Philosophy Series: How Do You Define Your Truth?


As children we were probably told to always tell the truth. Did you steal the last biscuit? Did you blame your brother for smashing that vase? Did you eat your broccoli or feed it to the dog? Tell the truth, your parents would implore as you squirmed thinking how I am going to get out of this one?

The idea of truth seemed straightforward. There was just one truth that you could find if you dug hard enough, found the cookie crumbs pushed under the rug or discovered shards of glass hidden in the bin.

Today, everything seems to be more subjective and open to interpretation. The era of ‘fake news’ means once trusted news sources and broadcasters face accusations of bias and lying. No one knows what or who to trust and conversations – whether online or not – are becoming more fractious.

As the idea of a universally-accepted truth starts to crumble, you hear more people speaking about “living their own truth” – based on their personal beliefs and subjective life experiences.

“This is my truth” can be both empowering and frustrating. I wonder whether an unquestioning allegiance to the concept could lead people shutting off their capacity for change.

The “this is who I am, and you just have to accept it” or “I say it how it is” attitude can grate on me if that person is gossipy, rude, or spiteful. Surely there’s always room to question and reflect on “your truth” and whether you could be kinder? Surely we are always evolving.

While the concept of truth is under greater scrutiny today, the striving to ‘being true to yourself’ spans centuries, if not millennia.

One of the most easily recalled examples from literature is Hamlet’s Polonius saying: “to thine own self be true”. He later got stabbed – accidentally rather than for his tendency to dole out sage advice. A quick Google will bring up a multitude of playwrights, musicians and poets urging you that the only way to be content is to be true to you.

And the idea goes back even further [And this is where I bring in the yoga connection]. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, ‘Satya’ or truthfulness is the second concept listed in the “restraints” or “yamas” put together as a guide for how to live a good life. {Patanjali is the mysterious/almost mythical author of the sutras which may have been written anytime between 200 BC and 300 AD.] *

An approximate translation of the sutra reads: “When we speak and live truthfully, what we say and do manifests.” **

Now this sutra comes with a caveat – as some argue these Yamas weren’t intended for the average person, rather they were for the wandering ancient lonely yogis that stood outside of society and were found carrying a skull as a begging bowl.***

But putting the skull bowl aside, I still think it’s a pretty useful concept for the average person attending their weekly yoga class to consider as well.

It’s good practice to remind ourselves whether what we say is truthful and whether it reflects what we really think. If we constantly say we want a certain thing which is not aligned with what we truly desire, we might end up in a situation that we never wanted.

It is perhaps useful – although challenging – to observe when your actions or works are not consistent or in line with your thoughts?

Are you playing a role? Are you saying things to please people? Are you saying or doing things to fit in? Do I mean what I say?

I ask these questions but by no means do I have all the answers for myself yet!

I add a final caveat. This endeavour to be truthful does need to come with a pinch of kindness. Consider whether you need to say something intentionally hurtful just because you believe it to be true? There’s obviously always context to consider when you speak or act.

Remember that the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) is listed before truthfulness. [See previous blog post on kindness]

Is it kind? Is it true?

These are questions worth considering today given the current state of public (and sometimes private) debate that can too often dissolve into a mess of accusations, yelling, anger, and insults.

* Yoga FAQ by Richard Rosen

** Living the Sutras by Kelly Dinardo & Amy Pearce-Hayden

*** Yoga FAQ by Richard Rosen

Any thoughts? Do comment below. [We are covering this topic on Wednesday 15th January at Jiva Health

This blog post is the first in a series exploring the Yamas and Niyamas set up in Patanjali’s sutras. To explore these themes in further depth – book onto this term’s classes in Earlsfield. 


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