"The truth...It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution." ~Albus Dumbledore
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
What is Truth?
Especially, for our purposes here, what does truth mean when we are in grief? In or out of grief, truth is truth. Right?
My last post began a series on each of the Yamas and Niyamas, Yoga's ethical guidelines for life, and how they are applicable to our world in grief and beyond. Eventually, if we live long enough and love others, this applies to every single one of us.
This installment focuses on the second Yama, Satya, which translates to mean truth or non-lying. It is also translated to mean the highest reality, that which is real, genuine, sincere. Truth---with a capital T---is unwavering and absolute, while truth---without the capital T---is more flexible, depending on many things. In grief and all of life, there are those things that are True and there are also our own truths. In Truth (or truth), as in all things, self-awareness is of the utmost importance. So what is your truth? What is your Truth? How much of it do we share or not? How do we carry our truth into the world, especially when we are in grief and are so raw, feeling the constant need to protect our hearts and the memories of our beloveds?
Satya is non-lying—telling the truth.
It means restraining from falsehoods or distorting reality. Truth is sometimes clear, and at other times what is true may be subjective, and always, our personal truths are colored by our own perception. All of our experiences are filtered through our senses of perception, our personal system of beliefs, our opinions, ideals and values. So what is truth? And what does it mean in grief?
Truthfulness is also being genuine and congruent—living in such a way that our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions are in harmony. This is yet another thing that can be difficult in grief. We live in a world that does not really understand what deep grief really means nor what it is to live immersed in sorrow. Among other things, we are tasked with figuring out how to live authentically with and within grief, in its many forms and with its many changes and among others who may not understand. Satya’s guiding principle can assist us to be mindful of living in accord with our new truth. You may feel that you are living a dual life—one in which you feel you must pretend to be okay, hiding the truth of your grief, and another private world where sadness, pain, and longing may be more constant than not.
One of the biggest lies in grief is the one we tell in answer to the question, “How are you?” So often we may lie and simply say that we are fine because others are uncomfortable or, because it is socially unacceptable to cry or express sadness, we feel awkward and exposed. Occasionally, you may encounter the rare individual who wants to know, “How are you really?” Usually though, we believe most people don’t really want to know the truth. They may be well meaning, but, we think, if they really knew the truth, they would wish they hadn’t asked.
There are many variations on “How are you?” Plunged into instant agony at the everyday questions that feel like assaults, you try to decide in a split second how or whether to answer:
“How many children do you have?”
“Are you married?”
“Can I help you?”
“Are you all right?”
“Is there something wrong?”
Do we lie or tell our truth? The pretense can be exhausting, but the lack of a safe space where the truth can simply be accepted is sorely lacking.
There are also lies of omission. Not in the classic sense of omitting specific details to intentionally deceive, but in not telling others what we want or need; by refraining from talking about our beloved, not mentioning her name, or not contributing to a conversation when the urge naturally arises. We do not do what our hearts urge us to do for many good reasons. It is painful, we may cry, others may be upset, we have received messages in the past that it is not okay to cry or to share, we don’t feel safe in sharing our hearts. By not revealing ourselves, our needs, our experiences, we omit and neglect our truth. In so doing, what do we do to ourselves? Living and speaking our own personal truth is incredibly empowering. In grief, empowerment can be hard to come by.
Of course not all situations call for total transparency and openness. With a lie or an omission, uncomfortable situations can be avoided, feelings are spared, we may seem more “together” than we really are. Sometimes that may be helpful—on a job interview or in a new situation with new people for example. How can we know when to tell the unvarnished truth and when to keep it to ourselves?
Truth and honesty beget intimacy. The surest way to erode closeness in any relationship is dishonesty. How much truth to tell and when should be based on your level of intimacy with the person and the importance of the relationship. In your most important relationships, you must tell your truth, even if it is hard. Your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. We must always tell the truth to ourselves. About our needs, our pain, our grief, our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our wishes.
We must tell those closest to us, as much truth as we can possibly manage. When truth cannot be shared, relationships change. Intimacy erodes. When those we love and to whom we are close cannot hear our truth, even when we try to tell it, often those relationships can become sorely damaged. Sometimes relationships come to an end. Telling ourselves the truth about our relationships can be difficult.
Friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, should be told as much truth as is needed to maintain or to grow a connection you’re comfortable with. Strangers and those to whom you have no relationship do not necessarily need to know your deepest truths. You must judge this for yourself.
If we are to grow and become in life and in grief, we must try to be open about our truth with ourselves first and with others whom we love. This can feel risky. In grief we are extremely vulnerable. It is important to feel safe to be able to share your truth. You can begin by taking small risks. When someone asks, “How are you?” whether they mean it really, or whether it is social convention, you might say something like, “I’m having a hard day, but thanks for asking.” This does not require the person to do or say anything further. One of the reasons many bereaved do not share how they really feel is because they do not wish to be a burden to others, to make someone else feel that they must take care or change something. The truth is that they cannot fix this. No one can.
Another way to share your truth is be honest with yourself about what you need. If you want to talk about how you feel, if you want to hear your beloved’s name, if you hope someone will reach out to you on your beloved’s birthday, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, holidays and are afraid no one will, say so and ask for what you need. Take a risk, no matter how small, and reveal what you may feel slightly uncomfortable revealing. Practice finding comfort in the discomfort. Measure responses and determine whether it is safe to share more. If it is not safe, find a place where it is safe. Speak your truth in small doses until you feel more comfortable and empowered to do it regularly. Allow your own truth and your love to be your guide. With practice, you can hear your own inner truth, your satya, in all situations.
(Excerpted from Yoga for Grief & Loss, Chapter 6, Raja Yoga: The Path of Royalty)
Karla Helbert, LPC