Have you ever had the experience where you're faced with a decision and during your thought process you ask yourself "what should I do", as in "what do people expect me to do"? I have. All the time. For example, during a yoga class an instructor will give us the option of pressing back into Downward Facing Dog or to go through an vinyasa (moving through plank to Chaturanga Dandasana, to Upward Facing Dog, into Downward Facing Dog). My first thought is "I should do a vinyasa". I then ask myself "why?" (All of the inner work of my yoga practice has turned me into a toddler, always asking "why"). Why do I have to do another vinyasa? "Because you should. The teacher expects you to." This same type of scenario happens all the time. I should buy a house. Why? Because thats what I am suppose to do as an adult. I should get a drink with coworkers after work. Why? Because thats what social people do.
More often than not, we act in certain ways and say different things because we are under the illusion that we have to. Someone or something expects us to. I once had a therapist who called this "should-ing" on yourself (get it?). We believe that we should say this and be like that, or we should not do that, or express this because of an undefined expectation. At first it appears that society is putting these pressures on us; however usually it is our own selves. We create these imaginary musts and don'ts, stick rigorously to them, and push away a little voice that cries to do something else. And by conforming to these contrived regulations we are keeping ourselves small and bound by lies. Lies? Yes, we are lying to ourselves every time we ignore that little voice whispering our true desires and needs. We are not being honest with ourselves and acknowledging what is real; instead we create a false picture of who we are.
Satya, or truthfulness, is one of the yamas (restraints or ethical guidelines) that make up the foundation of a yoga practice. To live by Satya means to speak and act truthfully at all times with the intention to help others and do no harm (ahimsa is at the root of everything). This does not solely mean do not tell lies; it also encompasses our behaviors and thoughts. In other words you have to be honest with yourself. What does this look like? For me, this means that I attempt to act and think in ways that are congruent with my core beliefs, my goals, and my body. For example, I may choose to skip a vinyasa in class because my body is tired and I know that if I power through another one I would be lying to myself about what my body can handle in this moment. All actions, thoughts, and behaviors should be in accordance with satya.
This all sounds fine and dandy in theory, but we've been in those situations where we don't know what our "truths" are and therefore don't know what to do. How do we know what "our truth" is? Plus, the word "truth" has a lot of baggage with it. It is tied up with our upbringing, our religions, our political views, etc.Trying to decipher what is our own truth amidst all this chaos is tricky. To navigate this confusion, I purpose we switch the word from "truth" to "real". Instead of asking yourself, "what is my truth here in this moment", ask yourself "what feels real for me in this moment". I like this approach because it removes the baggage of "truth" and it gets us out of our noisy mind and into our body to actually feel what we believe in that moment. Will going through another flow actually feel real for me this time? Maybe by rephrasing the question, it will become easier for us to figure out what our truth is, at least in that moment.
But you can't just ask yourself once and call it good. As Deborah Adele explains in her book The Yamas and Niyamas, truth is fluid and can change over time. Consider what your truths were when you were 9 years old. Chances are many of them are no longer your truths today. Your truth can even shift moment to moment. At one point in class it might not feel real for me to do a vinyasa, but during the next pass it might. It may not be true to my goals to buy a house today. But something might come up in a week that will change that (maybe an affordable house on the market). As such, it is also important to not become rigid in your perceived real-ness or truths. Instead continuously check in. Explore your goals, beliefs, and needs and determine what feels real in that moment. Embody the toddler and ask yourself "why?".
To take this a step further, we can't judge others for their truths either. We are all on different paths and journeys and living different lives, so differences are expected. Forcing our truths on others is just another form of should-ing. You can only speak and do what is real for you, and others hopefully will do what is real for them. We need to honor our truths, as Judith Lasater says, so we can "increase our ability to distinguish the important from the unimportant [and] increase our capacity for compassion towards ourselves and others".
On a side note, of course there are universal truths that everyone can agree on. We should not kill people and we should drink water in order to survive. There are truths that you need to follow. I encourage you to just ask yourself why every time you find yourself "should-ing". If the answer you provide feels real then do it (or don't do it). But don't do something just because of some imaginary expectation. Stop "should-ing" on yourself. Listen to that whisper and stay honest with yourself. Live satya!