An experiment in yoga #2 – satya and samtosaApril 20, 2016
[I wrote previously that, as part of our YTT course, we’ve been asked to study an area of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and report back to the group. I decided on an experiment in living his yamas and niyamas (abstinences and observances – the building blocks of his yoga) and so here I am, taking on one of each every five days from the end of March to the beginning of May.]
This second phase of the ‘experiment’ sees me taking on satya and samtosa – or, to take their English translations, truthfulness and contentment. I wrote a LOT last week on ahimsa and sauca and so there’s an intention behind this post to streamline a little…let’s see how successful that turns out to be!
Satya – “To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.”
Swami Satchidananda translates satya as truthfulness and discusses how, in establishing an honest mind, “the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realise the Truth in its own original nature”. He also tells us that “with establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes”.
I have read other explanations of satya too though, not least the below where it’s defined as meaning somewhat more than just truth:
“The word ‘sat’ literally translates as ‘true essence’ or ‘true nature’. Sanskrit is a vibrational language and so each word is so much more than a label – it literally holds the very essence of the word. Because of this, ‘sat’ also holds the meanings; ‘unchangeable’, ‘that which has no distortion’, ‘that which is beyond distinctions of time, space and person’, and ‘reality’. Many Sanskrit words use the prefix ‘sat’ such as ‘satsang’ meaning ‘true company’ and ‘sattva’ meaning ‘pure’, which leads us to understand that ‘sat’ really means more than ‘truth’, it’s something that is unchanged and pure. When looking at the word ‘truth’ from this perspective, it’s easy to then understand how so much of our time is spent not actually seeing the truth or reality in any of our life situations…. Our thoughts, emotions and moods are extremely interchangeable, yet these are the things that create our own truth and our whole life experience. If ‘sat’ means ‘unchangeable’, then this can make us aware that much of our experience of life is brought about by paying more attention to that which changes, rather than the unchanging truth.”
– Emma Newlyn, ekhartyoga.com
My take on satya then is that a) being truthful and honest in our actions we enable our own truth to be set free; b) the more truthful a life we lead, the less fear we will face; and c) the more we recognise what is transient in life (emotion, environment, circumstance), the more we are able to focus on what’s real.
In adhering to the principles of satya this week, I have experienced the following:
On Wednesday, while still feeling the effects of the low I touched on in my last article, instead of retreating under a rock as would be usual I reached out to the other half and asked if he’d be willing to forgo running that evening to be with me. Of course he was more than happy to do so and I realised that if I am to expect him to reach out to me in his own times of need, I must do the same.
[As an aside, it’s also been interesting to see how being honest on this blog has encouraged others to be honest with me – old friends, new friends and family alike. It seems that being truthful ourselves really does encourage this same behaviour in others.]
Also on Wednesday, in a classic sales/marketing face-off during a meeting at work, the truth was my friend as I calmly and rationally presented the facts (good and bad) about our performance. It’s a situation I’d normally find hugely intimidating but with the facts at my fingertips truth really did become freedom.
On Thursday I had a tough conversation with my Mum. I needed to voice my disagreement with some of her thinking, even though it was to be painful for her. It was a classic juxtaposition of two opposing yamas (ahimsa and satya) but in this instance the truth won out. It’s often said that you’re better saying nothing when what you’re about to say will cause harm but in this case what was painful was necessary, and only said with the very purest of intentions and love (though admittedly I don’t think I handled it as well as I could have done – the rawness I’m feeling translating into a lack of patience).
Teaching on Friday morning I encouraged my students to be truthful with themselves offering variations of poses for wherever they were at that moment. I also asked them to identify passing feelings as just that – passing – and check in with something deeper instead.
Then finally over the weekend, I had a number of truthful and very liberating conversations. The first was with a good friend of mine (over a VERY good coffee and some pastries!) where, as we talked, I came to realise more and more that the selfishness in my previous relationship had been the ex’s and not mine. Both freeing and enlightening, this is exactly the kind of revelation that talking all of this out is allowing me to see – enabling me to let go of a large number of untruths that I’ve unfortunately been holding on to in recent years.
The second conversation was with my other half, as we made our way up to London for his Mum’s funeral. We had such an honest chat about both of our prior relationships and the events that drove us together – all with the utmost of respect and love.
The truth of life is complicated and, without a conscious awareness of what is/isn’t true, we often simply don’t see it. I feel truly privileged today to be on this journey, learning these lessons and to know that not living my truth was exactly what brought my life crashing down around me those couple of years back – my gut knew exactly where I needed to be but it’s taken my brain all this time to catch up!
Samtosa – “From contentment, supreme joy is gained.”
Moving on to the niyama for the week we come to samtosa, or contentment. Now a lot of us I think fixate on finding happiness, but after this week I’ve decided I’m settling for contentment. And I purposely use the word ‘settling’, as I think it’s what most of us would assume contentment to be.
However. The version of the Sutras that I have further explains this niyama as “to just be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness”. And there’s nothing in that that seems like settling to me.
I know it’s only week two (and I’m not even half way through!) but this has definitely been my favourite so far as, through its practice, I really have experienced moments of pure joy.
Back to that low Wednesday then and the walk that other half and I took around the park – bypassing all the main roads for a more peaceful and nourishing commute home. We talked through my fears of going back to the bad old days of feeling low all the time and I came to a place where I could accept what I was feeling for just that – a feeling – and become simply content with what was.
On Thursday during my yoga practice I struggled with postures that usually give me no issue at all. Remembering samtosa though I detached from any preconceived idea of what was ‘good’ and instead practised vairagya (or non-attachment), finding a place of acceptance and contentment in my practice that meant I left in a much better place at the end.
Then on Saturday, after getting a haircut, I walked and walked and walked feeling more peaceful than I had in an age! Yes the sun was shining and the clouds in the sky were just beautiful (pics below!) but I think the best thing about the day were my ruminations on contentment as I made my way up the river and around the parks. Happiness I concluded was something that you could experience in passing – perhaps on an evening out with friends was one example – but ultimately it was an ‘up’ in the myriad of ups and downs that life brings. Contentment however (which was absolutely what I felt while ambling back home) was utter peace and could never be replaced – it’s a feeling that you have the power to cultivate for yourself after all.
I continued to think about contentment as we got up to London on the Sunday. Staying with some friends of the other half’s brother, it would have been very easy to look at their beautiful flat and think ‘I wish I could do this/that/the other in my place’ starting a painful cycle of somehow not being good enough again. The reality is though that nothing/no-one is better – just different. And so, again, focusing on samtosa led me to liberation from the negative thoughts, and allowed me to be not only content with where I was, but also content with where I’d be going home to.
I read somewhere that “a different kind of internal spark alights when we practice contentment” and, even after just this short period of time, I really couldn’t agree more – this one’s a keeper!
Next up are asteya (non-stealing) and tapas (austerity) but, in the meantime, you can see other posts in the series using the links below:
#1 – ahimsa and sauca
#3 – asteya and tapas
#4 – brahmacarya and svadhyaya
#5 – aparigraha and isvarapranidhana