August 11, 2013

What Does it Mean to Be Honest?

A look at satya and the four gates.

Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. This is the eternal law, the dharma.”

~ The Mahabharata

As I listened to an acquaintance describe the way she eviscerated the man she was dating, I winced. She noticed, and replied that she needed to speak “her truth” about the situation. I let it go, but it got me thinking how popular this idea has become, even among spiritual people and the yoga community.

My need to speak “my truth” trumps all: compassion, kindness, appropriate timing, the need for the recipient to hear the truth. All of that goes out the window in the name of being transparent or “honest.” In the embracing of the concept of satya, we have forgotten that this honesty is not without conditions or the need for restraint.

What we have forgotten is that with this idea of satya and sharing of our truths, comes sweetness. Telling the truth is a gift; it is not just the unleashing of every thought that comes into our heads. It is giving of ourselves in the deepest sense, and it to be done with care.

My fourth grade teacher had a sign on her wall that read:

Is it necessary?

Is it kind?

Is it true?

The Sufis have a tradition that reflects these conditions. In order for our speech to be useful and beneficial to others, it must past through four gates: is it necessary, is it kind, is it true and is it timely?

As important as it is to speak our truth, if we do it without restraint, it ceases to be useful; it becomes a weapon rather than a tool. It becomes poison, instead of sweetness.

What if instead of believing we need to share every little thought that comes into our heads, we shifted to the idea of making sure everything that comes out of our mouths (and pens…and keyboards…and iPhones) is true?

Honesty is not about lack of restraint!

Honesty is about expressing the truest things, with loving kindness, when it is necessary and at the right time.

Imagine a lover who is always rough, forceful and aggressive. Is it a loving thing to express yourself forcefully, when the person you love is not ready to receive it? Of course not. Sometimes, I feel overcome with something I think I need to say, but then upon reflection, it’s my need. I haven’t considered anything about how it might affect the person I’m giving it to.

Often, in our “truthfulness,” this is what we are doing. We are forcing what should be a gift, instead of giving it gracefully.”I get to say whatever I want to you because it’s true and it’s what I feel. It’s my truth.” Well, some truths may need to be kept to yourself, or kept for the right time.

Before it escapes your lips, let it go through all four gates:

1. Is it necessary?

I ponder this often when I’m on Facebook. We have gotten to a point where the immediacy of the internet gives way to verbal diarrhea. I know I’ve been guilty of it at times. Take a second before you hit post and ask yourself: “how does this add sweetness to the lives of those who read it?” Not every utterance needs to be profound, but before you turn your Facebook wall into a neverending bitch session, pause and consider this gate.

2. Is it kind?

Kindness and “niceness” are not the same thing. Sometimes, especially in our most significant relationships, the kindest, most honest things can feel difficult at first. This is why we need to turn inward and look at our intentions and motivations. Is my sharing motivated by lovingkindness for the person I am addressing? If it isn’t, maybe it should wait.

3. Is it true?

Ah yes, back to this idea of “truth.” What feels true to me about a situation may be completely different from your perception. This is where we take a step back and look at things. I remember one early morning running through the woods and seeing what I was sure was a bear. I had seen bears in those woods before; it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. But as I stopped and took another look, it was a burnt old stump. If we don’t slow down and take a second look with clear eyes and heart, we can mistake emotional reaction for “truth.”

4. Is it timely?

Even if all of the rest fits, if it is not time for the person you are addressing to receive this truth, it is completely useless. It might be true that “everything happens for a reason,” but telling that to someone who is grieving is both useless and cruel. This piece may be the hardest of all four gates; when we feel overwhelmed with the desire to speak a truth that feels important, we get that sense of urgency—I need to say it now! What we share of ourselves with others is a gift. Give this gift when it it is ready to be received.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram,” or “Truth is eternal and beautiful.” Finding this balance is a lifelong process.

May whatever you speak be the truth.

May the truth that you speak be given and received with sweetness.

And may you consider all four gates before you give the gift of truth to those around you.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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