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Truthfulness

To a fault, it has always come more or less naturally to me to tell the truth.  Earlier in my career I nearly lost my job by guilelessly telling the truth in a delicate political situation.  My friends called this ‘stepping in front of arrows’, and I have since learned in situations like this to choose which part of the truth to tell.

Telling the truth becomes more of a challenge in the context of non-harming, the practice that stands at the gateway of the yamas and niyamas.  There are times when telling the truth is sure to hurt someone.  If non-harming is the most important principle, it seems in these times that here we should lie.  Possibly so.  But here may also be the place to apply the lesson I learned at work: find another non-harmful truth to tell.

Aside from that complexity, telling the truth is usually a pretty straightforward matter, even for a diplomat.  The more interesting problem for me is knowing what the truth is in the first place.

I have so often discovered that my mind has deceived me.  I discover at midday that I am wearing mismatched socks; my initial impressions of people prove wrong; I unwittingly assume my wife is acting like my mother; my self-perception minimizes some qualities and exaggerates others; the list goes on, and on, and on.  How useful could it possibly be to make a practice of telling the truth, when I can’t even be sure what it is?

I recently bought a pair of ultra-thin running shoes, which are designed to mimic the experience of running barefoot.  The soles are tough but flexible, almost like the skin on my feet as a boy when I’d been barefoot all summer.  Wearing these shoes transformed my morning walk to work. I felt like I was experiencing the city street for the first time.

As I have examined these ten practices I have observed that, like the street when I walk in my ultra-thin shoes, they resonate in my body as well as in my mind.  When something seems to be true, I feel it in my chest and gut as well as knowing it in my head.  This invisible guidance system feels richer, and as long as it is not harming anything, there’s no reason not to use it.  When I know something in my head and soles, my soul engages.

Suppose I were able to experience every truth with the sensitivity of a child’s bare feet, and also possessed the wisdom to know how to tell it. It is hard to imagine anything more powerful.

 

Today my feet can read

the street like Braille.

I know things

I’d only seen before –

feel a pebble pressing

where flesh

lifts from the heel,

the prick on my toe

of a piece of a stick.

 

Like the belly of a snake

I am in the world

without a word,

sibilant curve on the curb.

Broken glass.  Wet leaf.

Puddle with a rough lip.

 

My soles desire the truth –

to know in every sense

that I possess

this uncommon earth.

 

 

Links

The listing of the Yamas and Niyamas

The next yama (not-stealing)

 


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