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Honesty, it’s complicated.


Over the last few weeks I’ve been working as a teaching assistant on Michael Stone’s online course, Embodying Ethics and Vows in Modern Life. Two of the eight limbs of yoga are concerned with ethical behaviour: the yamas are concerned with how we behave towards others and the niyamas are about how we treat ourselves, how we honour the gift of life we’ve been given.  The students and the discussions in this group have been inspiring. I’m grateful to witness so many wise and creative people struggling to live with kindness, compassion and generosity.

Last week we talked about honesty (satya). On a literal level honesty is easy to understand, but in practice, in relationships, it can be surprisingly complex. We all know that too much honesty or poorly-timed honesty can be harmful or injurious. Sometimes we have to choose not-harming (ahimsa) over being truthful. Sometimes we can be dishonest with ourselves (e.g. I really NEED $85.00 yoga pants). Sometimes honesty requires dealing with a painful issue that we’d rather avoid, or requires that we make an unpopular decision or deliver unhappy news. Often, we are not rewarded for honesty, at least not in the arena of success and status.

But honesty is still worth pursuing. If we can embody honesty in everyday interactions life becomes much simpler. We don’t have to get caught in a web of lies, manage relationships that aren’t beneficial or find ourselves in compromising situations. We don’t have to spend precious energy pretending to be something we aren’t, or pretending to love somebody we don’t, or avoiding people we’ve harmed. Honesty can help us heal. It can help us to move on. Honesty requires bravery, but like most skills, becoming more attuned to it can result in positive changes, even if the short term consequences are a little uncomfortable.

Yours truly,

Ps I have posted below one of the most beautiful pieces of writing on honesty that I’ve ever encountered. Thank you to Andrea Drugan for sharing it with our online group.

HONESTY is reached through the doorway of grief and loss. Where we cannot go in our mind, our memory, or our body is where we cannot be straight with another, with the world, or with our self. The fear of loss, in one form or another, is the motivator behind all conscious and unconscious dishonesties: all of us are afraid of loss, in all its forms, all of us, at times, are haunted or overwhelmed by the possibility of a disappearance, and all of us therefore, are one short step away from dishonesty. Every human being dwells intimately close to a door of revelation they are afraid to pass through. Honestly lies in understanding our close and necessary relationship with not wanting to hear the truth.

The ability to speak the truth is as much the ability to describe what it is like to stand in trepidation at this door, as it is to actually go through it and become that beautifully honest spiritual warrior, equal to all circumstances, we would like to become. Honesty is not the revealing of some foundational truth that gives us power over life or another or even the self, but a robust incarnation into the unknown unfolding vulnerability of existence, where we acknowledge how powerless we feel, how little we actually know, how afraid we are of not knowing and how astonished we are by the generous measure of loss that is conferred upon even the most average life.

Honesty is grounded in humility and indeed in humiliation, and in admitting exactly where we are powerless. Honesty is not found in revealing the truth, but in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are. To become honest is in effect to become fully and robustly incarnated into powerlessness. Honesty allows us to live with not knowing. We do not know the full story, we do not know where we are in the story; we do not know who is at fault or who will carry the blame in the end. Honesty is not a weapon to keep loss and heartbreak at bay, honesty is the outer diagnostic of our ability to come to ground in reality, the hardest attainable ground of all, the place where we actually dwell, the living, breathing frontier where there is no realistic choice between gain or loss.

From David Whyte’s book, Consolations

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Yoga and meditation teacher, writer, reader, cat-momma, environmental warrior, friend

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