoughts and words and is practiced in conjunction with ahimsa, non-violence. Sometimes that which is true may be hurtful. For example, we should not tell a thief when we are going to be out of town.


On my office wall are frames containing meaningful notes that people have written me over the years. One of my favorites was written by a young woman whose path has led her to a developing career in the non-profit realm. Several years ago, she was part of my daily life. Her note thanked me for the time, attention and encouragement that I gave to her during her teen years.

I have a few similar notes. I keep them on my wall to remind me how important it is to express our belief in others and how much our encouragement can make a difference. As part of my practice of satya, I am seeking to choose my thoughts and my words carefully.


In recent years, I have had many opportunities to be around a variety of teens. Observing teen interaction and the adults to them is a reminder of how easily we can say something that assists someone on a positive path or something that sends them into a dark hole.
In observing, I notice how readily we heap praise on those who are doing well. On the other hand, I note how quick we can be with our judgment and criticism to those who are overweight, have long hair or are challenged to match their clothes.

Those who are struggling are those who really need some of us to stop and provide a word of encouragement or appreciation. I once focused on acknowledging good service and good efforts. I continue to do that but I have added a focus on finding a way to encourage those who are challenges to me.


Have you ever noticed how many conversations in a day focus on judgmental statements about others? I recently began a practice of simply noticing my thoughts about others. I chose to practice this for an hour early in each day. It was startling to realize how quickly observation can become a thought of judgment, which can then flow through to a statement that may or may not be accurate.
Judgmental statements are often defended as being factual but judgment requires evaluation and conclusion. Many evaluations are done quickly without full knowledge.

My goal for the next few weeks is to notice my judgments and then to actively question myself about whether I have all the information that I really need to make such a judgment, to question whether I want to make such a judgment and to be open to the idea that there is much that I don't know.

Can you imagine what it might look like if we all walked through a day being open to all possibility about others? What if we chose particularly to refrain from negative judgments and instead thought of possibilities? What if we consciously found something both positive and truthful that we could say? What if we could all see that our judgments are not always the truth? They are simply conclusions and sometimes we make them too quickly.


In speaking, we can learn to separate judgments from observation. Instead of saying "Person X is a jerk," which is judgment, we could try, "I was challenged and hurt by the way that X spoke to me about the car."  Instead of saying, "This room is a mess," we could try, "I note that all of the clothes are on the floor and that there are dirty plates lying around. My sense of cleanliness is challenged by the state of this room."

-end- metroMAGAZINE


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